"Among the many curious things revolving you, the one I want to know the answer to the most is…"
"Your wine, sirs." The waitress served two glasses of a yellow-tinged drink.
Zhongli slowly took his glass while Sai waited in suspense for the question. The former proceeded to analyse his drink, looking and swirling it around.
"Why don't we drink this first? It is better when consumed immediately after poured."
"Oh, sure." Sai didn't know how to taste wine, but he had seen it enough times to not completely embarrass himself. But this was another world, there was no telling if the tradition would be the same. "Is there a specific way to drink it?"
"Hmm, not necessarily. Just like tea ceremonies, wine-tasting has changed drastically throughout the years. Me and my old friends used to simply follow our own preferences, so feel free to try it however way you want it."
"Then, may I propose a toast?" Sai was going to attempt something.
"To a new friendship."
It was another sort of gamble. Proposing a 6000 year-old literal god to be friends with a mortal who was barely an adult was borderline insane, but Sai felt that he would not be rejected.
"Hmmm… very well. To a new friendship."
Both of them raised their glasses to each other, although Zhongli still wore a straight face and Sai had a small contented smile.
When Sai took a gulp, he first felt the sweetness of the drink, and a taste that remembered peaches. Then came the characteristic flavour of alcohol. And a moment later, it started burning his throat.
To someone who wasn't very used to drinking, osmanthus wine would be a dangerous drink due to its sweet but relatively high alcohol content. Sai tried another sip, then another. His thirst slowly drifted away. He quite liked the wine.
"This is really good."
"Haha, I am glad you liked it." He saw how enthusiastically Sai had drunk.
For the first time, Sai saw Zhongli laugh, although it didn't last long. The laughter had been very sudden and brief. A mere moment later, his smile was gone. The epitome of young male beauty now solemnly drank from his wine.
"Ahem, can I call you Zhongli or…?"
"Of course. Zhongli is fine."
"Then, Zhongli, in the name of our new friendship, I will add one more question to our exchange. I will try my best to answer them." Sai didn't really think this through, he was just glad that his gamble paid off and said that on a whim.
"Since you are this sincere, I will not delay any further. I want to ask you: who do you side with in the upcoming war?"
"!!!" Sai widened his eyes and immediately fell into thought.
'Upcoming war, he said. He's probably not talking about that monster's attack, nor about Inazuma or the Chasm… As I thought, it's probably that…'
"Rest assured, regardless of your answer, I will not take any further action." Zhongli stated.
"It's not that I don't want to answer it… It's just that I don't know the answer yet. Heck, I don't even know if I will be able to join either side…"
"En. In the end, you should follow what your heart tells you to." Zhongli nodded as if he understood something. "As for my second question… hmm… ah, yes: what are you going to do when you get the power you so desire?"
'I kinda expected another big one, this is easy to answer.'
"I haven't thought that far ahead yet, but I'll probably wander between Liyue and Mondstadt. After that, I should visit Inazuma. And then the rest of the nations. I want to visit all around this beautiful world…"
"You are almost just like him." Zhongli sipped his wine. Sai followed suit. Of course the latter knew who he was talking about.
"Thank you for answering, Sai."
"Yea, no problem. If it's something I can answer, I will definitely answer, so don't hold back if you are curious about some minor things."
"Hmm, I should be the one saying that to you. This situation has rarely ever happened before… how interesting."
"Hahaha. Was there someone else as arrogant as me?" Sai asked sarcastically, but the god actually responded seriously:
"Yes. I recall that child Ningguang doing something akin to this, only she was a tad younger than your current age."
"Younger?!? Wha— Sigh… as expected of her, I guess."
"She is indeed exceptional. There was another one like her." He looked up. "I wonder if you have ever heard of Guizhong?" He then emptied his first glass.
"Guizhong? Let me think… Oh, right! That goddess. I've heard a thing or two. Was she as great as Ningguang?"
"No. She was even more exceptional…" Zhongli rotated his glass while looking up at the ceiling.
He said that with extreme confidence but Sai was skeptical. In his mind Ningguang was there at the apex of greatness, it was impossible to imagine someone even more incredible. Besides, that might only be Zhongli's bias for his lover.
"Anyways, I know who is the true expert between us both. I would be truly lucky to hear random words from you, so perhaps I should start talking less…" Sai was absolutely honest there.
"I'm flattered. But I value a two-sided sword more than a bludgeoned knife, so don't underestimate your knowledge."
'…I think… I get what he meant?'
For some time, the both of them remained quiet, only drinking from that bottle of wine until it ended. So they opened a new one.
Eventually, their food arrived. Sai ate like a king compared to his last meals. It was probably the best food he's had since coming to Tevyat. In the meantime, the pair conversed about minor things, mainly Sai asking questions to know more about him and Zhongli answering them very calmly.
They conversed and drank a lot. By the time they finished the second bottle, Sai was already tipsy from the alcohol.
"Sai, I'm afraid I must return to the parlor now. I still have some work to do. I wish you good luck on your future endeavours."
"Ah, alright. Thank you for everything, Mr. Zhongli." He still felt a bit awkward calling a god directly by his name. "I will visit you again!"
"Sure. Until we meet again!"
"Sigh… such a cool guy, I was really lucky this time…" Sai concluded: "I guess it's time to go back and think over my next steps."
As he stood up and walked away from his table, a waiter approached him:
"Sir, you have not yet checked out of our establishment. How will be your method of paying?"
"Huh?! But— Put it on the Wanwan Funeral Parlor's account."
"Wanwan Funeral Parlor? Let me go check, just a moment."
Not long after, a burly sweating man came over with the waiter in tow.
"There is no account by the name of Wanwan Funeral Parlor here. Who are you trying to trick?! Pay up, boy!" The man wasn't tall, but he was intimidating.
"How— How is that possible? The man who was with me that just left works for the funeral parlor and he didn't pay!"
"Who was the man that just left?" The boss addressed the waiter.
"It was Zhongli."
"Oh, so you meant Wangsheng Funeral Parlor!" He looked at Sai.
"Yeah, that's it." Sai had forgotten the whole name.
"Did Zhongli tell you anything about this boy's check?"
"No, sir." The waiter was trembling slightly, afraid of being scolded.
"Then, my friend, I'm afraid you are going to have to pay for you meal."
"What did you say!?" The boss pulled his sleeves up and closed in on Sai.
"It's not that I don't want to pay, it's just that I don't have a single Mora on my name, so…"
"This damn kid… Good! Since you don't have money, you shall work for your meal! Take him to the kitchen to do some small jobs. He can't leave until nightfall!"
In a different time and space.
"Lady Ningguang, Captain Beidou is here with a young man to see you."