La Signora was not known for her penitence. The Eighth of the Eleven Fatui Harbingers was an arrogant and ruthless manipulator, who relished in destabilizing nations and sowing chaos across the realm in the name of the Tsaritsa. The Fatui soldiers under her command trembled at the sound of her name; images of unimaginable brutality passed between new recruits like cautionary tales.
So, why was it now, as death barrelled towards her in the form of the Electro Archon, did the woman who placed two Gnosis into the Tsaritsa’s hands through deceit and sheer cruelty, feel a sliver of regret infect her heart? Why did her palms grow damp and her breathing shake like a lone tree in a hurricane?
In the face of death, her body had betrayed her – disgust washed over her with the speed of a forest fire. She was La Signora, the Eighth of the Eleven Fatui Harbingers, whose name was feared across the realm. She was Sumeru Academia’s prodigy, the Rosalyne-Kruzchka Lohefalter, who-
Rosalyne? La Signora’s breath hitched itself in her throat; she hadn’t called herself that for a long time. Rosalyne died long ago – a necessary sacrifice, she told herself over the centuries – but was that the truth?
Now, at death’s doorstep, the woman who destabilized regions and mocked Archons, couldn’t help but reminisce on the path which led her to her doom. Closing her pale eyes, a storm of memories flashed in her mind, all clamouring and fighting to be remembered first.
A soft breeze caressing her cheek, the young maiden sat on the edge of the fountain, her frost-kissed hair reflecting the sun’s rays like the snow atop Dragonspine. The air was filled with the sweetness of blooming windwheel asters, which grew in naturally formed bouquets around the square; happily twirling in the wind native to Mondstadt. Above her, the windmill croaked a steady tune – its sails vibrating as wisps of a breeze played through the beige cloth. Below her, in the main square, the young maiden clad in crimson could hear the chatter of the city’s inhabitants as they went about their day as well as the bartering and calls of shop owners. In the distance, the cathedral’s bells tolled, signalling it was noon and joining the chorus of life enriching the air.
A content sigh left her lips; her cheeks flushing red from the warmth radiating from the heavens above. As comforting as a lover’s arms, the murmuring of the fountain embraced the crimson-dressed maiden, prompting her to close her pale eyes. It was rare for her to bask in the sunshine for long due to her fair complexion – prolonged periods of exposure to sunlight led to her developing a resemblance to the tomatoes sold in the market below. Even as a child, she preferred staying indoors, in the company of dusty books filled with stories of mages, witches, princesses and heroes capable of taking on mighty dragons. Looking back on it now, the maiden faintly smiled – perhaps, that was the catalyst to the future laying before her now.
Basking in the cool breeze, which lightly danced with her snowy locks of hair, a song softly rang through the square, causing nearby birds to stop and stare in awe. The tune filling the air had plagued the young maiden’s thoughts ever since she passed that raven-haired bard dressed in a mint green cape some days ago, and now that she was finally replicating it with her own voice, a sense of ease washed over her. Rivalling even the beauty of the Dawnlight Swordswoman’s voice, who was said to have been blessed by the Anemo Archon himself, the melody rolled on the maiden’s tongue, sweetening the air with words of eternal love and happy-ever-afters.
“This is a new one.”, a chuckle interrupted her, causing the young maiden to gasp and abruptly stop her singing. Before she could greet the knight in front of her, the man continued, “Please go on. I do not wish to be the reason Mondstadt’s residents don’t hear your singing, Rosalyne. However, you must be careful, love. If the gods in Celestia hear you, they might whisk you away to serve as their divine bard.”
Rosalyne flushed; her cheeks burning with the intensity of a forest fire as the warmth consumed her being.
The brunette knight smiled, before teasing her further, “Oh my! My dear, it appears you have been in the sun for far too long. Your face is the same colour as your dress!”
A pout forming on her lips, Rosalyne stood up and playfully hit the brunette’s chest – the impact coaxing an exaggerated cry from the man – before striding past him. She continued without looking back at the knight, exiting the square and making her way to the stairs leading towards her home.
The sound of armour clanging together filled the air as the knight caught up with the crimson-dressed maiden; a softness swirling in his chocolate eyes.
“I’m sorry, my dear Rosalyne. I shouldn’t have gone so far.”
At these words, the maiden abruptly stopped and turned to face the brunette, a wide smile erupting on her face before laughter spilled past her lips.
Gasping for air, the snow-haired maiden giggled, “Rostam, my sweet knight! You didn’t actually think I was mad at you, did you?”, her question followed by a fit of giggles.
Rostam’s eyes widened as realization filled the orbs in which Rosalyne constantly drowned – his expression morphing into one of mock hurt.
“Rosalyne-Kruzchka Lohefalter! You vixen!”, rang before chuckles consumed the air.
“Hey!”, came Rosalyne’s response, “You reap what you sow. After all, if you can have your fun, I can have mine, too.”
Their pace now that of a leisurely stroll, the pair descended the steps and turned into a quiet alley, away from the main square and the prying eyes that came with it. As delicate as the dandelions adorning Mondstadt’s countryside, Rosalyne’s hand found Rostam’s and clasped it – their fingers intertwining like puzzle pieces.
“I wish to make these final moments with you memorable, that is all.”
She felt the knight’s grip on her hand strengthen as Rostam cleared his throat.
“You say that as though we will never see each other again after you leave for the Academia.” vibrated through the air – solemness infecting the atmosphere and hanging heavily on both of their shoulders.
Silence reigned as they walked hand-in-hand through a labyrinth of alleyways; their feet dragging as time blended into a thick fog in their minds. Studying at the Academia took years, sometimes even a decade, meaning Rosalyne would leave Mondstadt for an excruciatingly long period of time – and that was if she ever returned. She could always choose to stay as a mentor or tutor; she could even be selected to serve as one of the renowned scholars leading the Academia, due to her sensitivity to the elements.
Finally, as the pair neared the wooden door of Rosalyne’s home, the young maiden became glued to the cobblestone path and turned to her lover, cupping his cheek with the gentleness of the winter’s first snow.
“I love you so much, Rostam. And knowing that I won’t hear you voice in the wind or see your smile or even breathe the same air as you for years is killing me!”, Rosalyne’s voice shook as a lone tear escaped her pale eyes.
A hand reached out and wiped her tear, “Love, there’s no need for tears.”
Pausing, the knight smiled softly, pure adoration swimming in his opal eyes as he looked at Rosalyne, before continuing, “Although it will be difficult for the both of us, the years will pass and before you know it, you will walk through Mondstadt’s main gates and I will be waiting there, to hold your hands and drown in your eyes and kiss your lips. Yes, the years before us are long but time will race past us like leaves playing in the wind on Galesong Hill. And when you return, we will wed under the tree at Windrise, like you always wanted.”
His words engulfed the maiden in a warm hold, creating a shield around her heart, which protected it from the cold grip of loneliness. Her body moving of its own accord, Rosalyne wrapped her arms around the brunette and laid her face on his Breastplate-covered chest; a shiver ran down her spine due to the coldness of the metal, reminding her of stories she heard of Dragonspine and its harsh weather. Still, in the arms of her lover, Rosalyne felt even scaling a mountain so formidable would be a breeze.
“Do you promise?”, murmured the young maiden, her river of tears now subsiding.
In response, Rostam tightened his hold on her and positioned his chin atop her head – his body cocooning hers protectively - before answering her question with, “I will be here waiting for the day you return, my love. I promise.”
It was five years later that Rosalyne once again stood in front of Mondstadt’s main gates. Her days at the Academia had come to an end and, although her accelerated graduation was rewarded with a storm of praises from the Academia’s scholars and mages as well as an offer to fund all her future research if she stayed, Rosalyne had a promise to fulfil. One she had every intention to keep.
Standing outside the walls of Mondstadt now, the icy hold of anticipation gripped her fluttering heart as she shuffled her weight from one foot to another – the day she had dreamed of and imagined during those painstakingly long days at the Academia, where days and months blurred into unintelligible chaos, had finally arrived, so why was her mind plagued with images of forgotten love and a unfaithful lover?
Rosalyne shook her head, clearing her thoughts: Rostam was a Knight of Favonius, the so-called ‘Wolf Pup’. He was an honourable man who would keep his promise.
With eyes shining with determination like the stars in the night’s sky and a shaky smile, the young maiden made her way to the entrance of her home town, admiring the grown Cedar trees, whose lush green leaves reached the crenels of the battlement above – fondly, Rosalyne reminisced how, on the day she left for Sumeru, the now-grown trees were merely saplings planted some weeks before, swaying in the wind with the fragility of her own heart as she left her lover behind. Now, admiring their indifference to the ever-present breeze the region was infamous for, the maiden reflected on her own growth - both in in her elemental powers and emotional maturity.
Looking past the trees and towards the heavens, a smile cemented itself on her lips as she caught sight of the crest of the Lion of the South. The roaring lion of stone welcomed the fair maiden as she neared the gate, pleased to see a Child of the Wind returning to her home. With adoration, Rosalyne wondered what stories lay behind every dent and scar littering the high walls, whose history stretched further back than her family’s.
Her gaze lowering to the two knights standing guard at either side of the main gate, she focused on their trembling hands and fidgeting feet. Walking past them and through the main entrance, a single thought crossed her mind: fresh recruits.
Calmly, the maiden made her way to the main square up the stairs. The boisterous atmosphere of the market fell into silence as she walked past, ignoring the hushed whispers and quiet gasps of Mondstadtians as her presence interrupted their monotone routines. Come nightfall, Rosalyne mused, her sudden arrival would have spread like a raging wildfire through the City of Wind. Still, she paid no attention to her name echoing in the still air as she made her way towards the stairs leading upwards, her head held high – she has somewhere more important to be.
Climbing the stairs towards the Cathedral, the murmur of the main square blended into the singing of birds and the groaning of the windmill as Rosalyne reached the fountain with a ghost of a smile decorating her features. As agreed on the day of her departure, the two lovers would reunite in the place they first met all those years ago, with the winds as their witness. Sitting down, the snow-kissed maiden basked in the sun’s rays, before tentatively taking out the Hydro timepiece Rostam had given her as a gift before she left.
Rosalyne remembered how he had placed it in her palm and closed her fingers around it before saying, “Once a cycle has passed, you will return to me, love.”
Gazing at the intricate timepiece, love filled her pale eyes at the memory. Every day at the Academia, amidst the mountains of theses and a sea of unfinished research papers, she had made it a point to check on the timepiece – her heart swelling when the water level decreased in the upper chamber. If she was able to wait five years to return to her love, Rosalyne was patient enough to wait a while longer for Rostam to make his way to the small, rose-filled square.
And wait she did. The noon sun gave way to the afternoon shade before blending into the shadows that came with the setting sun. Below, the chatter of vendors and customers subsided, replaced with thuds as shops closed or the night and echoes of footsteps as the people of Mondstadt retreated into the comfort of their homes. Still, as the sky was painted in hues of pink and purple, lanterns lit up along the streets and windows were illuminated with gold, Rosalyne sat on the stone edge of the fountain and waited.
Finally, when darkness swept over the land and Mondstadt fell in a deep slumber, the maiden stood crestfallen and, with a heavy heart, dragged her feet in the familiar direction of her childhood home; dark clouds forming on the horizon of her mind.
Absent-mindedly, her legs carried her through a maze of alleys and staircases as the wind picked up in her mind, carrying with it thoughts oozing concern and fear for Rostam and his safety: why did he not meet her? Had something happened to him? Had he simply fallen out of love?
Before she could register where her body was taking her, the maiden was standing in the same spot where the knight promised to wait for her as she laid her head on his chest, hypnotised by the rhythmic pulsing of his heart; anxiety infected her being, fear hanging heavily on her shoulders as the memory gnawed at her consciousness. The winds within her mind now morphed into merciless gusts, shredding any traces of levelheadedness.
Something was wrong.
A foreignness hung in the air like a warning, staining the air with uneasiness and making the hair on Rosalyne’s neck stand on edge. The storm in her mind grew into a hurricane, electrifying the night’s crisp atmosphere as the rhythm of her steps against the cobblestone quickened. The intensity of the gusts whirling within her grew, tearing down rational thoughts as she neared the familiar wooden door of her familial home; the tempest in her consciousness spilling out of her mind and causing her hands to wildly shake. The maiden’s heart hammered in rhythm with the anxiety-fuelled whirlwind as she reached to knock on the wood – using the scars of time decorating the front door as a welcome distraction from the racing thoughts.
A soft scrapping noise interrupted the suffocating stillness of the night as the door revealed a familiar face – Rosalyne’s mother. Pale eyes met cloudy ones as Rosalyne studied her mother’s expression, examining every new wrinkle born during the time she was away. Her skin had grown dry, and the layer of fat below had seemingly disappeared in the breeze, transforming her face into a poor imitation of the once-lively woman who resided beneath the surface. Her mother wore a stony façade as she stared at her daughter’s widened gaze; Rosalyne’s expression betrayed the thoughts running a thousand miles an hour in her mind.
No words were exchanged – there was no need. Those cold eyes and trembling lower lip her mother wore, like one does a piece of clothing they are anxious to shed, confirmed Rosalyne’s fears as the storm inside crescendoed.
There was indeed something very wrong.
If Rosalyne was asked to describe how she felt after finding out about Rostam’s sacrifice, drowning in her grief would not be the truth.
Drowning implies an element of passivity – of letting go and allowing the waves of despair to carry your lifeless body wherever they wished. It implies the embracing of ignorant blissfulness as the waters of sorrow fill your lungs and your vision clouds while you descend into the darkness below. Slowly, as your heart becomes heavy from the lack of love in the sea of melancholy, your mind withers and you get lost within an ocean of wasted potential.
But, within Rosalyne burned fires of betrayal born from broken promises. In her veins raced flames of anger at the unfairness and cruelty of the world, which scorched and incinerated the heartache left behind by the news of Rostam’s death.
So, no – Rosalyne wouldn’t describe herself as drowning in grief. Not when the furniture in her room was adorned in burn marks from her many outbursts or when the floor was covered in a thin, grey coat of ash; another piece of evidence of the forest fires raging within the young woman. For days now, she had locked herself in her childhood room – one once filled with memories of fairy-tale heroes saving the day through brave acts, now blackened due to the unleashed inferno – and with every passing second, the roaring blaze in her mind grew higher and higher, threatening to spill out and set all Mondstadt afire.
Surveying her charred room, Rosalyne’s hands itched to free the fiery storm swirling within her; her eyes darting back and forth in search of an untouched surface she could corrupt. Finally, those smouldering embers settled on a book once gifted to her by her parents when she was only a child. It was no thought-provoking literature or a research paper like the many that passed through her hands at the Academia – merely a retelling of the classic fairy-tales, as seen on the fading cover. Shakily, Rosalyne picked up the unscathed book as her palms grew damp; she remembered excitedly showing the book to a young Rostam, bubbling with joy when he suggested she read it to him. She remembered how the two laid below the tree at Windrise – the breeze gently ruffling their hair with the outmost care as a young Rosalyne read aloud, her head leaning on Rostam’s shoulder. She remembered his promise of being her knight in shining armour, always ready to protect her and how one day they would wed, just like the knight and princess in the story. So why did he have to die? Why did he-
The book was no more; the grey powder escaping her grip and falling to join the existing traces of Rosalyne’s destruction beneath her feet, like morbid snow.
A humourless chuckle bubbled past her scowling lips as she studied the desolation brought on by her own hands – from her bed to the wardrobe to the desk positioned by the window, everything was covered in a blanket of ash and no surface was left untouched. Looking at the damage she had caused, Rosalyne finally understood the wary looks the scholars at the Academia sent her when they thought she wasn’t looking – they were afraid. Afraid of the way she manipulated Pyro with ease as though she was born from fire itself. Afraid of what she could do with a flick of her wrist. Was this fear the reason they offered her a position of scholar at the Academia? So, they could control her if the flames consumed her? So, they could end her if, or rather when, she became a threat? Is that all she was to them – a ticking timebomb?
Eyes of molten lava glanced out into the night; the City of Freedom slept innocently outside the confines of Rosalyne’s personal prison, blissfully unaware of the hellfire raging within the woman. Her gaze tracing the outlines of houses, she caught sight of the statue of the Anemo Archon, towering over Mondstadt with its wings large enough for the moon to hide behind them. Disgust flashed over Rosalyne’s features as her scowl deepened – those outstretched hands, which brought her comfort throughout her childhood, now mocked the woman, laughing at her dreams of a happy ending.
Narrowing her fiery eyes, Rosalyne focused on the floating island in the sky positioned above the Anemo Archon’s statue: Celestia. The home of the divinity who watch over all Teyvat. The residence where mortals who perform great, heroic feats ascend to and achieve godhood, like the Lionfang Knight, who at the end of her life, ascended to Celestia and became the Falcon of the West.
Rosalyne snorted, bitterness flashing in her pale orbs – what a joke.
These gods, these so-called divine beings, who demanded worship from their followers and uttered lies of holy protection and guidance, had no ambition to prevent war and suffering. Quite the opposite in fact, Rosalyne mused to herself, they relished in it. Why else would the Archon she worshipped, the God of Freedom, sit idly by as his people were enslaved and oppressed, forced to fight as gladiators for the entertainment of nobles? All Barbatos had to do was click his fingers and the aristocracy would have been overthrown; yet the Anemo Archon chose to stay in the shadows as the streets of Mondstadt drowned in blood.
No, the frost-haired woman concluded, neither the Archons nor Celestia cared for mortals, who were supposedly under their divine sanctuary – after all, why would they? A human lifespan is as fleeting as late spring snow to beings capable of living for thousands of years and as soon as one generation of followers dies, the next one is born and eagerly takes the former’s place at the alters of their respective Archons.
Tearing her gaze away from Celestia and the statue, a flame hungry for justice ignited within her heart; there was a wicked stain on this world, one which infected the souls of innocents and ate through the goodness in them, leaving behind an empty shell.
Suddenly aware of the weight in her pocket, Rosalyne reached for the Hydro timepiece stored there and held it in her hands with the gentleness of the summer breeze. Studying the object, images of Rostam – bleeding out in a far-away land, alone as his vision blurred and his breathing grew shallow – flashed before her eyes. With a cry, she shut her eyes and drew the timepiece close to her pulsing heart in a desperate attempt to block the torture her mind was subjecting her to. However, it was to no avail – vividly, she could see how corrupted creatures and other-worldly monsters surrounded her lover, hissing and growling before charging at the dying ‘Wolf Pup’ in a frenzy.
Snapping her eyes open to escape the cries of her lover, Rosalyne felt heat emitting from the gifted timepiece and tentatively opened her palms; a look of shock erupting on her features. The water was bubbling- no, it was boiling inside the two chambers, the sides foggy from the steam.
It was in this moment, with the timepiece’s contents fizzling due to encountering the flames raging within her veins, that Rosalyne reached an epiphany. If the divinity of Teyvat turned their heads to the darkness spreading across the continent and tainting its people, she would answer their pleas for help. She would become the flame that would cleanse the world of its crookedness and engulf it in fire. She would allow the inferno to become the life-force running in her veins and the heat to scorch her skin.
Closing her eyes, determination raging within the smouldering pools, a song rang through the suffocating atmosphere of the night.
“The dandelions carry in the summer wind,”
“Autumn brings the fragrance of grain.”
“But no wind in any season on earth,”
“Shall have you gaze upon me again.”
A howl of pain echoed through the still air hanging over Mondstadt. And thus, the Crimson Witch of Flames was born.
With her mortal form abandoned, the woman once-named Rosalyne became the embodiment of liquid fire. Lava replaced blood and the fragility of her human soul burned away - the love that once warmed her heart extinguished by the scorching flames of revenge. She now walked a path paved by hellfire: hellfire she herself was slowly consumed by.
Still, the woman contemplated while incinerating camps of Abyssal creatures with the ease of knocking over a toy soldier, if her pain guaranteed a better tomorrow for the Children of the Wind, it was a small price to pay. The charred skin and strangled tone with which she spoke were, to her, badges of honour she wore with pride – not symbols of madness.
The citizens of Mondstadt agreed… for a time.
On that faithful day, when the wind tore through the cobbled streets and alleys, sparing no one from the biting cold, and the sun hid behind overcast clouds, plunging the region in monotone hues of grey, Mondstadt’s tolerance dissipated like the final embers of a dying flame. Eyes infected with hatred surrounded her as a crowd circled their unofficial protector; their lips drawn back in snarls akin to a pouncing predator. The tension hung thickly over their heads as the citizens of Mondstadt took a step forward toward the woman, closing the distance.
A growl rang through the air, cutting the roaring wind, “Witch!”
The woman’s pale eyes widened as the insult echoed through her mind, bouncing off the sides of her mind and crescendoing into an orchestra of the self-loathing. This must be a misunderstanding, she excused, they are simply confused and terrified of the world around them – they don’t know who to trust.
But the Crimson Witch of Flame was no fool. She could see the truth burning in the narrowed eyes of Mondstadtians around her and, as they began to hiss her name and hurl insults at her lone figure, a wave of realization washed over her. To them, it didn’t matter that her sacrifice had saved countless lives and prevented the Abyssal creatures from overrunning the City of Freedom. To them, it didn’t matter that her flames only touched monsters and demons. Because, to them, she was a monster.
She would always be a monster.
The aggression with which they regarded her confirmed this. Like a she-wolf protecting her cubs from another predator, the people she once called friends and family were now defending their home from her. Take Ingrid for example, with whom the woman used to chat and gossip in the small but cosy tavern in the north-east side of the city when she still had her mortal form. Now, Ingrid spat her name as though the mere mention of it would poison her. Or Horst - who once excitedly greeted her whenever her mother sent her grocery shopping and packed fresh produce with a smile brighter than the sun - now pointed his finger while insults tumbled past his lips.
Looking past the crowd and toward the first-floor windows of the houses directly in front of the main gates, the woman watched as onlookers cowered behind closed shutters. Drowning out the howls of the citizens, the fog of realization occupying her mind transformed into flickering flames of confusion – what was she supposed to do? Explain herself to the crowd and beg for their understanding or accept her banishment with her head held high?
The solution to her internal dilemma came in an unlikely form – focusing on a familiar figure to her left, the woman of liquid flame recognised the time-worn expression of the grey-haired woman as being that of her mother. Her mouth was set in a straight line, not betraying any thoughts in her mind or emotions kept prisoner in her heart. Those eyes, which doted on Rosalyne when she was a child and radiated love, now were as barren as the lands of Snezhnaya – cold, bitter and loveless – as their eyes met. As quickly as eye contact was established, it was broken; the older woman turned on her heel and marched away from the scene, leaving her daughter to the wolves.
The flickering flames in her mind now extinguished, the witch spun around toward the exit and with a pace reflecting her decisiveness, she began her life of exile. Insults and snarls suffocating the air around her and infecting it with rage, she passed through the gates. Monster ricocheted in her mind, soiling her thoughts with a stain not even the strongest soap could scrub off.
Yet, as the witch crossed that stone bridge for the last time and the cheers of success from the citizens rang through the wind from behind her, she felt nothing. Overhead, a robin sang in flight - its chirping mingling with dying echoes of the city dwellers. Her eyes fixed on the horizon; the witch embarked on her solitary journey.
After all, new hopes were birthed from the fires of old pains. She needed not comfort nor sympathy.
“Dear me. At this rate you’ll burn yourself out… literally.”, a hollow chuckle followed his statement.
The man standing before the Crimson Witch of Flame was the most peculiar stranger she had ever seen. He wore a doublet as dark as the midnight sky with sleeves so large his upper arms seemed lost within the material. There was a jingling sound as he moved; the bells decorating his cape coming to life with each step he took, reminding her of the cathedral bells signalling noon in the City of Freedom. His cape was adorned with mangled fur around his shoulders – the tufts of silver standing on edge in a threatening manner. The outer colour of the cape was blacker than the charred earth the witch left in her wake; small, twinkling constellations flickering in the sea of darkness that was the man’s cape. Yet, the interior was as pale as frost, matching the stranger’s hair, which descended like frozen waterfalls of Dragonspine down his back. A mask of blue and grey decorated his face, covering his nose and eyes while a plastic smile danced upon his lips. Fixated on his mask, the Crimson Witch of Flame wondered what secrets lay behind the accessory – after all, eyes are the window to one’s soul, so what had the stranger stood opposite her witness to imprison his behind a mask?
“I must say, you astound me. You have but a human body, and yet you carry such power within you.” spoke the voice behind the mask.
Brought back from her thoughts, the witch responded bitingly, “You say that as though you yourself are not a mortal too.”
Had she not shed her physical form for the wicked flames of vengeance, a grimace would have cemented itself on her face.
Silence enveloped the two strangers – a small smile on the man’s lips.
He continued, “You claim that you have no tears left to cry, no blood left to shed, and yet…”
His voice trailed off – it was so soft the witch could have mistaken it for an old man’s senile ramblings.
Time slowed to a standstill as the pause persisted; the stillness of the air choking the witch, her hands twitching with irritation. Opposite her, the man stood calmly, an air of nonchalance rolling off him, seemingly unbothered by the crackling of infant flames summoned by the witch’s hands.
This was a test: to see how long it would take for the Crimson Witch of Flame to swallow her pride and take the bait that were his enigmatic statements.
Narrowing her eyes, the witch studied the eccentric man before her – an acidic taste forming in her mouth as she realised her resolve was weakening with every passing second. And judging from his growing smirk, so too did the man.
Groaning internally, the witch addressed the winner of their unspoken competition, “I have never understood the fashion in Fontaine and now, seeing it up close, I must say it is even uglier than I imagined.”
Her vice burning with annoyance and irritation – a clear warning to the fool standing in front of her to voice the reason behind his sudden appearance or suffer the consequences.
Another chuckle escaped the man’s lips, “At least we have that in common. It’s one of the reasons I am proud to not hail from Fontaine.”
Had she still been Rosalyne, a flush of embarrassment would have coloured her cheeks red. She had been so sure that the man was a citizen of the Nation of Hydro due to his clothes and now she was the one who looked like a fool.
After a few torturous moments – which she was sure were enjoyed by the sadistic stranger – he resumed his speech; the smirk on his face serving as evidence of his delight at having embarrassed the infamous witch, “But we appear to have gotten off-topic. The reason I followed the trail of smoke and tracked you down is that I wish to strike a deal with you – one I believe would be beneficial to you.”
Immediately, questions flowed past the witch’s lips, her tone burning with distrust, “Why would I strike a deal with you? Who even are you?”
“Ah yes… I do not remember introducing myself. My sincerest apologies. I am Pierro, the First of the Fatui Harbingers and I am here on behalf of Her Majesty the Tsaritsa.”, he gloated as his words dripped with conceit and arrogance.
What a narcissist.
“I am not interested.”, rang the cold response of the witch.
Laughter filled the distance between the witch and the Fatui Harbinger, “We share the same goal, me, the Tsaritsa and you. We wish to cleanse the source of distortion in this world: short-sighted, ignorant gods and the darkness and corruption of the Abyss. Is that not your goal, too? Why else do you torture your bleeding soul so?”
The Crimson Witch of Flame shot back with, “Is your precious Tsaritsa not an Archon? Why is she exempt?”
Pierro’s smile twitched and his silver mask reflected a ray of light, signalling a small shake of his head – it would have appeared she had struck a nerve.
Seemingly recovering from her cutting question, the Fatui Harbinger defended his ruler, “Her Majesty has turned her back on Celestia. She has denounced their indifference toward the people of Teyvat and the cruelty with which Celestia rules. And besides, are you not exhausted from constantly battling with the inferno threatening to swallow you whole? Let the flames that now devour you be extinguished by the grace of Her Majesty. What say you?”
Nothing. She had nothing to say – no words formed in her mind nor passed past her lips. He was right… at least partly. She was tired of burning, of the ache that came with abandoning her mortal form and of the emptiness that haunted her when her mind strayed to happier times.
However, the witch also made a promise to herself that night when she sacrificed Rosalyne’s future, when she sacrificed her future: if the divinity of Teyvat turned their heads to the darkness spreading across the continent and tainting its people, she would answer their pleas for help. The divinity of Teyvat include the Tsaritsa, whether Pierro liked that or not. Helping her would mean breaking that promise, so as tempting as the offer might have been, it was impossible.
“I refuse to help your Tsaritsa”, was the witch’s final verdict.
Pierro’s features lit up with mirth, as a laugh as soft as the sunrays during the break of dawn reverberated through the still atmosphere, “She said that that would be your final decision. But… she also said to give you this.”, an arm extended toward the Crimson Witch of Flame – a small, metal accessory sitting in his palm.
Despite the alarms ringing in her mind, she cautiously took the object, exhaling sharply due to the coolness of the metal. It had a simple design – a round glass orb inlaid with the Fatui insignia, encased in a jagged-edge frame. The orb was pale blue, like a clear day’s sky, and glowed rhythmically, mirroring her own heartbeat.
Feeling Pierro’s hidden eyes on her, the witch glanced back and met his gaze, a question forming on her lips, “What is this?”
“A gift.”, came the Harbinger’s light-hearted response, “If you wish to know what that is, you must ask Her Majesty the Tsaritsa yourself.”
The Crimson Witch of Flame had expected the Cryo Archon to pierce anyone with her gaze as she sat upon her throne of ice and frost; the temperature so cold the guards would develop frostbite and shiver uncontrollably. She expected a woman with an expression as bitter as the element she was an Archon of, with cold escaping her lips every time she spoke.
The witch most certainly didn’t expect to be greeted with a warm smile and eyes possessing the softness of a mother gazing upon her child. The Tsaritsa had the form of a young woman and appeared shorter in height than the Crimson Witch of Flame, denying the Cryo Archon any form of dominance over the witch. Sitting on her throne, she was the epitome of fragility – her petite form seemingly imprisoned by the very symbol of her authority. The ice, with which the seat was constructed, glimmered and twinkled in the light of the throne room like the stars in the night’s sky.
As the witch approached the seated Cryo Archon, she focused on the god before her: analysing how her dark blue eyes softened when they established eye-contact; how she clutched her hands in her lap like a child before an important exam; how her hair the colour of overcast clouds framed her face with the gentleness of fresh snow. She looked… weak, the witch concluded.
But even a weak Archon was an Archon, nonetheless.
A small cough interrupted the Crimson Witch’s musings, causing her to focus on the seated god as the Tsaritsa cleared her throat, “I must admit I wasn’t sure you would ever come.”
Even her voice lacked authority, passed through the witch’s mind, before explaining, “Curiosity killed the cat.”
The less information she divulged, the better – that was the mantra she repeated over and over again to herself on her journey to Zapolyarny Palace.
A heartfelt smile decorated the Tsaritsa’s face as sincere joy illuminated her sapphire eyes, “The gift Pierro gave you was a Cryo Delusion. A Delusion is a way of enhancing one’s inner power, like a Vision, and they are personally given out by me. However, since you aren’t a member of the Fatui, I was unable to bestow it upon you in person. But now that you are here and have accepted the Delusion, I can-”
“I didn’t accept your gift; I’m here to return it.”
A pregnant silence followed the witch’s admission. She could feel the Tsaritsa’s eyes scanning her features for any traits of lies or falsehoods – it was obvious that the Archon had not prepared herself for this possibility. Those azure eyes were darting back and forth over the witch’s form, widening like the eyes of a deer caught off guard by a hunter. A part of the Crimson Witch of Flame relished in the moment – she had managed to outsmart an Archon, a member of the divinity she so despised.
Finally, once the Tsaritsa was satisfied with her findings, her voice rang through the room with a new-found coldness, which caused the witch to tilt her head in surprise.
“Guards, leave us.”
As quietly as the falling of the winter’s snow, the Fatui soldiers filed out of the room and with a thud, the heavy doors of the throne room were closed.
With the two women now left alone, the Cryo Archon rose from her throne and descended the steps toward the witch, whose hands itched to materialise flames in order to protect herself from any of the god’s more nefarious plans. Yet, as the Tsaritsa approached her, this urge dissipated like a dying flame once she saw the innocence swirling within the Archon’s eyes.
As she finally reached her, the shorter woman spoke as if she was divulging a secret, “I know of your dislike towards the divine. I know you don’t trust me… and I understand why. I wouldn’t trust me.”
The hatred with which the Archon spat out the final line surprised the Crimson Witch: what could cause a god to feel so much self-loathing?
As though she heard the unspoken question hanging in the air, the Tsaritsa explained, “I have committed atrocities… atrocities which replay themselves in front of my eyes at night… and I can’t sleep because of them. I have watched my friends murder innocents and topple an empire. I, the God of Love, ignored the calls of children simply because of the sins of their parents. I stood by while they were slaughtered… I did nothing.”, her eyes swelled up with tears as the witch stood frozen in shock.
“We are similar, you and I.”, sighed the grey-haired god.
Before the witch had a chance to protest, she continued, “All of this: the Fatui, the Harbingers and the Delusions are my way to atone for my sins against the people of Teyvat… just like you roam the continent engulfed in flames, eternally searching for any form of revenge. Isn’t that right, Rosalyne?”
Heart stopping, time’s pace slowed to a crawl as goosebumps infected her charred skin – how… how did she know her name? Even as the scholars who documented her deeds and whereabouts were unable to uncover her origins, yet this poor excuse of an Archon in front of her uttered her name without hesitation.
Once again, she was forced out of her thoughts as the Tsaritsa continued, “I know who you were and why you did what you did.”, her voice barely audible due to the ringing in the witch’s ears as she processed everything.
A feather-light touch clasped her right cheek as the Archon brought a hand up to her face; pale eyes meeting sapphire orbs. In that moment, she was drowning under the intensity of the god’s stare – a stare so heavy she felt as if the Archon was peering into whatever was left of her smouldering soul.
“I’m sorry… to also have you shoulder the grievances of this world.”
Her hands moving by themselves, the witch produced the Cryo Delusion from her pocket and presented it to the Archon – a weak smile ghosting her lips.
A question floated between the pair as the Tsaritsa glanced down towards the object in the Crimson Witch’s hand and back up to her eyes, “I… this… this won’t bring him back…”, she trailed off, determined to highlight the reality to the witch falling apart before her.
“I know.”, came the response, “But by doing this, the people of Teyvat will suffer less… I- I will be able to protect them for longer.”
With her resolve strengthened, she extended her hand to the Cryo Archon, who took the Delusion from her slowly, seemingly unsure of her own actions. Finally, accompanied with a deep inhale, the shorter woman pinned the Cryo Delusion on the witch’s bloodied dress – one worn out from countless years of bloodshed and charred by the inferno raging through her veins.
The cooling sensation swept over the Crimson Witch like a snowstorm, causing her to gasp. Within her, she could feel the molten-hot agony and rage rushing through her veins cooling and being imprisoned in a frosty seal. Those embers of revenge, which she fanned for years, were now turning into icicles of bitterness, plunging her heart into sub-zero temperatures. It was an exhilarating feeling – replacing the blaze engulfing her with a biting blizzard.
“To mark this new chapter of your life”, echoed the voice of Her Majesty through stillness of the throne room, “You will hold the title of La Signora and the rank of the Eighth of the Fatui Harbingers from this day on.”
However, her voice blended with the racing thoughts in La Signora’s mind as she focused on a pure, spotless and everlasting realm at the end of her mind’s horizon – a future worth suffering for.
La Signora was brought back to the present by the crackling of the electricity in the air at Tenshukaku. Time slowed as she watched the Raiden Shogun barrel towards her – weapon cutting the air and determination etched onto her features. Calming her breath, the Fatui Harbinger cleared the fog of panic forming in her mind at the sight of certain death. She was always a woman of dignity and that was not going to change in her last moments.
Just a few more seconds.
Looking past the Shogun, La Signora could see the forms of the Traveller and that floating fairy that always followed them around. She was surprised by the raw power they possessed and their ability to wield multiple elements without the aid of a Vision or a Delusion. But most of all, she was surprised by their love for the people of Teyvat; before their faithful duel, they confronted her on behalf of the people of Mondstadt, Liyue and Inazuma and during their fight, the Fatui Harbinger could feel their rage due to the injustices done to them. In many regards, they reminded her of when she was Rosalyne – naïve about the true nature of this world. Had the situation been different, she would have laughed at this comparison as she looked at the shock overwhelming the features of both the Traveller and their companion.
Just a few more seconds.
A figure behind the pair caught her attention. Focusing intensely, she recognised brown hair and armour adorning the figure – armour sporting the insignia of the Knights of Favonius. La Signora’s beath hitched in her throat: it couldn’t be true… right?
But it was true; he was standing there on the steps of the throne, Rostam was standing just out of her reach. Her heart yearned to touch him, to hold him one last time and cry how much she loved him and missed him – yet, she stood rooted to the spot, observing him with eyes suffocating under the weight of her tears. As their eyes met, La Signora understood why the Electro Archon pursued eternity; she wished this moment stretched forever so she could drown in his chocolate orbs until the end of time. There was a halo over Rostam’s head, illuminating him in a heavenly glow and La Signora felt her flaming wings unfold; her body yearning to fly towards his light.
A warning echoed between the two lovers, “But this light is not the dawn, dear Rosalyne. This is a sea of flame that will consume you.”
Yet, it mattered not to her, for Rosalyne had been devoured by the flames a long time ago. All she wanted was a bit more time to bask in Rostam’s presence. For the first time in centuries, Rosalyne prayed to Celestia above to spare her from death just a while longer, so she could study her lover’s face like he was an ancient book filled with spells from the Academia. Just a few more minutes.
Just a few more-
“I had a long, long dream.”
“I dreamed that you and I met again in the pure white world that we created.”
“But I woke up at last, having long been consumed by the raging flames, while you had long returned to the earth along with that poisoned blood.”