Chapter III

The Rhaz Estate

Nearly a month had passed since Khimi left the temple. His thoughts are all but consumed by Lumi. He imagines time and time again how he would react to their next meeting. He hopes the next time he meets him that he can maintain his composure, that he can hold himself back from touching him. But his recent dreams had proved, all he could think about was touching him, feeling him. Nearly every night he would awaken, slick with sweat, hard as steel. For a time, he had fought the urge to indulge in such lurid thoughts. That is, until he had finally given into his desire, his hand moving on its own to the invasive and pervasive thoughts that plagued him.

 Khimi sits at his desk, staring out the large window across from him. The half dozen merchants in his office continue muttering amongst themselves. A sigh leaves his lips before he can stop himself, thoughts having been muddled since his return from the temple. He wants to let out a groan of dissatisfaction, to stand up and beg the merchants to leave him in peace. Instead, he stews in silence for several moments, allowing the merchants to squabble amongst themselves. He thinks of Lumi’s scent, a sweetness that lingered about him. Was it rosewater? He wonders, lost in his thoughts. Aware of his setting, he looks up at the merchants.

Khimi drums his hand on the table, lost in thought. Croaking a loud ahem, he interrupts the merchant speaking,“if there is nothing else,” he says, standing and nodding to Rashid.

Rashid hurries into the room, “This way please, Lord Zeybek has a busy schedule,” he says with a curious glance at Khimi before he ushers the men from the room.

Khimi collapses into the chair, slumping in his seat. An annoyed expression on his face, he rests his hand against his face, biting the side of his palm. Impatiently, he grumbles to himself when Rashid enters the room with a look of disappointment on his face. Khimi turns away and pulls at the golden threads of his kaftan. The itchy fabric is always so unbearable, and he loathed its stiff nature.

Rashid clenches his teeth, shaking his head. He leans against the desk. “Ya need to learn to control y’reself. Making ya angry, that was their intention from the start!” Rashid exclaims, tilting his head with a sigh.

“Calm down,” Khimi sighs, tapping his fingers rhythmically on the large walnut desk. “I won’t agree to their demands. Ziad wouldn’t approve of risking the loss of those trade agreements,” Khimi sighs again, once more slumping slightly in his chair. “I hate this, Rashid. I miss the thrill of raising my sword in combat…of doing anything that feels more meaningful.”

Rashid sits on the edge of the desk, “Perhaps a drink will calm your nerves?” Rashid asks, producing the small flask of ouzo from his lilac waist scarf. “It’ll calm the nerves,” he adds with a quick nod and flash of his teeth. After he indulges in a long drink from the flask, he passes it to Khimi.

Khimi smiles as he produces his own flask from his waist scarf. “They always come back around…with more demands,” he adds, tilting the bottle back then wiping his lips, “They’re like…wild animals.”

Rashid laughs, “They always will.” He says, moving to the window. “Look at ’em all. Smug lil’ bastards. Maybe if ya thought about using y’re words like swords, ya’d have more fun.”

Khimi laughs, spilling ouzo over his bright green kaftan, “Imagine I am battling them in my mind?” Khimi says, choking on his ouzo. “Besides, it wouldn’t be the same, and you know it.”

“Well, maybe ya can try to figure something out,” Rashid begins. “Ya got to figure something out!” He says more passionately. He rolls his eyes, “Anyway, only a few more weeks till we return to the temple. Made any decisions on what ya plan to do?” He asks, sitting on the edge of the window.

Khimi puffs his cheeks. He leans back and stretches, “I plan on at least hearing what he has to say,” Khimi begins, setting his flask on the table. “I don’t know. I really haven’t given it much thought,” he lies, turning away from Rashid.

“What do you think he’s going to say?” Rashid asks, his eyes narrowing. “If what he said is true to him, he’s unlikely to give up,” he says, placing his hand over his stomach.

Khimi sighs, “Right, but I don’t want— I don’t know if I can feel the way he wants,” He admits. “And I just don’t know where my feelings stand,” Khimi whispers, his thumb circles around the cold lips of the steel flask. “Part of me wants nothing more than to indulge him in this fantasy. Yet there is a part of me that desires nothing more than to choke him for…well, for existing!” He growls, quickly corking the flask. “It’s all very frustrating.”

Rashid crosses his arms, “Aye, I understand your hesitation. Yet if it’s true, that he is blessed with visions or if he can hear the divine,” he says, his voice trailing a moment. “Maybe it’s best if you hear him out. I know y’re not too fond of all of this, but I can tell that ya at least feel something for him.”

Khimi rolls his eyes, “You make me sound like a blushing girl,” he says with a laugh. The flask slips back into his waist scarf. “I do feel something, yet I don’t know what that something is exactly. There is a certain level of attraction, I supp—”

“Deny, deny,” Rashid interrupts with a chuckle while he glances out the window at the departing merchants. “Have ya not spoken about him every day since y’re return?” He asks. “Now, I just want to say. I think you should indulge these feelings, but I warn ya…he’s young and not without his faults. That dark haired priestess said he caused troubles there.”

Khimi exhales sharply, his brow pinched. “I-I have barely brought him up since I’ve come back!” Khimi protests, his cheeks growing flush. “I wasn’t speaking ABOUT him. Come now, are you real–”

“Three nights after your return, I happened across you. Smelling heavily of drink, muttering about your mistakes,” Rashid interrupts, his face hardening. His brow furrows at his young charge. “I won’t have ya continue to tell me lies, Khimi.” He pauses, then looks out the window again. “I was once a faithful servant of the Gods, I listened yet never heard a word they said. I followed blindly on the words of the Saint of Balance, every word she whispered, every word she said felt sacred. There were feelings in those words, something stirred inside of me, a desire to make everything she asked bear fruit. I-I too felt something similar when the aslan spoke to me, I could tell he wasn’t a liar. I sensed there was no doubt behind his words,” he takes another long drink from the flask, draining it of its contents. “Khimi, I understand ya have no love for the Gods. But heed my words, when fate puts two people together or crosses their paths…there is a reason. Deny y’re feelings all ya like, boy. It is better if ya just acknowledge it and move from there. Y’re not fooling me nor y’reself. I may not like the lad personally, but if he makes you happy…that is enough for me,” he finishes with a sigh and turns back to Khimi.

Khimi’s face screws up in annoyance, “Are you finished?” He asks with a grim expression.

“That I am,” Rashid says, standing. “I suppose y’re gonna want me to give ya some space to contemplate now?”He asks.

Khimi shakes his head. His fingers rub his eyes closed, “No,” he says, giving the gray haired man a half-hearted grin. “I have something I need of you.”

Rashid gives a slight bow. “How can I be of service to the young Lord?”

“Since you have taken it upon yourself to tell me how I should live my life. How I should ‘embrace my true nature’ and all,” Khimi begins, smirking. “I am in need of something, why I think it would be a bit upsetting if I returned to the temple without any sort of experience or knowledge on the subject of pleasure…”

Rashid grimaces. He waves his hands in protest, “Heavens, Khimi!” He exclaims, his face twists in confusion. “I can teach ya nothing of the sort, i-it’s not my place. I’ve never been with a man.”

Khimi laughs a moment in recognition, “Oh Gods!” He spits. “You’re like my father! I more so mean I need your help with something,” He says, nearly buckling over in laughter.

Rashid pauses, “Ay-ya, never mind…just continue!” He demands.

Khimi eyes Rashid out of the corner of his eyes. “I’d like to go to the Celestial Palace[1]…there is some literature I need to borrow.”

Rashid cocks his eyebrow in response, “They don’t lend the books from the palace,” he says in a thoughtful tone.

“I know,” Khimi replies with a mirthful grin.

“If we get caught, it could mean ya’d lose a hand. Why not just pay for it outright?” Rashid asks, his eyes on his feet. “I don’t feel too keen on stealing. How about that Devilkin woman from y’re mercenary days. I believe her name was Ennui, was it?”

Khimi glances towards the window. “Ennui…right. I haven’t spoken to Ennui in a while. She’d probably be a better pick over you anyway. Though I would rather no one know what I am planning to take anyway,” he says, eyeing Rashid once again. “Are you certain you don’t want to help me?” He asks, laughing at Rashid’s expression.

“Certainly. Y’re free to do as you wish, I would rather not upset anyone from the Palace during our time in Rhaz.” Rashid says, nervously wringing his hands. “I will be nearby, though, should ya find yourself in a situation.”

Khimi scoffs, “Fine then. I’ll contact Ennui. She’s a rather complex individual…but I’ve always been able to get along with her, and she’s pretty incredible at what she does.”

Rashid eyes Khimi, “As dependable as a cutthroat can be,” he says.

“Cut purse,” Khimi says, correcting Rashid. “She’s not going to be killing anyone this time around.”

“As far as we are aware…” Rashid grimaces. “Rhaz has an underbelly unlike Sidi. I understand there are hosts of criminals and murderers running amok. She has a reputation as well.” he adds, eyeing Khimi with concern. “The Ghost, they call ‘er”

“I will make contact with Ennui,” Khimi says, sitting back at the desk. “I will inform you of when our meeting will occur. Will that give you peace of mind?” He asks, eyeing Rashid from the desk.

“I’m sure she knows where the estate is. There is no doubt she remembers ya, with y’re shared past and all.” Rashid mutters, heading to the door.

Khimi itches the scar over his cheek. “It’s been a long time, Ennui,” he says to himself while Rashid leaves the room.

[1] Celestial Palace: The Palace where the descendants of the efreet, Revya reside. It hosts thousands of literary articles and is home to many scholars and nobles.



Khimi sits on the floor sofa, straightening the creases in his sarouel while he waits for the appointed time. His dealings with Ennui had always left him nervous, she was one of his oldest friends, but also unpredictable. He begins to second guess his reason for wanting the book stolen in the first place. He lays the back of his head against the soft cloth pillow. The beauty of the Rhaz estate is astonishing, he sits, admiring the beauty surrounding him. The painted murals on the ceiling depict traveling seafaring vessels crossing stretches of the Emerald Coast.

“Lord Zeybek,” a soft-spoken woman says, a pinkness in her cheeks. “Lord Zeybek,” she says once more, slightly louder. “Your guest has arrived.”

Khimi turns, looking at the young girl. “Show her in, and fetch Rashid if you don’t mind,” he adds.

“Of course,” she says, offering a small bow as she departs from the room.

Khimi takes a sip of mint tea from his colored glass, watching through the bottom of the glass. A pale woman with dark hair enters the room. She maintains the appearance Khimi had seen before, covered in leathers from head to toe. Her horns curved slightly downwards, sitting closely to her pointed ears. She sits abruptly across from Khimi, quickly crossing her legs to mirror his own. Khimi watches her settle, gauging her expression before beginning.

Ennui looks around the room awkwardly. “How in the Hells have you been?!”

Khimi takes a sigh of relief, a sense of worry vanishes at his old friend’s words. “I’ve been better…I am sure you can imagine.”

She glances about, peering about the well decorated room, “No…no, I can’t say I can imagine. Look at all this luxury,” she says in that teasing tone, her harsh, nasally accent still jarring to his ears after all their years apart.

Khimi scoffs then follows her gaze, “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. This amount of wealth doesn’t really buy you happiness.”

Ennui chuckles at Khimi’s response. “So, you need my services?” She asks. “Isn’t the first time a member of the Zeybek family has hired me.” She raises her brow, “And I thought you’d moved on past all this business…away from being a Zeybek.”

Khimi nods, a confident smile crossing his lips, “I recall your work for Ziad, and many mercenary companies for that matter. I still owe you thanks…for helping me back then,” he begins, pulling at the stubble on his chin, “There is something that I need from the Celestial Palace…but I must have your guarantee that everything we discuss is strictly between us.”

Ennui laughs and leans forward in the chair, “I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I went blabbing to everyone, now, would I? But you already know that,” she says with a wicked smirk and a wink. “Because of…your status, I will be charging a premium for my silence.”

A smile crosses Khimi’s lips, “Coin is no issue…obviously, but I have ways of ensuring your silence,” he whispers, leaning forward towards the Devilkin woman. His eyebrows raise in anticipation.

“Brave…if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were being flirty with me, boy,” Ennui says, thrusting her back into the chair, a thin smile on her lips, “But, If you’re threatening me. I can take my services elsewhere,” she replies, uncrossing her legs, she begins to stand. “You’re still the same boy after all, it seems.”

Sit. Please!” Khimi says hurriedly, gesturing towards the paper on the table. “I’ve prepared a document. It’s an oath binding contract…so you know I mean it.”

Ennui snarls at the paper, her brow pinching, “O-oath binding? You’ve had this magicked?” She asks, scoffing. “It all depends on the price, you said Celestial Palace?” She asks, leaning back in the small wooden chair. “Young man, did you really need to take so many precautions…do you not trust me? After everything we’ve been through?”

 Khimi knew he could trust Ennui, he could trust her more than anyone under the employ of his family other than Rashid. But he was always one to take any and every precaution available.

Khimi shakes his head, avoiding her question, “Five hundred Sidian gold pieces, and the object is a book from the royal library,” he whispers, his eyes shifting about the room. “I’d think a book would be no small issue for The Ennui.”

Ennui rolls her tongue across her teeth, “Five hundred gold pieces is a lot for a book. Is it a spell book or something? Enchanted is it?” Ennui asks quizzically with a raised brow.

Khimi stifles a laugh. “The book isn’t magical as far as I am aware, however, I plan on being there with you to ensure you collect the right book,” he says, smiling. He slides the parchment across the table. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

Ennui tilts her head from side to side in thought, “To know that you would risk your own freedom for this…it must be important,” she says, smiling while she picks up the quill. “I have nothing better going on anyway for the moment,” she adds with a smirk. “A ledger? Proof of fraud? Something nefarious? Is it…a,” she gasps. “It’s definitely one of the efreeti’s kink books.”

Khimi raises an eyebrow and chuckles, “You’re welcome to continue guessing. But, are you aware of how this works?” Khimi asks, picking up the second quill.

“This isn’t my first time signing an oath binding contract,” she replies quickly, looking up while she dips the quill in the inkwell. “I won’t be allowed to speak to anyone or write to anyone regarding our contract.”

Khimi laughs, “Rather, you can’t. The magic will not allow you to utter the words of our contract or about the deed,” he whispers, signing his name on the opposite side of the parchment.

Ennui pauses mid-script and looks up into Khimi’s eyes, “Right,” she whispers as she scrawls her name on the parchment. “Are you happy now?”

Khimi shrugs, “I suppose. I admit I’ve been unsure of myself lately.”

As Ennui finishes her name, the faint sound of crackling emanates from the page. The parchment erupts in flames, leaving nothing but scorch marks on the wooden table. Khimi smiles, then he looks up from the table at her.

Ennui tilts her head to the side, “So, when are we expected at the Celestial Palace?” She asks. She tickles her chin with the quill, “And don’t fret over being unsure of yourself…most people live unsure, if not all of them.”

“You seem awfully sure of yourself, you always have,” Khimi mutters.

Ennui laughs, her head tilted back. “It’s a front. But don’t tell anyone. Trade secret,” She whispers and gives him a quick wink.

Khimi chortles, “Alright, I’ll do my best to keep that in mind. Anyway, The Celestial Palace is always open to the wealthy and aristocracy. In three nights during the twilight festival there should be fewer individuals keeping their eyes on the library,” Khimi says, steepling his fingers, “And while I would just walk in myself or ask to borrow it, the content is…”

“Sensitive? Lurid?” Ennui asks. “You’ve really thought this out, then?” A wide smirk crosses her lips. “Whatever it is you plan on taking…I am looking forward to seeing its contents. You know, I could buy a home with five hundred gold pieces, hire a retainer to wait on my every beck and call?”

Khimi laughs, “Well, whatever you do with the coin. That is up to you, but let’s just say, when I set my mind to something…I always follow through,” he says, reaching forward and pouring a glass of mint tea for Ennui. “I understand that five hundred gold pieces is no small matter, but…it’s important,” he whispers, handing her the glass.

Ennui brings the glass under her nose giving it a careful sniff, “Even though it’s not ouzo, perhaps we should toast,” she says with a contemplative look. She taps her fingers on the side of the hand blown glass.

Khimi smiles, laughing while he produces a small flask from his waist scarf. “An easy remedy,” he adds, pouring a bit of ouzo into each of their glasses. “To success and a rekindled friendship,” he says, his glass raised towards her.

“To success and a beautiful friendship, then,” Ennui replies, clinking her glass against his. She watches Khimi begin to drink before raising hers to her lips.

Khimi leans back, resting his arm over the low sofa as he looks about the room. Their business seemingly concluded, an air of awkwardness comes over him. He shifts in his seat several times while watching the Devilkin woman seem to struggle for words. He finds himself looking down at his feet nervously, thinking of their plan to steal from the Celestial Palace.

Khimi fidgets nervously, “And it is probably best if you come dressed properly when we go to attend the festival…as you’ll be my associate,” he adds quickly, the thought popping into his mind.

“Associate…sounds so stiff. Let’s say date,” Ennui whispers, the corner of her lip tugs into a smile. “You’ve grown into a fine young man.”

Khimi scoffs, “Date, is it? Fine, just don’t blame me when you grow attached,” he replies abruptly and rolls his eyes.

“Come now, do you really think I can grow attached to little boys like you?” She asks, leaning forward.

Khimi grins cockily. “I’m not a little boy anymore,” he says, then he leans forward to match her pose.

Ennui snorts then begins to laugh uncontrollably before settling down, “Then it is a date. Shall I meet you here or at the Celestial Palace?” She asks.

“Here is fine, I will see that clothing will be made to your figure. I would hate to see you come dressed as a thief to our ‘date’,” He says quickly, with a sudden fleck of excitement.

“I can present myself properly when I need to,” Ennui laughs, and she leans forward further across the table. She places her sharpened nail beneath Khimi’s stubbled chin, “I am glad you have so much faith in me already, little boy.”

Color fills Khimi’s cheeks while the Devilkin peers into his eyes. His lips curl into a smile, “I’ve always enjoyed our time together,” he pauses, watching her expression carefully, “I just wish for a pleasant evening without any hiccups.”

“Then it will be so!” Ennui says, pushing herself to her feet and gives a mocking bow before she walks across the room. She pauses, then begins to pass the arched entryway. “Lovely home, by the way, Lord Zeybek. I’ve always wondered, does this measure of wealth bring happiness? But I suppose you’ve already answered my question,” she says, tapping her fingers rhythmically on the alabaster stone arches. Her tail flicks behind her tauntingly.

Khimi remains silent, weighing the question, “Wealth only makes life easier, it doesn’t bring happiness,” he replies quietly, almost to himself.

Ennui raps her knuckles against the archway. “Thought so,” she whispers before she exits. “Bet you’d rather be back in the thick of it,” she calls back, her footsteps echoing down the hallway. “We can always go back.”

Weighing their exchange in his mind, Khimi sits in quiet contemplation. Was there anything that I left out? Did I perhaps reveal too much? He looks back through an open window, following Ennui’s figure as she exits the estate and enters into the streets of Rhaz. He returns to looking at the murals painted on the ceiling. Noting the level of details in the painting. His eyes narrow on the name of the vessel headed out to sea on the mural. The stories his father told him of the fabled vessel, Apathy. The supposed merchant vessel was only such in name, in reality Apathy was a war vessel often loaded with dozens of trained soldiers and a mage skilled in naval warfare. Apathy, he thinks, a fitting name for father’s vessel. A fitting vessel for an ass who lacks emotions or feelings, just what he would need to achieve his goals.

Back from his thoughts, the serving girl returns with a small tray of honeyed bread. He smiles, and he plucks a pinch of the treat from the tray. The youthful girl blushes, smiling and giving him a gentle bow, exiting the room. Khimi looks over the small bit of bread in his fingers, watching the sticky honey drip slowly from its base. Patiently, he waits for the honey to drip onto the plate before shoving the sweet bread into his mouth. Happily, he hums to himself once the sweetness of the Sidian honey fills his mouth. His thoughts are immediately filled with images of his childhood, walking through the fields of grapes with his mother, listening to Rashid’s recited speeches, and sitting at the large dinner table waiting for his father’s arrival. He leans back, closing his eyes, and thinks back on his youth.


The Twilight Festival

The stars and moons of Talmus illuminate the streets around the Celestial Palace. The sound of a massive brazier crackling, accompanied by tambourines and oud’s being played by masterful musicians, can be heard throughout the Palace district. Approaching the final steps towards the forum, Ennui and Khimi pause to take in the sights of the evening. Dozens of roaring bonfires fill the area, children run about without a care. The two wander about the area for hours, sampling native Rhazian delicacies only cooked during the festival. Emerald whitefish stuffed with roasted prickly pear, honeyed cakes covered in dusted cacao. The scent of the fresh roasted fare, alluring dozens of drunk revelers to the stalls. Ennui’s fingers slip delicately between Khimi’s. She turns to him suddenly.

“It was supposed to be a date, wasn’t it?” Ennui coos menacingly.

Khimi coughs with discomfort when her hand touches his waist. “Right,” he whispers, “We agreed it was a date.”

“Then sell it as one,” she says, blowing air between her lips. “You’re stiff in all the wrong ways, Lord Zeybek.”

Ennui begins walking before him, pulling Khimi along with her past the crowds. She rearranges her teal shawl over her white shift dress while she continues. She pauses in an opening between crowds, forcing her hand against Khimi’s, their finger’s lined against one another. The music fades, then several instruments pick up the queue to begin the next song. Khimi stares into Ennui’s red eyes uncomfortably, her hand pressing against his own. She pushes him in a circle about the clearing. The dance is one his mother often danced with him in Sidi, though the rhythm and feeling are much different here than back in his homeland. Trying his best to keep rhythm, he attempts to change his pace to match that of the song, noticing the crowd turn their eyes to them. They spin about the small clearing, changing their formation with each twirl and sway.

Khimi grimaces, “I feel I am more of a singer than a dancer…”

Ennui scoffs, “Perhaps I will get a chance to hear your beautiful voice later,” she says with a coy smile. “And well, I figured it would be best to be seen here.” A radiant smile touches her lips. “You’re being really stiff,” she adds, their palms pressed together again. “I’ve seen you dance, show me how you really move, Khimi.”

“I don’t know how you Rhazians do it, the dance is much more tame in Sidi.”

Ennui laughs, the sound forcing her mouth to crack open into a smile that flashes her fang-like canines, “That’s ‘cause Sidians are boring people, who lead boring lives,” she says, grinning. “Anyway,” she says while she spins, “I’m not from Rhaz.”

“Sidi is known for its dancers’ guild!”

Ennui scoffs, “Dancers’ guild? Those dancers hail from every other region, because everyone in Sidi is flat-footed!” She teases.

Khimi grits his teeth. “Wasn’t aware I was paying you to mock me,” He whispers with a silvery lilt.

Ennui stifles a laugh, clapping a hand over her mouth. “Oh, come off it. I am just having a little fun. Maybe if you came off your high horse you’d learn to live a little,” she sighs, breaking away.

Khimi rolls his eyes, “Look, I am having plenty of fun. After all, it has been years since we’ve got to meet and do an–,”

“Oh, shut up! You could have reached out to me at any point!” She interrupts, waving her hand dismissively. She rushes towards the Celestial Palace.

Khimi follows her silently, feeling the anger swelling within him over her sudden outburst. He wonders if Ennui’s comments about Sidi are made to intentionally get a rise out of him, or if she was furious at him for never reaching out to her. Though he was never particularly proud of being called a Sidian, he had always felt it was his duty to act in the best interests of his city and kin. As they reach the stairs past the forum, Khimi looks up at the Celestial Palace. Ennui turns on her heels, smiling, then extending her arms.

Ennui smiles gleefully. “Sorry to cut you off. I just wanted to give a bit of a show, all those sops back there probably think we got into an argument and marched into the night to discuss our feelings,” she adds mockingly with her hands on her hips.

Khimi sighs, “You certainly have the ability to get under one’s skin…if I recall, that was always a talent of yours,” he says, gritting his teeth before letting out a deep sigh. “I still see a number of guards,”

“Surely, a couple guards won’t be an issue for someone of your standing,” Ennui smirks.

Khimi shakes his head, “I am not sure if standing alone will get you into the Celestial Palace unmolested. I’d rather have not been seen at all,” he replies sharply under his breath.

Khimi walks past Ennui, taking the first stair towards the Celestial Palace. The stars shimmer brightly overhead, the glow of the moons highlighting the path towards the gates looming ahead. Drawing nearer to the gates, Ennui slips beside him, her face difficult to read in the starlight. Nearing the top of the stairs, several large braziers illuminate the gates of the Celestial Palace. Several guards step forward in celebratory kaftans, serious but worried looks on their faces, hands sitting tightly on their scimitars.

“What business do you have at the Celestial Palace?” One of the guards asks brusquely.

“I am Khimi Zeybek, I came to show my friend about the Palace,” Khimi responds in an equally brusque tone. He places a hand softly over Ennui’s.

Ennui smirks, “Khimi said he was going to show me how beautiful it was inside,” she mutters in a dainty tone, batting her lashes at the guard.

Ah, of course, Lord Zeybek! Pardon for not recognizing,” the guard responds, allowing his hand to fall from his weapon. “Please, go on ahead,” he says, stepping back to his post and eyeing them warily.

Khimi puts his arm around Ennui, “Come along, darling.” He says, looking at her from the corner of his eye.

Ennui snorts, “That’s it, then?” She asks after they pass through the gates. “You can just wave your name around and go wherever you Godsdamn please,” she adds, chuckling to herself. Her tail slaps against the back of Khimi’s leg. “You annoying git. I suppose you’re paying me for nothing!”

Khimi shrugs, unable to hide his smirk. They walk through the courtyard, admiring the beauty of the palace surrounding them. “It is all about building a reputation. My family provides goods and services to Revya.”

The Celestial Palace is one of the most magnificently constructed buildings in Talmus. Every year, thousands would come to Rhaz just to study the architecture employed by the Efreet who built it in ages past. Golden domed cupolas stand at the tops of the seven towers around the palace, each reflecting the light from the starry sky. Crenelations along the sandstone structure host dozens more guards who gaze down on them with wonder.

Ennui purses her lips then whispers, “So, you’re basically allowed to do whatever you please?”

Khimi laughs, his arm tightening around her. “I think you’re making a bigger deal of it,” he replies quickly. “Anyway, once we pass the indoor gardens, the Royal Library is right past there,” he says, pointing.

“Then let’s get this business over with, all of this obscene wealth is making my stomach churn,” Ennui gags mockingly. “It’s a pity I don’t have free rein here.”

The two walk through the Celestial Palace, they pass the large indoor garden, the open air ceiling allowing for the moonlight to enter. The large room smells heavily of soil and fragrant blooms, giant flowers hang from vines climbing up the palms. Small succulents sit in various clay pots around the circular garden, each one seemingly propagating different varieties of the desert plant. Greenery surrounds them, every few steps through the rounded room, a palm or potted tree rests nestled against the wall.

Khimi and Ennui halt, a guard approaches them, only to pass them in a hurry toward the entrance. While walking into the arched entrance of the Royal Library, they come upon another guard who inquires about their purpose and reason for entering the library. Khimi again casually mentions his name and is granted entry by the suddenly anxious looking guard, who mutters his apologies. The library opens into a large, tiered room, containing two floors of bookshelves filled with books and scrolls. Several large cabinets lined with scrolls can be seen near a small sitting area with a wooden lattice door covering them. Large codices rest about various pedestals on display, candles faintly illuminate various areas of the library, leaving much of it in total darkness.

Ennui cranes her neck curiously, “I’d have thought it would have more color. It’s rather drab for being the Celestial Palace,” she says quietly. “At least it looks like nobody’s around,” she whispers, opening the satchel around her waist.

“I didn’t notice that before,” Khimi says, looking at the unique looking bag.

“Oh, right. You wouldn’t have noticed it unless you took the time to feel me up as a proper date should have,” she says, giving Khimi a mirthful smirk. “You wouldn’t know anything about feeling up a woman, would you?”

Khimi shakes his head, “I am a quick study,” he murmurs. “But I must say, It’ll always amaze me, the things women can store in their dresses, bodices, and well…wherever else they put things,” he says, blushing while his thoughts trail.

Ennui’s cheeks fill with color, “Perhaps it’s better you don’t finish that thought,” she replies, following Khimi through the library. “Now, where is the book?” she asks.

“It’ll be in this side room over here,” Khimi says, grabbing a candle from one of the sconces.

“Curious, I can’t speak the Efreet’s tongue, but I know enough to know that it reads ‘restricted’, maybe I underestimated the value of your book,” she says gaily. “Also, being in that language…that means it does belong to the damn Efreet.”

“Five hundred gold is a fair price,” Khimi replies. They walk into the small room, and he places his candle on the table. Almost immediately, they set to scouring through the worn codices.

Ennui smirks confidently, “You know it would be easier if you told me what you were looking for,” she says viciously. “It’s not like I can tell the world about whatever it is we’re looking for anyway. Oath bound and all, remember?”

“Right, so look for a codex plated in copper…that is about as much as I can tell you for now,” Khimi whispers, his fingertips running past the leather-bound books.

Moments feel like ages, several metallic plated codices are laid on the table, quick to be returned to their shelves once Khimi fingers through them. Ennui sighs in frustration after pulling out another codex to show to him. She pauses while she flips through the pages, her interest seemingly piqued by the subject – men indulging in the pleasures of the flesh. Men engaging in lurid acts with one another. Visual drawings with handwritten scribbles along the edges of the pages, dozens of pages pertaining to sexual preparation. A childish smirk crosses her face, and she places it on the table.

Ennui smiles uncontrollably, “Copper plated. It’s written in the Old Tongue…but it–” She pauses. “You bloody ARE looking for a pleasure book, aren’t you?” she asks Khimi, slowly flipping through the pages. “Oh, this book is mostly about men pleasuring men…certainly not what you’re looking for, right?” She asks with a knowing smirk.

Khimi looks at the book sheepishly from behind Ennui, “I-I, just put the book in the bag,” he whispers, becoming embarrassed. “That’s the one.”

“Settle down,” she replies with a sigh. “I always saw your lengthy glances at the shirtless males…that awkwardness you showed when bathing around other men. And here I was thinking that maybe you’d be interested in me,” she sobs mockingly. “You were supposed to free this poor girl from a life of poverty and all that,” she adds with a cutting laugh while she thrusts the codex into the bag.

“I never intended for it to be a secret,” Khimi mutters in response. He rolls on his heels, “If this is it…then we should probably leave,” he says swiftly.

Ennui gives a wolfish grin, “Why not hang around a while, make it seem like the Lord took his escort to the library for some quiet,” she says, pressing a finger against his chest.

“As you may be aware by now, you aren’t exactly my type,” Khimi chuckles, placing his hand around Ennui’s finger. “I think I already have someone I may be interested in. Though…it’s confusing really. I can’t wrap my mind around it.”

Ennui places a hand over his. “Confused? About what…you desire?” Ennui’s laugh echoes through the library. “Dear Khimi, you know what you want! You either want to stick your cock in another man or have one stuck in that plump rear of yours!”

Khimi’s eyes widen, “I am certain I would be the one sticking,” he says incredulous, then shakes his head, “You’re right though, I am certain of where my interests lie.” He whispers to himself with a groan. “I am only telling you this because…we’re old friends.”

“And because I have a trusting face?” She asks, glancing up into Khimi’s eyes. “Or perhaps it is because you need someone other than that old man to talk to?” Her tail flails behind her, her interest is piqued.

Khimi eyes her suspiciously, “Perhaps, but is a thief truly someone I want to be spending much of my time with?” Khimi asks, smiling, before he releases his hand from Ennui’s.

“Assassin, Lord Zeybek. But surely, you already know the truth of my reputation. And should you have a need for companionship or otherwise…I’d be interested to hear about this special ‘someone’ you speak of,” she says, walking towards a seating area in the center of the library.

Khimi scoffs, “As if I wouldn’t know the Ghost of the Desert Cities was an assassin,” he whispers, his expression relaxing. “Though if I am to be honest, it would be nice to have someone to speak to about…these things. Yet, I fear our relationship is that of an employer and the employed. Perhaps it’s best we maintain some level of professionalism,” Khimi says, following closely behind the woman.

Ennui sighs, “Look, Khimi. Any attempt at professionalism was lost on me the second you asked me to steal…a freaky Efreet’s sex book. Now I’m just curious,” she says, sitting in a wooden chair. She places a small pillow on her lap. “Now then, tell me your woes, boy.”

Khimi itches the scar across his nose. “Right, well. There isn’t much to tell, really. Someone. Well, he is really just some strange acolyte who believes that we were supposed to find each other. W-When I say it out loud…it actually sounds worse,” he resigns.

“So, this acolyte. How do you feel about him?” She asks plainly and with a nod, she curls her fingers about her curved horns.

Khimi pulls on the sleeve of his evening kaftan. “It’s difficult to explain, I do…have some type of attraction to him. One could say he’s left a lasting impression in the moments we spent together,” he mutters, leaning against the table. “I even sent a letter against my better judgment.”

“That’s it?” Ennui asks again. “Just a lasting impression, maybe try using your words more. Express your feelings,” she instructs. “You were never one for expressing yourself, were you, young lord. Constantly in your own damned head.”

Khimi growls. “I-I said it wasn’t easy to explain!” He exclaims. “There is a strangeness about him that I find attractive, his words roll off his tongue without effort, and he knows exactly who he is and what he wants…I’ve never met someone so forward in my life,” he pauses in thought, “he is terribly beautiful, he has these piercing eyes unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

Ennui chuckles, “It seems you know what you want,” she says, crossing her arms over the pillow. “Maybe if you weren’t such a shit, you’d just accept that you know what you want.”

“Life is more complex than that. You make it sound easy, Ennui,” Khimi mumbles, looking towards the ceiling of the library. “I feel a certain pull towards him, but I cannot say if what I am feeling is lust or affection.”

“You will just have to find out then, won’t you?” Ennui whispers with a cheerful nod. She begins to tousle her hair about, giving herself a disheveled appearance.

Khimi stares at her while she tosses her hair about. “That’s a good look on you. You look like you had a proper fit,” he mocks.

“You really know how to talk to a lady, don’t you? Besides just making it look like the lord had his way with his DATE,” Ennui mocks, gently tearing the shoulder of her shift. “Wouldn’t want the guards to think we just came in here to talk now, would we?”

A thin smile forms on Khimi’s lips. “You must do this often,”

“Well, more often than not, this would be the outcome after a man takes a woman alone into a secluded place. At least it is more believable than me leaving this place untouched if you ask me,” Ennui says, looking amused at Khimi. “Though it’s still on the table if you’re interested,” she adds, her brow pinched together.

“Are you dissatisfied with the outcome for tonight, Ennui?” He asks, chuckling. “You seem a bit upset.”

Ennui’s nose wrinkles even further. “To put it plainly, you aren’t exactly my type either,” she says, grinning and checking over her appearance again. “I suppose this is as good as it gets,” she adds, standing and walking towards him. She places her hand on his chest. “Though…perhaps if the lord wishes. I suppose I could make an exception. I prefer my partners with soft and supple bosoms.”

Khimi smiles and responds in his gruff tone, “This is it then?”

Ennui sighs. “I suppose so. Better not to wait around until the festivities die off, they’ll be more distracted now,” she says, walking past Khimi.

Ennui begins to laugh, and she stumbles through the arched doorway of the library. She places her hand gently on the guard’s shoulder, who helps her from staggering. Khimi follows behind, confused at Ennui’s display. She’s a better actor than I thought. Following behind her, she trails back through the indoor garden and outside the Celestial Palace. He sprints to catch up to her, grabbing her arm. Eyeing her in confusion, she replies by rolling her eyes and making her way back down the stairs into the forum. The festivities of the evening seem to be in full bloom, dozens of dancers dance in rings around the large bonfires, the embers making their way into the sky, joining the twinkling stars. Khimi maintains his silence, while Ennui continues to pull through the crowds, shoving her way outside the forum and into the streets of Rhaz. She heads towards an area unfamiliar to him, his discomfort shows as a resistance in his stride. She stops mid-step, turning back towards him, her eyebrows raised with an annoyed look on her face.

“If this is as far as you’re willing to go, then I suppose this is the end of our journey, Lord Zeybek,” she says, giving him a small frown.

“I am unfamiliar with these streets…we can part ways here, or you can return to my estate,” Khimi says, looking over Ennui, attempting to gauge her expression. “I’ll take the book now,” he adds then extends his hand and twiddles his fingers

“Oh, right,” she says, reaching into her bag. She laughs to herself then produces the book, “I suppose this is it then?” She asks, dangling it out before herself.

Khimi places a hand on the book, “You’d like those five hundred gold pieces now?” He asks.

“You took 500 gold pieces with you?” She asks, scoffing. “Ludicrous! You really are a chump.”

“I didn’t bring them, but this is a promissory note, come to my estate and Rashid will pay you for your services,” Khimi says flatly.

“Doesn’t work that way, you’ll get the book when I get my coin,” she replies hesitantly. “I wouldn’t be good at my job if I got snookered out of coin all the time.”

“Then come to the estate, I’ll see you paid tonight,” Khimi says, flashing his teeth. He stares at the book in Ennui’s hand. “Can you put that away?” He asks, looking around them uncomfortably for any peering eyes.

Ennui puts the book back into the bag, “Fine,” she says, anger flashing across her face as they begin their trek back to the Zeybek Estate. “It’s been a while since we got to properly catch up,” she mutters quietly. “I expect drinks…many drinks.”

“Of course.”