170 New Member

"So, that's the person you were waiting for?" Allen and Alina rendezvoused with Fischl and Endora outside the city, far from prying eyes.

"I am Alina Kobozeva. I will now work under Allen's orders," Alina presented herself with a precise bow. After her confrontation with Aleksei and the revelation of the new Pantalone, she realized her chances of becoming the next Pantalone had almost disappeared. She chose to align herself with Allen and seek shelter under Columbina's protection, as Aleksei might seek retribution for her attempt on his life.

As for Allen, he welcomed this outcome as having someone as capable as Alina on their side was invaluable, particularly for her skills in espionage and gathering information. Her powers having a lot of ways to be used.

"These are Fischl and Endora. We will all be working together from now on," Allen introduced the girls.

"I look forward to our collaboration," Alina expressed.

"Yes!" Endora shouted excitedly.

"Ignore me," Fischl responded with nonchalance.

"And one thing, Alina wasn't the one I was waiting for. Her joining us was purely coincidental," Allen explained before his attention shifted. "She's already here."

From that direction, a girl approached the group. She sported a black-purple suit that hugged her figure, with a hood featuring cat ears perched atop her long green hair, streaked with white strands.

As she neared, her magenta eyes scrutinized everyone with suspicion. "So, you're Columbina's group?" she stated. "Doesn't look all that impressive."

"Says the girl tainted by the Abyss," Fischl retorted, unimpressed. "Are you proud of that borrowed power?"

"You!" The girl's anger flared, and a purple aura enveloped her as Fischl remained unfazed.

"Calm down," Allen interposed, stepping between them. "We'll be working together, and while we don't need to be friendly, at least, let's refrain from fighting among ourselves."

"You are Collei, correct?" Allen smiled. "Pleasure to meet you. I am the group leader, Allen."

"So, you're the leader?" Collei's gaze swept over Allen, her eyes glinting. "How weak. What a modest Elemental Mastery, the exception here being the little girl."

Collei wasn't aware that Allen was Columbina. Their encounter had been brief and it was when he forced her to leave Mondstadt and sent her to train in the Abyss, so while Collei accepted working under Columbina to learn how to control her powers and get her revenge, their relationship wasn't very amicable. That meant that Allen could not trust her, especially considering her likely exposure to the Abyss's corrupting influences.

'She can gauge our Elemental Mastery?' Allen observed with interest. 'I've never had a high Mastery, and Alina's probably similar. And with Fischl suppressing her powers, Endora's likely the strongest.'

"We'll get nowhere with this attitude," Allen sighed. "Let's settle it with a friendly spar."

"A spar?" Collei's eyes narrowed.

"If I win, you'll follow my orders as required," Allen explained. "If you win, you're free to leave, take command of the team, or whatever you desire."

"Fine, I accept," Collei agreed confidently, both of them preparing for the fight and creating a comfortable distance between them. Allen drew his sword, while Collei readied her black wooden bow.

"Begin!" Endora's voice rang out as she shot a bubble exploding into fireworks.

Collei nocked an arrow, conjuring a purple fire arrow. "Reduce them to ashes!" she exclaimed, loosing the arrow, which fragmented into a fiery downpour.

Allen felt the attack keenly, sensing Collei's Abyss power, fury, and rage. He could sense the full attack perfectly without even needing to use his eyes.

*Swiff* Advancing, Allen nimbly weaved through the rain of purple fire, cleanly severing the arrows in midair.

"Impossible!" Collei was taken aback by Allen's agility. "My fire can't be-"

Capitalizing on her shock, Allen conjured ice beneath his feet, exploding it, boosting his speed as he dashed towards Collei.

"Cuilein!" Collei conjured a cat-like plushie wreathed in purple flames to shield herself, trying to create distance.

"Useless" Not affording her a chance to back, Allen cleaved the plushie in half and continued his charge, clashing with Collei and driving her to the ground. He aimed his sword at her throat.

"Victory is mine," Allen declared, holding his sword mere inches from her neck.

"It's not over!" Collei snapped angrily. "I haven't even unleashed half of my power!"

"Nevertheless, you've lost," Allen's sword grazed her neck. "You should assess your opponents better, or it could be your downfall." He applied slight pressure, a droplet of blood trickling down her neck.

"Fine," Collei gritted her teeth in frustration. "I've lost. I'll abide by your commands."

"Excellent," Allen beamed, retracting his sword. He stood up, releasing Collei, and offered his hand, but she declined, rising on her own.

"With this resolved, let's move on. To Inazuma."

...

Allen begrudgingly commended Aleksei for his ship's meticulous arrangement, complete with all necessary provisions as they arrived.

"May you have a safe journey," Aleksei bid with a warm smile, then turned to Alina. "Remember your debt."

Alina's gaze burned with anger, but she contained her emotions. Everyone boarded the ship, which rapidly readied itself for departure.

"ALLEN!" As the vessel sailed away from the harbor, Allen's name echoed through the air. Rushing to the deck and casting his eyes toward the pier, he spotted Keqing.

Electro crackled around Keqing, focusing on her hand as she poised for a throw.

*Swiff!* Like a bolt of lightning, Keqing hurled an Electro torrent directly at Allen. Reacting swiftly, Allen summoned Cryo energy, covering his hands, intercepting the attack.

...

"Wait a moment, Niwa?!" Shinobu's voice trembled with astonishment.

"What's wrong, Shinobu?" Keqing was taken aback. "We already know Allen had been to Inazuma. Creating a surname from that isn't out of the ordinary."

"It's because of the name Niwa!" Shinobu burst out. "Not much information escaped Inazuma after it closed its borders, but this tale managed to spread. The martyr who confronted the Shogun to halt the Vision Hunt Decree, challenging her to a duel under the throne. He even managed to stand after her strike. His name was Niwa Tomoki."

"So, you're suggesting Allen is related to that Tomoki?" Keqing questioned, skepticism in her tone. "It could easily be a fabrication on his part."

"The story doesn't end with Tomoki's sacrifice," Shinobu clarified. "His younger brother was present at the execution. He defied the Shogun's forces to retrieve his brother's remains. In the process, he clashed with them and even evaded the pursuit of Captain Kujou Sara. His name was Niwa Allen."

"Why didn't you mention this earlier?!"

"I never thought it could be the same Allen!" Shinobu defended herself swiftly. "But with his knowledge of my origins and his recent arrival from Inazuma, it's highly plausible."

"But why would Allen be involved? Could this be a scheme orchestrated by the Fatui?" Keqing pondered aloud.

"As far as I know, Tomoki was an honorable man. The little I've heard about his adopted brother has been positive, so perhaps..."

"Maybe he has his reasons?" Keqing turned to Shinobu. "Regardless, it doesn't absolve him of lying to me. The Fatui are not to be trusted. However..."

...

Allen gazed at his hands, realizing that Keqing's projectile was, in fact, a half hairpin – the same butterfly hairpin they had interlinked during their last encounter.

"UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN!" Keqing's voice carried over. "NEXT TIME, I'LL LISTEN TO YOU!"

'Next time, huh?' Allen's lips curved into a smile as he looked at her. "Yes," he nodded. "UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN!"

avataravatar