Chapter XIII

Stella Solaris

Lumi listens to the locusts chirp in the courtyard, his head rests against his palms. The lights from the braziers illuminate the sandstone walls. Ferns and ivy hang loosely from the tops, reaching their way down to the cobbles. He wonders what it is like to sail, the excitement of the open sea, the salty breeze against his cheeks. He had never been sailing, but the idea of having nowhere to run was not appealing to him whatsoever. Yet he fears voicing his concerns to Khimi will somehow push them apart. He dips his toes into the chilly water of the reflecting pool and watches his reflection shake and blur while the ripples reach his form. A sense of relief fills him, only to quickly give way to anguish.

“Lumi,” Khimi says, gliding from the arched entrance of the garden courtyard. “Everything alright?”

Lumi bites his lip, then turns to Khimi, wondering how to express himself. “I’m scared,” he whispers.

Khimi sits beside him, placing his feet in the pool next to Lumi’s. “Scared?” He asks, blowing air through his lips cheerfully. “Doesn’t sound like you.”

“I’m a lot more of a coward than you know,” Lumi whispers, placing his head on Khimi’s shoulders.

Khimi’s fingers run along the length of Lumi’s spine and draw along his rib cage. “What’s bothering you, then?” He questions quietly.

“I’ve never been on a boat,” Lumi replies meekly. “And after listening to Revya, and the Vizier and Jilliana…all of these people are so important,” he begins, a nervousness in his voice. “And..I barely know how to read or write…you’re so much be–”

“Shut up,” Khimi says angrily and turns to Lumi, causing the water to ripple violently. “You’re important to me,” he adds before giving him a squeeze. “This…isn’t the life I would choose for myself, but I’m here.”

Lumi breathes heavily against Khimi’s embrace. “Khi–”

Khimi whispers into Lumi’s ear. “Just shut up,” he says coolly. “This isn’t you.”

Lumi sniffles against Khimi’s shoulder, “I just can’t be alone again. What if I am not good enough for you…? For your family?”

“Good enough?” Khimi asks in frustration. He grips Lumi’s shoulder’s, holding them at arm’s length. “You’re the only thing…only thing that has made me happy,” he shakes Lumi sternly. “I don’t deserve you.”

“I don’t understand you,” Lumi confesses, tears begin to flow.

Khimi sighs, drawing Lumi’s head against his chest. “I could say the same about you,” he breathes and runs his fingers through Lumi’s hair. “I don’t understand you at all…and yet, here we are.”

“I love you too,” Lumi replies quietly, his tears subsiding.

Khimi bends down and plants a kiss in Lumi’s hair. “You can read between the lines,” he whispers with a second kiss.

Lumi rests his head against Khimi, low purrs arise from deep within. Khimi strokes his hair, pinching the soft skin around his ears, then lies on the sandstone cobbles gingerly, holding Lumi against himself. Lumi shoves his legs between Khimi’s while he listens to his partner’s calm heartbeat. How can he be so calm? He’s always so…so perfect. Lumi’s hand races beneath Khimi’s shirt, feeling along his hardened muscles.

Khimi reaches for Lumi’s hand, halting Lumi’s assault. “There is a lot we will learn about each other along the way.”

Lumi snorts softly, “I wanna know everything about you.”

“We’ve got all the time in the world,” Khimi replies. “Look,” he whispers into Lumi’s ear, pointing at the starry sky. “You see there, between the sisters.”

Lumi peers into the sky, “You mean the twins?” He asks, narrowing his eyes at the moon.

“Sorry,” Khimi begins. “Most of Talmus knows the moons as the sisters. The larger one with the dull white glow…that one is Neera. The smaller one with the bluish glow, that one is Katsa,” he says, grabbing hold of Lumi’s hand. He points it into the night sky, “And if you follow them…about right there. That is Stella Solaris.”

“Stella Solaris…we just call it the big one,” Lumi whispers, feeling self-conscious about the term.

“The big one, huh?” Khimi asks with a laugh.

Lumi laughs softly, “We really don’t have a fancy name for the stars. The aslan follow the big one when we’re moving the tribe. It’s also the star I followed during my ceremony,” he says quietly, his voice trailing off.

“You never mentioned a ceremony,” Khimi says, brushing Lumi’s hair from his eyes. “What was it like?” He asks with a tone of intrigue.

Lumi turns away from Khimi and rolls onto his back. He squeezes Khimi’s hand tightly, “Aslan are full of traditions,” he begins in a gentle whisper. “Once an aslan has reached a certain age, we have to show that we are capable…so our tri–”

“Which tribe are you from?” Khimi interrupts with piqued interest.

Lumi glances at Khimi for a moment, before sitting up. “Black Sands, though I can’t see why that matters.”

“I’ve always been curious about aslan,” Khimi responds, holding onto Lumi’s hand. “I used to read about them in stories back in Sidi.”

Lumi sighs at the stars then continues, “And so those of us who reached adulthood have to cross the entirety of the desert and return to the tribe before the moons finish their cycle,” Lumi adds, his words trailing.

“How’d you do?” Khimi asks in a spirited tone.

Lumi keeps his gaze focused on Stella Solaris, his chin shaking slightly. “Not well,” he whispers.

Khimi’s hand squeezes Lumi’s reassuringly, “That bad, eh?”

Lumi nods quietly. “I didn’t enjoy my time there. My tribe. I never made it back to my tribe…and that was probably the best thing that ever happened to me other than meeting you,” he confesses. “There is a lot more to it.”

“I hope one day you’ll share the story with me,” Khimi says, sitting up beside Lumi. He presses his lips to the nape of Lumi’s neck. “But I don’t mind waiting till you’re ready.”

“Are you trying to get me to open up?” Lumi says lightly, placing Khimi’s hand on his waist.

“I just want you to feel comfortable around me,” Khimi breathes against Lumi’s neck.

“I am!” Lumi exclaims, chuckling softly. Khimi’s warm breath sweeps across him.

Khimi’s lips caress Lumi’s neck while he grips his waist, heaving Lumi into his lap. Lumi lets Khimi’s rough hands dart across his body. His hand slides up Lumi’s tunic, and pinches the soft nipples. Lumi purrs softly, his tail swiping against Khimi’s thigh.

“Fine!” Lumi begins, his cheeks blossoming with color.

Khimi’s lips part, his teeth nibbling at Lumi’s soft shoulder. He mutters softly, “Go on, tell me what happened.”

“After…you’re finishing this,” Lumi purrs.

“I’ll finish in you,” Khimi replies, sinking his teeth into Lumi’s shoulder.

Lumi moans, glancing about the garden. “I…was never really…very good at being an aslan,” he begins quickly. “My brother, well, he was a bit older than me, but he and I were both part of the ceremony. We began our journey across the desert, but just when I thought we were separated, I was ambushed by my brother and his friends…they didn’t want me to return to the tribe. They left me in the desert…I was in so much pain,” he pauses, struggling to continue. “I survived somehow…I felt something…someone forcing me to continue. I wanted to give up. I wanted to give up so badly, Khimi,” he mumbles.

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Khimi breathes, rubbing his stubbled chin against Lumi’s shoulder. “Why did your brother attack you?”

Lumi lowers his eyes to the pool. “Because we aren’t the same. Sevrin…he was always better at everything than me. Everything.”

“I am positive that isn’t true,” Khimi replies, chuckling while his lips press against Lumi’s shoulder. “I am certain you’re much better at certain things. Besides, why would he attack you if he was better?”

“I’m serious, Khimi!” Lumi exclaims, somewhat annoyed. He leans forward, pressing his hands against his forehead. “I didn’t belong there…it was like I wasn’t even part of the tribe. Everyone stared at me, hated me. My mom died giving birth to me and my dad never cared about me…I am certain he was happy to leave me behind. My brother…he hated me more than my dad even…”

Khimi sits back, looking back up to the stars. “I’m sorry you had to suffer through that. But…you followed ‘the big one’,” he says, pressing his hand against Lumi’s back before continuing. “And look where you are now. You survived.”

Lumi nods, wanting to change the subject. “You seem to know a lot about that star, is it important?” He asks, following Khimi’s gaze.

“My family’s symbol is Stella Solaris. The star with a dozen names. For generations, the Zeybek merchants have followed Stella Solaris…and the star led them to the great fortune that we have today,” Khimi explains. “The decorations most of the servants adorn themselves with bear the same symbol. Some wear it with pride, and others out of obligation.”

Lumi hums quietly, “So you think it was Stella Solaris that brought us together?”

“I think…” Khimi begins, kissing Lumi’s neck gently. “That it would mean the world to me if you’d wear my family sigil.”

“I don’t want to be a servant!” Lumi replies, dumbfounded.

“As my equal,” Khimi replies. “I know we still don’t know everything about each other…” he adds, his voice trailing off.

“We have plenty of time to learn,” Lumi replies, grinning while he turns to Khimi.

Khimi’s lips press softly against Lumi’s and after a moment, he brings his forehead against Lumi’s.“Things should settle down now. We can travel to the Desert Cities together…go to Dolmas, Loria, the Northern Kingdoms. Anywhere we want.”

“Can we just…stay here for a while?” Lumi asks with Khimi gripping his waist. “I just want to be with you.”

Khimi smiles, “Of course,” He holds Lumi’s lean body against himself, listening to Lumi purr. He relaxes, slowly resting his back onto the sandstone cobbles.

Lumi turns to face Khimi and kneads his face into the linen shirt. The locust symphony continues while Lumi plucks his finger against the smooth water of the reflecting pool. The sound of the disturbed water echoes through the empty garden. Khimi’s hand reaches for Lumi’s and cups it gently within his own. He gives Lumi a teasing smile and a reassuring squeeze of his hand. Lumi shakes his head and rolls his eyes at Khimi’s uncharacteristically cheerful expression.

 Lumi brings his ear back against Khimi’s chest, hearing the sturdy and reassuring heartbeat pounding inside of Khimi’s barrel chest. His fingers coil between Khimi’s, his tail flitting back and forth with delight. I love him so much…why does it hurt to love someone this much. The thought nearly brings tears of joy to his eyes. He glances up to the heavens and says a silent prayer to the Gods.


After hours together in the garden, Khimi wakes Lumi, shaking his arm tenderly. Lumi stirs with a lengthy stretch.Khimi stands, helping Lumi to his feet. After another loud yawn, Lumi stretches with his hands locked over his head. Khimi takes hold of him, sweeping him off his feet, much to Lumi’s surprise. The sounds of the locust fade to silence, their footfalls are the only sound through the garden. The gentle sounds from the swaying desert palms and the scent of the salty breeze almost lure Lumi back to sleep. He nuzzles his cheek against Khimi’s chest, complacent in his lover’s arms.

Lumi stares up at Khimi while he is whisked away to the bedchamber, his purrs growing ever louder the longer he stares. Opening his mouth, his words are cut short by a sudden scent filling his nose. His fingers clench onto Khimi’s arm. Blood. Lumi forces himself from Khimi’s arms. His ears twitch while he listens carefully. His purrs fade. The unnatural quiet of the estate sends a chill running down Lumi’s spine. His eyes adjust to the light, noticing a slumped figure near the gatehouse.

Lumi dashes to the guardhouse, calling back at Khimi, “Get Rashid!” He shouts and leans over the man, pulling the cloak from over his face. A horrific wound across his throat speaks to the quick nature of his death.

“What’s wrong?” Khimi calls back following Lumi.

Lumi crouches against the gatehouse, “The guard’s dead,” he whispers behind him to Khimi.

Khimi crouches beside Lumi, “Lumi, get back to the room. I won’t take no for an answer.”

“N-no,” Lumi stammers, turning to Khimi. “I can handle myself!”

“This isn’t a joke,” Khimi growls, inspecting the guard.

Lumi sighs, grabbing the wooden haft of the guard’s spear. “I’ll go find Rashid, how about that?”

“Fine. If you’re going to be so insistent, I’ll go with you,” Khimi sighs, he looks about at the braziers burnt down to their embers. “Where is Ennui when you need her?”

Lumi streaks across the entry yard, passing several wagons and their teams of horses along the way. A whole caravan? Lumi pulls the large brass ring to Khimi’s bedroom open and enters quietly, his eyes adjusting to the absence of light. A glint of steel flashes towards him, sending Lumi reeling. He flattens his back against the wall, sparks flash off the tile floor, a figure donning a dark cloak strikes at him. The cloaked figure attacks again, their short sword swinging with deadly strength. Khimi rips the other door open, the cloaked figure turning towards him, a second sword appearing from beneath the shade of his cloak.

Khimi hurls himself away from the attacker, finding himself backing into the yard. His bare feet shuffle in the sand, the figure dashes towards him. Lumi follows, swinging the spear at the figure’s side. The tip cuts through the dark cloak, revealing a chain shirt beneath. Khimi holds his stance, sand launches into the air. He rolls and dives, while Lumi grabs hold of the hood, pulling it with all of his strength. The figure slips backwards, stumbling from Lumi’s persistence. He swings wide and turns back to Lumi, catching the wooden shaft, leaving a large notch in the wooden haft.

Khimi rushes behind the figure, his muscular arm wrapping around the figure’s neck. Khimi tightens his grip, his palm slides over their masked face. A fierce flame bursts from his fingers, surging through his hand over the man’s mask. The figure’s gladius drops to the ground with a thud, the man yelps in pain. The mask erupts into flames with Khimi’s touch, and Lumi watches in shock. Khimi drops the scorched man into the sand, quickly tossing the mask aside.

“Do you know him?!” Lumi inquiries, panting.

Khimi releases a guttural grunt, then picks up one of the gladius. “Never seen him,” he says, trawling through the man’s pockets. “Don’t think he was alone either, judging from that caravan.”

“Wait wh–”

Lumi’s words are cut off by the sound of a panicked scream from within the estate. He looks in horror to Khimi for guidance, while Khimi rolls the gladius in his hand.

“Rashid,” Khimi whispers while trotting toward the main hall, “We need to find Rashid,” he whispers, his back against the alabaster wall. Cautiously, he shimmies to a window.

Lumi peers into the open window. “Right, do you want me to go check the other side of the estate?”

“No,” Khimi says sharply. “It’s too dangerous. These are mercenaries…though I don’t know which company.”

“What? Is it your old frien–” Lumi begins.

“It’s not them, they’re all dead. This,” Khimi begins, revealing a small circular token. “This is likely their company symbol. You can bet someone hired th–”

“Omar!” Lumi interrupts. He looks through the window, parting the indigo curtain. Two more cloaked figures stand near the curved stairwell to the second floor. “I bet it was Omar,” he whispers softly.

“I’m sure you’re not far off,” Khimi replies. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

“I know I’m right,” Lumi states confidently, his knuckles turning white while grips the spear more securely.

“You don’t have to do this,” Khimi whispers, glancing at Lumi through the darkness. “You can go fetch the city guard.

Lumi scoffs, “And leave you to die here?”

“Doubt I’ll die.”

“Don’t tempt fate,” Lumi grumbles. “There are two inside by the stairs. Same lookin’ clothing. Looks like they have the armor under the cloth too…like that last guy.”

Khimi grabs Lumi’s shoulder, “Look at me,” he whispers softly. “If you don’t want to hurt anyone…don’t.”

“They are trying to kill us…” Lumi replies in a hushed tone. “If I don’t…we could die.”

Lumi peers through the window, whispering a familiar incantation. His aetherial eyes glow briefly with an otherworldliness. Several spectral spears appear in the room. A bluish glow surrounds them before they are suddenly engulfed in strange flames and fly towards the figures. Khimi leaps through the window and runs at the two preoccupied figures. The gladius sinks deeply beneath the ribs, the strength of his stab puncturing the links of the chain shirt. A gurgle emanates from the man’s lips the moment he sinks to his knees. Taken by surprise, the remaining figure turns to flee up the staircase. One of the javelins pierces his chest, causing him to crumple and slide down the stairs. After he slides down the stairwell, the remaining three spears pierce his back. He lets out a painful scream with each spear that pierces his flesh. The spears vanish, engulfed in a fiery blaze. The glow from Lumi’s eyes fades, while Khimi tilts his head to the stairs.

Khimi gives Lumi a brief smile at his approach, “I’m guessing you probably can’t keep doing that?”

“I wish,” Lumi mutters. He pauses looking at the bodies on the floor and crouches to remove the mask. The masks are simple in design, a pure gray shield with slits for the eyes and mouth with dozens of scratches across its reflective surface.

“It’s best you don’t,” Khimi says, setting his sights up the stairs. “It’s not going to make you feel any better.”

Lumi sighs, his fingers an inch from the mask. “You’re right,” he whispers and stands, looking at the top of the stairs. “Rashid is fine. I know he is,” he adds, giving Khimi a weak smile.

“If you’re trying to sound convincing…you’re not selling it,” Khimi says plainly, wiping the gladius clean of blood. “Besides, Rashid has bested dozens of opponents before. He can take care of himself…” he adds under his breath.

Lumi moves quiet as a cat to the top of the stairs, his ears twitching at the distant sound of combat. Khimi follows behind him, crouching at the top of the stairs and peering out into the courtyard below. He gestures to the cloaked figures down in the courtyard along with dozens of servants being marched away.

Lumi’s eyes grow wide at the sight of Rashid bound and gagged on the ground. Blood drips heavily from a bloody gash across his shoulder. “Rash—” he begins before Khimi claps his hand over his mouth.

One of the figures tends to Rashid, making an effort to suture the wound. Rashid squirms uncomfortably each time the needle pierces his flesh and screams against the gag in his mouth.

“What should we do?” Lumi asks in a whisper, his fingers tight on the haft. “We have to help them!” he exclaims, looking at Khimi for guidance.

Khimi nods, though his face bears a pained expression. “They may be trying to lure us there. Lumi, you should go get the militia. I’m telling you…something is amiss.”

“They won’t listen to me,” Lumi says, scanning over the courtyard. “There are only…seven or so of them,” he whispers quietly. “If we free Rashid, we’re basically even.”

“I thought you could count,” Khimi murmurs, fingering the leather wrapped hilt of the gladius.

“Hells, let’s just go down there!” Lumi exclaims, watching Rashid’s head loll to one side. “He needs healing with a wound that size…no amount of suturing is gonna close that.”

“Fine, let me go firs–” Khimi begins, only to stop while Lumi bounds through the window onto the balcony. “Stupid, stupid,” he mutters to himself, “foolish lion.”

Lumi rushes down across the balcony, his feet carrying him as fast as he can down the dried mudbrick stairs and into the courtyard. He slides along the wall into the brush. He looks at the top of the balcony, where Khimi stares at him uncomfortably. Maybe…maybe they’re like aslan…if you kill the head of the pride, they all kinda give up. Maybe that’d work here, he ponders while he scans the courtyard again, watching the cloaked figures line up the servants. They’re Dolmans…they’re slavers from Dolmas. He had seen their kind before and heard the tales.

 A moment of fear takes hold of him while two of the figures turn towards the balcony. Lumi looks at Khimi, his head bobbing visibly over the railing as he stalks down the staircase. One of the figures draws their longbow, nocking an arrow. Lumi’s heart races. Khimi draws near the bottom of the stairs, bearing a determined look. Lumi turns to the figure drawing the bowstring back and leaps through the foliage, drawing the figure’s attentions. Shouting an incantation, light wraps around his forearm. He tosses a ball of gleaming light at the archer. The light bursts across the archer’s chest, flecks of light fly across the courtyard like sparks. Startled, the figure drops his bow and falls to the floor, light crackling across his body.

Khimi follows behind Lumi, gladius in hand. The entire contingent of cloaked figures gather towards them, and Lumi glances back at Khimi, giving him another weak smile. He mouths an apology, then twirls the spear in his hand. Khimi grips the gladius tightly, spinning it in his hand. He approaches Lumi from behind.

“It’s just business,” one of the cloaked men says, unsheathing a dagger from his waist.

Khimi snarls, “Whatever they’re paying you, we can pay you more.”

“Doesn’t work that way, love,” a masked man replies. “A contract is a contract,” he adds with a shrug. “Surely you understand how business works.”

“We’ll take the aslan though. He’ll fetch a handful back home,” a woman replies, drawing an arrow to her short bow.

“I-I’m not for sale!” Lumi shouts, his tail standing on end before he dashed forward.

“Lum–!” Khimi shouts. His gladius catches a dagger while one of the cloaked men swipes at him. “Lumi, stop!”

Lumi lets out a loud cry. He leaps at the woman with the spear, three of the figures follow behind, surrounding him. Khimi tries to close the distance between Lumi and himself, only to be cut off by two of the masked figures.

“Sorry, boy,” one figure says to Khimi, brandishing his weapon. “That aslan is coming to Dolmas…this isn’t bout you.”

Khimi growls in frustration and steps back from the advancing men, placing his hands before him. He shouts an incantation in an unfamiliar tongue. A thin veil of flames erupts from his fingertips and spreads forwards. Their linen shirts erupt in flames while they shield their faces. Taking advantage of the sudden confusion, Khimi hurries forward, his gladius slashing the throat of one of the figures. The other regains his senses in time to repel Khimi’s blow with his own short sword.

“Fuck the aslan!” the cloaked man locked with Khimi shouts. “Do what we were paid to do and just kill ‘em! Kill the fuckin’ cat!”

“Khi–” Lumi shouts, a gladius catching him across the abdomen. “H—,” Lumi grimaces, his hand pressing against his side.

Lumi swings his spear, smashing the butt of the spear against the woman’s face. The sound of her nose cracking is drowned out by the wooden haft splintering. He nearly topples over from the strength of his blow but catches himself from falling, he turns back towards the other figures, clutching the now shortened spear. The woman’s leather mask falls to the ground, she fumbles for her displaced weapon.

 One of the cloaked figures dashes at Lumi. Lumi grabs hold of the aggressor’s wrist and spins him out of the way. He turns around to face Lumi, unsheathing a second dagger from his waist belt, then hurls it, slicing Lumi’s shoulder with a deep gash. Lumi throws the broken spear in a bestial rage while he dashes towards him. The spear lands with a grotesque squelch, piercing his inner thigh. A scream of panic crosses his lips, he clutches the broken spear in his hand, limping toward Lumi. Lumi picks up the bloody dagger and turns back to the woman, still dazed by his blow. He rushes back to her, taking a long leap, his feet smash into her abdomen just as she begins to stand. The two collapse onto the sandstone cobbles as the dagger finds its way into her chest. Lumi screams in a rage, losing himself, each stab sprays blood in a thin line across his face.

Khimi calls out to Lumi, his words unable to reach the enraged aslan. He shouts again, his view suddenly blocked by three of the cloaked figures. His knuckles whiten over the hilt and, the three engage him in unison, forcing Khimi back against the stairwell. He peers over the shoulder of one of the figures, making an effort to check on Lumi. Lumi remains atop the woman, straddling her corpse, the dagger pressed firmly into her chest. His attention returns to the three men facing him. One of the cloaked figures rushes him, stabbing several times with his gladius. Khimi deflects the first blow, catching a slice along his hip. He sucks his teeth, blood soaking into his loose trousers.

Lumi breathes unevenly, dropping the dagger onto the cobblestones. He stands over the woman. He looks down at the outcome of his rage, tears well in his eyes. I’m sorry, he cries before a sharp pain comes across his head. He lies on the ground, his fingers fumble for the broken dagger, the broken spear sticking through the man’s leg rubs against him. He kicks sharply against the wooden shaft. The man shrieks in pain. Lumi kicks again only to be overpowered by the much heavier and muscular figure. He winches, the man’s hands grip his wrists, bashing them violently against the stone

“You little shit,” the man breathes, spittle dripping from the mouth of the metal mask. “Couldn’t make this easy, could you?”           

Lumi’s feet kick fiercely against the tile, his eyes fill with terror, the man’s fingers tighten against his throat above the golden choker. Lumi’s hand beats against his attacker’s shoulder, then reaches for the bloodied dagger just out of reach. He attempts to scream, white spots form in his vision, the back of his head hits the stone with a resounding crack. His arm flails harder against the man, his vision begins to fade. Sevrin, he thinks, his panic increasing. The memory of his brother’s cruel act pierces him unwillingly, the hands around his neck feel as painful and weighty as his brother’s had.

“Se-Sevrin,” Lumi chokes, his voice breaking.

Lumi’s fist smashes against the man’s cheek. Despite his best efforts, the man doesn’t budge, his hold only grows more firm over Lumi’s thin neck. He gasps for air, his strength fading while he kicks his legs, desperate to hit the broken spear. His foot finally lands against the wooden shaft, and he kicks against it repeatedly, bringing the man to scream out in pain. Lumi’s head rings, the sounds around him becoming dull. The figure bashes his head against the tiles again. His kicks land successfully, finally tearing the speartip through the man’s thigh. The flesh tears and blood pours on the floor from a thick fount of spewing blood. His grasp weakens on Lumi’s throat, his body slumps on top of him. Lumi panics and pushes against the man, and reaches for the back of his head, wincing in pain at his own gentle touch. The back of his head is matted with blood. He brings his hand back before his eyes, a slick of blood covers his hand. Through his haze, he calls out to Khimi.

Khimi turns to the man on the right, engaging him. He dashes forward, slashing rapidly. His attacks are quickly deflected. The man retreats from Khimi’s attacks, he throws his gladius, catching the man in the gut. The man lets out a yelp, buckling over, he drops his dirk and begins to flounder across the courtyard. Unarmed, the other two engage Khimi in unison. A painful roar erupts through the courtyard. A dagger pierces Khimi’s side. He grabs hold of the hilt, holding the dagger in place. The man, taken off guard by the brazen act, withdraws his grip on the dagger.

Khimi grabs the man’s cloak and pulls him to the ground, another dagger pierces his shoulder. He rips the dagger from his side, ignoring the pain. With a powerful jab, the dagger breaks through the man’s sternum with a violent crack. A loud gasp leaves the assailant’s lips and he falls limp. The final masked man swings once more at Khimi, stabbing him beneath his shoulder. Khimi rips the dagger from the man’s chest, only to halt while he struggles to unearth it from the sternum.

Exhausted and bloodied, Khimi reaches for the man in frustration. The dagger carves a lengthy wound along his arm while his hand reaches the man’s neck. Khimi howls in pain and anger, smashing the smaller man against the wall. The dagger stabs beneath his ribs. Khimi grabs his hand, holding it in place. Lumi’s calls fall on deaf ears. Khimi whispers an incantation, heat forms in his palms. He holds his gaze with the figure, watching the man’s eyes shake with fear. The scent of searing flesh fills his nose, screams of agony sound throughout the courtyard. The man’s jerking come to an abrupt halt, his screams finally fading. Khimi releases him, watching him fall into a heap on the stone, smoke rising from his charred neck.

Khimi holds the dagger beneath his ribs and limps towards Lumi. “Lumi!” He calls, his voice gruff and worn.

“I’m fine,” Lumi groans from beneath the man’s body. “I think,” he corrects himself. “Rashid…help Rashid.”

Khimi glances at the burned bodies of the cloaked figures spread across the courtyard, stepping over and around several of the dead and dying men. The sound of horses whinnying turns his attention back towards the entrance of the estate. He pauses in his tracks, listening while the sound recedes from the estate. He moves as quickly as he can, nearly stumbling before he reaches Lumi.

“Are you alright?” Khimi whispers, pushing the dead man away from Lumi. The sight of Lumi’s tunic covered in blood sends him into a panic, he shakes Lumi in worry.

“I’m alright,” Lumi replies, blinking slowly and unevenly. “I think my head is broken.”

Khimi pulls his hand away from his side, kneeling beside Lumi. “It’d be your skull,” he mutters while he looks him over, noting each cut, scrape, and bruise. “Don’t move,” he insists. “I’ll get Rashid.”

“Wait!” Lumi begins, grabbing Khimi’s hand. “You’re worse off than me…let me go,” he says and begins sitting up. A dizziness overcomes him while he pushes himself up and leans to his side, retching over the tile.

“Just stay here,” Khimi insists again, forcing Lumi to lie back.

 Lumi watches Khimi limp across the courtyard to Rashid. Several retainers lay bound and gagged, their feet and hands tied together like hogs. Rashid’s shoulder occasionally oozes streams of fresh blood over his chest. Khimi removes the gag, gently patting the older man on the cheek.

“Come on, Rashid,” he whispers softly. “Rashid, WAKE UP!” He pleads, shaking him slightly.

The man’s eyes open slowly, his aged features more pronounced. “Khimi,” he begins, whispering softly while he fumbles with his bindings.

Khimi notices the large bruise across Rashid’s temple and the dried blood in his hair. “Rashid, get up. Come on, Rashid,” he whispers softly while he begins to remove the bindings from Rashid’s hands.

“I’m alright,” he mutters, his hands immediately rushing to his head. His words jumble before he pauses with a sigh. “I took a blow…right here,” he says, motioning to his temple. “Thought I went blind for a bit there.”

“You look rough,” Khimi says, sitting across from him. “Should I call for a healer?”

“Nonsense,” Rashid replies in a dejected tone. “This thing? Help the servants first,” he says, placing his hand over the bloody gash. He whispers a soft incantation, the words are almost like a song. The wound stitches itself closed by magical means.

“I’ll never get used to that,” Khimi whispers, then sits up. “Don’t suppose you could help me out?” He asks, removing his hand from the open wound.

Rashid panics, “Khimi! Ya look like a Godsdamned stuck pig,” he places his hand over Khimi’s wound beneath his ribs, closing the wound while he recites a similar incantation. “‘Fraid that’s about all I can manage for now.”

“It’s more than enough,” Khimi replies while he moves towards the bound servants.

“And the aslan?” Rashid asks, “I’m guessing he’s alright…otherwise y’re face would be dour.”

Khimi looks back at Lumi, “He’s about as well as you can expect. He’s taken a few cracks to the head.”

“I’ll check on him,” Rashid says. “If he’s in a bad way, I’ll see him to bed. People need to see ya helping,” he adds with a nod. “It’s y’re duty.”

“You’re right. Just take care of him for me,” Khimi says with a weak smile. “I’m really glad you’re alive.”

Rashid attempts a chuckle, “I’m too mean to die.”

“Don’t tempt it,” Khimi replies, remembering Lumi’s previous words.

 Lumi opens his eyes, their conversation fades and Rashid’s approaches. He blinks open an eye, Rashid hovering overhead. The man’s wound is miraculously gone, though dried blood is visible in his gray hair.

“You look like rubbish,” Lumi spits, laughing then crying from the pain. His head rests against the tiles. “It hurts…”

“Oh, come now,” Rashid mutters, kneeling beside Lumi. “Ya’ve got the talent to heal y’reself, quit your whining.”

“I don’t think I can,” Lumi groans, recoiling in pain. He touches the area around the wound on his shoulder. “It didn’t work last time…”

Rashid shakes his head, “Get y’re head together,” he says, placing his hands around Lumi’s head. “Ah,” he sounds, his fingers edging along the back of Lumi’s head. “They cracked ya pretty good. Are ya dizzy?”

“Very,” Lumi groans, coughing. The churning feeling returns at Rashid’s touch.

Rashid sighs, “I’m either gonna have to carry ya to the acolytes or y’re gonna need to heal y’reself…these wounds take a long time to recover on their own.”

Lumi turns gently on his side, looking up at Rashid, “I would, but I can’t concentrate, everything feels like it’s shaking.”

“It’s like that sometimes. Here, let me help ya,” he says in his husky voice, sitting behind Lumi. “Just close your eyes and imagine nothingness. Tell me what ya see.”

“Emptiness and pink dots flying about,” Lumi groans, rubbing his head.

“Alright, so just try to focus on the emptiness and whisper the incantation as it comes to you,” Rashid instructs, gently tapping on Lumi’s shoulder.

Lumi sighs, “Shouldn’t I have learned this at the temple?” He asks.

“I think it’s more of an in-field thing,” Rashid responds quickly.

Lumi closes his eyes, staring at the empty expanse in his mind. The pink dots from his vision slowly fade while he focuses his breathing. He imagines the pain that Khimi is enduring. He’s being stubborn. He should be resting…he’s way worse off than I am. His fingers stretch through his bloody hair, brushing at the gash. He whispers the words which flow into his mind, silvery words spoken softly, like the soft whine of a viol. The wound gradually mends itself, a sense of relief comes over him, and he looks to Rashid for approval.

“Now y’re gonna have ’ta learn to do that a lot quicker,” Rashid says, standing over Lumi. “Let me help ya up.”

Lumi takes Rashid’s hand, pulling himself up. His tail flicks in frustration. “It was Omar, wasn’t it?”

“I’d prefer we didn’t jump to conclusions,” Rashid begins, surveying the scene. “I intend on catching up to that wagon.”

“Let me go with you!” Lumi insists, glancing at the dead Dolmans surrounding them. “They wer–”

“Absolutely not!” Rashid interrupts, “What they lacked in skill, they made up for with numbers.”


“No,” Rashid interrupts again, shaking his head at Lumi’s persistence. “Ya both need to stay put and see to things here.”

Lumi sighs, putting his hand out to Rashid as if to argue. “Fine,” he grumbles in defeat.

Rashid smiles widely. “Does this mean all that dreadful business from sparring is behind us?”

“For now,” Lumi replies with a shrug.

Rashid takes Lumi’s forearm in his hand. “Good enough. Was worried ya’d hold that grudge till one of us died.”

“I still might,” Lumi pouts while looks over the corpses.

“Hells, and here I thought we were making progress. Look, you need to see Khimi and the rest of the retainers,” Rashid prattles. “Time isn’t our ally and I need to gather some men,” he adds, giving Lumi a nod.

“Please be safe,” Lumi begins, his ears flattening and he continues. “Khimi would be very upset if something happened to you.”

“Right, take care of Khimi,” Rashid replies and rushes up the mudbrick stairs.

Lumi watches Rashid vanish on the balcony and mutters a prayer for his safety. Be safe Rashid. Lumi rushes back to the courtyard to find Khimi, prepared to heal his wounds.