ELYSIUM - Chapter 1 - amarettiii, Jules (JulesAS) - 原神 (2024)

Chapter Text

Aether is eleven years old to the day. Fair-haired and golden-eyed, he looks the part of the fledgling ruler. Adorned in finery anyone would expect of the Crown Prince, bedecked in jewels down to his pearl buttons, he cuts a striking figure.

But the boy waiting anxiously by his bedroom window feels anything but in control, of a kingdom or otherwise. For the last year, he has taken fewer visitors, has had fewer lessons—but today is the strangest day he’s experienced yet.

Today, his eleventh name day.

He woke itchy with new nubs on his back, a hand-span beneath the old ones. When he showed his new valet, the man finished dressing him then left to inform the physician. The rest of the day has been quiet and utterly without fanfare, without even a fond look from his governess or the tiny treats she often slips him when the ministers aren’t looking. He sees no one but the maids until his tutors arrive on schedule. Even his sister has been absent.

But it’s our birthday, he’d tried to explain to the servants, to anyone that would listen, she wouldn’t miss this. We have the same tutors, can’t we take our lessons together?

Eleven years old, naive and trusting—but something isn’t right. His body knows when something is amiss. He circles his room anxiously, the sunlight catching on the gold flecked through his feathers and throwing light all over the room. Still fledgling and tawny, his wings have only just grown into themselves since they sprouted a year ago.

Perhaps they are why no one will look him in the eye. Not the servants, not the stableboys, not his tutors who spent the first lesson of the morning reminding him how to pray, to seek absolution. Bright but obedient, Aether did not point out his theology lesson is scheduled for this afternoon.

It’s his birthday; schedules are bound to deviate from the norm. Maybe Lumine is getting all her studying done this morning so they can celebrate together. Maybe the servants are so scarce because there are preparations to be made.

Maybe that’s why Aether hasn’t seen his mother once today. She always makes such a fuss on their birthday.

The first person to look him in the eye is the minister who retrieves him from his lesson. Severe and tall enough to block out the sun in the sky, he leads Aether silently down the long hall to the throne room. So short as to barely reach the man’s chest, he has to run to catch up, checks himself when he notices how ignoble it makes him look in a nearby window.

Princes are perfect so their people can love them better. Princes are noble, graceful, and wise so their people do not have to be. They do not question the way of the world for they must one day lead it. They cannot falter, for if a prince missteps, so too does his kingdom.

The doors to the throne room swing wide then close firmly behind them. The click of the lock is lost in the sound of every person in the room murmuring, turning to watch his approach.

No fanfare, no sister, no governess. Men and women he vaguely recognizes from his father’s council flank the empty throne, eyeing him with something that looks like suspicion.

It must be a joke—something he will understand in hindsight, something to throw him off their trail. There must be some surprise in store. Eleven is an important birthday, after all. It is the last year of his childhood. This time next year, he will be old enough to assume the throne should the need arise.

The minister who escorted him turns to his colleagues, voice low.

Latin. They’re speaking in Latin. Aether knows it from mass and ancient texts and the books he sneaks to his room that he is too young to read, but they’re speaking so fast he can’t keep up. In fact, no one in the room seems particularly interested in talking to him—they all close ranks against him, murmur amongst themselves, glance warily at the guards lining the walls, the doors.

Aether knows this is not the place for him to speak. He is meant to be present here, to only be visible. He knows this role best of all, so he waits. Patience never goes unrewarded, as his tutors are fond of reminding him. They must need him for spellwork. The presence of royal blood, even unspilled, is catalytic to many wonderful and terrible conjurations.

Not even another minute passes. Aether turns to the doors as they fling open, lock groaning petulantly as it’s forced to disengage. In burst riders in drab brown uniforms, the scouts who patrol their territory and monitor neighbors for threats. They stride into the room then drop a large bundle at the minister's feet.

A deer. Maybe there’s a threat at the border—a pack of wolves, beasts, monsters.

“Where did you find her?” The head minister doesn’t look down.

The scout dips his head. “Just beyond the border.”

“You’re certain.” Less of a question, more of an order, unspoken—you’d better be.

Rather than reply, the scout simply throws back the top layer of fabric. Aether is reluctant to look; he has never liked watching game being brought back in from a hunt, always dreaded his father’s insistence that he join the king’s men on fox runs.

Now that he’s dead, Aether knows he should have gone with them on their hunt. He should try more to be his father’s son. Steeling himself, he turns his gaze back to the floor.

No fur, no antlers, only miles and miles more of fabric, of blood soaking through and pooling onto the stones. Not understanding, he steps forward, sees golden hair and a signet ring—

Two guards snatch him by the shoulders before he can take his mother’s limp hand. A third grabs his wings by the tender roots and pins him to the stone face down, forces him eye level with her. She stares back at him unblinking, long-gone. Lightless.

He screams for her anyway. Clawing desperately to reach her, he thrashes against his restraints, sobs and only recognizes his own voice when the high ceilings echo it back. At some unseen gesture, he’s released all at once and rushes to cradle her head, to cover her with his wings.

When he looks up, looks to anyone for understanding—now they meet his gaze. The head minister approaches, boot resting on his mother’s dress, watching Aether coolly. Mother would hate it, always keeps herself meticulously kept, insists on Aether doing the same—he makes an inhuman sound in the back of his throat, goes to yank her dress safely away—

Cool steel presses against the column of his throat, indenting perfect golden skin. It is sacrilege to even think to harm the Crown, but no one raises their sword in his defense. The minister narrows his eyes, contempt in every line of his body.

Now, Aether understands. The threat is here: the monster is already inside the walls.

Abomination .”

The moment Albedo steps over the threshold, the world falls silent.

He’s accustomed to quiet, to solitude with no one around for miles, but natural quiet is anything but. Wind blows through blades of grass, rustling leaves. Birds chirp in the distance. Even the softest sounds—the scampering feet of feather-light mice, the clap of a pigeon’s wings—betray life in natural silence. Because the world is unrelentingly alive , from macro to the microscopic writhe of the unseen on every surface. Everywhere, cacophony.

Within these stone walls: nothing. He hears neither his own breath nor his own heartbeat.

The labyrinth drives men mad, according to the tales told in taverns of those who never return. But what choice does he have other than to move along the allegedly endless passage of stone stretching twenty feet above? He put himself in this position. Besides, a request from the Crown is never a request, always a command.

If anyone can conquer the maze and what lies within, Teyvat’s most accomplished scientist can. How flattering.

He places a hand flat on the wall to his left and begins to walk. If he can keep himself oriented, track his own progress and always keep a hand on the left wall, he will not get lost. Eventually, be it days or months, he will find the exit. Surviving the labyrinth is nothing more than a test of fortitude against his own mind—and on the other side, he will emerge newborn.

After sixty years as Calx, it’s time to move on from this identity, to assume another in a new place.

Nevermind what lies within these walls. Nevermind the real reason the dowager sent him here. Nevermind the accursed creature that no one has ever managed to strike, that must be slain before the heir apparent can sit the throne.

So long as the Starborne breathes, Teyvat’s succession can be contested. So long as the Starborne breathes, the Crown will send in the kingdom’s murderers and thieves and braggadocios to die.

The Starborne. No one sent into the labyrinth has ever survived the dread creature. Those who have seen it have never spoken of what it looks like, what to expect—other than certain death. How many scores of men have walked this passage, this glorified sepulcher? How many bones must he step over before he takes up the sword?

They loved that speech in the throne room. He smiles to himself as he makes his way down the entrance corridor, observing his surroundings. The dregs of those who came before still lie in this in-between place: someone thought to trace their path on the wall with a rock, another left a trail of red string behind themselves, now slack and fading in the dust. Yet another spent his first waterskin before the first fork and left it empty, now rotting in the sun.

Before the end of his first day, he discovers the first body. The meat is mostly gone; he estimates the man died perhaps four months prior. In usual conditions, his bones would have been picked clean, but the labyrinth hosts no real predators but one.

Two now. He sucks his teeth and considers the body curiously. Much of its gear is unusable and unnecessary for the task of slaughtering a celestial creature. Too many weapons, now useless and rusting, weighed the man down. Albedo takes a weather-beaten journal from the stone floor and opens it, flips through the entries to the final one:

Day 11, I think I got turned around. No sign of the beast. I can smell water. I pray to reach it in time.

So, he ran out of water. Such is the most likely killer in the labyrinth, for water is heavy and difficult to carry. The climate is traditionally temperate, but the kingdom has been plagued by drought this year. Even now, the sky is cloudless overhead. No rain has fallen in months.

“It’s like the Crown wanted you all to fail. Lucky me.”

He drops the journal carelessly, sets his hand back upon the wall, then continues along his way. As the sun sets on his first day in the maze, he draws a piece of chalk from his satchel and writes on the stone wall:

Albedo, Day 1

Sunny, beautiful, three corpses in varying stages of decay.

No sound. No sign.

Beneath, he draws a simple tent, brushes his fingers over the sketch, and closes his eyes.

“Three hundred and sixty-two heroes have lost their lives to the monster in the labyrinth. What makes you different?”

Albedo shakes his head. “Nothing at all. I doubt I am braver, no better with a sword than the best who have offered up their lives. I am not cleverer than the cleverest. Better looking, perhaps.”

That gets them laughing. He smiles at the would-be queen.

“Your charm will not serve you in the face of a monster.” She’s the only one in the court without a sense of humor. “It will try to kill you.”

“I do hope so, Your Highness. How else will I get close enough to deliver your kingdom?”

Albedo wakes on the second morning to the sun already high in the sky. Nothing around his tent suggests that there has been any disturbance in the night. He eats a grapefruit, drinks a skin of water, and proceeds.

Albedo, Day 2

Sunny, hot, muggy, one sun-bleached skeleton.

No sign.

On Albedo’s third morning in the labyrinth, he wakes, eats a grapefruit, drinks a skin of water, and draws a straight line from one wall of the maze to the other with chalk. He steps back and watches the magic take hold. Stone shifts to crowd over his drawing, to manifest a new wall, to close on an open pathway.

By nothing more than a line in the dust and a masterful stroke of his chalk, the labyrinth ceases to function. Any man sent in behind him now will be forced to walk the new path opened up in his wake, will not cross his. The Crown cannot send a man to kill him should it realize the mistake made by sending Albedo.

“Apologies, princess,” he says aloud to no one. “Call it risk mitigation.”

He smiles, places his left hand on the left wall, and proceeds.

Albedo, Day 3

Overcast, muggy, no bodies, three segments altered. No one will follow me now save the Starborne.

The court is sure to be displeased. I have ruined their fun.

No sign.

Albedo, Day 4

No wind, excruciatingly hot. Discovered a dead pair, husband and wife. Fresh. Rank. My most recent predecessors.

No sign.

Albedo, Day 5

Wrong turn, took the other fork. Found a dead vulture.

How’s that for poetry?

Two segments altered. Strange that the stone is silent even when it grinds into place. Perhaps I have gone deaf.

How curious the wards are. They muffle sound, they seem to loom overhead. Can a piece of magic have gravitas?

No question: no one gets in or out without the palace’s permission.

How long before they send another corpse in after me, I wonder?

No sign.

Albedo, Day 6

Rain at last. The planet has canted itself into a new season. I feel the tide shifting beyond my sight, the water of the world leveling out.

All things in cycle, all things in balance. We all come around again.

No sign.

Albedo, Day 7

When standing against the celestial, is not every star in the sky an eye focused on me alone?

Sign: only the stars. But I am not foolish enough to believe I am alone here.

Come out, Starborne.

Aether is twelve years old, to the minute. He dreams of his mother, blood-soaked and screaming, wakes expecting to find her hands still wrapped around his throat. His hands are somehow clean, her blood long-since washed away.

One year ago today.

Always the same dream. Months ago, he slept and woke and hoped someone would come for him. They would find him innocent of whatever crime he stands accused of. Now, he hopes today the ministers and mages won’t come to inspect his third set of wings, that they won’t poke and prod at him. His hopes have become more realistic over the last twelve moon cycles, constrained within his shrinking boundaries.

Today he wakes, and hope turns sour in his gut. Someone has entered the labyrinth, his endless and sprawling prison. Like spiders under his skin, countless unblinking eyes watching him from the shadows—he feels the intruder’s presence clawing at him from all sides.

The ministers always come as a group, a rolling fog, a familiar weather pattern. Today the sky is clear, the sun unforgiving and merciless and white-hot in his throne. This dread feeling in his bones is foreign—not the ministers. Someone new. Someone worse.

His wings are still too new to carry him. Whatever comes, Aether must wait for it to come to him.

Days, weeks, a month passes. The thing in the labyrinth still writhes under his skin, drawing closer to his heart, gouging tic marks on the inner wall of his ribs.

Hope and dread form a lethal co*cktail: curiosity. Footsteps light, he walks along the upper walls, careful to maintain his balance. Too new to understand what he even is, he doesn’t know what the long drop would do to him. Too new to his prison, he doesn’t want to find out.

Walking along the top of the walls is far faster than navigating the labyrinth within them. Within minutes, Aether discovers a man no more than twenty paces from his arena, laden with weapons.

Weapons. Why would he need weapons? There’s nothing in the labyrinth but—


The sight of steel glinting in the sun is enough to kill Aether’s newfound curiosity—he turns and runs.

Foolish. He never learned from the foxes on his father’s hunts. If you run, they will chase. You make yourself an obvious target, reeking of fear and weakness. They will always find you.

Aether was not born to be prey, does not know how to escape notice. With wings more than twice his height, there is no way he can—he has no way to elude a predator. Assailant hot on his heels, he does not think that wherever he runs to, whatever safety he seeks will not stay safe.

They don’t intend to wait that long. An arrow grazes his heel, the sharp sting startling him. The fall to the stone below does not kill him, only leaves him gasping for air. His wings flap uselessly, desperately as he scrambles away from the approaching threat.

“W-wait, I—” He barely manages to dodge the first, wild swing.

Silence, foul creature.” Up close, the man is covered in brands. Aether recognizes only one: thief. The welts around his wrists and ankles speak to time spent in shackles.

Aether’s mind races, desperate for any escape. Part of him knows there isn’t one; any attempt to escape will merely cause a delay. He has no weapons nor means to fight back. Princes learn to duel young, but he never made it that far.

The next swing barely misses his shoulder, forcing him to brace against the wall. It’s a stupid choice, telegraphs his instability—the man only presses closer, forces Aether to narrowly evade. Abruptly knocked aside with the hilt of a blade and pinned against the ground with unrelenting pressure, he kicks at his assailant, claws at the forearm shoved against his airway.

The man doesn’t budge.

Begging—the last resort of the defenseless. “You—you don’t h-have to kill me, I-I didn’t do anyt—”

“I don’t care what you did.” The man laughs cruelly, spitting in Aether’s face as he manages to land a blow. “Do you have any idea how much the Crown is paying for your head? None of us care what you did.”

Us. There will be more, just like this. Words will not sway them when coin speaks louder. They don’t have to kill him; they want to.

Aether’s people want him dead. No matter how perfect he molded himself to be, they would never love him.

Panic hits him full-force in the gut, calls upon instinct he did not need to be taught. Teeth sink into foul-smelling skin and the man throws him into the wall and cups the bite.

His fingers come away red, eyes full of terror and impotent rage. In an honorable duel, the fight would end at first blood. Aether is afforded no such courtesy; he’s grabbed and thrown again, hauled up by the collar of a thread-bare shirt—

It tears, Aether drops. Without thought, he grabs the closest blade, foreign and terrifying in his hands.

None of us care what you did. The rules of engagement change. There is no honor here, only weakness he can exploit. The man sways on his feet, and Aether seizes his chance.

Ten days into the maze—or ten sleeps, Albedo is not certain—he discovers a wall he did not move, crumbled into dust. He’s not so foolish as to move through the hole left behind, but he sits on the crumbled stone for some time, taking notes in his journal. “That’s curious, you see,” he says aloud, as though he has been speaking aloud the entire journey. “Early on, the maze gives the impression that these walls are not necessarily natural stone. Labyrinthine magic often depends on the conjurer weaving crystalline patterns that support the structure. Stone formed around these will never crumble—it’s not actually stone. It’s an illusion, you see.”

He drags a gloved hand through dust and gravel, watches it fall between his fingers. “But this is real stone. They built this by hand. There are pros and cons to each, but I must admit. If I wanted to cage a celestial being, I would do it like this. A celestial is inherently not of Teyvat, so they use Teyvat to cage it, presuming it can do nothing to affect the material.”

He shakes his head. “They are wrong, Starborne. But I’m sure you already know that.”

Albedo takes a long drink of water, stretches, then gets back to his feet. Hand on the wall past the crumbled structure, he continues on his way in silence until night begins to fall.

“They found other ways to keep you in here, didn’t they?” he asks no one at all as he takes out his chalk. He approaches the wall to record the day’s note.

Albedo, Day 10

The labyrinth is beginning to crumble around me.

Symbolism? Or simply the ravages of time?

Make yourself known.

He sketches a tent as he does every night, brushes his fingers over it, and conjures cloth from the pitted surface. He sets the tent up beneath the poles that roll to his feet from the swirl of magic in his wake, then steps inside. Unlike every night before, he does not close the flap. Still, he sleeps soundly.

The next morning, he wakes with the sun and eats a grapefruit. As he steps out of the tent to continue on his path, he glances back at the inscription from last night.

It is not where he left it. Smiling, he finds it instead on the opposite side of the stone corridor.

albedo, day 100

the Labyrinth is bEginning to crumble Around me.

symbolism? or simply the raVages of timE?

make yourself kNOWn.

“Aren’t you clever? Am I getting close?” He raises his water skin to the sky with a smile. “Good morning. You have overplayed—one hundred was simply too many. Make smaller increments. Day thirteen, perhaps.”

He knows that he’s drawing nearer to something—where the earlier corridors in the labyrinth were spelled near-silent by the wards, they become increasingly loud. He hears wind that, instead of whistling down narrow halls, gusts with great, thundering sounds out of sight. He hears water, the scampering of mice through crumbled stone, and something else.

Something bone-deep, not audible so much as felt beneath his feet. It thrums beyond his sight, harmonizes with something in his chest, makes him buzz.

He has felt this before, once in his long life, and never so strongly as this.

Celestial. I feel the star in you, taste it like ozone on my tongue.

They slaughtered the Queen on the dawn of the twins’ eleventh year. They ran her down like a dog, humiliated her, killed her, then carried her body like a prize through the city to throw at the feet of her court.

Albedo was not surprised. Men do not like what they cannot understand.

Their reasoning was simple: she meddled with the divine, brought calamity upon her kingdom through the not-so-simple act of swallowing a star. When she birthed the Princess and the Prince, they showed no sign of abnormality. No one yet knew of her indiscretion.

Stars are gifts from the gods, the result of a bargain. What did she bargain for, that they bequeathed her in the form of a child? Power? Freedom?

Standing before the princess, Albedo saw none of the divine in her. As she lay down her challenge, the one he sought out himself, he wondered:

Is it fear? Or is it the terrible knowledge that she will never measure up to her twin star that she—small, plain, human—will never eclipse?

On the eleventh night, Albedo simply writes his name on the wall before he goes to sleep. He wakes on the twelfth morning, eats a grapefruit, and steps out of his tent to find his name written a thousand times over.

Albedo Albedo Albedo Albedo Albedo, higher than he can reach, beneath his feet, splattered across the corridor ahead like paint.

All in his own perfect hand.

“And what is your name, I wonder?” he asks, though he already knows well who lurks within these walls. As he walks away from his camp, he draws a line across the path, closing off another segment of the maze. When the stone rises from below, it brings with it a network of roots that stretch and break with the strain.

I’m getting closer.

The twelfth night and thirteenth day pass without incident: confirmation that their meeting fast approaches. How does the prince prepare himself? Does he sharpen his weapons? Does he forge a new blade, or does he sleep in preparation for the energy he will spend in the coming days?

That night, Albedo approaches the wall, aware of the chirping of crickets and the nighttime sounds of nature just beyond his sight. He closes his eyes, soaks in the stars, then writes:

Albedo, Day 13

I bring a gift from far away. Won’t you share it with me?

On the dawn of the fourteenth day, Albedo wakes, eats a grapefruit, and leaves his tent for the final time. He eyes the walls that stretch before him, the deep gouges into their surfaces, the magic shedding like light that he can smell as thick as perfume.

The gouges do not spell anything, but their meaning is clear enough:

Leave me alone.

Instead, he takes the chalk in hand, turns towards the wall to his left, and draws a circle. The shape sinks into the stone, cutting into it, and fills instantly with a thousand cuts. All at once, the stone within the circle crumbles away, opening a doorway to a vast meadow with a tower at the center, lush gardens, a river, birds—

He has arrived, not to the end of the maze, but to the dread creature’s lair. Here, there be monsters—or lonesome stars, so far afield as to have nothing in orbit.

Albedo walks out onto the grass, turns in a circle as he searches first the grounds, then the skies. Smiling, he draws from his bag a single grapefruit, holds it high, and calls at the top of his voice:

“Hail, Starborne!”

Two weeks ago, someone new entered the labyrinth.

Another dead man is as inevitable as the slow and constant erosion of stone, as the undeniable fact that Aether will live and die here. He felt the new presence instantly. It settled deep into the cracking of his bones, as though the path of the labyrinth was carved into his ribs when it was raised.

Someone new, here to die like so many before them. Should they make it halfway through, if the unforgiving sun or the crows do not find them first, they will step into his lair. Once they do, once they cross swords with him, they will not live to see sunrise again. He will perform their final rites then toss the body into the sea. He will serve as the lone scribe of yet another epitaph:

Here lies a fool, come to die on someone else’s whim.

Only he bears witness to their final moments, to the monumental suffering borne of ambition and power and greed.

If men were smart and the gods were kind, the first to fall would have been the last. Men would value their lives, lay down their arms, and steadfastly agree never to speak of the unholy terror mired in stone and isolation. If queens were wise and the heavens paid attention, they would have seen the futility of their plan, the pointlessness of attempting to kill something created to outlive them all.

Aether: ill-gotten heir of the stars, disgrace to his bloodline, monster in the maze.

Three hundred and sixty-two have been ordered to come back with his head or not at all—thus, none of them return.

Some tell him what they’ve heard. They spit false stories at him as they flourish what they believe to be trump cards, their specialized weapons and tailor-made spells. The princess has ensured that no one knows the horrid truth, that she once shared a womb with what she is so desperate now to destroy.


But she is no sister, for he can never be her brother. To the men sent after him, he is a chimera, a harpy, a vampire, a changeling, a homunculus—it does not matter. He is undying. Each one she sends to destroy him fails.

They are kin, the Starborne and the heir apparent. Two halves of one monstrous whole. If the trembling masses knew, how long before those questioning eyes and sharpened blades turned on her?

You are a shapeshifter, they hissed at him. Otherworldly, beautiful, a trick of the light, a glamor tempting mercy. Your every move marks deception. You will kill me without hesitation, so I must not hesitate.

When he was younger— you have disguised yourself as a child. You only cry for your mother to disarm me. Your tears are poison. I must not waiver—I must burn your wings and sever your head and parade your body through the streets, that our princess may become Queen at last.

It did not matter what Aether felt even then. He had eleven years of life to repent for.

Now, he is more than twice that—what greater sin is there than to resist death, mandated by crown and heaven alike? The years go by, and still, men step into the labyrinth.

Whether they chose to enter this gauntlet or were thrown within it, they fall just the same. It almost makes him pity them.


Someone new is in the labyrinth. Be it days, weeks, months—they will die. Their blood will stain him like so much water, like insignificant waves battering the cliffs.

Aether looks out over the overgrown walls and watches as stone crumbles, as a man steps through as though tearing through paper. He holds up a golden orb and raises his voice to the sky.

The Starborne does not answer.

But why should he? Albedo has directly disobeyed his one request. Leave me alone, but he won’t. He can’t possibly, not with so much at stake.

My life, his. We are intertwined now, he and I.

A wise man might turn and head back into the maze, but Albedo treks across the grass to the stream that runs through the circular arena. “I bring a gift from far away,” he says, no louder than his usual speaking voice. He places the grapefruit atop a stone that sits beside the water before stepping away to settle farther down the streambed. “No need to wash it; the skin is thick enough to keep the pulp safe to eat. I hope you don’t mind if I impede upon your hospitality for a few moments, Starborne. My water is very stale and rarely cold.”

Still no answer. He kneels beside the water and splashes it over his face, breathing a sigh of relief at how the cold instantly relaxes his shoulders. While perfectly capable of conjuring his own water—his success in the maze depends on that very skill—nothing beats that which occurs naturally.

Cool, crisp, and clear. Albedo splashes again, then drinks greedily from cupped hands. When it runs down his arms and into his sleeves, he pulls off his shirt and begins to wash away the dust clinging to his skin.

Putting himself in a perilous, vulnerable position serves three purposes: to display that he is no threat, to provide an opportunity for the Starborne to be secure enough to show himself, and to actually get clean after limited options for the past two weeks. If the Starborne is as ruthless as the Princess maintains, he will strike Albedo down, or at least make a move to initiate the inevitable fight.

No strike comes. No blade at his throat, no word of warning, no pain. Instead, a ripple moves through the air as though someone struck a bell just out of sight, beyond his hearing. When Albedo looks back to the stone, the grapefruit is gone. He smiles. “If you like it, there are more in my bag. If you want them all, I ask that we trade. I don’t have anything else that will ward off scurvy, and I have some distance to go yet. I don’t mind trading, but must insist if you want them all. Forgive me if I talk too much; I’ve become accustomed to the one-sided nature of our conversation, Starborne. Feel free to cut in at any time.”

“A trade.” Albedo half-expected him to sound like the stars themselves, a holy heavenly choir. No, the voice is soft yet perfectly audible despite their seeming lack of proximity. Male, clear, human. The winds in the arena fall still. “What trade—I kill you gently? I cannot imagine what I have to offer you.”

Albedo draws his hairbrush from his bag, dips it into the river, then runs it through his hair. “Ah, no, I prefer something tangible. I’m open to suggestions, so long as your offering lasts me through the remainder of your lovely labyrinth. I am unsure how much longer I have until I come upon the exit. By my educated calculations, I would guess…five days? To the sea, I suppose. You are on the sea, are you not? But a five days’ supply should suffice.”

“How pleasant, to be able to leave.” But the Starborne makes no further comment. For a brief moment, Albedo is cast in shadow, but he dares not look back or up. The celestial presence is tangible in the air—but do not all stars center their solar systems? They impose gravity, necessitating orbit.

The Starborne stands behind him, over him. His every breath ripples through their shared magnetic field.

Albedo shakes his head. “Not particularly pleasant, no. New beginnings never are. As far as the Crown is concerned, I’m already dead—and you, stuck here for eternity. How terrified they are of you.” He dips his hair fully into the water to soak it, before beginning to braid it out of his face. “What is your name, Starborne? You already know mine.”

“My name does not matter. You know what I am—names are for those with personhood. I have none.”

“But you are the prince, are you not? That’s a very capital-P Person. Not that the Crown lets on, but I’m surprised you’ve forgotten. It has only been, what, fourteen years since—”

“What prince?” If the Starborne’s tone was not so brittle, it might be mistaken for humor. “Where are his records? What is his name day, if he ever lived at all? You seem to have plans after you leave this place—I suggest you expedite your stay if you maintain your supposed harmlessness.”

Albedo ties off his braid, every movement intentionally telegraphed and predictable. “I have no intention of killing you, no. I am unarmed. I suspect neither of us will have an easy time with the wards. No one is intended to leave until you are dead, you see. That’s why they fill your halls with the corpses of criminals.”

He moves from the streambed and lies on his belly in the lush grass, sun-warmed and laden with purple clover. At once, he feels the Starborne’s presence move—one moment he is there, gone in the next. To his tower, judging by the pull beneath Albedo’s skin.

“As for the prince…” He takes his time about continuing, plucking a purple bud from the grass and sucking the nectar from it. Sweet. “It has been some twenty-five years since the twins were born on the summer solstice. The moment we were closest to our star, their mother brought forth another. Eleven years later, I saw them bear her heretic body through the streets on that very same day.”

All sound ceases. The wind does not blow, the birds fall silent, even the stream stills. The world holds its breath as the Starborne speaks. “You saw it. I’m sure you did.” He does little to mask his disbelief. “A fair bit of pageantry, I’ve been told. It isn’t every day they kill a Queen, much less a sacrilegious one.”

A lesser man would be terrified of a world unmoving, of the power wielded by the monster in the maze. Albedo maintains his comfortable spot on his belly, cradling his head on his arms as if readying to sleep. “It was anything but sacrilegious. A mortal does not swallow a star without the aid of the gods. You were bought and paid for. Swallowed, birthed, and returned, as if anyone else would have done differently—”

“Why are you here?” A sudden demand, anger boiling beneath. “Is this a topic of interest for you? The cage, the wards, the endless stream of sacrifices—all an entertaining curiosity to fill your limitless time? For it must be limitless, if you choose to waste such a precious resource lounging in my garden.”

What a wonderful question, if not a simple one. Why are you here? How many reasons might Albedo give, how many might make sense to someone with such limited experience? Instead of answering, he asks, “Why are you here? Should you wish, I’m fairly certain you could make this entire labyrinth a crater and be on your merry way. You are a star, are you not?”

“But you seem to know the entire story already. You know why I’m here, you’ve encountered the wards—they are in place for a reason . Certainly not to keep you in.” The Starborne’s voice is on the edge of breaking. Rough, as though he is unaccustomed to using it so much, or because he has never needed to control it.

Albedo would have been killed already if the Starborne wished to kill him at all. Unsurprising that he makes no such move—after all, he was just a child when imprisoned here, and a prince besides. If he had a proclivity for violence, he might have exercised it a hundred times in the last two weeks.

As suspected, the Starborne is just a boy, another victim of a desperate Crown. “I’m simply surprised they’ve convinced you that you have no way out. Then again, you were only a boy when they put you here, and you are still very young. Their greatest fear must be that you will one day realize that they cannot make you do anything, including forcing you to stay within their measly, human wards.”

He outstretches an arm in the grass towards the tower, hand resting palm-upward. “May I meet you face-to-face, or are we to speak like this? Being a capital-P Person necessitates thinking of yourself as one. I would like to look you in the eyes when speaking to you.”

“Why does it matter? There are no formalities here—I assumed the corpses would substantiate as much.” He sounds hopeless, as if it truly does not matter. As if all the things he’s been told about himself, from the Crown, from those they send in against him, must be true.

The humans have managed to dim the light of a star. How novel. How utterly horrifying, the lengths they would go to save themselves from a perceived threat. Unthinkable, when it is the nature of man to worship the stars, to act so viciously against one.

Albedo shrugs. “And yet the corpses presented themselves to me without fear. Why—I’ve broken your labyrinth, closed the paths to intruders, and ended all future potentially-viable attempts on your life.” Now, he opens his eyes, sits up and brushes away the grass that sticks to bare skin. Without fear, without hesitation, he again extends a hand towards the tower in the arena. “I have come all this way. My name is Albedo. I am an alchemist, among many things, and I should like very much to meet you, Prince Aether.”

Come out, Prince. The sooner you do, the sooner we can begin our great work.

“You already knew my name.” Accusatory.

Naturally. Albedo has known it since the day the twins were born. The whole kingdom used to know it, before being forced to pretend it never existed. “I know what they called you back then. If you prefer I call you that, or Starborne, or—that’s the limit of my creativity. I’m open to suggestions.”

“You broke the labyrinth ‘for me’. And your proposed reward is that you want to meet me? What could you, who knows so much, possibly stand to gain?”

“I did, in fact. You see, I met your dear sister. Meddlesome, horrible creature that she is, I supposed she would send more in after me, and I had little interest in dealing with men while I study the structure of your labyrinth and make my way out. Who better to answer my questions than you? You ask what I have to gain—what do you have to lose?”

Albedo feels at once that wave of unheard sound, a bone-deep vibration, the wave pattern one step beyond audible. The prince of Teyvat stands right behind him, blocking out the sun. Killing him would be a trivial pursuit for such a powerful being. Aether could snap his neck, lie him flat, reach through his back and pull out his heart. Albedo turns around and looks up.

The Starborne, more beautiful than he was capable of imagining. Three pairs of feathered wings that must be at least three times his height, shot through with gold, brush the grass on either side of him. His hair, gilt as sunlight, lies in a heavy braid over his shoulder, tips just brushing the tops of his thighs. His body is statuesque, built, straddling the line between masculine and feminine in the way only the gods can sculpt by their own hands.

Celestial eyes, glowing faintly, lock on his without blinking. No wonder they think he is a shapeshifter. No wonder they’re terrified of him. No wonder his sister would go to any lengths to put him down.

Albedo smiles, unreserved, and doesn’t miss how those eyes widen. “Hello, Prince. I’m going to stand up, don’t be alarmed.” He does so, meets the Starborne prince eye-to-eye, and offers a hand. “How lovely to meet you.”

“It is still Aether.” He stares briefly at the outstretched hand, lingering for a long moment before he reaches out and takes it with an uncertain grip. Surprisingly gentle.

In the space between bodies, infinitesimal—resonance. Albedo feels himself attune as surely as he would feel a lightning strike, a near-physical and all-consuming wave of harmony.

Is this the true nature of the celestial choir? When madmen say the heavens have a song, is this what they hear?

“...Hello, Albedo.” Aether sounds somewhat dazed, on the edge of confusion, wings ruffling.

Albedo squeezes, and warmth spreads from that single point of contact. “I hope I won’t be too much trouble for you. You have cultivated a beautiful meadow, Aether. Will you show it to me soon?”

Aether cannot seem to hold eye contact for more than a second at a time. “It—was not me, really. The birds did most of the work, I just…didn’t impede them.” Humble. How curious for a prince, even an imprisoned one.

How terrifying it must have been to grow into adulthood in a place like this, desolate save for an endless stream of criminals and migrating birds. Fourteen years of being forced to kill, yet he still cannot make eye contact.

“Not impeding is more than most men can do—they put their hands into the meat of the world and rip it apart, until all beautiful things lay in pieces at their feet.” Albedo bows his head. “I would like to hear about it from you, the changes you’ve seen and when. Tomorrow, perhaps.”

Aether’s pulse hammers against his palm, hand squeezing once more before falling away at last. “I expect you will have no trouble navigating it on your own.”

“I would not. But I would like to hear the story from you. A flower is not just a flower, you see—it’s the culmination of all the seeds that came before.”

Aether hums as he takes a half-step back. “...Goodbye, Albedo.” Another step, then another, before he lifts into the air as easily as drawing a breath, vanishes into the setting sun.

Even the stars run out of patience—or perhaps he is just nervous. Albedo takes the rejection in stride and lies back in the grass, closing his eyes.

Nothing will harm him here. Of that, he is certain.

Sometimes, Aether wonders if he’ll miss this. After death, do stars have consciousness? Will he ascend to the heavens to watch the world from a lofty, star-soaked throne? What signifies the afterlife for a being never meant to die?

Yet even if stars can achieve apotheosis—Aether is cleaved in two. Some part of him remains human, will theoretically step into inky blackness and not reemerge. Maybe that’s the weak, corruptible part of him that looks at the endless scroll of time before him and thinks, no. The part that refuses to take another step forward, to run towards the unreachable horizon.

Poets and scholars and great man-minds would say it is human to cling to life. What is more human than chasing new ways to supersede the relentless conquest of death and the withering of all things? Death clings to everything. Brevity makes life beautiful—so immortality must be monstrous. Ungrateful, to outstay one’s welcome and deny the final boatman his precious cargo.

Only one thing supersedes the pursuit of eternity. Of all the things that make a man, death is the greatest of all: to collapse on the doorstep, inches from the warmth of the hearth, hand outstretched, ever reaching.

For all that pursuit, man will never catch his prize.

Aether’s inhumanity shines through as he’s held up to the light. He was born on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice—how useless and ornamental to mark it at all in this spartan life. The years have no bearing on this ichorian body. Nothing changes in the labyrinth, not even him.

Strange, that his birthday feels significant. It marks the changing of the seasons, the first step to a long and languid dance into autumn’s arms. The labyrinth is suspended in endless summer, yet Aether always finds himself watching for turning leaves.

Waiting for a sign, perhaps. Confirmation: you will do as any star would. Flare golden, burnish red, collapse inward. And after—

After. Aether doesn’t imagine there is an after for someone who never belonged with the living. Perhaps death would be a final homecoming. Viator— the traveler finally come home, when he has never had one in the first place. He will arrive on the doorstep, and sink tiredly into nothingness.

He is always waiting for something.

Very much alive now, he looks over the crumbling stone. The labyrinth teems with birds and insects and all manner of creatures who are so much more given to living. So much more deserving.

He will not miss this place at his inevitable end. The act of missing is reserved for those who will return, who endeavor to make their way back. It is for the living, not the dead, the abandoned, the left-behind.

Monsters are never grieved. Their killers become saints, lauded and shrouded in glory.

For those who are loved well enough, lauded enough, missing turns to remembrance. It transforms into ghosts that linger in doorways just out of sight, to visages on family altars and stories told to babies by teary-eyed old men. Here, the missing is sweeter, for it proves something was there. It forces the living to reshape around loss.

Aether missed his mother once, he assumes. A child must miss its mother, must cling to her memory with the desperation of a fledgling pushed from the nest too soon. Years have passed, the gold of her hair faded and decayed. The only image he can conjure in his mind are her eyes, dead and cold and lightless, inches from his own.

He is not so foolish now as to assume there is room in his life to miss anyone anymore. There is neither sweetness nor comfort in the dead. His ghosts do not linger out of sight but gouge out his chest, overstay their welcome, scream until he is raw with it.

There are still more ghosts to be made, however many his sister means to bequeath him. That’s all there ever will be: wounding and death and decay, and no one strong enough to take Aether with them.

To die is as human as the impetus to resist it. Aether watches the sun set against its will, clawing at the edges of the solstice day, and envies it. Even the stars have both the chance to die and the foolishness to resist it.

Thinks, entreats, prays with no one to hear: I’ll go. Let the moon guide me home, silver and gentle and warm-handed. Lay me down in a field of stars, and let me rest.

The day he turns twenty-four years old, barely a stitch in the fabric of the universe, he vows to do what the sun will not. When his time finally comes, he will not cling to the horizon. He will cast no final rays of light across the sky, fading beautifully from gold to pink to navy to black.

He will simply go.

On his twenty-fifth birthday, he watches the sun set again and wonders when it will be his turn. Perhaps this will be his year, even if he must put the spear into his assassin’s hands himself.

Poetic, to give them his own halberd and guide it towards his heart. He prays they have the strength to cleave it.

Three full days pass before the Starborne descends again. Albedo fills the light hours with exploration of the maze’s inner sanctum—the flora, the fauna, the features of the stone walls around it. Aether’s arena is massive, and the walls are already being reclaimed by the earth. Vines snake their way up the stones and crack through it as easily as a chick breaks through its eggshell.

The wards are impressive. Dozens of them dome over the maze. They’re greatly concentrated in this area and so thick that Albedo must squint to see the clouds through the crackle of magic. They’re certainly some of the best work he’s seen wrought by human hands.

How long will it take before these walls crumble entirely? How long before the Starborne presides over a pile of dust and bodies? A century? A millenium? Will he watch the universe meet its heat death from this very spot, eyes fixed on the stars as they close in, trapped until the end by magic he cannot decipher?

His night hours are spent staring at those very stars, still so far from here. He lies on his back in a makeshift camp, sitting up only to make note of stars he doesn’t usually get to observe. Light pollution from the city, even from small villages, wipes the sky clear of thousands of distant homes. Here, there is no light but the boy in the tower.

On Albedo’s fourth day of solitude, as he strikes out towards the orchard, he feels the bone-deep chime of silent bells.

Resonance, he calls it. His body reacts to the Starborne’s proximity, yes, but the sensation transcends the physical and reaches deep into the parts of Albedo even he does not understand. In the past, with other celestials, he felt such sensations to a much lesser (and much more unpleasant) degree, but his resonance with Aether plucks a harmonious chord in his chest and puts him utterly at ease.

It feels…good.

“Hello, Aether,” he says without looking back. He doesn’t need to.

“Hello, Albedo.”

“I hope you don’t mind if I have a look at your orchard. The trees all look well cared-for—you grew them?”

Aether remains quiet for a moment before he answers, “I don’t think the mages were happy when they saw the saplings take root. By the time they stopped coming, the trees were already entrenched.”

Nature never ceases to fascinate. How quickly it moves, enabling even the most desolate and punishing places to become something greater. For some, this prison could be a utopia.

They tromp through the field of grass and flowers to the orchard, filled with trees in various stages of fruiting. “You must have been delighted when they started to produce after a few years. None of these are particularly easy to grow—which is your favorite?”

Talking to Aether is easy, as though they were already mid-conversation when he touched down. For the most part, the trees themselves are incredibly healthy. The maze must protect them from some of their usual predators, from beetles that otherwise might bore holes in the bark or destroy the roots from beneath.

Aether dips under a gnarled branch, wings neatly tucked at his back. How elegantly he moves for such a large being, impeded by three full-sized pairs of wings and all their feathers. “The citrus,” he says as he tilts his head, squints at one of the branches. Then, softer, as though amused, “Or…the crabapples. I like that they’re useless.”

Albedo’s attention falls to the orchard floor, to a significant number of broken and rusted blades around the bases of the trees. He must have used them to hold up the delicate young plants, to bolster them against the wind. How resourceful. Hundreds of men have come here wielding the perfect support, life borne of blood and death. He laughs. “Oh, this is very clever, Aether. And I wouldn’t call crabapples useless. They make good jam. I can show you how to make it, if you’re interested. How old is this one, ten?”

“Fourteen. And I haven’t the tools to make jam.” As though accustomed to doing so, Aether perches on one of the low branches of the crabapple. His weight causes some of the blossoms to shed petals; they rain around Albedo like overlarge snowflakes and catch in his hair as he slides a hand along a nearby branch.

Luckily, Aether did not sit on this one. It appears large enough to bear his weight at first glance, but there are no blossoms, no budding leaves. Albedo gives the branch a light shake and watches dead leaves flutter to the ground.

“Nonsense. We have everything needed to make jam.”

“Let the birds have th—” Aether stutters into silence.

In all of Albedo’s years in Teyvat, only one gift has been his since the very beginning. Others, he taught himself: the alchemical arts, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, the ability to conjure whatever he needs with a piece of chalk and sheer belief. Now, he places both hands on the dead crabapple branch and breathes life into it anew.

Water changes course through the trunk and green buds burst from previously-dead wood, unfurl into leaves, grow to size. Vibrant pink blossoms open wide as if they were waiting for permission until just this moment. “The drought was hard on it last year. It is nothing a little coaxing could not remedy.”

Aether’s wings snap to their full breadth, feathers puffed. “The drought,” he repeats, voice low.

Albedo smiles. Have I alarmed you, Starborne? “Yes, the drought. Perhaps you’re right. It may be better to let the birds have the crabapples. A trade-off, a gift for bringing you your garden. Or an apology for showing them up.”

He gives the newly-blossomed branch another shake to test its strength, finds it perfectly healthy once more. “But mine is a temporary fix. When they go so long without rain, they become susceptible to disease. When the ground begins to crack around the roots, you must bring water from the stream.”

He moves on to the next set of trees, a little row of peaches with their curving leaves. “These are newer. Wherever did you find a peach pit?”

Aether, wings still spread in display—threat, warning, perhaps something else—stares at him without blinking. Albedo grew accustomed to his inherent gift being met with fear long ago.

“A man had them among his supplies. He made for good fertilizer.”

Albedo cannot make Aether trust him, but he can make light of the threat. His every action must, at least for the time being, display his absolute lack of fear. Not only because he is unafraid, but because he wants Aether to see that he won’t be making any stupid moves.

Frightened creatures act rashly. Albedo is measured in every step. Be yourself and see what shakes out of the branches.

“Bodies make excellent fertilizer. There’s something poetic in it, don’t you think—men never truly dying, instead taking another form and eventually returning to the stars.” He gestures to the rusted metal littering the ground. “But you are wasting resources, leaving these here. You could melt them down to create something new and useful for yourself. Certainly, you have no blade supply shortage, but if you cannot make jam, then you must be short on cauldrons.”

“I think you will be surprised by the multitude of things I have a shortage of. Forgive me for not having a forge ready for your use.” But of course, he wouldn’t. Assassins would have rare cause to bring in any heavy tools such as a cauldron, not when they need to move swiftly through the labyrinth.

“I am not concerned about a forge for my use, but for yours. But I understand—they have not been kind in their allocations. That’s why I offered. I try to leave things better than I found them.”

But the deeper he feels that resonant thrum, the gravitational pull of celestial bodies, the more he hesitates. Should he leave Aether here at all? At first, he thought to make his way through the labyrinth to a new life on the other side, leaving the Starborne to do as he likes—but Aether is so young, and he doesn’t know how to escape.

Albedo lifts a hand without thinking, just shy of touching wing feathers. The gold in them catches the sun, throws pinpoints of light over the leaves. “Perhaps this is an inappropriate question, so you must forgive me if I overstep—do you molt? What happens to the feathers you lose?”

“It is inappropriate.” Aether’s tone falls utterly flat, but he doesn’t flap to buffet Albedo away. Long flight feather twitch as though expecting the touch. “The birds take some. Others are quills.”

“Quills. You must be a writer, then.” But what does he use for ink? Every question begets a thousand more; each simple discovery opens a winding path of knowledge.

Albedo spreads his arms widely, baring his throat and smiling without reservation. “Another trade: I’ve asked you something inappropriate, so you may ask me something inappropriate in turn.”

Aether’s head co*cks to the side. He’ll make the birds jealous. “I cannot imagine what would be inappropriate to ask you. You seem bothered by so little.” Nevertheless, his wings relax at last.

The wind blows, a sudden gust through the arena, and Albedo just manages to catch a downy feather as it comes loose. “I’m not afraid of you, if that’s what you mean. You’ve given me no cause to be, just as I hope to give you no cause. I have no intention of hurting you—why would I, when every Starborne is unique and manifests the celestial in completely different w—”

Aether hits the ground, the only time Albedo has ever heard him land, and closes the negligible distance between them in a breath. “You’ve met others?” he asks, the words tumbling out of him in a rush, like they’re choking him.

He thought he was the only one.

Albedo stands his ground, meeting wild, golden eyes. “Starborne and others like them. Those forged by the gods, those who landed here from far away—several.” He watches Aether’s wings arch, dares to touch at last: he brushes the feathers with his knuckles. They are just as soft as they look. “You are very fearsome, Aether. I climbed over enough bodies to prove it. But I don’t think you’re inherently violent, or cursed, or bewitching me somehow. You’re just a boy doing what he must with what little he has.”

What other choice does he have? His agency warps under the confines of his surroundings, body locked at the end of a short leash. But he has options . He is not as powerless as he feels.

He’s a f*cking star . Not just a star, but the star, the most brilliant celestial body in the sky. Albedo aches to grab him by the shoulders and shake them.

Aether doesn’t break eye contact, muscles taut. “I haven’t been a boy in a long time,” he whispers.

A long time. Fourteen years is nothing, a blink in the comparative eternity of the stars. Albedo weighs his next words carefully, strokes the wing beneath his palm. “Through no fault of your own, you are…shortsighted. No man will succeed in killing you, no matter how much your sister offers. You know this. You’ve been killing your kingdom’s finest since you were eleven years old.”

He offers his other hand, palm upward. “But what happens when your sister dies, when the kingdom falls? What happens when civilization changes and new cities spring up in place of the old, when your labyrinth is no longer necessary for the survival of a kingdom long forgotten? How long do you suppose a star lives, Aether? You are twenty-five. Only billions of years to go—is this where you spend them?”

He can’t blame Aether for being shortsighted—how can he see beyond the horizon when he can barely see past the stone walls? He has never seen the world; what could he know of its possibilities?

Aether turns his face away and does not take the offered hand. “The wards hold when the mages die. They will hold when Lumine is gone, when the kingdom falls—I don’t know how to break them. One day, they will stop coming. Eventually, I will do as all stars do.”


Surely he has tried to escape. How many months have been spent throwing himself at the boundaries? Albedo’s chest pangs. Pity, maybe. Sympathy? He forgoes offering his hand in favor of pressing it flat to Aether’s chest.

Resonance crashes over him as if his head was used to ring a giant bell. It catches his breath, all-encompassing ecstasy with nothing more than a touch.

The world vanishes around them in a flurry of white and gold; wings fold around them both, shivering along the same wavelength as the steady thrum of the unknown. Aether shivers beneath his hand, as if a breath away from bolting or striking or both. A star, pinned by nothing stronger than a touch.

Albedo meets his widened eyes. “They are only men, Aether. No matter what man believes, he cannot contain a star forever. You may not know how to escape now, but who knows what you will learn, and when? I will look at your wards for you.”

“Why?” Aether needs not speak loudly for his confusion to be tangible, baring fear and disbelief at once. “Why would you want to?”

In the interest of reciprocity, Albedo takes one of his hands and lifts it to his own chest, presses it over his heart so he can feel it match his own, beat for beat. Aether draws a shaky breath, tense, but doesn’t jerk away.

“Several reasons. Academic curiosity, for one: what have the mages done to succeed when so many throughout history have failed to contain celestials? How have they tuned the wards, and what are the parameters? And outside of academia—” He holds onto the smaller hand pressed to his own. “Because you haven’t done anything, and the universe always balances back out.”

The emotion barely-contained behind unsteady eyes could be any number of dangerous things. Fear, overwhelming grief, hunger—whatever it is, Aether manages to sound small when he whispers, “There are no scales. No one knows I’m here.”

He is particularly beautiful from so close, an all-encompassing warm presence that needles into his skin all over, electrifies him from within. It feels as though they’ve closed a circuit with the mirrored touch, the sun in Aether and the moon in Albedo, fear and utter calm, uncertainty and complete confidence.

Aether won’t hurt him. Not that Albedo worried he would, but he feels it now in his blood. “I know you’re here.”

The hand on his chest curls before it abruptly pulls away, before Aether practically skips back from him. It is natural—even for stars—to flee from what they do not know. “I won’t stop you.”

In a blink, before Albedo can lower his hand, he is gone.

Only once the world turns blue with deep twilight does Albedo head back for his camp. He lies on his bed of blankets beneath the stars, lights his lamp, and opens his notebook.

Albedo, Day 18

Nothing is useless, not even the crabapples.

Not even you, starling.

In the middle of the night, Albedo wakes as swiftly and completely as if someone screamed in his ear. His eyes snap open and he does not move, barely breathes as he takes stock of why his body jolted awake.

Then, he feels it: the alignment of the stars, the harmony of the universe, beating steady through his bones as a drum. He relaxes and looks towards his feet in the dark.

Aether stands over him with a dagger in his hand, wings spread and face unreadable in the dark. The soft glow of golden eyes betrays no emotion.

He is exquisite . Undeniable, the pull between their bodies, the celestial song. Albedo knows without question: he was sent here by the gods to rectify a mistake made on a grandiose scale.

Breathless, he lifts his chin, draws a single finger across his throat. “Here. A single stroke, and I will be dead before I realize you’ve struck.”

Aether stumbles back, wings faltering. “No, I—” Another step. “I won’t. I never strike first.”

The black hole where Aether stood fills with stars. Perhaps he never stood there at all.

Albedo lets his eyes drift shut once more. “You can stay, if you like.”

Neither Aether nor the stars answer.

Albedo, Day 19

There are, to my count, thirteen unique magical signatures on the wards that I have detected. It is not many, but it is not few.

Ultimately, it is not a deterrent.

Starborne prince, I will pull you from this place.

ELYSIUM - Chapter 1 - amarettiii, Jules (JulesAS) - 原神 (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Geoffrey Lueilwitz

Last Updated:

Views: 5705

Rating: 5 / 5 (80 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Geoffrey Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1997-03-23

Address: 74183 Thomas Course, Port Micheal, OK 55446-1529

Phone: +13408645881558

Job: Global Representative

Hobby: Sailing, Vehicle restoration, Rowing, Ghost hunting, Scrapbooking, Rugby, Board sports

Introduction: My name is Geoffrey Lueilwitz, I am a zealous, encouraging, sparkling, enchanting, graceful, faithful, nice person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.