Chapter II

The Temple of Life


Lumi lies on his low-lying bed, his arm hanging limply, his fingers drumming against the sandstone floor. He turns behind to look at the other beds in the room, his eyes darting from the youthful blonde woman, to the half-elven woman twice his age. He wishes desperately for his own space, but has never been allowed to have one. Plucking a feather from the stuffed mattress, he drops it from above his head, watching it fall gracefully to the ground. His rounded ears wiggle while he watches.

The youthful blonde woman turns to him, “Whatcha doing’?” she asks, braiding her hair while seated cross-legged on her bed.

“Nothin’, Cara,” Lumi murmurs, “tryin’ to pass the time.”

The half-elven woman turns her attention toward them, “Waiting for your little lordling to come back?” She jeers.

“He’s comin’ back, Keira,” Lumi says confidently. “If I didn’ scare him off,” he adds, somewhat deflated, his tail slaps angrily against the bed.

Cara snorts, “Well, someone told me he practically ran out of the temple,” Cara chortles. “Maybe he was running from you!”

“That’s impossible,” Lumi smirks, turning towards the two women. “I am the prettiest thing in this temple, why would he run from me?!” He growls, trying to make light of the situation. 

Keira purses her lips, “Well, I happened to glance at the way you clung to him. I would certainly find it odd if someone I didn’t know was all over me that way,” she says, eyeing Lumi suspiciously. “So, then, did anything happen?” She asks softly. “Did you kiss? Knowing the way you teased about his arrival…you probably blew him.”

Lumi sighs, rolling onto his back. “I wish I did! What I wouldn’t give for him to have taken hold of me…” he says, glancing at the women. “Well, you don’t really care where I am going with this.”

Cara laughs, “I wouldn’t mind hearing,” she says, flipping her hair behind her while she washes her face in the shallow wash basin along the edge of the room.

“I won’t go into details, but for a moment…I thought things were gonna go somewhere. His hand was on my thigh…I could practically taste his breath, our lips nearly touched! Then… Amani ruined it!” Lumi finishes, kicking his feet and arms on the bed in a joking tantrum.

Keira laughs, “You’re a child, Lumi,” she responds, glaring at him. “You’re lucky you’re surrounded with so many women to look after you,” she pauses, her voice turning into a whisper, “you don’t know this man, what if he is dangerous?”

Cara nods, “She’s right,” she says, glancing back at Lumi. “You offered yourself up too willingly, what if he is some sort of pervert?” She asks, raising an eyebrow. “Hells, he probably thinks you’re some kind of whore. Wouldn’t be the first time someone mistook you for one with how you wear your tunic.”

Lumi furrows his brow, “He..he’s not dangerous, and I wish he was a pervert…I had to practically force myself on him to get him to take interest in me,” he says with a sigh. “He’s just like me though, I felt it. I could feel the connection between us,” he adds confidently. “Definitely the one!”

“Is..what you said the other day true?” Keira asks, standing from her bed. She adjusts her chiton, then tightens the buckles on her caligae. “Do you truly think this man is your…mate or whatever?” She asks, shrugging. “I don’t know what beastkin call it.”

Lumi’s ears twitch in excitement, “I do!” He says, glancing out the rounded window. “I felt it when he arrived. My chest hurt, and I felt energized, like the feeling ran from my head through my tail. It was like magick!” he says, his tail whips behind him, his rounded ears twitch at the thought.

Cara’s face screws up in annoyance, “But can you be sure?” She demands.

“It has to be! The moment I saw him in the storeroom, my heart stopped. It felt like time slowed down, when he looked up at me with his smoky eyes, I knew immediately. I couldn’t stop smiling.” He says with an involuntary smile crossing his lips.

“Lucky you,” Keira says, helping Cara into her tunic. “I doubt I’ll ever find a man, even with my lengthy lifetime,” she adds.

“Someone is goin’ to come to the temple and sweep you off your feet!” Lumi says with an elated smile. Lumi watches the women grab their shawls, waving farewell while they head out the arched doorway. He lays alone in the room, staring at the tanned sandstone ceiling above him. I hope I didn’t scare him off. Maybe I was too clingy, too forceful. He turns on his side facing towards the circular window, a gentle breeze catches the feather on the bed, blowing it gently into the air. What if he does fancy me? Will I be able to keep his affections…he is so handsome, he must have a lot of suitors. Lumi plucks another feather from the mattress, rolling it between his fingers. Maybe what he said was right though, what if he really does want me to forget about him. He closes his eyes, the sun begins to set behind the desert, the fleeting warmth kisses his skin.

A Fortnight Passes

Lumi sits by the fountain atop the temple, the midday sun bearing down heavily upon him. He looks towards the elven woman sitting beside him, her face is stoic while she places a hand upon his cheek. Tenderly, she brushes her thumb across his pink cheek, a teardrop runs down her chin.

“Lumi, I can tell there is much unhappiness inside of you,” she begins, wiping away her own tears. “You are free to talk to me about anything. After all, if a child cannot tell their mother their worries, then what kind of mother am I?” She asks, straightening her tunic.

Lumi turns his cheek from the saint, “N-Nina, It is nothing that you have control over. My problems are not yours to worry about!” He exclaims.

Nina brushes the hair from her face, “I remember when I nursed you back to health years ago, as sickly and beaten as you were, you still were full of vim and vigor. Yet now to see you like this…it is as if you are but a husk,” she whispers, tilting her head to look him over.

Lumi turns, looking glum. “A husk? I didn’t think it was that bad,” he whispers, looking at Nina. “You remember when I told you of my dreams, and in those dreams I was being led from the temple by a man. His hand and my hand together? In that dream…I felt happy,” he pauses. “Well, if Khimi really is that person, then he wants nothing to do with me. He told me as much!” Lumi exclaims, tears welling in his eyes. His body trembles while he stares at the fountain. “I thought that maybe he would write, or he would see me before he left! I have been thinking of nothing but the last words he’s said to me for weeks! WEEKS!”

“He told you he doesn’t wish to be with you?” She asks, taking Lumi’s hand. “You’re punishing yourself for something you don’t know to be true,” she continues with a soft smile. She looks into his eyes with her aetherial green eyes. “Certainly he may not love you yet, Lumi. Only time can forge those bonds, yet in my heart I know he feels a connection to you. I am gifted at reading people,” she pauses, gently caressing the top of Lumi’s knuckles. “I saw it too, as you did. He is very much the same as you, and while he slept here in this very spot I happened to sit at that very bench,” she says, pointing to the bench across the fountain. “And do you know what he spoke of in his sleep?” She asks with a smile.

Lumi sobs quietly, “Wealthy people stuff?”

“No, Lumi. Don’t be like that, he whispered your name. That is a rare thing, for someone to have dreams of another after only meeting them once,” Nina says, patting his hand softly. “Now, stop crying. You’re making me cry. I am sure he will come back here, or send you some sort of correspondence,” she adds softly, assuring the aslan.

Lumi’s ears hang low, “Do you believe in soul mates?” He asks, resting his head against her shoulder. “Some girls have made comments that I’m lying to get attention,” he adds with another low sob.

“I believe that you are gifted by the Gods,” Nina says, resting her cheek against Lumi’s blonde hair. “If the Gods tell you this person is important to you, then he must be. I only ask that your story not be one of hubris and pride, but one of love and companionship,” Nina says, chuckling. “I rather like those stories.”

Lumi sniffles, then wipes his nose clean with his sleeve. “I’ll try to make a great story for you, but he seems kind of like an ass.”

“Anyone has the capacity for cruelty, Lumi,” Nina whispers, placing a motherly kiss in Lumi’s blonde hair. “He’ll come around though, he’s just putting on airs because he is a lordling. It’s his job to keep up with appearances, after all.” 

Lumi laughs, “Imagine if he was normal,” he whispers to Nina.

Nina laughs in response, “If he was normal, you’d find him boring.”

Lumi shakes his head, “Boring is better than being an arse,” he says, his brow furrowing.

“You did happen to put him in a rather tough spot, Lumi,” Nina begins with a knowing look. “He seems to have not fully come to terms with putting his own happiness before his duties, it seems,” she adds, nodding at Lumi. “He will though, I can tell you will make the boy happy,” she smiles, standing with an unexpected quickness. “Now then, forget about those girls and just focus your mind and heart on prayer…and patience.”

“W-When.. Khimi returns,” Lumi begins, his cheeks flush with color. “Is there any chance I could have some privacy…to, you know…talk to him?” He asks with his palms covering his face in embarrassment.

The saint laughs, “Talk?” she asks, glancing at him with suspicion. “We will see, Lumi. I still need to judge the young lord’s intentions myself before I let him alone with you. You’re like my son, I won’t be giving you away so easily,” she adds, placing her hand on the handrail while she begins to descend the stairs.

Lumi’s eyes grow wide, “N-Nina, please! I swear…Iwon’t do anything untoward!”

Nina laughs loudly from the stairs, “Leaving you alone with him? After what I heard from Amani you’re lucky I haven’t given you extra work.” Nina says, scoffing at the bottom of the stairs. “Attempting to seduce the poor boy the first time he visits the temple…he probably thinks this is a brothel now,” she adds, glancing back with a smirk. “A brothel, Lumi!”

Lumi’s tail flicks behind him in anguish, “It wasn’t like that,” Lumi insists. “He..he wanted it too, I know he did! I didn’t push myself on him that hard!” He adds in panic. “I promise!”

Nina rubs her brow in contemplation, “Well, if the Lordling asks for privacy then we will have to give it to him, I suppose,” she begins with a wide grin at Lumi. She turns back towards him, “Yet if I hear one word about this from any of the girls, Lumi…you’ll be scrubbing the floors for months,” she adds playfully. “Now, get back to work and quit being so sullen, you’re dragging everyone’s mood down with you.”

“I will do my best to act…happier!” Lumi exclaims, giving her a deep bow.

Nina rolls her eyes, “Act? How about you BE happier,” She groans, “I give you enough special treatment, more than any other at this temple.”

Lumi closes his eyes, “I’m sorry again, for all the problems that I have caused since I’ve come here,” he says in a hushed tone.

Nina shakes her head, It is best we don’t dredge up the past,” she says, then she turns. “Now, get back to work!”

Lumi watches Nina walk past the long reflecting pool. She takes a moment to stop and admire the beauty of the mosaic tiles beneath the shallow pool before heading into the temple. Lumi moves quickly towards the massive staircase leading into the canyon, his feet carrying him as quickly as they can. His mood is somewhat restored by his conversation with the saint. With each step, he thinks, I know what I am doing is right, regardless of if Nina or even Khimi believe me. He pauses at the bottom, watching the sunlit canyon begin to dim with the setting sun. He makes haste to the cavernous storeroom where he works every evening.

Entering into the cavern, the sound of the breeze rushing through the canyon creates a slightly howling sound. Lumi pauses, remembering times when he feared the howls that accompanied the jungle in his youth. It’s just the wind, he reminds himself before he continues into the dimly lit storeroom. Reaching the innermost area, he immediately spots two familiar faces. Melia and Iris, two youthful girls from Sidi[1] that Nina had brought back with her after a visit to the Sanctum of Balance. Though the girls have always been very quiet about their heritage, they were always kind enough to Lumi, and he repaid their kindness in turn. Cheerfully, he approaches the girls, pulling two small bundles of wrapped banana leaves from a pouch he had from the kitchen. With a chipper greeting, he places wrapped leaves on the large wooden table before them.

Lumi bows, “Sorry for being so late!” He says, waiting for a reply.

“I-It’s okay, Lumi,” Melia begins, taking one of the wrapped banana leaves. She brings the leaves to her nose. “Grilled fish?” She asks while she cautiously unwraps the large leaves.

Iris grabs the other wrapped banana leaves from the table. “Say, Lumi,” she pauses, placing a large portion of grilled sea bass in her mouth. “Is w-what the other girls are saying about you true?” She asks, her mouth full of fish.

Lumi cocks a brow, “H-Huh? W-What do you mean?” He asks, a baffled expression crossing his face. “Everyone is always talkin’…”

Iris slowly finishes chewing and swallows hard, “Hmm, well…that you’re seeing that lord that visited,” she says, receiving a murderous glance from Melia. “Lord Zeybek,” sounding ominous.

Melia laughs softly, “What my sister is getting at, Lumi,” she pauses, then glances uncomfortably at her sister, “the girls back at the temple have said that Nina is whoring you out to the lordling for donations. So, is it true?”

Lumi’s face flushes with anger, “I-I don’t even know…w-who..what?” He stammers, collapsing into a nearby chair, his tail slaps against the sandstone floor of the cavern. “Nina has nothing to do with it…I was the one who sought him out! No one should accuse Nina of anything!” He growls. A redness rushes to his cheeks while he becomes progressively more angered. 

Iris laughs to herself and breaks apart a piece of the grilled fish, “Good thing then,” she says, with a mouthful of fish. “The Zeybeks are dangerous people. I dunno what you know about Sidi, but Ziad Zeybek is a powerful man,” she pauses, looking over Lumi’s face.

Lumi’s anger heightens, his brow pinches. He glares into the girl’s eyes. “I hardly think you can judge Khimi, though,” he begins, anger crossing his face. “Not everyone has to be the same as their parents. I was never like my dad, I am certain you aren’t like yours!”

Melia purses her lips, joining in, looking at Iris. “Ya know, there were rumors that Emir[2] Ziad had other rival merchants assassinated…imagine what he’d do to some little whore with his son?”

Lumi’s ears twitch, “Maybe you should keep those thoughts to yourself,” he growls, furrowing his brow. His tail flicks aggressively from side to side. “Everyone here…talks too much. You know nothing about him!” He says, his nose wrinkles as he bares his fangs at them.

“Are you alright, Lumi? You look unwell,” Iris says, glancing between her sister and him. “I mean, you don’t wanna be with that sort anyway. We’re just looking out for yo–”

“Look out for yourselves,” Lumi interjects, standing quickly, his chair crashes to the floor, his ears flatten in anger. “I don’t need either of you or anyone from the temple looking after me!”

Iris clucks, “There he goes,” Iris says, rolling her eyes. “Typical of a Demi-human. Always so emotional, so quick to anger,” she chuckles. “You’re worse than Hasim! At least the snake-man can keep his composure!”

“Iris, it’s time for us to go,” Melia says, crumbling the banana leaves and dropping them on the floor. She finishes the last bits of fish, “We better let him calm down before he starts his shift,” she scoffs, rolling her eyes at the exchange. 

Lumi quickly crosses to the girls, grasping Melia by the arm. He looks into her dark eyes. She quickly recoils from him, unable to escape from his hold. Lumi growls then shoves her back slightly. The long silence in the cavern is uncomfortable. The two girls stare at him in utter disgust, their faces twisted.

“Why are you being such a bitch, Melia?!” Lumi spits, anger showing across his face. “Are you envious that no one ever wants to look at your hideous face?” He asks through clenched teeth.

Shocked, Melia stammers, “Maybe you shouldn’t be thirsting over some lordling you hardly know, Demi-human,” she mocks. “Who cares if you claim to speak with the Gods, we all know you’re just a liar!” She sneers, her lips curling into a cruel smile. “You may as well just whore yourself out like Hasim.”

Lumi stares into Melia’s eyes, unawares of Iris rushing behind him. Lumi turns, sensing her presence, just in time to see the blunt end of the girl’s staff. The club-like end of the staff smashes into his face. Crumpling onto the cavern floor in pain, he hears the hurried footsteps of the running girls.

 Overcome by his emotions, Lumi pursues them. Melia and Iris run from the cavern, sand flings into the air from their caligae catching the loose substrate of the canyon. Lumi growls in rage and dashes to catch up to the girls. With his beast-like speed, he pounces on top of Iris. Melia rolls out of the way and watches in horror while he leaps atop her sister. Lumi rolls atop of Iris, his knees pinning her elbows to the ground. The sound of his fists wailing on her, one blow followed by another, rings throughout the canyon. Melia screams, grabbing the staff from the ground. She continues screaming, smashing the staff against his back. Lumi does not withdraw his attention from Iris, his fists drawing blood from her mouth and nose while she coughs in agony. Melia lets out another ear-piercing scream. The staff cracks against the back of Lumi’s head.

Lumi stumbles and turns his attention from Iris. Wavering from the blow, he stands, his fists dripping blood into the thirsting sands. He lashes out in anger with words he does not understand the meaning to, sacred words entitled to him by the Gods. Spectral spears appear around Melia. She shouts in horror while Lumi points at her, his aetherial eyes illuminated with a luminescent glow. Several clerics quickly descend the stairs and Lumi turns towards them, a bright light blinds his vision. He recoils, covering his eyes and squatting in the sand. His vision is reduced to white-hot light. A sharp pain at the back of his head causes him to stumble, falling face-first into the sand. His fingers cover his head, another crack lands against his knuckles. Curled into a ball, he prepares for more pain, his consciousness fading fast with each blow. 

[1] Sidi is one of the most populated and wealthiest of the Desert Cities. It is ruled by a council of advisors, which is overseen by a religious figurehead. In terms of aesthetics, it is somewhat similar to Ancient Egypt and Greece.

[2] A title meaning commander. In the Desert Cities, only Ziad Zeybek carries the title of Emir.

 The Saint Beckons

Lumi awakes to the sound of mourning doves cooing nearby. He opens his eyes, a sharp pain roars across the back of his head. Reaching behind him, his fingers running through his hair, seeking the cause of his pain. Unable to find the source, Lumi slips from his bed, struggling to remember the moments before losing consciousness. Once he arrives at the circular window, he peers into the ambulatory of the temple and watches several acolytes go about their duties, many traveling with guests of the temple. He returns to his bed, slumping over the thin mattress, his knees dangled against the floor. He groans, then he pulls a tasseled pillow over his head. After a loud grunt of frustration, he forces the pillow tighter over his head and tosses onto his side, facing the arched doorway.

The strong scent of lamb roasting from the kitchen wafts towards him. A knot forms in his empty belly. Realizing how hungry he is, he walks to the kitchen, nodding to several elderly acolytes that pass. They turn their heads, ignoring his gesture. The cooking quarters were large enough to supply the entire temple, and perhaps a small city as well. Dozens of rooms branched out of the sandstone room and into several well stocked pantries. In the cooking quarters, Lumi quickly notices Keira kneading a large ball of dough. She looks up from her work and offers a gentle smile before signaling for him to approach.

Keira looks up from the dough, “Lumi,” she chuckles, pressing her palms deeply into the soft mixture. “I didn’t expect you would be up. Saint Nina mentioned you may be out for quite some time,” she says in a softer tone. 

Lumi sniffs the air, seeking the source of the lamb, “What happened? He asks while reaching for a dried date from a wooden bowl. “I remember chasing Melia and Iris…then things kinda went blank.”

Keira stifles a laugh, “Blank?” she laughs while soaking her hands in a large basin of salted water. “You beat Iris pretty good. Melia claims you were going to kill her. Said you called those spears to murder her. I guess all your training with Hasim has been paying off then.”

“If I did, I don’t remember,” Lumi groans. “They were antagonizing me, and then Iris hit me in the face with her staff. She deserves worse than a black eye. A-and she made fun of Hasim too!” He says, incredulous.

“Black eyes,” Keira corrects, tilting her head from side to side. “Lumi, come put my hair back.”

Lumi approaches Keira, glancing at the dough, “Either way, I don’t remember anything after I started chasing them…I was SO angry!” Lumi growls. He takes her flaxen locks in his hands, deftly crossing strand over strand.

Keira sighs, “It’s ok to be angry,” she begins in a motherly tone, “But you really need to watch it, any more issues… Nina will have no choice but to force you out.”

Lumi scoffs and pulls her hair back, weaving a half-hearted braid, “I haven’t caused that many issues here, have I?” He asks playfully.

Keira purses her lips, “More than anyone else I know,” she replies quietly. “It doesn’t help that many of the other acolytes just never warmed to you…and some people will just never like Demi-humans. Besides, you should be careful, I’ve heard that a few people have asked the saint to expel you.”

Lumi’s brow pinches once he finishes the braid, “That isn’t my fault if they don’t like me or my kind. How’s this?” He asks, checking his handiwork.

“That’ll do!” Keira says cheerfully, swinging her hair from side to side, testing the braid. “Now, I am gonna need you to help me with this dough…and we can talk about something more positive,” she says with a smile.

Lumi groans jokingly, “Fine!” He says, wetting his hands in the large basin. “Can you tell me who knocked me unconscious at least?”

“That would be Amani,” Keira says, stretching from side to side. She sighs under her breath while Lumi kneads the dough silently. “Really though. You know that Nina is going to punish you for what happened,” She says plainly.

“I’ll just tell her about what happened, they started it,” he says, keeping his eyes on his work. “I guess it’s a good thing Melia and Iris live across the temple…otherwise things may be awkward.

Keira turns to Lumi with a smile, “We can always poison them.” She laughs after a moment of awkward silence. The dough in her hand is ripped apart and measured before she kneads it.

“As much as I would love to poison them, it’s probably better to just let it be,” Lumi says, chuckling at her comment. “I dunno, Keira…” He sighs. “In the years I’ve been here…I feel like I constantly make enemies,” he whispers. His ears droop, his fist pressed deep into the dough.

Keira sighs loudly and beats the ball of dough before her, “People come and go from the temple, friendships are just the same. Cherish the ones you have. Don’t worry about the rest.”

Lumi manages to smile, “I appreciate all of your kindness.”

Lumi continues baking for several hours with Keira, the two work diligently. They discuss the events from the previous night with one another. Just before the loaves are nearly finished, a knock comes on the door frame and Amani enters the cooking quarters. A knowing and smug expression rips across the High Priestesses lips. Lumi breaks his conversation, staring uncomfortably at Amani.

“Walk with me, Lumi,” Amani says, snapping her fingers.

Lumi looks at the dark haired woman out of the corner of his eyes while they walk together. “It was all a misunderstanding, I wouldn’t hurt them…you know me,” he says swiftly. 

“All that I KNOW,” Amani begins. “Since you’ve come to this temple, you’ve been the cause of dozens of incidents. Been involved in an untold number of fights with other acolytes,” she pauses, clearing her throat. “Had I been in charge of our order…you’d have been gone long ago,” she pauses, her anger trailing into a long silence. “I want you to succeed, Lumi…but you make it so hard.”

Lumi looks at the High Priestess with a pained expression, “I promise, it was– I’m sorry…”

“I know.”

She maintains her silence. Lumi walks beside her, and he hastens his pace to keep up with the High Priestess. They walk quickly through the center of the temple and into the inner sanctum. Amani rips open the double doors into a large bed chamber. The smell of incense pours heavily from the room at their entry. Nina sits on a small floor cushion in the center of the room, her hair flows loosely about her. The saint opens her ethereal green eyes, then gives Amani a slight nod.

“You can leave us. Thank you for bringing him to me,” Nina whispers, anger hiding beneath her calm and even tone.

Lumi quivers, he had seldom seen Saint Nina angry. The few times he had witnessed her wrath was enough to make him never want to see it again. The water from the ocean had risen into the canyon, the merchants who insulted her were washed back to the desert.

Amani leaves abruptly, stopping for a moment to bow to the saint with a grand gesture. The massive elderwood doors close behind her with an audible bang. Lumi sits before Nina on his heels. In prostration, he drops his head against the darker tiles of the room.

“Sorry!” Lumi lifts his head, his skin turning flush in embarrassment, “I-I, N-Nina, I am so sorry!” He pauses, struggling to find the words to apologize.

Saint Nina lifts the shoulder of her gown, tightening the silk, “Lumi, it’s no secret that I think of you like a son. Many acolytes whisper about it from what I have been told,” she pauses, sighing deeply. She pulls her knees to her chest. “I cannot allow you to act this way without punishment. And you will receive punishment.”

Lumi looks incredulously at her, “B-Bu–”

“No buts, Lumi,” Nina interrupts with a shake of her head. “Lumi, Melia and Iris told me about everything that happened, and I have to say I believe them. Iris admitted to striking you, but only after you grabbed and shoved Melia.”

Lumi attempts to hide his anger, “They were antagonizing me for no reason,” he says slowly, crossing his legs. “I was kind as can be! I even brought them grilled fish!” He adds, nearly ripping his own hair out in frustration.

Nina sighs. She pushes a loose strand of hair behind her lengthy elven ears, “I am aware. Truth be told, Melia and Iris are not holding the incident against you so much. They both know what they did, I made sure to get the truth from them,” she pauses, reaching out a hand for him. “However, you know, I still have to be the one to dole out punishments whenever something like this happens. Those girls are orphans from Sidi because of Ziad Zeybek’s machinations. You touched on a poor subject, one which you should avoid.”

Lumi frowns, “I understand, Saint Nina,” he whispers, then slides on his knees across the floor to be closer to her.

Nina takes his hand, placing hers over his with a reassuring pat, “Now, help me with my hair.” Chuckling, she reaches for a silver hairbrush beside her. “This isn’t getting you out of your punishment,” she adds quickly.

Lumi scoffs, “I thought this was the punishment,” he says, “Every woman in the temple makes me do their hair,” he whispers with a heavy sigh. He pulls the loose strands of hair behind her and tugs the silver brush across the length of her silken hair.

Nina chuckles, “You’re quite skilled with hair. Despite the fact that you always look like an unkempt sloth,” she pauses, her lips pursed.“It is a shame that this happened, though. I had only just received a letter while you were out,” she says, glancing back at the aslan brushing her hair.

Lumi pauses brushing, “From someone important, I take it?” He asks, taking a moment before continuing to brush.

Nina smirks, “Your suitor, it would seem,” she whispers.

“O-Oh,” Lumi croaks, “D-Did he have something…important to say?”

Nina laughs, “Perhaps it would be best if you read it yourself, there is nothing that I would need to keep from you,” she says, reaching for a stack of parchment beside her. She rifles through the letters quickly, dropping the irrelevant pieces into a new pile beside her. After a moment, she finds the letter from Khimi, “Here, take a look.”

Lumi’s fingers run over the fine vellum page, feeling the dense nature of the paper. The Cerulean Star’s wax seal, an eight pointed star painted with gold placed over blue wax, had been used to seal the contents. He carefully unrolls the letter, admiring Khimi’s methodically messy scribbles across the page. Lumi can barely read the contents, quickly pleading for the saint to read it aloud. He bites his lip while she starts to read its contents:

Saint Nina,

I hope this correspondence finds you in good health. I must admit to feeling a sense of guilt at having missed our scheduled meeting during my last visitation to the temple. The journey had taken much more out of me than expected, and I had pushed myself more than anticipated. However, it is my hope that you will allow another opportunity to visit you again. There are still things in which I would like to discuss with you. For the future of the Cerulean Star Mercantile and for the temple of Life. I believe that we can profit from our relationship and work together to realize new routes of trade through the Desert Cities.

I plan to depart from Rhaz within the following weeks. Upon my arrival, should you have me, I would request a chamber in which I can prepare for our meeting and negotiations. I believe my next visitation will last much longer than my last. I believe we have much to discuss. This is one additional request, if you will allow for it. I would like for Lumi, the aslan to finish showing me around the temple. He is an interesting individual, I would rather enjoy spending more time getting to know him. I pray these accommodations can be met.

Khimi Zeybek

Nina laughs when Lumi begs her to repeat the contents of the letter in her hands, “It seems he’ll be returning after all, and may be staying a few days this time,” she says, glancing back again at Lumi.

Lumi snatches the letter, his fingers tap the page, his eyes remain fixed on the contents. His grip tightens on the vellum scroll, “It seems that everyone here is against me being with him…” he says without looking up. “Maybe I shouldn’t see him.”

Nina chuckles softly. She shakes her head and turns to look at him, “You will see him. He asked to speak specifically with you!” She says in a playful tone. “It would be rude for you to avoid him.”

Lumi looks at her with pleading eyes, “Hopefully my punishment ends before his arrival?” 

“We can put it on pause during his visit, I suppose,” Nina snorts. “I still planned on allowing Khimi to use the guest quarters if that is of interest to you,” she whispers, her brow raised.

Lumi’s cheeks brighten, “It may have crossed my mind,” he replies, unable to control the smile on his face. He places the letter beside himself and picks up the brush. “Do you mind if I keep the letter? It smells just like him.”

Nina lowers her head. Her laughter echoes throughout the room, “Whatever for?” She asks mockingly.

Lumi tugs the brush roughly through her silky locks, “I just…wanna read it,” he says sharply. 

“Sure,” Nina says mockingly, “You can hold onto it for now. I’ve already returned correspondence.”

Lumi smiles, “You really are a Saint!” He says, his ears wiggle excitedly. “If he sends anything else, will you read it to me?”

“Of course, Lumi. Now we must discuss your punishment…”


Later in the evening, Lumi lays in bed. Even after receiving his punishment, all he can think of is Khimi’s return. Every waking moment has been consumed by thoughts of Khimi. His mind had been a fog, his mind unable to think of much else besides him, the scent of his leather jerkin, the smell of a pipe smoked several moons past, the lingering ouzo at the back of his mouth. His thoughts of Khimi quickly become erotic. Taking the scroll from under his pillow, he is overcome with Khimi’s scent. Heavy and earthen, mixed with ironwood and smoke. And though Lumi had never taken a lover, he always imagined what it would be like if he had. He had imagined once he would find himself in the arms of a beastkin like himself. Yet when his eyes met Khimi’s that night, every thought of anyone else faded. The image the Gods had put in his mind, that blurry visage suddenly became so very clear – Khimi, the man who would take him from the temple, the man he is bound to by fate. His heart races while he imagines Khimi, a man he barely knows, holding him in a lover’s embrace.

 He looks about the room, noting the sleeping forms of the women he shared the space with and attempts to draw his mind elsewhere, but is immediately brought back to lust filled thoughts about Khimi. He recalls Khimi’s hand on his soft thigh.

Lumi turns in his bed, pressing his face against his pillow. Fingertips press into his thighs where Khimi had touched, where he will inevitably touch again. Lumi thrusts his hips gently against the thin mattress, aroused by the thought of Khimi’s calloused hands, how his fingers might rasp against the tender flesh of his thighs. He rolls onto his side, stroking himself. He faces away from his roommates, his fingertips gently massaging his nipple while he works his member in his other hand, careful to move slow enough that the slick of it may go unheard. A soft groan escapes his lips, he bites his knuckle to mask the whimper that follows, high and airy–satisfaction made audible. His rhythmic strokes hasten, rubbing his foreskin back and forth over the tip. Only moments from reaching climax, his mind is caught in the dark cerulean pools which had absorbed him mercilessly. His imagination runs wild, the image of Khimi entering him on the altar in the temple. The weight of him is so heavy on his back that he can feel the press of it even now. With heavy breaths, his fangs dig into the pillow. Warmth spills into his palm. Lumi moans again, his mouth betraying him while he whispers Khimi’s name, his toes curling in pleasure.

Keira rises to her elbows, staring at Lumi through the dark, “Mmm, did you say something, hon?” She questions groggily from a nearby bed.

“No!” Lumi replies excitedly in a whisper.

“Alright, then,” Keira replies in a hushed tone, turning in her bed to face Lumi. “Surprised you’re still up. Can’t sleep, love?” She asks.

“Lots of things on my mind,” Lumi says, still facing the wall. Nervous, he thrusts the letter under his pillow. “I am beat! Goodnight, Keira!” He exclaims suddenly, pulling the pillow over his head.

“You’re so odd,” Keira replies before dropping back onto the pillow. 

Lumi closes his eyes, once more imagining Khimi’s next visit to the temple.