Chapter III

Curious Friends

Lumi’s eyes pop open. The midday sun’s rays pierce through the cracks in the curtains. He pulls the sheets against himself, standing in his nakedness to look about the room. The open rucksack and missing clothes tells Lumi all he needed to know about Khimi’s whereabouts. The bag contains a few bits of clothing for each of them, though for the most part Lumi had always worn the same outfits. He digs through the rucksack and drops the itchy sheets onto the floor, rummaging through, trying to find something to wear that didn’t stand out. Each article he jerks from the overstuffed bag seems more and more revealing. He grimaces, knowing Ennui would poke fun at him, or Khimi would be embarrassed. 

He shrugs to himself and anxiously rolls the golden band on his arm. There had never been a time that he was not comfortable with his body. Yet he finds himself suffering from the judgmental gaze of his peers. He thinks back on Khimi’s words since they met, words of kindness most likely to make him feel better. Khimi always had a way of making him feel attractive regardless of what he was wearing. The heavy black loincloth from last night lay strewn across the wooden floor, the golden anklets beside them. Though Hasim had told him the outfit was for fighters, there were others who said it was a concubine’s cloth. There must have been over a dozen times he had worn the outfit in secret, staring at his reflection and admiring how the fabric clung to his form.

    Sitting beside the cloth, he pulls the thigh length stockings up his leg, the trimmed rim woven with threads of gold. The fabric tightens around the edges, biting at his skin to keep them from sliding down. Carefully working the chestwrap in place, he clasps it with a golden ring which sits snug against his skin. The loincloth would stay on by a heavy but thick length of string which Lumi knots against his hip. Between the front and rear flap is a bit of cloth which hugs his body snugly, holding everything in place.

 With his decision made, Lumi finishes dressing. He judges his appearance in the small and rusted mirror near the door. With a tug at his feathery hair, he appreciates the outfit once again, taking a moment to rearrange things. After tidying up the bed and the assortment of items strewn about the room, he rushes to the door, taking one final look over their things before grabbing his travel cloak and hurrying into the inn. From the end of the hallway, a young hazel-haired girl, roughly the same age as himself, approaches.

The girl in a cotton smock stops abruptly before Lumi, “Hey! Hold up!”

Lumi looks shocked, pulling the hood off from his cloak, “H-Hello?”

“I was told to keep an eye out for when you finally came out of the room,” she mutters and shoves her hands into the smock.

Lumi looks shocked, “What for?” He asks, his tail shaking in curiosity.

“The man you’re staying with. He said to let you know that he’d pay for whatever you ate or drank.”

Lumi scoffs, “Plans to keep me in, does he?” He asks the girl.

She pushes back her hair revealing her pointed ears, “M-Maybe,” she stutters looking confused. “That was all he told me, he gave me a few coins to cover your expenses.”

Lumi purses his lips, then leans forward, “How much did he give you?” He asks, his hands on his hips. “I can probably eat everything you’ve got,” he says with a flash of his fangs. “I’m starving!”

“Not that much,” she adds with a laugh. “Enough for a few meals and some drinks, certainly.”

“I wanted to see the town…but he didn’t leave me any coin,” he groans. “Do you think I could take some from what he left you?”

She lets out an audible Hmmm, “I don’t see how it would hurt, but my parents would probably prefer I keep your spending here.”

Lumi’s ears point, “Your parents own the inn?”

“Yep!” She exclaims, “But anywa–”

“Do you wanna show me around the city?”

Her cheeks brighten, “Maybe another time if tha–”

Please!” Lumi pleads, “Khimi left me alone, and I don’t know anything about this place!” He claps his hands together, bowing his head slightly. “It would mean a lot!”

She laughs in response, “Iris is leaving soon, so I can’t be gone too long. If you’re hungry, we can just go to the mark–”

“Alright!” Lumi interrupts with excitement. “I’m starved.” 

She pulls her hand from her smock, extending it to him, “Call me Cleo!”

“Lumi,” he smiles, taking her hand in greeting.

She shakes his hand enthusiastically, “You said the man you’re with, his name, is Khimi?” She asks curiously.

He nods enthusiastically, his tail rattling behind him. “Yeah, he’s my…friend.” He says, wanting to say lover, paramour, or anything that hints at his affection.

She brushes the front of her smock, taking a small pouch of coins from her pocket. “Friend is a funny way of putting it.”

“W-What do you mean?” Lumi asks with a bashful look.

She walks towards the door, pushing it open, letting the sun burst through, “My parents were talking about the way you two were together last night…they said you were inseparable.”

Lumi covers his face, “I don’t think Khimi really likes me to talk about that kind of stuff.”

Cleo takes a small green kerchief from her pocket and ties her hair up, “You two are sharing a room with a single bed. I think…my parents were concerned when they saw a beastkin and a human sleeping together in their inn.”

“I feel for your parents. But what Khimi and I do is none of their concern.”

Cleo laughs, “Don’t worry about it, these kinds of things happen. It is surprising, though. To see a human and a beastkin together…and he must be twice your age.”

Lumi thinks on her words, following her in silence, “Age doesn’t bother me,” he begins, still deep in his thoughts. “If Khimi was older, I would still love him. AND I know people sometimes think Khimi only likes me because of some misguided whim…or preference, but that’s not it at all. People don’t understand what we have.” 

“Whatever makes you happy, I suppose,” Cleo says, looking at him with a cheeky smile, she rubs her hand over her dark and freckled cheek. “I see so many travelers here. But I never see beastkin and humans together…and when we do. It’s not like you two.”

Lumi smirks, “We’re different. That’s all. We’ve already been through so much toget—“

“That’s sweet and all, but what do you want to eat? The market isn’t far from here,” she interrupts with a glance into the distance.

Lumi wrings his hands excitedly while he pulls his cowl over his head. The scent from the stalls in the distance brings smells of the freshly prepared food. Lumi’s nose wrinkles, he tilts his head back, his tail swiping against the fabric of his cloak behind him. “Sweets…fish…grilled meat.”

Cleo suppresses a laugh, “You’re makin’ me think you were starved.”

“I woke up with an appetite,” he says, placing his hand over his bare stomach. “Khimi starves me.”

The marketplace is crowded with travelers, and Lumi tries his best to pick out where they were from based on the various designs and distinct patterns of their clothing. Khimi had taught him how many Sidians would wear shades of white and gold, Rhazians preferred bright patterned clothing, and Portatians enjoyed their plain linens. Yet, he had never mentioned how the people of Betset dressed. To Lumi, everything seems to mesh and blend together. They walk through the stalls, Cleo beside him, a curious smirk on her lips.

“You must not get out often,” she whispers softly beside him.

Lumi rubs his forehead, “It’s a lot to take in. When my friend, well, she’s a devilkin. And I think she’s my friend, but she might not be. But anyway, I think you’d like he— anyway, when she took me into the city I felt so lost…there is so much to see and do,” he chirps, his words almost running together.

Cleo laughs, “Well, Betset is hardly Rhaz or Sidi. It’s certainly not small like Wasse or any of the other desert towns, but it’s still smaller than Porat…likely smaller even than the port of Sidi.”

He grabs his ears, “That’s too much information…Khimi just told me Sidi and Rhaz were the biggest of the Desert Cities!”

A beastkin merchant with rounded ears and a curiously bushy tail calls to them while they pass his stall, holding out sticks with honey glazed dough, freshly fried. Cleo raises her nose, sniffing the air around the sweet pastry, before offering the man a few pieces of copper for two skewers. Lumi had not experienced many other types of beastkin in the past, and wonders which type of beast the man is kin. His curious stare catches Cleo’s eye.

“He’s a lottore,” she says once they pass the man’s stall.

Lumi tilts his head inquisitively, “Lo-to-re?”

“Close enough,” she laughs and peels off one of the fried dough balls. “They’re related to raccoons.”

Lumi’s expression lights up, “Oh, that’s why he had the banded marks on his face?” He asks, dragging his fingers under his eyes, mimicking the lines. “That’s…really neat!”

“Not all of them do, but many have them,” she whispers while she munches on the hot dough. She jostles it from cheek to cheek with her mouth full. “There are a lot of them that came from Dolmas.”

Lumi tests the dough with his fangs. Content, he bites into the dough, scalding grease burning his tongue. He groans and looks at the smiling Cleo, “Why’d they all come from Dolmas?”

“I’m not really sure myself. But my parents said it had something to do with the politics of the Dolman Empire, and it didn’t affect us. They told me that I shouldn’t worry about it.”

Determined to consume the scalding snack, Lumi bites into it again, his eyes watering from the heat. “Are there a lot of other beastkin in Betset?”

Cleo pulls another dough ball off the skewer. She gives it a squeeze before bringing it to her lips. “Plenty.”

“Any aslan?”

Cleo turns to Lumi curiously, “Strange you would ask, you must be lost.”


“I mean…are you alone?” Cleo asks quietly.

Unsure of how to reply, Lumi places another scalding dough ball in his mouth and shakes his head.

“No? Well, there was a group of really rowdy aslan that came in a few months ago,” she mutters, while she digs through the small pouch of coins. “Hells, he actually left you with a decent amount of coin.”

Lumi smiles, “That’s Khimi!” He exclaims happily, while wondering how to prod Cleo for more information regarding the other aslan.

“But aslan are rarer, we sometimes have pantera[1] and Tigre[2]…and many felines. Lupo from Loria, then there are the Canis, so many lapine,” she continues, her words falling on deaf ears.

Lumi can not help but wonder, and finally his curiosity gets the better of him, “Did any of the aslan have a scar like me?” He asks, stepping in front of Cleo and pulling down his hood. He leans forward and runs his finger across his nasal bridge. “He’d have one scar over his nose. One line. Not two.”

Cleo snorts, “They all had scars.”

Lumi throws his hands up, “Were any of them blond like me?” He asks, tilting the top of his head towards her.

“Can’t say. I think I’d remember if there were any blond aslan. Most had brown and sandy hair. Brown or golden eyes…and a lot of scars.”

Lumi growls, wishing he had more answers. “How many were there?”

“About eight or so,” she says with a shrug. “I feel like I’m getting interrogated,” she chuckles. “They went to the arena a few times.”

Lumi’s annoyance flashes across his face before subsiding. “Sorry, I just wanted to know if it was them…”

“I’m sure you’ll see your family again.”

“I don’t want to,” Lumi whispers under his breath.

Cleo manages a weak smile while Lumi sighs. “How about we look for something else to eat,” she motions to the dozens of other stalls around the market. “Or I’m sure we can buy you some new clothes if you’d like.”

Lumi raises an eyebrow playfully, feeling a slight heaviness lifted. “You don’t like my clothes?”

“You stand out so much…I’m sure you noticed all the looks you’ve been getting.”

In fact, Lumi had only just begun to notice the stares and looks he was getting from the crowd. He turns to Cleo with a chipper grin, “See! They love my clothes.”

She scoffs, “Sure. It isn’t that they’re trying to catch a glimpse of what’s beneath that flap over your little lion bits.”

“Lion bits?!” Lumi blushes, “I’ll have you know, this ‘flap’ is part of a traditional outfit worn by trained temple fighters. It’s supposed to help you focus your energy during combat and meditation,” he says, repeating Hasim’s ridiculous lies.

Cleo bursts out laughing, “S-So you’re telling me,” she pauses between fits, “Your little butt flap is basically magical.”

Lumi’s face screws up, “It’s true! I promise, a friend told me! I know how it sounds!”


“Listen,” he begins calmly, “Gold…is supposed to help you channel your inner energies. It is conductive…conducive or something…and the cloth is woven with gold.”

“You’ll have to prove this to me somehow,” she says, shaking her head.

“I can’t!”

Cleo leans forward and sighs. “Lumi, that outfit…I’ve seen the people who wear it. It often prostitutes from Dolmas. You know…like whores.”

Lumi’s cheeks grow ever more crimson, and he pulls the cloak over his shoulders. “I-I know,” he confesses quietly. “Well…it may have been mentioned before.”

“Anyway, let’s find something else for you to wear.”

Cleo turns her attention to the other stalls, the scent of roasting pork wafts towards them. Long strips of meat folded over itself and shoved onto wooden skewers, spinning above a fire. The merchant in a colorful shift works the crank as he calls to passersby. Lumi watches the girl haggle with the plump merchant, frowning as she turns back with a broad leaf filled with shredded meat. She puts the pouch of coins back inside of her smock, offering Lumi the steaming meat.

Lumi digs his fingers into the pile of meat, pulling out a lengthy string of pork. Turmeric, cumin, and paprika. He sniffs at the meat before dropping it over his tongue.Immediately, a smile bursts across his lips. The rich spices and flavors of the Desert Cities showing through the roasted meat.

“It’s good!” He exclaims to Cleo.

Cleo frowns, “It was expensive, though.”

“You should try some!”

“It’s not my coin,” she stammers, thumbing the coin purse in her pocket.

Lumi narrows his eyes, “Didn’t stop you from eating the bread thing.”

“That was a few cop—“

Her words are cut short, Lumi smears a length of the pork against her lips. She grabs at it while Lumi forces it into her mouth. “It’s really, really good isn’t it? Mmmm!

“You’re horrible,” she laughs aloud. “But it is good.”

“Anyway, anything to see in Betset? Other than all this food?”

Cleo purses her lips in thought, “There is always the arena. It has a huge crowd at night!”

“Oh…Khimi mentioned something about it. Is it violent?”

“Well, there are usually people who aid the injured during matches, but sometimes they have beasts.”

“Beasts? Surely the beastkin don’t enjoy that…”

Cleo picks at the meat from the leaf in Lumi’s hand, “I heard there is supposedly a lion that has been making rotation in the arena.”

“What?” Lumi says in disbelief.

Cleo looks anxious as she pulls apart the strip of meat with her fingers, “They caught a lion in the wheat fields.”

“They’re going to make them fight a lion?”

“Yeah, but I’m sure he’ll be okay…he’s a lion, after all.”

Lumi puffs his cheeks, “Where is the arena?”

“Lumi…you’ll get in trouble. We can’t go there.”

Lumi shrugs, suddenly annoyed. “You don’t have to come, just tell me where it is.” He forces the leaf filled with meat into Cleo’s hands.

“It’s in the center of the city. Beneath the main hall…it’s hard to miss, there are signs everywhere.”

Lumi fakes a smile, “You can keep the rest of Khimi’s coin. Enjoy yourself, ok?”

Cleo looks down at her feet, “Don’t do anything stupid.” She mutters softly.

“I won’t!” Lumi replies and turns his back to Cleo with a reassuring smile.

With intense determination, he looks up at the hill before him.

Lumi & The Lion

Betset is a sprawling city, its winding streets and cobblestone alleys leading up to the central plateau where the heart of the city rests. Surrounded by tall buildings and bustling markets, a small lake shimmers in the sunlight, fed by natural freshwater aquifers. Lumi, determined to navigate the city on his own without asking for directions or guidance, squints at all the signs around him. Admittedly, reading had never been his strong suit —  even some children could probably read better than he could. It is something he felt embarrassed about and desperately tried to hide from Khimi. But when Khimi is not around, he would sneak away and practice his letters and handwriting, determined to improve. As he stands there now, struggling to decipher the curious script on the wooden sign before him, he can not help but wish he had spent more time learning at the temple.

After what feels like an eternity of staring at the sign, an elderly woman approaches Lumi. He can feel his face flushing with embarrassment while he begrudgingly asks for directions. With a newfound sense of direction, Lumi sets off towards the arena, offering the woman his heartfelt thanks. He navigates through the twisting streets and confusing signs, nearly an hour passes before he finally reaches the entrance to the arena. The area is teeming with guards and city officials, but Lumi is undeterred in his mission. He pulls up the hood of his cloak, determined to hide his identity. His heart races in anticipation. Sprinting past the looming entrance, he gracefully leaps down the stairwell, his body moving with fluid acrobatic skills. His bare feet hit hard on the sandstone floor, he stumbles slightly but quickly regains his footing. Shouts erupt behind him, but Lumi keeps running, his feet pounding against the stone. The sound of boots clattering down the stairs echoes in his ears.

But Lumi does not look back as he charges down the closest passageway, his golden anklets chiming together with each rushed step. His pace quickens, adrenaline pushes him forward, his heart beating faster and faster. Ignoring any outside noise or distractions, Lumi sprints onward until he finally comes to a stop in a quiet corner, far from the chaos behind him.

Nervous and lost, he pauses behind a sandstone pillar, his back pressed to the wall. In the far distance, the sound of men rushing through the hallways finally settles down. Lumi grabs at his chest, his heart pounding with his unease. With a heavy sigh, he slumps down the wall. What am I doing? He knows exactly what he is doing — He is going to free the lion.

The path twists and turns in sharp then rounded curves as Lumi walks through the sandstone halls. Murals cover the walls depicting curious beasts and scenes of battle. A massive horned figure with bullish features, his maul raised above his head, is painted on several walls. Lumi follows the path through the darkness, lost but still determined in his quest.

A loud roar echoes from a stairwell descending further beneath the city. Stealthy as he can be, Lumi makes for the stairs. He steps sideways and he hurries on the stairway, his footfalls pattering against the stone in his haste. The full length of the hallway comes into view, two guards at the end stand near a portcullis. The hallway remains dark except for a single brazier which illuminates the end of the hall.

    Another loud roar trumpets through the passage, sending a shiver along Lumi’s spine. He’s in pain, he thinks while he steps foot onto the final stair. In frustration, Lumi edges his way to the light, knowing he cannot evade the guard’s attention. A guard approaches, his scimitar withdrawn from its sheath.

“Please, just let me see the Lion!” Lumi pleads with all his might, his small hands raised high above his head in desperation.

The guard stands firm, shaking his head. “No can do, kid. You need to go back to your parents.”

Lumi persists, determination shining in his eyes. “But he’s hurt! I just want to make sure he’s okay.”

The second guard steps forward, placing a hand on the hilt of his scimitar in warning. “We don’t want to cause any harm,” he says sternly. “You need to leave.”

Undeterred, Lumi continues to plead with all his heart. “You can’t force him to fight, it’s not fair!” His voice is soft but filled with conviction.

The first guard sighs and sheaths his weapon. “Look, just go home. I don’t want to have to use force against a child.”

But Lumi has one last desperate idea. “I’ll take his place! Let me fight instead!”

The second guard chuckles at Lumi’s boldness. “Come on now, don’t be ridiculous. Just turn around and go home. We won’t bother you.”

Lumi can’t help but glance through the iron bars of the towering gate nearby, catching a glimpse of the massive lion inside. Instantly, overwhelming sadness washes over him as he sees his bestial counterpart lying against the stone wall. Its once proud mane is now matted and its ribs are visible beneath its shaggy brown fur. Ignoring the approaching guards behind him, Lumi calls out to the lion with all his might. “Please, get up! You have to get up!” Tears sting at his eyes as he pleads with the injured creature trapped inside the cruel cage.

As if by magick, the Lion’s emotions echo through Lumi’s being, a sensation that both intrigues and unsettles him. But it is not entirely foreign to him; in his youth, he had experienced something similar in the Dolman Jungle. A bond shared with beasts and beastkin, a deep connection between souls and their animalistic counterparts. The lion’s feelings wash through Lumi.


“No!” Lumi’s voice echoes through the door, filled with desperation and determination.


Lumi tugs at the iron bars, bracing his feet against the heavy door. “You don’t have to give up yet.”

Hands seize Lumi’s shoulders, pulling him away from the door with force. But he refuses to budge, holding on with all his might and unleashing a string of curses under his breath at his assailants.  

“Get out of here!” A guard bellows, their grip tightening on Lumi’s arms as they try to drag him away from the lion’s cell. 

The guard grips Lumi’s shoulder with a fierce determination, using all his strength to pry him away from the door. With a loud thud, Lumi’s body collides with the sandstone floor, his expression contorted in anger. His lips twist into a snarl, he refuses to give up on his mission to free the lion. But as he stares defiantly at the two guards before him, a glimmer of fear flickers in his eyes.

The first guard tightens his grip on his scimitar, the sharp blade pointed directly at Lumi. “You were warned, cat!” he bellows with a mix of anger and triumph.

Not to be outdone, the second guard unsheathes his own steel weapon, mirroring his companion’s stance. “We told you to leave this place!” he shouts in unison.

Though outnumbered and faced with deadly weapons, Lumi remains steadfast. The tension between them hangs thick in the air, each side ready to fight.

It had been months since real rage bubbled inside Lumi, and seeing the lion weak and starving drives Lumi to the brink of near madness. His hands tense, his claws press against his palms.

“You’ll be arrested and hung by the hands outside the gates if you raise weapons against us,” the first guard says.

Lumi’s mind is too full of rage to heed their words. His fangs gnash together as he dashes forward. The fighting style he had learned from Hasim is forceful and violent. Within seconds, Lumi is upon both of them. His open palm strikes the jaw of the first guard, his claws grabbing at his chin. Blood spills across the sandstone tile as the guard stumbles back against the wall, holding his bloody chin.

“You’ll hang for this!”

Lumi growls, “Let me take his place. I’ll be better sport than a starving lion!” He shouts through his clenched teeth.

The second guard raises his palm, motioning for Lumi to halt. “I can take your request…the lion doesn’t have many more games left anyw–”

“Games left?!” Lumi shouts. “How many times have you made him fight?”

WE,” the bloodied guard shouts, “Didn’t make him do ANYTHING!”

“The crowd loves a good fight,” the second guard says plainly, “The lion provided entertainment.”

Lumi pulls at his hair. His tail smashes against his leg. “This is savage! What is wrong with you people?!” He cries out in anguish.

“And what you just did wasn’t?” He asks, bringing his scimitar back up at the ready.

Lumi shakes his head in disbelief while he surveys the two men. The stories of people hunting lions and even killing them in self-defense were commonplace amongst the aslan. Cautionary tales, Lumi would say. But sport? Entertainment? His teeth are on edge, he coils like a viper, ready to bite anything that comes too close. A pang of anger fills him, his eyes shake, losing their focus.

“What do I need to do to prove myself? That I’ll take his spot?”

“You already did. You’ve obviously had training and…well I am sure the crowd would be interested in watching an aslan…no matter how small he is.”

“C-Can you let me in to see the lion?” Lumi pleads, trying to calm down.

The bloodied guard sheathes his scimitar. He pulls a ring of keys from his belt, “Have at it,” he says angrily, tossing the keys onto the floor in front of Lumi. “Just don’t cry when he bites your bloody head off.”

Lumi scrambles and scraps the keys from the floor. He tries them in quick succession, failing to open the door repeatedly. The lion’s head lifts slowly from the mud and hay mixture.


“You’re not going to die here,” Lumi cries through the bars. His eyes soften while he attempts to smile at the lion.

The guard approaches, “We didn’t say you could free him!” He shouts as he shoves his way in front of Lumi.

Lumi glances up at the guard’s scratched and bleeding chin. It is the first time he notices his age, likely about the same as Khimi. “I’m not,” he huffs. “I just need to see him. If you let me…I’ll fix your face.”

“F-Fix my face?” He scoffs, his hand rushing to his wounded chin. “You did this in the first place!”

Lumi raises his brow, “Let me pass…then I’ll heal you,” he says, his teeth grit together.

“Demands will get you nowhere,” the second guard sighs.

“I’m not demandin’ anything…he needs help.”

The lion begins to stand, his weak and malnourished form trembling as he does. He releases a loud roar, echoing throughout the labyrinth. Lumi turns to the guard before him with pleading eyes.



Lumi had grown sick of waiting. Patience has never been one of his finer qualities, especially when something he cares for is in jeopardy. The guard’s words are cut short as Lumi’s fist smashes into his throat, leaving him gasping for air. The sound of the second guard’s steel sliding from its sheath is enough for Lumi to understand that diplomacy and begging is no longer an option. He turns, rushing from the door to the man. The sword moves quicker, much quicker than Lumi expected. The blade slashes into his upper arm, just above the golden armband. He howls, but maintains his focus.

Lumi would never consider himself a strong fighter. Yet, he had often been praised at the temple for his speed and agility, his ability to adapt to situational changes, and the ferocity that he shows when put in danger. His hand surges forward, grasping the arm of the guard who had cut him. A scarlet fervor burns in his eyes. As he had done on the vessel, he whispers that strange incantation, dark energy courses through him. The guard gasps at Lumi, beating at his hand. Lumi releases him from his grip. The guard stumbles, falling to his knees. Like dark tendrils, the veins along his arms darken, the blood blackening.

“W-What did you do?” The winded guard shouts.

Lumi turns back. His tail slaps against his leg in aggravation. Unsure of weather to save the man or leave him dying on the ground. Lumi knows they are just doing their job, but is angered by their persistence.

“He’s dying! Help!” The guard shouts. “HELP!”

There is something Lumi knows for certain. This other man at least needed to be silent, at least for the time being. He wishes he had his spear, but he knows his fists would work just as well. The sound of the guard’s cry for help echoes across the corridors. Lumi approaches him, and the guard begins to draw his scimitar, only to have it forced back into its sheath by Lumi’s fluid movements. He stutters, stumbling while he attempts to flee. His boot catches an uneven tile, leaving him flat on his back as Lumi pouches on top of him. He raises his hands in defense, but is too late. Blow after blow lands across his face from Lumi’s balled fists. The assault continues until the man’s shouts finally stop.

“I-I…sorry,” Lumi breathes as he stands over the guard, blood dripping down his fists, his nails biting into his palm.

The other guard lies on the floor, his breath heavy and uneven, his dark and sinking eyes fixed on him. Lumi approaches him slowly, kneeling beside him.

“I’ll heal you…but you have to promise not to scream for help.”

The guard nods in response.

Lumi’s hand reaches out, a warmth radiating from his fingers. He presses them to the man’s head. The dark energy inside seems to flee from the man’s body at Lumi’s radiant touch.

“Your friend is still alive. He’s unconscious but breathing. I’ll heal him too,” Lumi mutters before he turns back to the other guard. He winces at the realization of what he has done.

The guard nods slowly, closing his eyes, his head lowers back against the tile. Lumi brings his fingers beneath his nostrils to check his breathing. Content the man is stable, he turns to the bloody guard. The man’s face looks patched with deep welts, his eye swollen shut. Lumi can not help but feel guilty for putting the man in such a state. He kneels behind him, bringing the man’s head into his lap as he whispers quietly.

“I’m sorry,” Lumi mutters. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

The guard’s lips move slowly. Unable to hear the man’s whispers, Lumi brings himself closer.

“They’ll…hang you for this…”

Lumi’s face screws up. He bends over the man’s face. “Y’know, you could be grateful. I could have left you dying on the floor.”

“This is your fault…”

Lumi drops his head back onto the stone floor. “Well…you won’t die now at least,” he whispers, allowing the warmth to fade from his fingertips.

Several moments later, after struggling to find the key, the gate to the lion’s prison opens with a loud creak, the iron hinges scream from years of neglect. Lumi rushes to the lion’s side, shoving his face into the thick tufts of the creature’s majestic mane. The room is dark and dank, no light pierces through the darkness. The room smells of refuse and rot. Lumi’s bare feet sink into the mud while he leans his body against the lion in an embrace.

“You’ll be ok,” Lumi whispers while he places his hands under the lion’s chin. “I don’t have much left in me…but I’ll do my best.”

A sense of gratitude fills Lumidespite the creature’s lack of communication.

“Maybe we can find you something to eat,” he whispers. Radiant light floods through the darkness from his hands. “Can you tell me your name?”


Lumi manages a smile, “Ebo is a handsome name. Just like you! Ebo, do you feel any better?” He asks, holding his hands against the lion’s chin.

Though Ebo does not respond, the color in his fur lightens, the wounds across his body gradually close. The scent of rot that lingers on the lion fades with Lumi’s healing touch. Ebo rises from the dirt and mud to turn towards the door. The light from Lumi’s hand vanishes as he turns to look.

“Ebo, you’re still too weak. You need to eat and rest,” Lumi whispers.


Lumi stands, placing himself in front of Ebo. He holds his hands up, “It’s okay. I’ll face up to what I’ve done!”


Lumi frowns, “Ebo, please rest.” He turns back to the door. The sound of footsteps approaching becomes more clear. Lumi pleads again for Ebo to rest.

Ebo drops back onto the floor with an exhaustive thud, his eyes trained on the opening. The lion releases a bellowing roar which runs through the enclosed space. Lumi covers his ears, his tail rattles at the noise.

After a moment, whispers are heard through the hallway and Lumi stands before the lion. A colorful curved slipper is the first thing Lumi sees before a tall pantera skates into the room. His opulent yellow eyes reflect the tiny bit of light in the room. A tattered kaftan of a dozen colors adorns his thin frame, covering his legs.

With a quick grin and a flick of his incredibly thick tail, the pantera raises his hand in greeting. “We mean you no harm,” he purrs with a cool, melodious voice and a smile which does not quite touch his eyes.

Lumi wipes away the flakes of dried mud from his body, “Why would you keep him here?”

“It’s all business,” the pantera replies. “Strictly transactional. The lion was in the fields. Threat to the town. Instead of killin’ ‘em. Why not have ‘em put on a show?” He asks as he uses overly expressive gestures.

“Bu-But you’re just like us…what if it was a panther?”

The pantera smiles a cruel smile, “Humans kill humans, cub. Don’t see them crying over everyone that gets the axe.”

“That’s different…”

“Same thing, cub.” The pantera leans against the stone frame of the door. “But you seemed to make a mess of some of my guards. Certainly that’s some sort of punishment. I’m not one for public executions…but this town loves its fights.”

“I healed them though…”

He chuckles and leans in, “At the end of the day. You broke into a private establishment, attacked city officials, and put lives in jeopardy by tryin’ to free a lion. Sounds like a criminal to me.”

Lumi growls, “What’s criminal, is forcing him to fight…couldn’t you have released him?”

The pantera clicks his tongue, his sharp yellow eyes glint in the darkness. “We won’t release him, but you can keep him alive by taking his place. The guard already told me you volunteered.”

Lumi nods in his eagerness, “I did, but…you should release him. He’s not in a good way.”

“Then I’ll put him in a better cage and get him something to eat…but only if you promise to take his place.”

Lumi nods slowly, gauging the pantera’s wicked expression.

“So we got ourselves a deal then,” he says while he claps his hands together. “You can stay here with the lion until it’s time. We’ll come get you.”

The pantera edges to the gate, gently closing it behind him. Yellow eyes peer through the iron bars at Lumi, fiendish things that lack little expression.

“Though I don’t care for the sight of blood…the crowd loves it. Be sure to give them a show…after all, everyone in the arena is a criminal,” he says with a hint of mirth.

The door bangs shut, the metallic frame shaking violently. Lumi’s tail flicks from side to side while he turns back to the lion in the darkness.

“Khimi is going to kill me…” Lumi groans, his voice trailing.


“Oh, you wanna hear about Khimi?” He asks and falls against the massive lion.

The lion snorts then lays his head against the mud and hay mixture, listening to Lumi drone for hours about his lover.

[1] Beastkin with the traits of panthers.

[2] Beastkin with the traits of tigers.