Chapter VIII

Evening Sparring

The locusts chirp loudly in the desert heat, their call gives Lumi an eerie sense of nostalgia. He thinks back on his youth and the time he spent hunting with his tribe, and recalls the hours he spent fighting with his brother, Sevrin. He edges closer towards the older man, goading him with his spear in hand. Taking a wide stance, he then crouches, ready to pounce at any moment. Rashid pushes the loose gray hairs from his eyes, inching forward, shamshir swinging menacingly in his hand. Lumi backs away cautiously, his feet kick the loose sand while he moves. Rashid swings wide, causing Lumi to raise his spear, fending off the blow.

“Yer bloody quick, but y’re not taking me seriously,” Rashid growls, scowling angrily. “What is it going to take to make ya take me seriously?” he asks.

The older man is furious, spittle flies from his mouth as he shouts. The last several moments of their confrontation had been nothing but Lumi evading his swings and dodging out of the way.

Lumi growls in response, “I am taking this seriously!”

“I asked ya to spar, I didn’t ask ya to come out here dressed like some Dolman whore!” Rashid exclaims. “Then what, ya just dance around me?”

The garb which Lumi wears is the same one that Hasim had given to him when he left the temple. He was told before he had left that it was created to help them focus their talents while also being used as a tool to distract opponents. The fabric is soft and silk-like, but with a heaviness to it which clings to his form in an almost lurid way. The golden bands about the neck serve to hold the fabric in place, while the black loincloth seems almost daintily held together by a set of thick dyed strings.

“Th-This is traditional to the Temp–”

“Pay attention!” Rashid demands, swinging once more. His shamshir catches the spear while his buckler smashes against Lumi’s face.

Lumi stumbles backwards, “Wh-What the fuck, Rashid?” He demands with a hint of betrayal in his voice. He places a hand on his cheek, rubbing the swelling skin before resuming his stance.

“Ya want to spar, or just swing y’re spear around for show?” Rashid asks, moving gradually closer towards the aslan. “I know what it takes to get people like ya to take me seriously…you have to be in real danger,” he whispers almost under his breath.

Lumi roars angrily, then chuckles hysterically, uncontrollably. The nervous snort he makes is alarming, even to himself.“Real danger, huh?” He questions while he widens his stance again, his spear pointed towards Rashid. Fingers tense along the shaft, heat builds inside of him.

“I’ve trained Khimi since he was a boy, he’s got twenty years on ya in combat experience…how’re ya gonna travel with him when ya CAN’T even spar with me?” Rashid shouts

Lumi closes his eyes, “I liked you better before!” He growls. “Can’t we just stop?”

Lumi takes a moment to look around them, his head tilts up and nose turns to the air. He admires the salty breeze brushing against his skin. He returns to his focus and glances about the courtyard, overwhelming concern comes over him. I am going to make myself look like a fool. He shakes the thought from his mind, pointing his spear back at Rashid. Rashid takes a defensive stance, leaving his sword arm hanging to the side, ready to swing at his approach. Lumi moves quickly and decisively, his footwork a unique mix of his tribe’s and that of the temple’s. He launches, evading several swings from the shamshir before Rashid retaliates, with several quick punches with his buckler. Lumi ducks and seeks an opening to strike. Dragging the spear around him, the butt strikes behind Rashid’s knee. Rashid stumbles forward onto his knees and just as Lumi begins to follow through with a decisive blow, Rashid rolls frantically out of the way. The metallic breastplate clinks together, dust fills the sandy courtyard. Pride fills Lumi at the sound of the crowd clapping approvingly at his efforts.

Lumi crouches once again, waiting for Rashid to stand. Rashid places his Shamshir on the ground before him and removes his buckler. The small shield lands into the sand with a thud. Lumi raises a brow at Rashid in confusion while the man picks the shamshir from the ground, both hands on the hilt, fingers tensed.

“Again!” Rashid says sternly. “Come at me!” He spreads his armored caligae in the sand in preparation.

Lumi stares into Rashid’s eyes, desperate to read his opponent’s expression. He calms himself with a deep breath before rushing forward. The distance between him and Rashid passes in a blink. He makes several quick jabs with his spear, each blow glancing off of Rashid’s metallic breastplate. Battle cries ring out across the small sandy courtyard, each blow deflected. Instinctively, Lumi back peddles after the blows fail to find purchase, waving his spear defensively. Rashid takes advantage of a short opening, darting towards Lumi. The first swing is violent and Lumi manages to deflect it, but he catches himself off guard from the weight behind Rashid’s swing, he falters. Rashid advances and Lumi staggers. He attempts to somersault backwards to evade the swing. The crowd gasps aloud; the sand is littered red. Lumi stands from rolling in the sand, aware of the large gash across his side.

Lumi’s brow pinches in anger. “I thought you said this was going to just be sparring?” Lumi questions. He presses his hand on the wound above his hip. “That hurt!” He screams and stumbles forward.

Rashid shrugs.“I told ya,” he begins, a serious and dangerous look in his hooded eyes. “To take this seriously. Didn’t I?”

“You’re mad!” Lumi exclaims, his eyes narrowing on the older man. “You’re just the same as Ziad! You probably gave Khimi scars too!”

“Don’t ya ever bloody say that to me!” Rashid shouts, his wrinkled cheeks glow with anger. He prepares once more for another assault. “I thought aslan were fearsome foes,” he spits. “Certainly proved that wrong.”

Lumi presses his fingers against his side and utters words he doesn’t quite understand, yet they spring into his mind. A warmth springs from his fingertips, radiating outwards, the wound begins to steam. It vanishes within seconds, the flesh mending itself with a pale blue light. He resumes his stance, placing his spear tip facing Rashid. He no longer feels any sympathy for the older man; Rashid’s intentions are clear to him. He closes his eyes, feeling his heart beating in his chest. He whispers a familiar incantation, pale lights glow through his eyelids. Opening his eyes, three spectral lances float alongside him, ablaze in a queer light. The spears had been a gift from the Goddess that spoke to him, it was she that had taught him how to conjure their sacred form.

Lumi repositions himself, training his thoughts on Rashid. A lance launches at the older man, who raises his sword at the lance’s approaches. A startled look crosses his face as Rashid yells a hasty incantation. The lance strikes an invisible force and then presses forward, wanting to penetrate the invisible shell. The second and third follow quickly behind, Lumi runs behind them, his spear at the ready. Rashid dodges, evading the oncoming lances. He moves forward to meet Lumi and swings his shamshir while whispering an incantation, his blade glows with a gentle light. Lumi raises his spear to deflect, a smile crosses Rashid’s lips, the surrounding air disperses with a booming SWOOSH. Sand erupts from the ground and Lumi flies backwards, the thunderous crack from the strike leaves him shaken, his spear flies into the sand. Angered, Lumi growls audibly, and he presses his hand across his leg, grazing over the rash from his slide through the sand. He looks up from the ground at Rashid and growls again at the elderly man, clutching his fist, his nails digging into the pink flesh of his palm. The spectral lances launch at Rashid mercilessly, striking against his plate. He staggers forward, the force of their blow knocking him to his knees.

Lumi stands, digging his nails ever deeper into his flesh. A second lance strikes Rashid’s breastplate, causing him to buckle forward while Lumi stumbles towards him. His heart pumps with anger, he wants nothing more than to strike the man down. Blood pumps through him, his heart quickening with every step. He cannot understand why Rashid would act the way he did, he only knows he hurt him. It had felt intentional to Lumi, this was no sparring match. It was a show, and Rashid wanted to make him look the fool. To show everyone under the Zeybek’s employ how horrid he was, how savage. In the heat of the moment, Lumi wants nothing more than to prove Rashid right. His sharp nails pierce the flesh of his palm, his fangs penetrate his bottom lip, his eyes shake with rage. He wants to scream, to shout at the man. The taste of rust fills his mouth.

“You think you’re so clever,” Lumi spits, his eyes burning with rage. Blood drips into the sand from his hand at his approach. “Yield, Rashid!” Lumi screams, his tail flicking in anger.

Rashid laughs, “As I figured,” he mutters, pushing himself to his knees and spits to the side. He points his shamshir into the sand. “Ya’ve got no control,” he spits again, forcing himself to stand. “I suppose it’s just y’re nature,” he adds with a cocky smirk. “Demi-humans and all that.”

“Why are you doing this?” Lumi pleads. He clenches his fist tighter, blood pools on the sand beneath his bloodied palm.

Rashid sighs, “I wanted to prove ya have strength.” He forces himself upright. “Ya just need a push,” he adds. “Now, then, shall we continue?” He asks, abruptly resuming his stance.

Lumi shakes in anger. “I think I’ve had enough,” he spits, then turns to look away.

Rashid calls out to him while he walks away. “I trained Khimi the same way…don’t take it personally.”

“Bit late for that,” Lumi mutters to himself, knocking his spear up into his hands with his foot.

Lumi walks through the courtyard, passing a small crowd of people. Several of them gasp while he shoulders past them. Their gaze follows him, and Lumi cannot help but feel exposed and disgusting. He knows, before morning, everyone within the estate will have heard about what happened. He begins to run towards Khimi’s chambers without thinking. His hand trembles on the large brass loops. Is that how everyone thinks…that it’s our nature to be like that? He pulls the door open widely, shutting it quickly with a resounding bang behind him. The spear falls to the floor and clatters over the tiles. Unwanted tears drip from his eyes, he slams his back against the massive door. Khimi is supposed to support him, yet he finds himself constantly alone. He wonders if this is what their future was, what their life would be together.

The evening light creates an unusual rippling effect, water-like ripples dance across the room from the blue window in the ceiling. Lumi sits by the small bathing pool, undressing slowly while he contemplates his future here. He wishes that Khimi could have been there, that he would have stood in the way and stopped Rashid. It is not that he wanted protection, he wanted Khimi to understand how hard he was trying to fit in. He places the heavy black cloth in a neat pile on the side of the pool before he slips into the tepid water. His head dips beneath the surface, Nina was right, I should have stayed at the temple, he thinks. His toes kick against the rough mosaic along the bottom of the pool. In the pitch of the dark room, beneath the chilly waters, he lets out a scream of anguish.

The water drips from his form as he pulls himself out of the water. After a moment of consideration, he marches to the bed, dripping water across the floor. With an exasperated sigh, he falls backwards across the silken sheets in his nakedness and peers up at the blue stained window. The twilight stars twinkle, the sister’s radiant glow illuminates the room in blue hues. The light glitters and ripples like water across the room, echoing the feeling of drowning. Lumi looks at the golden armbands that had been sitting on the bed since the other morning. Khimi had left them for him with a note.


Wanted to give you something that would make you shine. Not that you need it.

— Khimi”

 Lumi had pondered over the note for some time. He put the armbands on a dozen times throughout the day, waiting for Khimi to return. Part of him is happy to know Khimi thought of him enough to get him a gift, but he also feels disappointment, believing this was some sort of bribe to get out of spending time with him. His fingers drift over golden armbands, wishing he could show Khimi how they look. He closes his eyes, beginning his drift to sleep.

Later, Lumi awakens to a movement on the bed. His nose twitches, he can smell Khimi’s scent, instinctively he reaches his hand out for him. Khimi crosses his hands in his lap, then clears his throat. Opening his eyes, he can see Khimi’s face through darkness in shades of gray. His rounded ears twitch excitedly a moment before his excitement fades. There is a tenseness in Khimi’s expression. His hand coils back against his body, pulling it away from Khimi.

Lumi frowns, “What happened?” He asks quietly.

“Lumi,” Khimi sighs audibly. “Fuck,” he mutters to himself, “I forgot you can see in the dark. Does my face give away that much?”

Lumi stretches, “I can tell something is bothering you at least,” he whispers. His tail slaps against the silken sheets, a loud thump in the silence.

Khimi’s brow pinches while he rubs his temples. He opens his mouth, closing it quickly several times. “Maybe all of this may have been…well, a bit much for you,” he whispers. “You said it yourself.”

“All of this?” Lumi asks, I knew it. “I see.”

“Maybe bringing you here so soon was a bad idea…we’ve barely gotten to see one another,” Khimi begins, carefully observing Lumi’s expression. “Maybe you need some time,” he whispers, then he turns towards the pool.

Time?” Lumi barks in frustration. “Time for what?” He looks confused, his ears lie flat in defiance. Rashid…

Khimi wrings his hands uncomfortably. “I’ll stay in the main house, you can stay in my chambers here. After what happened between you and Rashid, I can understand needing space,” he says anxiously.

“Don’t worry about it,” Lumi snarls, his face screwing up in anger. “You can stay in your chambers…I’ll find somewhere else to stay,” he adds, narrowing his eyes at Khimi. “If you’re having second thoughts about inviting me the–”

“I wasn’t suggesting that you leave, Lumi,” Khimi interrupts in a whisper. “I just think you have a lot of things on your mind. Maybe this is too much of an adjustment for you.”

Lumi grips his tail, tugging on it sharply. “What did Rashid tell you!? Tell me!” Lumi barks.

“He said you needed…time to mature. Maybe you weren’t ready for this.”

“I-I don’t know what to say… Rashid doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” Lumi replies furiously. “Rashid is an old fool!”

“Rashid is my advisor, Lumi! Despite him saying things that even I find infuriating…I still have to heed his words!”

“D-Do you need to heed his words!?” Lumi sits up abruptly, “R-rashid,” he growls, his fingers rip at the silken sheets. “He doesn’t like me…he only endures me,” he mocks.

 Lumi quickly slips from the bed, jerking his chiton over his head. Gathering his things, he takes a glance back at Khimi and shakes his head. What am I doing? He runs his fingers through his hair, lost for words.

“Where are you going?” Khimi asks, standing in the darkness.

Lumi chuckles through his teeth. “I’ll go to the Shrine and do my duty, I guess,” he says with an angered shrug, his eyes welling with tears. “Maybe Khimi…maybe YOU need space!” Lumi shouts, placing his hand on the brass loops. The coarse fur along his tail stands up on end, which flicks to and fro in aggravation. He hangs his head, “What brought this on?” His hand drops to his side, and he attempts to steady his breathing.

“We’ve barely seen each other,” Khimi begins, walking towards the door in the darkness. “Every time we’re together, you’re either riled up or exhausted,” he whispers. “I don’t want it to be like this. I don’t want you to be so high-strung.”

I’m high-strung?!” Lumi shouts, turning on his heels. “I’ve never met anyone more high-strung in my LIFE. You’re constantly busy…then you come back angry…I know it’s only been about a month and that there would be an adjustment…I just…” his voice trailing while he opens the door. “I needed you, Khimi.”

“You don’t have to go, Lu–” Khimi’s words are cut off, the door slams shut.

 Lumi walks past the guardhouse of the estate, his bare feet stirring dust along the path. His heart sinks into his chest as he turns onto the cobbled streets of the city. He barely remembers the way to the shrine, and along the way he asks half a dozen or so passers-by for directions. He presses his palm against his forehead, desperately trying to recall any landmarks or anything of note to help guide him. This is what he wanted. He wanted space. He wanted time. He wanted me to leave. I was a fool – I was a fool. I misunderstood her. That Goddess was wrong, it isn’t him. It wasn’t him. Hells, it’s the wrong man. The tears begin to fall down his cheek and splash upon the sand covered cobbles, their moisture quickly absorbed by the thirsty soil. Lost, he glances back once more at the shadow of the Zeybek estate. I’m so stupid. This isn’t my world, he thinks before he continues onward, holding his head high. Rashid’s words echoing loudly in his mind, ‘it’s just your nature.’ A deep low growl emanates from Lumi’s throat, his fangs press against his tongue, the rusty taste of blood fills his mouth.


Hours later, Lumi fumbles his way to the shrine. The illuminated pathway displays the majestic foliage around the area. He looks up at the carved stone archway, water trickling in neat lengthy rows as if by magick. He sighs loudly, walking beneath the archway and the dripping screen of rain. The sudden wetness on his face feels refreshing, yet somewhat of a nuisance. He grips the uncovered portion of his tail, wringing out any remaining moisture from the fur. Fuck Khimi, he thinks to himself angrily. He looks at Calix’s approach, the man’s stomach stretching far before him. Great…

Lumi frowns, recalling his previous conversations with Calix having been none too pleasant. The heavyset acolyte carries himself with a flippant personality. Each time Lumi had to deal with him ended with Calix whispering to others about him or making snide comments under his breath. Occasionally Lumi had even received a cruel sideways glance.

“Excuse me, Acolyte Lumi,” Calix says in a loud and unamused manner, his lips pursed. He brushes Lumi to the side. “I don’t believe tonight is your night for vespers?” He adds, clicking his tongue questioningly.

Lumi looks at Calix uncomfortably, “I just thought I would offer my prayers,” he whispers. “The Gods always need our prayers, right?”

Tsk! Dunno if the Gods will listen to you, but pray away,” Calix sasses with a shrug. “Oh, and Lumi. You look absolutely horrid, something happened, dearie?” He asks with a malicious smirk.

“I…” Lumi begins in a whisper before his composure breaks. He shoves his forearm into his mouth, tears break through his eyes, uncontrollable sobs sound. The rounded ears droop to the side while he bites harder on his arm. The taste of rust fills his mouth again, his fangs sinking into his soft flesh. “I–I,” he shouts, unable to speak.

Calix looks in shock, “Heavens!” He mutters. “Are you having a fit?” He asks, a voice of concern. He places an arm around Lumi’s shoulder. “We can go have a seat and discuss what happened. Enough with the biting, it’s not good for anyone,” he adds, trying to smile.

“I-I’m fine, Calix,” Lumi finally replies, pushing the man’s arm from around his neck. “I just need t-to…I need to be alone,” he says, exhaling heavily.

Calix shrugs, “Fine, I was just on my way home anyway,” he snips and turns on his heels. “Tah.”

Lumi watches the heavy man walk carelessly through the screen of dripping water. Lumi sighs, attempting to gather himself. Now Calix is going to tell every acolyte that I’m a crybaby…great. His tail sways back and forth while he follows the path, a small creek with a pebble bottom, rich plant life sprouts up around the life giving water. Approaching the shrine, Lumi halts and forces himself to practice his breathing, just as Saint Nina had taught him. Breathe deep, Lumi. Exhale, release the feelings you harbor. He repeats the mantra over and over, each time he finds himself further and further from his goal. I think you need space. Lumi coughs, his ears laying flat. He once more begins sobbing. I can’t do this, he thinks, and he leans his back against a sandstone pillar then slumps to the floor. With his eyes closed, he listens to the surrounding sounds. The city has its own calming sounds, the shallow creek flowing nearby, the sounds of the city at night, merchants calling their wares, large crowds walking over the cobbles. He opens his eyes then steadies himself against the pillar.

 Lumi continues down the narrow path, passing several palms, their trunks bending just over the path. Nearing the shrine, the sound of chanting fills the area. Around the bend, he crosses through the small amphitheater area where acolytes are taught the Faith. There are numerous acolytes in tunics with various colored sashes, a mark of their orders. Onward he finally reaches the source of the chanting, five figures kneel before statues, their prayers overlapping. Lumi approaches, the chanting stops and the figures look up from their prostration. The five figures stand and turn while Lumi clears his throat. Some of them offer a simple gesture of welcome, while one of them walks towards him. Cecilia, a Lorian half elf with sun kissed skin and pitch black hair. She opens her arms wide in welcome.

“Lumi!” Cecilia shouts, awaiting Lumi’s embrace. “You look like you’ve been through the Hells, hon,” she whispers, placing her arms beneath Lumi’s.

“I feel like I am in the Hells,” Lumi mutters. He allows the woman’s arms to tighten around him.

“Once vespers ends, you can come to my dorm for zalabia and tea,” she whispers to Lumi in an encouraging voice. “You can tell me all about it.”

Lumi sighs, “I actually just came here to gather my thoughts,” he replies, looking at the other acolytes before they resume their prayers.

“Nina wanted me to look after you. So, if you need someone to talk to, I’ll always be here,” Cecilia says, releasing her grip while backpedaling towards the statues.


“After vespers,” Cecilia repeats before she rushes back to the statues.

Lumi returns to the amphitheater, taking a seat on the sandstone steps. The acolytes that had been there earlier left, leaving the area empty. He leans back, closing his eyes in exhaustion after spending most of the night wandering the streets to find his way to the shrine. After climbing the steps, he tucks himself between two sets of stairs, attempting to hide himself from anyone who may pass by. The lights from the city litter the sky, it was something Lumi had noticed during his time at the temple, whenever he would look to the south, there was always a strange light. The other acolytes had told him that it was the light from Rhaz, but he never expected it to be so bright. He rips the spare tunic from his small rucksack and pulls it over his eyes. The hours of emotional exhaustion take their toll and, regardless of how much he tries to sleep, the events of the day repeat in his head like a nightmare. The tunic over his eyes grows progressively more damp with his tears, his desire to return to the temple grows. With a heavy breath, he draws the fabric into his mouth and bites down to hide his sobs.

The sun’s brightness alerts Lumi of the time. Unsure of how many hours he laid there in a state of broken consciousness, he gathers the few, small belongings he has and walks back towards the shrine entrance.

“Going somewhere?” A voice calls out.

Lumi fumbles for words in shock. He turns to see the elderly woman approaching him. “Acolyte Trissa,”he whispers meekly. “I was just about to go, yes. Back…into the city,” he adds quickly, feeling panicked.

“If you’re going to sleep at the shrine, then there must be a good reason,” Trissa smiles knowingly, raising a bushy eyebrow. “Now, tell me what happened,” she continues, her voice cracking slightly with age.

Lumi sighs, his hand clenches the hemp string of his rucksack. I’d rather not, he thinks, while he takes the elderly woman’s arm and begins walking towards the five faceless statues in the shrine.

 Lumi spends most of the morning reciting his tale to the elderly woman. Sitting on a stone bench, he offers her a bit of dried meat and cheese from his bag. He tells her of how he came to meet Khimi and why he now lives in Rhaz, though he leaves out much of his troubles at the temple. For much of their conversation, Trissa remains quiet, only nodding sagely from time to time. Only once Lumi finishes does the elderly woman begin to speak. Her gentle voice, true and knowing.

“There isn’t much to be done,” Trissa whispers sternly, then takes his hand, patting it tenderly with her leathery skin. “If the boy wants time, give him time.”

Lumi growls in frustration, “But I told him I didn’t NEED time,” he replies defiantly. “He’s just a foolish man, a stupid foolish man!”

“Sometimes…” Trissa begins. “We put onto others what we can’t handle ourselves.” She is smiling and looks up into Lumi’s eyes.

Lumi tilts his head, “That’s nonsense…” He says, averting his gaze from her glossy eyes. “I would have done anything for him…” He mutters, looking down at his feet.

“I am sure you would have, dear,” she pats his hand again. “Perhaps he’ll come around. Maybe you just startled him.”

“I thought he’d be more accepting,” Lumi looks back at Trissa. “We’ve barely seen each other since coming to Rhaz– then Rashid…I know it was Rashid,” he adds with a hint of vehemence in his voice.

“A smart man will listen to his advisors, a wise man will follow his heart,” she whispers. “Let’s just pray that he can be a wise man, too.”

“I will pray, then, that the Gods SMITE Khimi with wisdom!” Lumi shouts, looking towards the sky. “You heard me!” He shouts again, shaking both fists in the air.

Trissa cackles. “Let’s hope no one gets smitten.” She eases herself back onto her feet. “Do take care out here, Lumi. Though we don’t have any accommodations for you to stay, the shrine will always welcome you,” she says, bringing her rough lips against Lumi’s cheek.

Lumi’s ears twitch while the elderly woman leaves a peck on his cheek. “Thank you,” he replies,nervously. “It’ll be like I’m back in the jungle,” he adds. “I slept under the stars most nights anyway.”

“Not quite like our homeland,” she says, looking around. “But it’ll do,” her lips curl into a smile. She moseys past Lumi, her hands tucked into her sleeves.

I never would have thought Trissa was from Dolmas, Lumi thinks, watching the elderly Acolyte inch herself past the small stairs and down the cobbled pathway. Lumi turns to the faceless statues. Hopefully one of you can offer some guidance. He walks past the rich foliage of the meticulously manicured area. Two acolytes greet him with a nod before returning to pruning an ironwood tree. Lumi halts, two men approach him, nearly running. An uncomfortable feeling washes over him, he had never been approached by anyone wearing armor before.

“I heard there was an aslan here,” a youthful canis says, his ears standing on their curiously pointed tips. The cropped tail wags behind him, his smile widens.

Lumi can tell he is canis, but he had few interactions with other beastkin. At the temple there had only been a handful of other beastkin, and many of them had taken vows of silence. He had often considered returning to the inn where he had seen the other canis; he was curious about the young man, wanting to ask why he was serving there. Though he had come to terms with the truth – He was a slave, Lumi knew it to be true. In the Desert Cities, indentured servitude was not uncommon.

The slightly taller man with handsome features replies, “Shut it!” Elbowing the canis beside him.

Lumi’s tail flicks nervously, “Hm?”

“Don’t be alarmed,” the canis answers and smiles. He draws nearer with his palms raised, “We just heard that aslan fight something fierce. Interested in teaching two devout followers of the Faith some of your skills?” He asks, tapping the shotel at his waist. “We’re part of the same order anyway…judging from your attire.”

Lumi smirks, feeling full of pride from their compliments, “I’ve never touched a sword…but give me a spear, and I’ll show you a thing or two,” he replies with a smug smile. “I have to say, I’ve been at the temple for ages and never crossed paths with either of you two…but I don’t think we’re really of the same order,” he replies pensively.

“We’re travelers,” the golden-haired man laughs. “The name is Augustus. I hail from Loria. My doggy friend here is Mido, he’s from Gomorrah. Mido and I just assumed that you must be an acolyte from the Temple of Life…beings that you’re wearing our tunic.”

“I’m just borrowing it,” Lumi whispers under his breath.

“I was born in Gomorrah, at least. I wouldn’t say I am truly from there,” Mido chirps with a smile, his pointed ears twitching. “I spent most of my life in Loria with Augustus’ family.”

Lumi purses his lips, carefully gauging the two men’s expressions. “So, you’re both clerics, then?”

“I am the cleric,” Mido replies, turning quickly towards Augustus. “He’s oath bound to do good in the world. It just so happens that the temple does a lot of good for the world, wouldn’t ya say?”

“What?” Lumi whispers, his ears shake. He recalls the clerics he had experienced in the past. “Oath bound?”

Augustus smiles, “It’s really nothing! I took an oath to protect the weak and enforce the good in the world!”

Mido laughs, “A whole lotta good this one does,” he says mockingly, motioning at his friend.

Lumi smiles, “But an oath to who!?”

“To myself,” Mido groans, covering his face in embarrassment. “I think whe– maybe it’s just a story for another time.”

“Anyway! We just arrived in Rhaz, we were only here a few nights when we heard there was an aslan roaming around the shrine during vespers,” Augustus says, smiling gleefully at Lumi. “Lucky us, we happened to stumble upon you. I’ve never seen one – you’re a lot smaller than the stories say.”

“Augustus!” Mido shouts, jabbing him in the shoulder.

Lumi’s ears lower, “I-I am…the worst example of an aslan,” he grumbles under his breath. “There were aslan in my tribe that were three times your weight!”

Augustus raises an eyebrow, “Are you a mix?” Why’re you so small?”

Mido stares at Augustus with a disgusted look, “Manners, Augustus. That’s personal, you can’t just ask someone why they’re small. Besides, he’s just a boy.”

Lumi’s tail thuds against his leg, feeling somewhat annoyed by Augustus’ persistent questions. “Guess I will just always be small,” he groans. “Most aslan my age are massive.”

“Come now,” Augustus frowns. “It was just a jest! No need to look so glum.”

Lumi turns, “Anyway, I dunno how much I can teach you two,” he sighs under his breath and looks them over. “You two seem much more capable than myself. I was hardly ever considered that great of a fighter by my tribe’s standard.”

“I am certain anything we can learn from an aslan will be advantageous to us,” Mido nods in affirmation. “I can barely use a sword…and I barely know any magick! I can…only really use a few incantations.”

“Well, if I can be of help to those of the Faith,” Lumi says, shrugging. “I’ll do what I can to teach you, though I’ve never worn armor like yours. I…prefer not to wear something so heavy.”

“Shall we take this to a more suitable arena?” Augustus asks, patting Lumi on the shoulder. “And by which name would you prefer to be called, aslan?”

Lumi tilts his head, “Lumi is fine,” he says, flashing a false smile back at the two of them. “So are you two…together?” he asks uncomfortably, shifting his weight on his feet.

Mido & Augustus

Mido, Augustus, and Lumi depart to a small barn outside the walls of Rhaz, the small structure leans against the large sandstone walls of the city. Upon closer inspection, Lumi can tell the building is in poor form. Large wooden planks with visible signs of rot and infestation laid across the hay, massive holes in the ceiling allow rays of light to penetrate the darkness of the building. Several horses in their stalls bray and stomp their feet at the sounds of weapons clashing within the confines of the small building. Two empty horse stalls host Augustus and Mido’s travel gear, while cook pots and clothing are strewn about in the adjacent stalls. It is a far cry from the comforts Lumi had begun to grow accustomed to, but he had been used to harsher conditions in the past.

Augustus croaks, “Together?” He laughs, swinging a wooden sparring blade. “I still can’t stop laughing. I can’t believe yo–”

Augustus!” Mido roars.

“What?!” Lumi asks with an uncomfortable laugh, deflecting the wooden sword with his spear. “You guys seem so close.” He jabs twice at Augustus, the first blow sliding off his breastplate. The second hitting him in the neck. Lumi’s tail sweeps from side to side happily.

Mido’s lips curl into a smile, “Nice one,” he says, watching Augustus reel backwards. “You’re much quicker than most of our sparring partners,” he laughs and slides off of the wooden railing by the oats. “Thought that you said you weren’t talented.”

Lumi beams, “I never said I wasn’t talented.” He maintains his focus on Augustus. “I just said everyone else in my tribe was stronger than me!” He finishes in a shout.

“Then what they say about aslan is true,” Mido says, looking somewhat distraught. “A fully trained aslan could easily go toe to toe with three men.”

Lumi scoffs, “I doubt that to be true,” he replies. “Aslan ARE the same as everyone else, they’re just…bigger and meaner. But I’ve also been told our people don’t have the longevity of many other races.”

Augustus strokes his chin with a pensive look, “Longevity in exchange for heightened physical prowess,” he says to no one in particular.

“I suppose,” Lumi shrugs. “Did you want to take a turn, Mido?” Lumi asks, turning towards him.

Mido grimaces, his short tail shaking, “I am not so sure!” He presses his hand to his freckled face. “I don’t think I could land a blow on you if I tried. I am even slower than Augustus…even without armor”

“Don’t be shy,” Lumi teases, placing his spear across his shoulders.

“Yes, Mido…your turn,” Augustus says, sitting on the ground with a loud thud. He tosses the wooden sword to Mido. “It’s LOADS of fun…getting your arse handed to you by a little boy.”

Lumi shoots Augustus a furious glance, “I-I’m not a little boy,” he says, puffing his cheeks. “I am probably the same age as you two!”

“A childish response,” Augustus says, waving his hand dismissively in the air. “And unlikely, we’re at least seven years your senior.”

Mido rolls his eyes, “Augustus, please…play nice.”

Mido takes the wooden sword in hand, twirling it in his hand several times. The wooden sword looks like something a novice carpenter had made. Lumi ponders at how two clerics of the Faith managed through their travels with so little experience. Aren’t clerics supposed to be…trained? Every wandering cleric that had come to the temple usually had some semblance of training. Without warning, Mido begins to swing at Lumi with a shout. Lumi dodges the blows, his brow furrowing with the start of their melee. Mido grunts loudly, swinging the sword downwards at Lumi with a fierce growl. The wooden blade hits the ground with an audible thud, a crack runs along its length and splinters the handle.

MIDO!” Augustus shouts, slapping his hands over his eyes. “You lummox, we only had the one training sword,” Augustus grumbles under his breath.

“Maybe we could duke it out with our fists?” Mido asks quietly, his tail wagging.

“It’s not going to be the same!” Augustus replies. “Sorry, Lumi. We didn’t mean to waste your time.”

Lumi chuckles, “Don’t worry about it, not at all…if you’d prefer…we can spar with the real thing,” he begins, his eyes darting to the sheathed blades in the horse stall.

“That’s dangerous!” Mido exclaims, looking nervous. “Do you want to get hurt?”

Lumi laughs at Mido’s hesitation, “I just figured you guys were always exposing yourself to dangers on the road, why not train with your weapons?” He asks with a shrug. “Apparently I need to,” he says to himself.

“If you insist,” Mido replies, taking the two shotel from the stall. He quickly returns to face Lumi. “Let’s get on with it then,” he says, preparing his stance.

Lumi’s feet move through the sandy floor, he makes several quick jabs at Mido. Mido moves his shotel to deflect the blow, Lumi twirls quickly, smashing Mido in the face with the back end of his spear. Mido reels backwards, blood spewing from his nose. He leans forward, a trail of blood streaming across his lips and chin.

“I yield!” Mido shouts, pressing his hand against his nose. “I can’t spar with real weapons!” he shouts, his words muffled by his blood-covered hand. “What if you got hurt?” He asks. “Hells what if I get hurt? Heavens, I am hurt!”

“I-I’m so sorry,” Lumi stammers, running to Mido. “Let me help,” he says, pressing his hand on top of Mido’s. He whispers a quick incantation, his eyes glow with a pale blue light. Warmth radiates from his hand, the bleeding stops abruptly.

Augustus cheers merrily, rolling in the hay, “You got him worse than me!” He laughs wickedly, slapping his leg in delight.

“Thanks,” Mido whispers to Lumi, blushing at his touch. “I’m supposed to be the damn healer,” he murmurs. “How’re you so skilled already? It takes some clerics years to learn that sort of magick.”

Lumi stares at Mido, “I-I don’t know. Doesn’t some of it just come to you? Like…the words– thephrases just spring into your mind?” He questions quietly.

Mido’s ears lower, “N-No. I have to study the bits that I can handle, and I can’t even perform some of the most basic spells. I have to remember every incantation by heart…”

Lumi turns, feeling guilty, “I-I’m sorry about your nose. And about the magick…but I think that it’ll come to you in time.”

Augustus raises an eyebrow, “Well, thanks for sharing the morning with us,” he says with a smile while pulling himself up from the floor, his breastplate clanks while he moves towards Lumi. “You can share our humble abode if you’d like, I am sure the farmer who lent it wouldn’t mind another helping hand around.”

Mido glances up, “Yes, please. It would be great to have someone to talk to other than Augustus,” he teases with a smile.

“I-I can’t,” Lumi murmurs, “I broke your damned nose…”

Augustus clicks his tongue. “Well then,” he says with a knowing glance at Mido.

“As much as I would love to take you up on the offer, I am happy to sleep at the shrine,” Lumi replies shortly. “I don’t care much for the smell here.”

“You’d get used to it,” Mido says. “It isn’t all that bad. I am a canis after all.”

A long silence follows while Lumi prepares to leave. The awkward quiet leaves him desperate to flee from the barn and return to the comforts of the shrine.

“And back to your question,” Augustus begins, ruffling his flaxen hair, tinted with red. “Mido and I aren’t together, we were raised under the same roof. I could understand you thinking such,” he says, looking at Mido. “I feel…since you offered to try your hand at sparring, I owe you that much at least.”

Mido nods, “I used to have feelings for Augustus when I was younger,” he says anxiously. “We’ve moved past that stage of our lives, though, and we settled on being complacent with our friendship.”

Lumi’s ears droop, revealing his disappointment, “That sounds…complicated,” he whispers, then grabs his own tail. He tugs at the lengthy hair on the tip, “At least you worked it out.”

“For a time it was,” Augustus says, placing an arm around Mido’s shoulder. “I really thought about it, but I am just not attracted to men,” he whispers into Mido’s pointed ears.

“Sorry, Mido…that sounds really tough,” Lumi whispers, his tail flicking to and fro. “I’ve recently been going through a difficult time with someone I care about.”

Augustus smirks. “Care to share?” He asks, narrowing his eyes at Lumi. “I am sure one of us might be able to provide some insight. After all, Mido is supposed to offer counsel to those who need it.”

“Perhaps after I get something to eat,” Lumi says, pressing his hand against his stomach. “I already shared the little bit of food I had with another acolyte this morning,” he chuckles nervously. He turns towards the barn door as Mido speaks up.

“I can cook up a stew if you have some time,” Mido replies. “Plus, I get to hear more about you,” he adds, smiling at Lumi.

Lumi turns back, managing a meek smile, “I’ve got nothing better to do,” he says, shrugging while he watches Augustus and Mido begin to root through their supplies.

The three gather together around the small cook pot and Lumi informs the two of his situation with Khimi. Mido stirs the soupy looking mixture, he adds small amounts of dried meat into the mix along with several nearly rotten vegetables. Lumi watches Mido hack a bruised apple into small chunks, dropping it into the stew with a splash. He tells the two men about his arrival in Rhaz and the rough patch he and Khimi suddenly found themselves in, about how within the near month he has been in Rhaz that he has hardly seen him. Though the short moments they spent together had been passionate and joyful, there were many times when he could tell Khimi felt strained around him. Lumi pauses, glaring into the light of the cook fire while he continues to tell them about what had transpired with Rashid and how he felt suddenly exposed for the first time in his life, feeling naked and weak around all the watchful eyes of Khimi’s peers. He finishes and tells them of his plan to stay at the shrine until he can figure out a solution.

Mido brushes his dark hair from his eyes, his ears stand on point. “Then I take it your plan is to go back to him?” He asks, his eyes focused on the stew.

“Assuming that he ever asksme back,” Lumi replies quietly. “I have a feeling he just needs to figure things out on his own…I knew this wouldn’t be easy for him.”

“Well…this may be premature of me,” Augustus begins, clearing his throat. “We’ll be leaving Rhaz in about a month and traveling with another cleric. It’d be great to have someone as capable as yourself with us. Maybe we’d be in a better situation with someone who can actually handle themselves.”

Lumi is shocked at their words. He had never thought about traveling with a cleric, but the idea is not something he would dismiss. “Where are you going?” He asks, a puzzled look on his face.

“Wherever the wind takes us,” Augustus says in a playful tone. “But really, Mido and I will be going through the Desert Cities, aiding people in whichever way we can. Maybe spreading the will of the Gods. Mido wants to head to Gomorrah…see if we can find where his family is.”

“Augustus is right, if things don’t go the way you are hoping…we’d love to have you along,” Mido says, lifting the wooden spoon to his lips. “It’s just about finished…I think.”

Lumi runs his fingers through his hair, “It’s something to think about,” he whispers while he takes a wooden bowl from Augustus. “Maybe Khimi will make his decision soon,” he adds, attempting to smile at the two.

“From the way you make it sound…his duty is more important than love to the guy,” Mido says, pouring the stew into Lumi’s bowl from the ladle. “Don’t get your hopes up too much.”

“Don’t listen to Mido, he used to be a hopeless romantic. Every time he finds a guy, he develops a crush. He gets a little anxious seeing people who do find happiness,” Augustus says, placing a hand on Lumi’s shoulder.

“Shut it!” Mido exclaims, a disgruntled look on his face. “Thanks for putting my personal business out there.”

Augustus grins, “Lumi just told you his life story,” he laughs, “we could at least reciprocate a bit.”

“And shall I tell him about how you’ve never impressed a single woman you’ve courted in all our years?” Mido asks in a mocking tone. “You’d have been better off taking cocks than delving for cunts.”

“You wish!”

Mido growls, baring his fangs at Augustus.

Lumi smiles, “I’m sorry, guys…the life of a traveler sounds complicated,” he interrupts, with a gentle laugh at their japes. “I traveled plenty when I was still with the tribe, but I think I have grown complacent with being in one place.”

“Then I hope for your sake everything works out,” Mido says, looking at Lumi from over his bowl.

Lumi looks at the soupy mixture, “Right.”