Chapter XV


Khimi sits in the courtyard, his hands resting over his eyes. Never in his life did he think anyone would have the audacity to attack his family in such a bold and callous manner. He thinks over the events of the last night, picturing which of his family’s enemies could bear such animosity. Though the Zeybeks have always had many enemies, the same name comes to mind each and every time. Omar Kappas. Khimi recalls the number of times Omar had visited the Zeybek estate. Twelve visits in two years. While it isn’t uncommon to host other merchants, every one of Omar’s visits had always been ripe with strife. Each time he would make veiled threats, each time becoming less subtle. He presses his fingers against his temples, the sound of steel clashing with steel brings him back to his surroundings. His eyes flicker up, watching Ennui and Lumi in the courtyard, where Lumi circles Ennui as if preparing to hunt. Ennui maintains her composure, watching Lumi from the corner of her eyes. Both Lumi and Ennui think it was Omar…why doesn’t this sit right with me? He returns to his thoughts, closing his eyes once more.

“What’s Omar’s connection with the Dolmans?” He asks Ennui while massaging his temples furiously.

Ennui harrumphs loudly, “He said if I didn’t kill you, then he was going to get the Dolmans. Those were Dolmans, weren’t th–”

“Of course they were Dolmans!” Lumi shouts, swinging at Ennui with great force.

Ennui side steps carefully out of the way. She sucks her teeth at Lumi, “You’re either really out of practice or a bloody awful fighter. Someone said you were learning to fight?”

Khimi clicks his tongue, “Play nice.”

Lumi growls, “Then show me how to fight!”

“Think of it like a dance,” Ennui begins by grabbing Lumi’s wrist. “It’s all about the footwork. Ugh, you’re so stiff. Loosen up,” she mutters, tossing Lumi around in a circle. “Move with me, you git!”

“You’re…so weird,” Lumi says, gritting his teeth while Ennui tosses him about.

She scoffs, “You think I am weird?” She says, spinning Lumi around. “You’re the one that insisted you wanted to learn to fight.”

“I want to learn. I just don’t think this is the way,” he replies, his ears flatten. Ennui begins to spin him once more.

“You’re not going to be able to hit me,” she smiles, her eyes narrowing at Lumi.

“Ennui, is it possible someone else sent the Dolmans?” Khimi asks, peering up at the two.

She pushes Lumi away from her. “I can’t imagine anyone else having the audacity to strike the most powerful merchant family in the Desert Cities. I mean…can you? He said it, Khimi. I swear…and I don’t do that often.”

“I bet Jilliana put Omar up to it,” Lumi suggests, looking at Khimi. He rests his hands on his hips, while standing on the balls of his feet. “She is just envious…she can’t have you, so she has to kill you. Simple as that.”

Ennui laughs, “Hear that Khimi? Simple as that!”

Lumi growls. “Shut it, Ennui!”

“It can’t be that simple,” Khimi sighs. “Maybe this is some play by someone else to frame Omar.”

Ennui snickers while Lumi dashes at her. “Always one way to find out,” she begins, grabbing Lumi’s spear and hurling him onto the cobbles. “How about challenging him to a duel?”

“Don’t listen to her,” Lumi says, picking himself up off the ground. “She’s evil. A menace!”

Khimi laughs softly. “There’s no doubt about that. I don’t think it’s the worst idea.”

Lumi glares angrily at Khimi. “We already almost died, Khimi. I had to chase you around the estate to heal you,” he sighs loudly. “I don’t want to have to chase you again!”

“Don’t worry,” Ennui begins. “Everyone that Omar employs is basically a pushover. I’ve seen you handle far worse opponents.”

Khimi crosses his legs, placing his hand under his chin. “So I can count on you to support me, then?”

Lumi blows air through his lips, “Like Hells she will.”

Ennui points at Lumi. “Kid got the right of it. Stepping into Omar’s estate after declining his offer…might be seen as a tad rude. Especially with the man he asked me to kill.”

“Told you,” Lumi says, pointing at Ennui. “She’s actually evil. She probably even considered cutting your thro–”

“I would never kill Khimi!” Ennui insists.

Khimi scoffs behind his hand, “You don’t have to lie,” he says. “I know you too well by now.”

“It was a lot of coin,” she shrugs in reply. “But now that you’re my patron, you have nothing to fear.”

“Liar,” Lumi whispers under his breath.

“I doubt that,” Khimi laughs.

Ennui groans, “I promise I won’t kill Khimi.”

“Or Lumi,” Khimi snarls and Lumi’s eyes narrow at Ennui.

“Or LUMI,” she adds, rolling her eyes. “Sheesh, don’t be a baby about it.”

Lumi twirls his spear. “Am I going to have to worry about a knife in my back?” He asks brazenly.

She sighs, shrugging, then turns to Lumi. Catching the butt of Lumi’s spear in her side. She grabs her side, “You cheeky Lion.”

Khimi laughs softly at their sparring before his expression becomes more determined, “Rashid has been gone for two days. He asked us not to do anything rash, but I feel going to Omar’s would help me gain insight into the source of the attack.”

“I don’t think going there without Rashid is wise,” Lumi concludes, retreating from Ennui.

Ennui stops her assault, turning back to Khimi. “How ‘bout this. I’ll be around, and if shit goes south, I’ll be there for you.”

“Sounds like a trap,” Lumi laughs, walking to Khimi. “Maybe she’s been working for Omar all along.”

Khimi sighs, grabbing Lumi’s hips and pulling him onto his lap. “I need you to trust her,” he begs.

“How can I?” Lumi asks, glaring at the Devilkin. “Since you told me that she was hired to kil–”

“But I didn’t kill him!” Ennui interrupts, throwing her hands into the air. “If I killed him…then you could hate me.”

Khimi rubs his scruffy chin between Lumi’s ears. “Just trust her for now,” he pleads.

“Fine,” Lumi replies, turning to Khimi and pecking him on the cheek.

“Fuck me,” Ennui mumbles, watching Khimi and Lumi. “There was something else I wanted to mention,” She adds, looking over the estate. “Seems that I’ll need to be moving into the estate.”

Lumi jeers, “Absolutely not!”

“Fine,” Khimi replies, squeezing Lumi tightly. “If you promise me something.”

“How can I be of service?” She asks, jeering at Lumi.

Khimi smiles gently, “We can discuss it later.”

“W-what is it?” Lumi asks, looking up at Khimi.

“Nothing for you to worry about,” Khimi chuckles, pressing his lips into Lumi’s blonde hair.

Ennui taps her foot patiently, waiting for their moment to pass. “So, I get to pick a room?” She asks, rolling her eyes.

“There is one available near Rashid’s…unless that’s a problem,” Khimi says, running his fingers along the length of Lumi’s thighs.

“How about…elsewhere?” Ennui asks. “Rashid called me a cutthroat to my face last time I saw him, it really hurt my feelings.”

Lumi laughs, narrowing his eyes at Ennui. “I’d believe that if you had feelings,” he spits.

“Little Lion, you better watch your tongue,” she replies, gritting her teeth. “Else you may very damn well get that dagger in ya.”

“Hells,” Khimi sighs, squeezing Lumi tightly. “You two, get along! Please!”

“I’m willing to try,” Ennui hisses.

Lumi hisses in response, “Fine!”

Khimi sighs, tapping Lumi rear, signaling for him to get up. “You’re both children,” he begins. “I think we should go to Omar’s tomorrow. What do you think?”

“Great idea,” Ennui replies.

“Why?” Lumi asks in unison to Ennui’s reply.

“I think, if anything, I will at least find a sense of closure,” Khimi explains. “I have this feeling that Omar is behind this, but something just doesn’t sit right with me.”

“If Omar accepts your chall–” Lumi starts.

“He won’t,” Ennui interrupts. “He’d never put himself in that shameful of a situation.”

Khimi stretches, “Even if he does, Ennui has the right of it. Most of Omar’s retainers aren’t martially trained.”

“Fine,” Lumi replies, glaring at Ennui. “You better be there,” he adds, pointing at the Devilkin.

Ennui places her hand over her heart, “Have faith, Little Lion. I will be there, even if you don’t see me.”

“Don’t…let me regret it,” Lumi replies, turning towards the estate. “I’ll leave you two to have your words.”

“I’ll be with you in a bit,” Khimi calls out after him.

Lumi continues walking, “I’m sure you will!” He shouts, laughing to himself while he walks beneath the awning and beneath the arched doorway.

“How can you deal with him?” Ennui says, gagging jokingly.

Khimi bites his lip, watching Lumi walk away. “He’s not like anyone I’ve ever known.”

“He’s certainly different…I thought you would have been interested in something with a bit more meat,” Ennui says with a quiet chuckle. “I mean, he’s got a nice little butt on him…but he – never mind.”

Khimi gives Ennui a teasing look, “He’s got meat where it counts,” he says, taking a step closer to Ennui.

Ennui rolls her eyes, “So…you had a request?” She asks.

“I’m not sure if you’ll actually heed my wi–”

“Just tell me what it is,” she blurts, crossing her arms.

A long silence follows. Khimi glances across the courtyard, the scorch marks from the assault still remain on the sandstone. He looks at the wall, noting the marks where stray arrows had landed against the dried mud walls. A vision comes to his mind of the man choking Lumi, a knot forms in his gut.

“Ennui,” Khimi begins, placing a hand on the Devilkin’s shoulder. “Mark me, I need you to honor my wishes. You need to look out for Lum–”

“What?” She asks, placing her hand over Khimi’s. “The aslan? Why?”

Khimi shakes his head, “Because, if something happens to me, the only people I can count on are you and Rashid. Lumi isn’t like us, combat becomes second nature for people like us…watching Lumi in combat that night. I could tell how he struggled. He wept afterward…for the mercenaries.”

Ennui snickers, “I hear you, Khimi. But if you’re afraid of this duel with Omar, you really have nothing to fear,” she vows.

“Be that as it may, it’s still my wish that you protect Lumi,” Khimi replies quietly. “Now, then, how about a bit of practice for tomorrow?” He asks with a smile.

“Throw me that gladius,” Ennui says, giving Khimi a knowing nod. “Fret not, I’ll do my best to keep your precious Kitten from harm,” she promises.

Khimi grabs the hilt of the gladius jammed into the rich soil. “Thank you. Seriously, it means a lot,” assures, tossing the gladius through the air.

“Finally, some real competition!” She cheers, grabbing the hilt. She takes a defensive stance, preparing for Khimi’s attack.

Khimi and Ennui spend the few remaining hours of daylight practicing their skills. Khimi allows himself to let loose, releasing days of frustration through martial combat. While no blows are dealt, both Ennui and Khimi bear a solemn expression throughout their duel. Their time together draws to a close, Ennui wishes Khimi well and promises to be there to support him when he needs him. While he wonders about the sincerity of Ennui’s words, he has no choice but to trust in her. He returns to the garden, watching the stars slowly fill the darkening sky. His eyes are immediately drawn towards Stella Solaris. His thoughts are filled with the decisions his father and grandfather had made before him, and he beseeches the wisdom of those whose footsteps he follows, hoping that they may guide him.

Khimi awakens beside Lumi the following morning, Lumi rests peacefully beside him in bed. The sheets hang loose over Lumi’s naked form. Khimi reaches out to Lumi, stopping himself just short of his back and thinks back to the other night, remembering how desperate Lumi was to help him. He touches the spot beneath his ribs where he had been stabbed and recalls Lumi’s touch, the warmth that had filled him.

Khimi takes another moment to appreciate Lumi before sliding from beneath the sheets and sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling his trousers on. Lumi stirs behind him, yawning loudly, while he turns to Khimi. He caresses his lower back, and Khimi reaches behind him, taking his hand within his own.

Lumi rises from the sheets, moving swiftly behind Khimi. “Are you nervous?” He asks, resting his lips against Khimi’s back.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” Khimi replies with a sigh. Lumi’s hands squeeze against his abdomen from behind, his fingers gently pinch on Khimi’s dark abdominal hairs.

Lumi kisses between Khimi’s shoulder blades. “I’ll be right there with you,” he whispers. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“I just feel like I will know the truth the moment I confront him,” Khimi begins quietly. He places his hands over Lumi’s. “I’ll be fine just knowing you’re there with me.”

Lumi rests his chin on Khimi’s shoulder, “I’ll always be there for you,” he says softly, his tail swaying behind him gently. “Always,” he adds with another kiss against Khimi’s shoulder.

Khimi cracks a smile while Lumi tightens his embrace. “Glad to have you…I’m sorry I got in so late. I lost track of time.”

“Something bothering you?” Lumi questions, rising behind Khimi and gently nibbles on his ear.

“I was just thinking about my family. My ancestors. What sort of decisions they’ve had to make for us to have arrived here,” Khimi responds while he stands from the bed.

Lumi pulls himself beside Khimi, his feet dangling over the bed. He places his head against his shoulders, taking Khimi’s hands in his own. “I don’t think it’s wise to worry over what someone else would or wouldn’t have done. You’re your own person, Khimi.”

“Don’t people do just that when they think of the Gods, or the Saints?” Khimi asks defiantly.

“Gods are one thing, but Saints are just people like you or me. Everyone makes mistakes, and we all have to make our own path in life,” Lumi says, giving Khimi a gentle smile.

Khimi chuckles softly, then squeezes Lumi’s hand. “Kitten wisdom.”

Lumi’s face screws up at the words. “I’m just telling you my thoughts. Khimi, from what you’ve told me…you’re so much different than your father or your ancestors. You’re a better person than them!”

“I’m not sure if that’s true,” Khimi replies, running his thumb over the top of Lumi’s hand. “Care to help me finish dressing?”

“Sure…did you have something you wanted me to wear for the occasion?” Lumi asks with a tilt of his head.

Khimi becomes silent for a moment before he finally speaks up. “Don’t worry about it for now. I think I’d like to see Omar’s face when you walk into his home in that Dolman garb.”

Lumi’s cheeks turn crimson while he stands from the edge of the bed. “Using me to make Omar uncomfortable, Lord Zeybek?” He laughs, grabbing Khimi’s jacket from beside the bed.

“Please don’t call me that,” Khimi insists, rolling his eyes at Lumi. “I’d rather not be called Lord Zeybek by you.”

Lumi slides one sleeve over Khimi’s arm, “Does it not make you feel powerful?” Lumi asks with another chuckle, sliding the other sleeve on. He pulls the jacket tight over Khimi before working his fingers across the gilded cords.

“A bit, but I don’t want you to call me that,” Khimi says, smiling at Lumi’s naked form. He finishes tying the cords of the jacket before standing and embracing Lumi, “Do you need any help getting dressed? I could tie the strings to your loincloth.”

Lumi’s eyebrows cock at his comment, “You’re always welcome to help,” he replies, returning the embrace. “How about I get dressed, and you get some food,” he adds, squeezing Khimi in his arms.

“There is always time to eat,” Khimi whispers, before he plants a kiss between Lumi’s ears.

 Khimi’s fingertips trace along Lumi’s back, outlining the curvature of his spine. Lumi purrs quietly, his hands linked together behind Khimi’s back. There is a sense of calm between them unlike that which they have experienced and after their brief quiet, Khimi takes the black cloth from the bed and brings it to Lumi, bringing himself to his knees. Lumi steps between the garment and Khimi gradually lifts it, the thong nestling between his cheeks. Not a word is spoken while Khimi tenderly pulls Lumi’s tail over the cloth. He ties the knot on the side, finishing with a test tug.

“I can finish,” Lumi whispers. “You don’t have to do this…”

“But I want to,” Khimi whispers, looking into Lumi’s eyes.

The aetherial blues threaten to draw him in. The longing in Lumi’s expression is so painfully clear that Khimi struggles not to smile.

The Duel

The entrance to Omar’s estate is just as grandiose as Khimi had recalled and though he made it a point to never come to this side of the city, he had always admired the beauty of its architecture. The buildings are situated slightly more elevated than those on the eastern side of Rhaz. Several of the more wealthy merchant families had raised spires in honor of their success. It was a small wonder Ziad had never raised a tower here. I supposed father was never one to get into those kinds of competitions…dick measuring Rashid called it. Khimi smiles to himself at the idea of Ziad and Rashid being cordial to one another.

 Omar’s estate is equally if not more grand than those that surrounded it. Large mudbrick walls create a partition between the street and the entrance, dozens of ironwood trees give a sense of shade and comfort beyond the walls. Sandstone cobbles create a small path leading through the meticulously groomed garden. Following the cobbles up towards the entrance, the sound of a woman singing causes them both to pause.

“Do you think it’s Jilliana?” Lumi asks, standing on his tiptoes.

Khimi scratches his chin a moment, “Doubt it. She’d probably sound like a strangled goose if she was singing,” he adds with a smile.

“Truly, you and Ennui make this girl sound awful…” Lumi replies, shaking his head.

Khimi shrugs, “I’ve got my own reasons. I couldn’t tell you why Ennui cares so much.”

Lumi laughs while they enter the hall, “Well, I did want to have a word with her…I almost wanted to run after her the other day after Revya left. At least now I have a few choice words for the next time I see her!”

“I don’t think that would have been wise,” Khimi says, giving Lumi a knowing glance before they walk towards the sound of the singing. A soft, melodious voice carries on, their lyrics harp of an untold thirst.

“What’da think it’s about?” Lumi whispers while they pass beneath an archway.

Khimi continues through the long tunnel, which opens into an open forum-style courtyard. “I’m not great at interpreting poems,” Khimi sighs. He pauses before stepping into the majestic courtyard. “The singer seems to be talking about an unquenchable thirst. In the context of the song…it could be alluding to his lust for power.”

“Wow,” Lumi says, looking at Khimi with a blank expression. “Do you think it’s about Omar?”

“Couldn’t say,” Khimi replies. A man in a fine silk kaftan approaches. “Mind your manners here,” he whispers hastily, the man draws nearer.

Lumi inspects Khimi out of the corner of his eyes. “I wasn’t even going to say anything,” he insists. “Thou–”

“Lord Zeybek!” The man shouts cordially, hurrying towards Khimi with wide arms. He quickly combs his unkempt hair at his approach. “I do not believe that My Lord was expecting to see you today. Perhaps another day?”

“We’re here on other business,” Khimi mutters, smiling at the dark haired man. “Is Omar not willing to receive the son of Ziad?”

The man clicks his tongue playfully, though his lips twitch angrily. “Any child of Ziad’s is welcome to the Kappas estate, of course!” He exclaims, extending his hand towards Khimi.

Khimi takes his hand, delivering a firm grip. The man eyes Lumi suspiciously. “I’m sure it’s fine to take a guest as well?”

The man’s lips curl into thin lines. “Of course. I am afraid I’ll need your friend’s weapon and name. Omar would have my head if I let just anyone inside his home.”

“He can leave his spear with you then,” Khimi replies, giving Lumi a nod.

“And your name?” The man asks, while he takes the spear from Lumi.

“Lumi,” he replies nervously.

The man narrows his eyes at Lumi, “And your relation to Lord Zeybek…if you don’t mind?”


“Friend,” Khimi chokes, receiving a cold glare from Lumi.

The man chuckles, and he looks at Khimi, sweeping the loose strands of hair from his almond-colored eyes, “Whichever the relation, I’ll let Omar know of your arrival,” he says with a nod.

As the man passes halfway across the courtyard, Lumi turns to Khimi, his cheeks flushed with color. “Are you embarrassed of me?” Lumi squeals.

“I’d just rather them not be aware…” Khimi replies coldly.

“I don’t care,” Lumi whispers angrily. “I’d rather them know.”

Khimi sighs, “Fine, when he comes back I’ll be sure to tell him all about us.”

Lumi grabs Khimi’s hand, “Fine. Do it, tell him!”

“I will,” Khimi replies, glancing down at Lumi. He covers his eyes with his palm. A hint of color enters his cheeks while Lumi begins to embrace him, his body snug against him. “I suppose you want me to tell him about how we fuck as well?”

“That’s inappropriate,” Lumi teases, pressing his face against Khimi’s chest. He peeks his eyes between Khimi’s sculpted chest and smiles, “But yes.”

Khimi wraps his arms behind Lumi, “Y-You’re the worst,” he replies, his hands squeezing Lumi’s soft ass cheeks.

Lumi purrs softly against him. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I’ve thought about it and even if Omar didn’t send the Dolmans, he still wanted to hire Ennui to kill me,” Khimi responds, “I-I trust Ennui.”

“Do you truly believe this…is the right path?” Lumi questions, staring into Khimi’s cerulean eyes.

“I’m saying I just can’t let that sort of thing go unpunished. If I allow Omar to get away with this…then I’ll have shown myself to be weak before all the merchant princes,” Khimi refutes.

Lumi sighs, “I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I’ll be fine,” Khimi says, wrenching Lumi against himself. Khimi pauses, cocking his head to the side. “The singing stopped. Do you hear anything, Lumi?”

Lumi’s ears swivel and turn, his facial expression changes with the movement. “Mm, I think they’re coming this way. I hear footsteps.”

Khimi releases Lumi abruptly, straightening his kaftan of any wrinkles. He looks over at Lumi, “Glad you agreed to wear it…you look great,” he says from the corner of his mouth.

“Of course I do,” Lumi blushes, shuffling in place. “I’d feel more comfortable with my spear, though,” he insists, leaning against the wall of the archway.

“I like it when you’re all cocky and confident,” Khimi smirks, slapping at Lumi’s tail playfully.

Lumi growls, slapping Khimi’s hand away. “Stop it! They’re not far away, thought you didn’t wanna get caught.”

“Just thought you were being cute is all,” Khimi mutters with a roll of his eyes, “But fine, I’ll refrain from touching you anymore.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Lumi grumbles and steps away from Khimi.

“Omar bids you follow to his study,” the dark haired man says, gesturing to the courtyard. “If you’ll just follow along.”

Lumi and Khimi follow the man through the courtyard. Dozens of detailed alabaster columns line either side of the well manicured landscape. The architecture here reminds Khimi of his family’s home in Sidi rather than the architecture often seen throughout Rhaz. They walk through the center of the large rectangular forum area, the attendant turns and moves towards another archway. Khimi recalls the stairwell leading up to the balcony where he had watched the festivities taking place. The attendant guides them through another archway. About halfway through, he turns on his heels and places his hand on a large brass ring.

“This is Omar’s study,” the man begins. “Mind yourself, Omar doesn’t normally allow beastkin” he adds, giving Lumi a lingering glare. “But he’s made a special exception for Lord Zeybek.”

“Alright,” Lumi mutters, rolling his eyes at the attendant.

“Thank you for your service,” Khimi says, giving the man a gentle bow.

Lumi follows Khimi’s lead, doing his best to replicate Khimi’s mannerisms. “Yes, thank you,” he mutters with a bow.

“I’ll leave you to it then,” the attendant says with a smile.

 Khimi walks past the attendant and grips a hand on Lumi’s shoulder. He guides him into the large room. Mostly empty shelves line the walls, strange looking bronze artifacts sit about the room. The room is dark except for the threads of light which pierce through the thick curtains, the rays of light illuminate the dust in the air. Lumi clings to Khimi while they walk deeper into the room. A faint light glows from the open balcony. They follow the source of the light, passing a strange ticking bronze creation. Khimi pauses to admire it before Lumi drags him towards the stairs. Despite the estate’s pristine appearance, the study is in utter disarray. Sheets of paper are strewn about every corner, large blots of ink are spilled over the pages. Khimi peers over the top stair. They ascend and notices the candle flickering on the desk situated overlooking the study. Omar sits in silence, scribbling with a feather quill on a velum page. He glances up from his notations momentarily with a flicker of anger.

“Surprised they let you in with that saber,” Omar begins, dipping the quill into the inkwell.

Khimi places his hand over the scabbard. “If it pleases you, I’ll leave it outside.”

“Leave it,” Omar waves his hand disparagingly. “You already brought in something else that doesn’t belong,” he adds, leaning back into the wooden chair. “You sou–”

“Lumi belongs by my side,” Khimi begins, noting Lumi’s disgruntled expression. “I sought an audience becaus–”

“Because you feel what happened at your home was my doing?” Omar asks, placing his elbows onto the table. “I’ll tel–”

“Did you?” Lumi interjects, placing a foot forward aggressively.

“You should tame your beast better,” Omar laughs while glaring at Lumi.

“Answer the question!” Khimi replies, his voice straining.

Omar chuckles hysterically, unable to catch his breath. “I’m..not a halfwit,” he pauses to catch his breath. “I heard the Zeybeks were attacked by Dolmans, but it wasn’t by my orders.”

“You didn’t send them this time!” Lumi shouts, his cheeks going red. “You were going to have him killed!” Lumi exclaims, pointing at Khimi.

“Lumi!” Khimi shouts, grabbing his head in frustration.

Omar places his hand over his mustache, “So Ennui didn’t just deny my proposal…” he whispers, smiling at Khimi.

“You don’t deny it?” Lumi pleads, his tail shakes angrily behind him.

“Your father would have done just the same,” Omar says, ignoring Lumi’s words. “If the situation allowed for it, he would have slit my throat in an instant.”

“You don’t have to remind me of my father’s passions,” Khimi replies with gritted teeth.

Omar clicks his tongue, “So then you understand that it was strictly transactional. An opening presented itself an–”

Lumi crosses the distance to Omar’s desk in a blink, “And thought you’d have him killed?”

“As I mentioned. Strictly transactional. I think Khimi is a wonderful young man,” Omar replies, glaring at Lumi. “But…ulti–”

Khimi scoffs, “Wonderful enough to have killed.”

“You’re still alive, though if your beast keeps acting violent…that may have to change,” Omar chortles softly. He reaches for the brass crook resting against the desk. “Now, speak plainly, I expect you didn’t come here to throw insults.”

“I’ll speak plainly, alright!” Lumi insists, slamming his hand onto Omar’s desk.

Omar looks to Khimi. “Seriously, you should learn to control him better.”

“Lumi is free to do as he pleases. He isn’t a slave like those you keep,” Khimi grumbles.

Omar sighs, placing the brass crook in his lap. “The slave trade has been a part of the history of the Desert Cities since their dawn. It’s best you not be ignorant to that fact. Khimi…remember that if you turn your back on it, you’ll lose the support of the majority of the merchants in the Desert Cities who rely upon it.”

Lumi hisses audibly, “Khimi doesn’t keep slaves.”

“But indentured servants are different?” Omar asks, the corner of his lips tighten into a smirk. He stands from the desk, walking slowly with the brass crook. “Ziad Zeybek keeps no slaves,” he begins, as if telling a story. “Yet, Ziad Zeybek enjoys creating situations in which people are bound to lose: their homes, livelihoods, everything. Then where else can they turn excep–”

Khimi presses his fingers over his brow, “Enough, Omar. We get it. You think my father is as appalling as you.”

“What are you even rambling about?” Lumi asks, his face screwed up in confusion. “I said Khimi doesn’t keep slaves.”

“Hells,” Omar chuckles, his brow rising at Khimi. “It’s as dumb as a bag of rocks, isn’t it?” He asks Khimi while he motions to Lumi.

“Om–Omar,” Khimi begins shaking his head. “You’ve said your piece…I’m finished listening. I’ve come to challenge you.”

“A Duel?” Omar laughs. His jowls jiggle with delight.

“What were you saying about Ziad?” Lumi asks Omar. “What did you mean?”

Khimi walks over to Lumi and places a hand on his shoulder. “It’s nothing, I’ll tell you about it later.”

Omar continues to laugh, “Are you expecting to fight me in my poor physical condition? You must have known I’d call upon a champion, yes?”

“I expected your fat arse to fight,” Lumi mutters, folding his arms.

“Certainly wouldn’t have expected you to fight me yourself, hardly seems fair,” Khimi replies, smiling smugly.

Omar taps his fingers over the brass crook. “What are you hoping to achieve? Honor?” He asks, his fingers tapping more rapidly.

“You planned to have me killed, Omar. I’d request you leave the Desert Cities should the duel end in my favor,” Khimi answers. “You and your kin can take residence in Dolmas.”

“And if I win? What would I have to gain?” Omar asks, stroking his bearded chin. “I assume the duel is decided by a fatal wound?”

“Wait what?!” Lumi shouts in bewilderment.

“Aye,” Khimi says, while Lumi stammers.

Omar raises an eyebrow, “The possibility of the Zeybek line ending in my home…I accept.”

“When shall w–”

“Khimi,” Lumi interrupts. “You were just injured!”

“Better for you then, Omar,” Khimi smirks.

Omar smiles, “We’ll see about that. I’ll see you in the courtyard in an hour.” Omar strolls past them, tapping the crook aggressively. “Perhaps,” he adds, turning back. “You should dress your beast more modestly as well. It’s unseemly.”

Lumi shakes, his hands crumpling the pages over the desk. “Pig,” Lumi murmurs to himself.

“We’ll see you shortly,” Khimi replies to Omar, their eyes meeting briefly.

“Don’t let him destroy my study,” Omar whispers in response, looking back at Lumi once again before descending with a menacing smile.

A long moment of silence follows before the sounds of Omar’s cane tapping recedes out of earshot. Khimi places his hand over Lumi’s back while he growls and tosses the vellum pages from the desk. Lumi’s tail shakes with anger, his fingers crumple the remaining pages. He turns against the desk, his face flush with heat. Liquid drips from his nose, his eyes begin to fill with tears. Khimi pulls Lumi against himself. His hand presses Lumi’s face against his chest, knowing Lumi is only moments from snapping. Lumi shakes violently in Khimi’s arms, his breath is warm against Khimi’s chest. A rumbling growl at the back of his throat.

“Don’t let his words get to you,” Khimi whispers, feeling Lumi’s fingers tighten on his kaftan.

Lumi pulls back, fresh tears over his cheek. “Khimi…I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I’ll be fine,” Khimi whispers, giving him a weak smile. “I promise.”

“Remember…when you asked me if we could just leave?” Lumi asks between hearty sobs. “Can we now?”

Khimi sighs, drawing Lumi back against his chest. “Lumi, we will go away after this…I just…I just can’t let Omar get away wit–.”

“You’re an honorable man, Khimi,” Lumi says, gripping the blue kaftan. “Omar isn’t. He is underhanded…he planned on killing you, what’s to say he has any plan on keeping this duel honorable.”

Khimi strokes Lumi’s cheek. “I don’t doubt your words…I don’t trust Omar either, bu–”

“This is all Ennui’s fault,” Lumi cries. “You hang onto her words…she probably wanted you to challenge him for her own reasons.”

Khimi grips Lumi tighter, “I don’t doubt that either. This was already something that I had contemplated previously. Omar admitted to his intentions…and confirmed what she said.”

Lumi’s eyes continue to water, “I think we should just go,” he whispers.

“I can’t,” Khimi replies, pushing Lumi against the wooden desk. “I ca–”

“Please,” Lumi sobs weakly. “We can get back at Omar some other way. O-Or we can just run away and forget about all of this!”

Khimi’s lips press against Lumi’s forehead, and pushes back Lumi’s blond hair. “Please, Lumi. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”

Lumi stares into Khimi’s eyes, wet lines streak down his cheeks. “I don’t want you to leave me,” he says quietly, twisting his fingers into Khimi’s kaftan. He leans back against the desk, pulling Khimi’s weight against himself.

“Lumi…” Khimi whispers, placing his hand behind Lumi’s head, pulling Lumi’s lips against his own.

Their lips press together while Lumi sits atop the desk. Lumi brings his legs behind Khimi, pulling Khimi against himself. In a moment of weakness, Khimi gives in to Lumi’s persistent nature. He puts his hand around Lumi’s back and pushes him further up the dark wooden desk. The remaining papers are quickly tossed aside. Lumi lays flat against the length of the desk. Lecherous little Lion. His tail tips the candle over, snuffing the flame. Khimi unbuttons his kaftan, a knowing smirk on his lips.

Nearly an hour passes before a knock arrives at the door to the study. Khimi lies beside Lumi on the desk, scratches run across the desk from Lumi’s nails. Khimi rests his hand on Lumi’s tender abdomen. Lumi opens his eyes at the sound of the knocks. He teases his blond hair while he looks at Khimi, giving him a coy smile. Khimi sits up and slides from the desk before dressing from the loose pile of clothing strewn on the floor. The knocks continue while he buttons his kaftan, his eyes focused on Lumi, still breathing labored on the desk. Lumi reaches out, taking hold of Khimi’s hand, and Khimi replies with a squeeze. He buttons the remaining knots on his collar, he turns his attention to the knocks at the door below.

“We’ll be right there,” Khimi calls from the balcony.

Lumi breathes heavily, his chest rising and falling in quick bursts from their exertions. He adjusts his loincloth, slipping the black thong into place. “Khimi,” he whispers, rolling onto his side. Sweat glistens over his tanned skin. “You…mean everything to me.”

“I-I understand,” Khimi replies with a squeeze on Lumi’s hand. “It’ll be alright, I promise.”

Lumi releases Khimi’s hand, sliding from the desk. “I’ll take your word for it,” he adds, realigning his chest wrap.

Khimi grabs hold of Lumi once again, pecking his cheek quickly. “I promise!” He exclaims, kissing Lumi’s cheek suddenly.

Lumi rubs his cheek against Khimi’s stubble. “Then let’s get this over with,” he whispers uncomfortably.

“Can’t wait to tell Omar that he’ll be needing a new desk,” Khimi chuckles before kissing Lumi on the cheek again.

Lumi blushes, peering over the desk. The light shines over the dark wood through the draped curtains. “It’s not that bad…” he begins, looking over the half-dozen scratches across the top of the desk. Curled bits of wood lie across its top and on the floor.

“Don’t worry about it,” Khimi laughs, proud of the damage they had inflicted.

Lumi looks bashfully over the desk again, “You got really into it…” he whispers, rubbing the multiple bruises across his neck and shoulder.

“Couldn’t help myself,” Khimi whispers, reaching for Lumi’s soft inner thigh. He pinches the skin between his thumb and forefinger. “Really love these thighs,” he murmurs.

Lumi embraces Khimi. Khimi’s hand glides over his thigh, caressing the smooth skin. His fingers linger on the welts he had just left with his lips. The door steadily opens below. “Thought you said you were going to refrain from touching me,” he sasses with a teasing wink.

“How could I?” Khimi asks, kissing Lumi’s brow. Khimi steps back, “How do I look?” He asks.

“Perfect,” Lumi replies, fixing the rest of his garments. He lifts his missing stocking from the ground, quickly slipping it up his leg, then leaps behind Khimi. He tightens the golden thread band on the thigh. “How do I look?” Lumi asks in reply, a wide grin on his face.

“Perfect,” Khimi replies, taking another long glance before rushing down the stairs.

Lumi follows Khimi to the door, and Khimi turns back, watching Lumi adjust his garb again and again. Lumi’s hair remains matted and disheveled. Khimi presses the door open with his shoulder, the dark haired servant from before stands waiting with an unamused expression. Lumi glares from behind Khimi at the aggravated man. Khimi’s eyes dash about, noticing a sudden change in the servant’s garb, the addition of a longsword on the man’s waist.

“Omar arms his men after such a peaceful conversation?” Khimi asks, laughing at the notion.

“You’ve left the Lord of the Estate waiting,” he says in a dull tone, motioning towards the massive courtyard.

Khimi hurries towards the indicated direction, grimacing at the sight of several individuals around the columns. Omar wouldn’t make this a spectacle unless he has something planned. One curious looking figure catches Khimi’s eye. The androgynous figure stands near the center of the forum area, a lengthy blade in their hand. Their skin and hair as white as milk, their eyes a crimson hue. He’d never seen anyone who looked quite like this person before. For a moment, the idea of facing the unknown brings fear into him. His fear is quickly replaced by excitement at the thought of finally freeing himself of Omar. Khimi draws near the center of the courtyard. Omar stands from his chaise, clapping his hands together loudly. All the servants depart from the courtyard except the pale figure.

“Kept me waiting,” Omar shouts across the yard to them.

They cross beneath the threshold of the alabaster columns. Khimi laughs, giving Lumi a knowing look. “Wasn’t our intention, Omar!” He shouts back across the courtyard. “Hate that we kept you.”

Omar fans himself with a small ornate hand fan, “I hope you weren’t having second thoughts after your proposed duel.”

“None whatsoever,” Khimi replies once they reach the center of the courtyard. “I was having a private moment with my companion,” Khimi adds.

“In my study?” Omar asks, his face screwing up in anger. “Never mind,” he groans in anger.

“Is this your champion?” Khimi asks, motioning to the intriguing figure standing silently before them.

Omar chuckles, “Don’t let their diminutive size deceive you, they’re quite fierce.”

Khimi waves at the figure, giving him a small nod. “Well met,” he says to the figure.

The figure waves in return, though speaks no words in response. They finger the hilt of the blade, tapping it in anticipation.

“Shall we get to it then?” Omar asks and stands from the chaise. The weight upon his legs causes his knees to wobble feebly. His brass crook taps against the sandstone cobbles with each step.

“What are they?” Lumi whispers to Khimi, glaring at Khimi’s opponent.

Khimi shrugs, “I’ve never seen anyone like them.”

“Please be careful,” Lumi whispers behind Khimi.

“Khimi?” Omar asks again, peering angrily at the two of them.

“Right,” Khimi replies, shaking his head, bringing him back to the situation at hand.

Omar walks before Khimi, tapping his crook twice before extending a hand towards him. “On our honor.”

“On our honor,” Khimi replies, taking Omar’s hand in his own.

“Shouldn’t there be someone to witness this?” Lumi asks quietly.

Omar smirks, turning to Lumi. “Don’t you know that duels aren’t exactly looked highly upon in the Desert Cities?”

“Oh,” Lumi sounds, his ears flattening in embarrassment.

“It’s okay, Kitten,” Khimi murmurs, giving Lumi a smile. “I’ll be okay,” he promises.

Omar releases Khimi’s hand, hobbling across the courtyard with his brass crook. He returns to his chaise, crossing his legs after he sits. He leans forward, the strange figure looking back at him. Lumi steps back against, flush against a column. Khimi removes his scimitar from its scabbard and instinctively reaches for his second scimitar, only to remember he chose to use a single blade in the duel. The figure receives a nod from Omar, and he grips the hilt of his sword tightly before stepping toward him. An eerie scene unfolds before Khimi, the androgynous figure takes on a startling appearance. A draining feeling overtakes him, intrusive thoughts fill his mind. Memories once forced in the recesses are immediately dredged.

 The memory is haunting. A tanned figure stands before him, massive in stature, a blade pointed against his cheek. Ziad’s words sound cold as ice as he looks to either side of the small yard for help. His mother’s screams seem hollow and silent in comparison to the coldness of his father’s words. The cuts run deep over his knuckles. Blood gushes into the sand while he scurries away from his father’s shamshir, his hand trembling, he cries for help. Rashid’s hand remains fixed on his own hilt, a nervous and angry expression on his face. Khimi calls out for his father to stop, shaking his head in terror, tears running from the corner of his eyes. Ziad’s movements are precise and deadly, he spins, drawing the edge of his blade across Khimi’s cheek in a single fluid slash. Rashid rushes at him, blade in hand, screaming for Ziad to stop. Aleyna reaches Khimi only a moment later, her sari blotting the blood running over his cheek. Her tears fall over Khimi’s black hair. He watches Rashid and Ziad arguing, their argument becoming violent, and Rashid pushes Ziad away. Their words become muted while he lifts his bloodied knuckles.

Lumi’s screams awaken Khimi from his stupor. He lifts his scimitar just in time to block the first blow from the figure who has taken Ziad’s appearance. The sight of his father fills Khimi with fear and anger. He steps away from his opponent. It’s not Ziad, he tells himself, backing away.He fingers the hilt of his scimitar, feeling the balance of the sword in his grip. He swings wide to test his opponent. Ziad raises his sword with a speed that belies his form.

“What is this?!” Lumi shouts across the courtyard.

His words are met without response from Omar. The Merchant Prince remains in his chaise, a pensive expression behind his dark eyes.

Khimi raises his blade defensively and Ziad closes the gap between them, his swings purposeful and deadly. Khimi ducks and dodges each of the blows, quickly able to evade the deadly swings. He responds with a deadly swing, his scimitar slashing against the steel of his opponent’s blade. He raises his free hand, the thought of using magic crosses his mind before he remembers the words “On our honor.” Khimi lowers his hand, returning it to the hilt of the blade in an attempt to overpower his foe with sheer strength. A second vision festers in his mind. It is as if tendrils delve into him, seeking out his most horrid memories.

Khimi hides beneath the bust of his grandfather, the yelling from his parent’s room echoes through the Grand Hall. He edges his way to their room, concern for his mother driving him closer and closer to their chamber. The door slams loudly while he nears it. He pushes against it, unable to force himself inside. He runs through the hallway and around through the courtyard, quickly finding himself below their window. He pulls himself to the sill and peeks his head over the white mudbrick wall. A horror unfolds before his eyes, Ziad pushes Aleyna against the wall, tears in her eyes. Ziad’s teeth grit in anger, pounding the wall several times beside her. Her eyes dart about the room, searching for aid, they land on Khimi. The boy calls out to his mother while he climbs into the window. Ziad is quick to grab him, screaming curses at him. Aleyna screams in response, her fists falling unnoticed against Ziad’s form. Khimi kicks his feet against Ziad, screaming for help at the top of his lungs. Aleyna grabs hold of an ornamental statuette, smashing Ziad in the back of the head. He turns to Aleyna in anger. Khimi can’t help but to cry. His father brings his knuckles across Aleyna’s cheek. She becomes limp to Ziad’s abuse between sobs. The door opens with a bang, and Rashid rushes inside.

Again, the sound of Lumi brings Khimi back from his memories. Khimi allows himself a moment to glance back at Lumi. Lumi cheers, screaming at him from beside the column. Another figure approaches Lumi from behind, causing Khimi to panic. He wants to call out, but his attention turns back towards Ziad in time to catch the blade with his scimitar. The sound of singing makes him snap his head back to Lumi. Golden spectral chains appear around Lumi’s neck and ankles, tethering him to the ground. Lumi’s hands move to the shackle around his neck.

“Omar!” Khimi shouts, keeping his focus on the figure mimicking Ziad before him. “I’ll fight your champion but leave Lumi be!” He shouts again, his words echoing across the vast courtyard.

HAH,” Omar shouts in reply, slapping his knee. “Fat chance,” he begins, chuckling loudly. “The Zeybek heir comes to me for a challenge…and thinks I’ll just let him walk out of he—“

Bastard!” Khimi growls, gritting his teeth abruptly.

“Such insolence,” Omar chides, stroking his chin. “Even if this should be brought to light, my heirs will survive me in a world where the Zeybek line dwindles and dies.”

Khimi backpedals from the oncoming attack, “Did you plan this?” He questions, glancing towards the weighty merchant seated atop the chaise. “Ziad will have your fucking head.”

“This is what little I could throw together in the hour,” Omar replies with a laugh. “Imagine if I had more time…but I didn’t think if you left the estate that beast would let you come back.”

“So much for honor,” Khimi shouts, slashing at his opponent. Ziad quickly parries the slashes, putting Khimi back on the defensive. He takes another chance to glance at Lumi, putting his life in jeopardy.

The melodious sound of the songstress’ voice fills the surrounding area. The vulpo woman stands just feet behind Lumi, her hand extended outwards while she focuses on the spell. The chains around Lumi’s ankles pull and tighten, dragging him to his knees. Lumi shoves his fingers beneath the collar affixed around his neck. She begins to sing faster, her lengthy blonde hair flows freely around her, the air is disturbed by the power of her spell. Her voice rises, the shackles tighten.

 Lumi’s fingertips touch the edge of the golden choker, his lips sounding the words to the familiar incantation. He whips his head around to look at his aggressor. Several javelins of light burst into existence before him. The bluish flames surround them instantly before they begin to pursue the woman restraining him. She evades them easily enough, her focus on the song does not waiver. The steel around Lumi’s neck tightens again, clenching against his throat. He struggles against the chains, attempting to edge his way to the vulpo woman. One of the javelins finally manages to find purchase in her defense. Caught off guard, the javelin slices across her forearm. She winches, dropping her hand. The singing stops and with it, the shackles vanish. Lumi rises from his knees, dashing across this distance between them. He leaps onto the woman, his hands grab her shoulders, his knees sink deep into her abdomen. The two hit the ground with a loud thud. The vulpo reaches for her dagger, swinging back and forth with quick slashes.           

Lumi sits atop the woman, his knees straddling her waist. He grabs at her wrist, struggling against the weight of her hand behind the force. Unrelenting, he pushes against her wrist, her hand turns the blade towards his hand. Lumi slides his leg forward and pushes his foot against her chin. She screams, Lumi’s bare foot pushes against her chin, and she begins to kick her feet wildly in a panic. He removes one of his hands from her wrist, jabbing her swiftly in the abdomen several times. The dagger falls to the floor, clanking against the cobbles. She shouts an incantation, her voice booming. An unseen wave of energy sends Lumi flying off of her and rolling across the ground in pain. Rising quickly with a growl, the vulpo picks up the dagger, her clothes in disarray from their scuffle.

“Why’re you doing this?” Lumi pleads, wiping the dust from his body.

The vulpo woman adjusts her hair, “It’s just business,” she scoffs. “So, if you’d be so kind and just submit…or die.”

“Is there no honor among beastkin?!” Lumi shouts, clenching his fists.

“Solidarity…funny,” she laughs, pointing a finger at Lumi. “You’re nothing but filth.”

A moment of discomfort comes across Lumi at the woman’s words. “I– I’m what?”

“Are you bloody deaf? I said, you’re FILTH!” She shouts.

Another feeling of discomfort crosses Lumi. “I’m going to have to shut that mouth of yours,” he snarls.

Lumi crosses the distance from where he fell to the woman in a blink, she swings the dagger at him, cutting through the air. Her lips move swiftly, she recites another incantation. Her words are cut short, Lumi’s hand slams against her mouth, his fingers latching onto her tongue. She yelps, her words become nothing more than sounds and shouts. Her teeth bite down over Lumi’s fingers, but he holds onto his grip, grimacing at the pain that follows from her bite. She swipes her dagger at him again, slicing across his waist. Lumi counters with several swift strikes from his knee before he places his leg behind hers, forcing her back onto the floor again.

The vulpo woman pleads for the release of her tongue.

“I…I can’t,” Lumi growls while she bites even harder onto his finger. He shouts in pain. “You’re gonna do something weird if I let it go.”

She shakes her head in response.

“I’ll let you go if you promise to leave,” Lumi whispers softly, loosening his grip on the woman’s tongue. He notes the deep and bloody indents from her bite.

The woman vanishes suddenly, reappearing some distance in front of him. Lumi feels the blood flowing down his side from the previous wound. He remains crouched, waiting on the floor for the woman to flee. She stands her ground, a smirk coming across her lips.

“You said you’d leave,” Lumi sighs. “You promised!”

She rolls her shoulder, “I didn’t say shit,” she laughs.

She claps her hands together, a massive booming sound surrounds Lumi, the black fabric of his garb begins to tear from the force. He covers his ears, the ringing grows louder. The stone columns around him begin to shake, bits of stone crumbles to the ground. He runs at her as quick as his feet can carry him, his tail swishing behind him. The blow lands across her face with his knuckles, blood splattering across the stony cobbles. She reels back at him, flailing her dagger about the air, and Lumi waits, anticipating her strikes. He kicks just below the rib cage and she stumbles, grabbing her side. He begins to close the distance. She swings at him, catching him across the shoulder with the sharp edge. Lumi howls, enduring the pain while he pummels his fist across her cheek. He kicks at her knees, causing them to buckle. She looks up at Lumi from the ground, growling. Extending her hand towards him, a low hum leaving her lips. The chains appear once more, springing up from the ground. Caught off guard, Lumi finds himself pulled to the floor. Struggles against his restraints, he cries out for help. The vulpo stands and walks towards him, glaring down at him with disgust.

“I’m done with you, Lion,” she growls, weaving an archaic gesture in the air before her.

Lumi struggles against the spectral chains, “Please! Don’t do this!” He begs, “I don’t wanna die. Khimi needs me!”

 Runic symbols seer into the cobblestone. The vulpo continues her song, her hands rising to the sky, the symbols peel from the floor. A smirk crosses her lips, and she looks down at Lumi. Lumi continues to plead, unsure of what matter of spell the woman is casting. The sound of a guttural coughing turns her attention away from Lumi. All eyes in the courtyard turn to its source. Ennui stands behind Omar, her hand clenching his shoulder. She smiles, then plunges her gladius deeper through Omar, blood dripping from the corner of his lips. He looks down at the blade piercing through his chest. He extends his hands to Ennui’s cloak, clenching the fabric. His jaw drops at the realization of what has transpired. With a final cough, he slumps against her, the gladius carving its way back through his body.

The courtyard goes silent. Khimi’s aggressor remains dumbfounded by Omar’s demise, his eyes fixed on Ennui. Khimi rises from his knees, both hands clinging to the hilt of his scimitar. A fierce blow lands across the figure’s chest, blood splatters across the nearest alabaster column. The figure falls to their knees, letting out a final gasp. The long sword clangs against the ground while they lean forward. Is he…dead? The figure coughs, splotches of blood covering the light colored stones before them. Omar showed no mercy…why should I? Khimi asks himself. He holds his scimitar high, swinging swiftly across Ziad’s neck. The sharpened edge slices through the bone and sinew without mercy. In one motion, their head lops to the floor. Khimi breathes in a panic, observing the figure’s shape return to its androgynous form. He peers about the courtyard, scouring the landscape for Lumi. His attention returns to Lumi while the vulpo woman begins to flee, vanishing and reappearing in short spurts.

Khimi calls out, “ENNUI!” He stands, motioning to the fleeing woman.

“On it!” She shouts in response, taking off across the courtyard.

Finally freed of his chains, Lumi sprints towards the woman, passing Ennui.He reaches just beneath the passageway to the front of the estate. Nearing the edge of the covered hallway, he bursts from the darkness into the front yard. A silver glint catches his eye. The dagger, thrown from the brush, pierces just below his ribs. He leans against the wall of the building, fingering the hilt of the dagger protruding from his abdomen. Ennui rounds the corner just a moment later.

“Where’d she go?!” Ennui demands.

Lumi points towards the brush, “There.”

Ennui grunts, her face distraught. She glances from the brush to Lumi. An annoyed groan escapes her lips while she lifts Lumi effortlessly into her arms. “You’re not supposed to die, you stupid Little Lion,”

“Go get her,” Lumi insists, pushing Ennui’s shoulder. “Let me down. I’m serious!” He shouts.

Ennui groans, “Just…don’t die,” she whispers, then places him down in the shade of the alcove.

“I can heal myself, r-remember?” He breathes, offering her a weak smile.

She pushes her hair from her eyes, “I do recall…but just shout if you need help…”

“Just go!” He shouts, leaning against the mudbrick wall.

Khimi crosses the courtyard after looking over Omar and his champion’s corpses. Wracked with pain, he limps to find Ennui and Lumi. He steps beneath the arched hallway leading outside, and finds Lumi against the wall. Lumi squeezes the hilt of a dagger jutting from beneath his ribs. He breathes unevenly, his eyes partly closed. Khimi bounds to his side, kneeling beside him. He holds his hand over Lumi’s, looking into his eyes. There is a profound exhaustion which is visible in Lumi’s eyes. Sweat glistens across his form.

“Don’t pull,” Khimi advises anxiously, “Just…lie down,” he adds, leaning Lumi forward from the wall and lays him gingerly onto the cobbles. “I’ll keep pressure.”

“I can heal myself,” Lumi replies. “I just don–” he sucks his teeth the moment Khimi presses his hand against the wound.

“Don’t pass out,” Khimi whispers. “I– I saw you with that vulpo…you held your own. I’m r-really proud of you.”

Lumi stammers for words, then presses his finger against the gushing wound. Khimi lays him back down. He winces, “She wasn’t that hard to deal with,” he manages to say, nearly laughing.

“Save your strength…if you can’t heal yourself, I’ll go fetch a chirurgeon,” Khimi insists, pulling the waist scarf off of his hip. He wraps it around the blade, forcing the silk cloth against the wound. “Do you need me to get someone? A healer? Someone from the shrine?” He asks in a whisper while he begins to realize the extensiveness of the wound.

“We can’t make a scene, remember?” Lumi replies, wincing again once Khimi pushes the silk against the wound.

Khimi places his arms beneath Lumi’s legs, “I can carry you back to the estate. We can get someone to tend to your wo–”

“Carry me across all of Rhaz?” Lumi interrupts with a pained look on his face. Beads of sweat drip across his brow. “Middle of the day, Khi–” he pauses, buckling over in pain.

Khimi clicks his tongue, brushing Lumi’s hair from his eyes. “Can’t you just…do whatever Rashid told you to do?”

Lumi narrows his eyes at Khimi, “You try clearing your mind with a dagger in your gut,” he replies hastily.

“Well, if you’re not going to take this seriously,” Khimi sighs, placing his arms under Lumi’s legs. “Then I’ll just have to carry you across Rhaz in broad daylight,” he adds, groaning. He lifts Lumi from the floor.

“Can you..just give me a moment?” Lumi begs, “It hurts even worse now.”

Fear fills Khimi, hearing Lumi’s insistence. He lowers him back to the floor, “Here…let’s try this,” he says, placing his hands over Lumi’s eyes.

“Take it out…please,” Lumi pleads, giving Khimi a small nod. “It’ll be fine.”

“Lumi…this is a horrible idea. Let’s just find someone who can help just in case,” Khimi says, holding the waist scarf against the wound again. Blood blooms through the yellow silk.

Lumi huffs loudly and grabs the hilt, “No,” he replies stubbornly, yanking the bloody dagger from his abdomen.

The dagger chimes against the stone floor while Khimi presses the waist scarf more vigorously against the wound. “You stubborn fool!” He growls angrily. “You stupid, foolish lion!” he adds, blood soaks through the yellow silk and spreads along its outer edges. “Fucking Hells, Lumi!

“It already feels better,” Lumi grunts, placing his hand over the wound. “Now I just need to clear my mind.”

“Probably need to hurry…this is…an amount of blood,” Khimi whispers, biting his knuckle.

Lumi places his hand on top of Khimi’s, a warm feeling radiates over the wound. “I think it’s worki–”

Khimi glances up from the wound at Lumi’s face, the warmth radiating from Lumi’s hand fades. “Lumi? Lumi!” He shouts, shaking him vigorously.

Khimi removes the waist scarf from the wound, only a small opening remains after he clears the blood. In a panic, he looks over Lumi, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him furiously several times. You stupid lion, he thinks while he wraps the lengthy yellow silk scarf around Lumi’s abdomen, tying a crude knot. Scooping Lumi from the floor, the full weight of the limp boy in his arms seems a heavy burden.

Hells!” He shouts, rushing to the entrance of the property.

The large gate leaving Omar’s estate sits closed in front of him. He approaches and shoulders against it, giving it a hearty push, unable to move the gate with his strength. He kicks the iron bar that crosses the gate, attempting to heave it from its position. A large shackle and lock binds the bar in place. An audible groan leaves his lips while he moves away from the gate. Enan…I need your gifts. Now! He closes his eyes, channeling the borrowed power within him. From a crouched position, he peers through the cracks of the doorway to the open street. An unnatural heat surges from around him, he lifts Lumi higher against his body in preparation. A thunderous boom emanates from the area, flames surge around him. Instantly, he finds himself on the streets just past the gateway. The area he had just teleported from is aflame, the cobbles are charred. Splinters lie in the street from the badly damaged gate. Several passersby look into the sky while they look for the source of the thunderous sound. Khimi makes haste towards the estate, catching curious and angry glances while he trots through the city. People stop and stare, some gawking at him. He runs past with Lumi swaying in his arms. Should I go back home…or bring him to the acolytes?

Khimi pauses, looking down at Lumi once again. Khimi’s heart pounds in his chest, his breath labored from running. The gash on his abdomen still drips blood steadily over his clothing, but he forgets his own pain. To the acolytes, then. He turns sharply, heading to the northern district of the city, and crosses through the back alleys in order to avoid as much attention as possible. Arriving near the shrine, Khimi looks up the stairwell at the lush greenery and the swaying palms. The silk scarf around Lumi, now saturated, does nothing to stop the blood from dripping. She must have..hit an organ. Khimi dashes across the street from the alley, taking the stairs to the shrine two at a time. Lumi’s limp arms dangle, the golden anklets clink together with each step. He passes under the raining archway, calling out for a healer. His words go unanswered. Rushing along the path, he nearly stumbles over the short stairs. In an area which seems like an amphitheater, he pauses. A darker-skinned elven woman runs to him from a distance, a worried look in her eyes.

Lumi?!” She calls out while she runs down the path. “What happened?” She asks, and she begins to look him over.

Khimi pauses, carefully gauging the woman’s expression while she investigates the wound. “There was an accident…”

“Accident?” She asks quickly. She gives Khimi a knowing look. “He’s been slashed and stabbed…this is no accident!”

“Can you help him?” Khimi whispers, attempting to maintain his composure.

She brushes her hair from her face, “Lay him on the stone steps over there. I’ll look over his wounds.”

Khimi places him tenderly, slowly onto the stone step. “He…tried to heal himself. Then he just lost consciousness.”

“It could just be exhaustion, but either way, these wounds will need healing. It shouldn’t be too difficult a task,” she says quickly, removing the bloodied scarf from around his abdomen. “He managed to nearly mend this one…but just to be su—”

“Is he going to be alright?” Khimi interrupts, leaning over the woman’s shoulder.

She sighs loudly, “He’s still breathing. It could just be exhaustion, but to be sure, I’ll close these wounds. The stab wound…likely nicked something that a more capable cleric should look over.”

“Help him,” Khimi murmurs before kneeling beside him. “This was—”

“Please give me space, he’ll be fine.”

Khimi exhales loudly, then sits down with a thud on the stone stairs. “Th-that’s great news. I thought with all the blood that I might have been too late.”

“You’d be surprised by the amount of blood a body can lose,” she says. A radiant glow extends from her hands, and she moves them slowly across the large slash in Lumi’s side. A faint blue light glows from the open flesh, stitching it back together neatly.

“I’m always…taken aback by that,” Khimi whispers, giving the woman a nod. “I’ve seldom had the chance to witness a healer perform their work.”

She blushes, shaking her head, while she continues humbly, “I’m nothing more than a mere acolyte. Our order has plenty of wonderful healers.”

“Might I ask the name of my partn— of Lumi’s savior?” He asks, stumbling over his words.

She glances up from her work. “You’re Khimi Zeybek,” she begins with a puzzled expression. “Cecilia…of Loria.”

Khimi crosses his arms, “Well, Cecilia…you have my thanks…and Lumi’s, whenever he awakens.”

“He just needs time to recover. Healing under duress can take quite a toll. I’d advise him to rest for now,” she says, inspecting the stab wound and places her palm over it, whispering an incantation.

“I’m sure he’d love to spend as much time in bed as he can afford,” Khimi says softly, brushing Lumi’s blond hair to the side. “He looks so peaceful.”

She scoffs, “I think we have different views of what peaceful looks like,” she mutters. “Is he in some kind of trouble? Do I need to alert Saint Nina?”

“No, no trouble. There was just a bit of a scuffle. No need to involve her,” he replies, putting his arms under Lumi’s legs. “Can I take him?”

“He can rest here,” she offers. “I’d prefer him to be within walking distance should something happen.”

Khimi begins to lift Lumi from the stairs. “I promise I will send for you should the need arise. As long as he’s stable, I need him within eyesight for a while.”

Cecilia raises an eyebrow, “You are aware of what happens to beastkin when they pass?” She asks. “Lumi may seem fine, but should he take a turn for the worse…”

“What do you mean?” Khimi asks quietly, pulling Lumi closer to his chest.

“If you don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t be the one to tell you,” she whispers, sitting on the stone stairs.

A long awkward silence follows, and Khimi contemplates his words carefully. “I need to know…what you mean.”

Cecilia sighs, straightening her chiton. “Aslan, among all other beastkin share a different afterlife than that of you and I. Surely you were aware?”

“I know of Elysium, but I’ve never been well versed in the afterlife,” Khimi says, pausing while he adjusts Lumi.

“Perhaps…you should have a seat,” she offers, motioning towards the many empty seats in the amphitheater.

Khimi lowers Lumi back over the stone stairs, brushing his blonde hair from his eyes. “What happens to beastkin?” He asks, keeping his eyes focused on the Lumi’s small form.

“Their souls yearn to return to the beast plane. It is there that they are reborn as their animalistic half…if you’re one to think much into the afterlife, it’s a heavy thing to hear,” she says, placing a hand on the step towards Khimi.

His brow wrinkles while looks at Lumi. “So…is this why people keep their distance from beastkin?” He asks, an upset of emotions surges within him.

She glances at Khimi then to Lumi, “I’ve never believed that should stop anyone from loving who they love…”

“But, our souls are destined for different afterlives, then?” He asks, a harshness in his voice. “I’m not upset with you…it’s just…cruel.”

“I’m sorry, but yes…humans tend to either find their souls in Elysium or make their way into the Hells. I’m so sorry, Khimi. I-I didn’t mean to dro—“

“It’s fine,” Khimi snaps. “We’ll figure it out.”

A lengthy pause follows, Khimi stares at Lumi with a softness in his eyes.

Cecilia mutters an apology beneath her breath, turning away from Khimi. “I’m truly sorry…I just figured you’d known.”

“Is this…common knowledge? Is there some kind of…work around? Something that the Saints know?” He asks, dumbfounded.

Cecilia coughs quietly. “What…like making a soul go somewhere else?”

“Is it possible? I mean, if humans can go to either Elysium or the Hells…” he whispers, his voice trails.

“I’m not an expert on the subject…but I can research for you. Shall I…walk you back home? I can at least make sure Lumi makes it home safely.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Khimi responds, feigning a smile.

“You sure? I don’t mind…I feel like I should have just kept my mouth shut,” Cecilia whispers meekly. “I’m just worried about his safety!”

Khimi jostles Lumi in his arms again, “I promise I’ll keep him safe,” Khimi replies and turns toward her. “And it was better that I knew…I’ll be sure to handle things differently now.”

“I don’t think he’s one to be coddled, Khimi.” Cecilia says, smiling softly, while Khimi moves Lumi in his arms.

“I’m painfully aware of Lumi’s nature,” he groans, then looks at Lumi in his arms. “I owe you a debt, Cecilia…should you wish it, come to the estate. I’ll see what we can offer.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Though I’ll just be pleased to know he’s happy in your care,” she whispers, folding her hands in her lap.

“He means…more to me than even I knew,” Khimi whispers.

 Khimi walks back into the city, turning briefly, offering Cecilia a bow of gratitude. She offers a smile in response and a cheerful wave. Lumi…did you know? Did anyone ever tell you? Will you still love me if we can’t be together? The uncontrollable thoughts run through his mind. Feelings of anguish and loss fill him. His concern over the incident with Omar is quickly shunted to the back of his mind, deeper and darker thoughts take their place. I’ll tell him when he’s awake…then he can decide himself.

Khimi walks under the dripping archway before descending the stairs back into the streets of Rhaz. The sun slowly begins to descend beyond the walls of the city. Khimi stands with Lumi in his arms. Men and women stop and stare at him. He stands there, looking up at the setting sun,with the barely clothed youth in his arms. He does not care about what others think about him, he just wants to be with Lumi behind the walls of the estate. One foot after the next, he forces himself to the estate, his mind muddled and conflicted.