Chapter IX

Open Waters

The ship glides effortlessly through the crystal clear waters of the Emerald Coast, propelled by favorable winds that fill its sails. Khimi takes a moment to collect himself, sitting on the edge of the built-in bed in his cabin. Behind him, Lumi lays sprawled out on his side, naked and snoring softly. The warm sun streams through a beautifully painted window, casting vibrant colors across Lumi’s small form. The boy stirs slightly, Khimi smiles and gently pulls the sheet over his lover’s bare body before getting up and stretching his stiff muscles. It had been a few sleepless nights for both of them.

He quickly buttons up his crisp linen shirt and ties the sash snugly around his waist before making his way through the narrow hallway leading to the deck. Despite being surrounded by endless blue waters, the sounds of countless seagulls can be heard overhead, their shrill caws filling the air. Khimi steps out onto the deck and makes his way to the bow of the ship, surprised by the lack of crew members present. Leaning against the railing with his elbows, he gazes out at the vast expanse of sea in front of him.

A playful porpoise swims alongside the ship, occasionally jumping out of the water as if  trying to get Khimi’s attention. He can not help but smile at the sight, reminded of Lumi’s carefree nature. Turning his gaze upwards, he basks in the warm rays of sunlight that filter through fluffy clouds scattered across the pristine blue sky.

Khimi straightens his back, but his hands shake on the railing. He has always struggled with these types of feelings, never quite fitting in or feeling truly content. Now that he finally has something to be happy about, it feels wrong and out of place. Doubts flood his mind – is Lumi just using him? What do people really think of Ziad’s curious son? What must people think of his unconventional tastes and desires? He tries to push these thoughts away, seeking solace in the crashing waves below. But even while he tells himself that Lumi loves him, doubts linger and gnaw at his mind. Who cares what others think? Khimi growls to himself, clenching his fists so tightly that his knuckles turn white. Yet deep down, he is unable to shake off the unease and insecurity that had burrowed into his heart. People can think what they will of me…

“Thinking about jumping, are we?” Ennui’s voice cuts through the air like a sharp tease. Her signature sarcasm is evident in every word. “It’s been a while since you’ve worn that expression. You’re more useful to me being alive, so I’d ask that you don’t make me swim.”

“Ennui…how long have you been there?” he asks, his shoulders sagging in defeat.

“Long enough,” Ennui replies, shrugging nonchalantly. “I saw you looking pained, like you wanted to squeeze your melon off.”

Khimi lets out a deep sigh before turning back towards the railing, his gaze scanning over the vast expanse of ocean ahead. “Ennui, I know we often joke and tease each other, but I’d like your honest opinion on something,” he says quietly.

Ennui steps closer to him, leaning against the railing and sweeping her hair out of her eyes with a dramatic flourish. “Khimi, you know I’ll always be honest with you,” she responds, meeting his gaze with a determined look. “If there’s anything I can do to ease your mind…I’ll try my best.”

With a roll of his neck, Khimi continues. “If Ziad is in the Golden Isles, I plan on telling him about Lumi,” he reveals, his words trailing off, struggling to find the right way to phrase it.

“And what of it?” Ennui prompts, her eyebrows raised expectantly.

“I don’t know if I should –”

“Of course you should,” Ennui interrupts firmly. “Khimi, I may not be the wisest person around and I know I tend to contradict myself quite often, but even I can see how much happier you’ve become since Lumi came into your life. And trust me, your retainers have noticed it too. You smile more, you laugh…Khimi, you don’t laugh.”

Khimi bows his head, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “He does,” he admits softly. “Rashid even said that Lumi is good for me, but then he also mentioned that maybe he’s too immature. I’ve been struggling with whether or not to–”

“Whatever you’ve decided,” Ennui interrupts, her face wrinkling in anger. “Better be that you’re staying with Lumi,” she grits her teeth. “I am not one to advocate for others, but he loves you…more than I thought it was possible to love someone. It’s PAINFUL to watch him look at you. Disgusting even.”

A smile crosses Khimi’s lips, unable to hide his happiness. “Yeah, I guess…I do get that feeling from him as well. I admit, Ennui, that I find myself lost when I watch him.”

“See? Disgusting,” Ennui says, smiling in response. “Now, what’s the issue?!”

Khimi becomes quiet, his eyes return to the depths. “What do people think of me, Ennui? Answer me honestly.”

Ennui smirks, “What do you want me to tell you?” She asks with a shrug.

“The truth.”

Very well,” Ennui replies, “I’ve heard people speak of you and your paramour. Though none within your own employ have raised a question about you. Typically, these words are heard in taverns and on the streets. When the conversation is solely about you, people seem to hold you in high regard.”

“And when the conversation is about Lumi and I together?” Khimi asks, his brow pinches with concern.

Ennui smirks again, “Well,” she begins, pursing her lips. “People have different takes on the situation, though most seem to think your fondness for Lumi is derived from some fetish for beastkin. I’ve heard…in a tavern that you have a penchant for boys. While most don’t seem to have any thoughts. I’ve heard a few beastkin speak highly of your relationship, praying that it’ll work out well for you both.”

Khimi groans, “Of course…people would think that of us”

“Screw them!” Ennui shouts, nodding her head at Khimi. “Only the people who truly care for you matter. If the public or Ziad doesn’t approve…oh well!”

“Oh well?” Khimi whispers, pulling his bangs down over his eyes.

“Quit sulking. So what if daddy Ziad hates you?” Ennui scoffs. “What’s he going to do? Disown his only heir?”

“Easy for you to sa–”

“Do you seek your father’s approval so badly,” Ennui begins, interrupting Khimi. She pushes herself against him on the rails. “So badly! That you’d be willing to throw away the only thing that I’ve known to make you happy?”

“No! Not at all, I wasn’t sugge–”

“Then stop,” Ennui laughs, “You’re beyond this, Khimi. Just accept that the little lion makes you happy and move on. If papa Ziad disinherits you…move on. You and Lumi should leave, run away together…you can make your own merchant company, you’re smart. If anyone can make something of themselves, it’s you.”

“Never thought I’d hear that from you,” Khimi says, tossing his hair from his face. “I just…constantly have these fears. Fears that what I am doing is wrong. That I am shaming my family.”

“Ziad isn’t worth putting that much thought into,” Ennui replies, testing the tips of her horns before pulling her cowl up over her head. “I’ll never get why you desert dwellers are so obsessed with the Godsdamned sun.”

Khimi glances at Ennui, noting her flush expression. He contemplates if it is the sear from the sun or if she is blushing. “I’ll try to remind myself not to value Ziad’s opinion so much. If Lumi and I left…what would you do?”

Ennui blinks slowly, turning to Khimi. “You think I’d have difficulty finding work? In the Desert Cities…?” She manages, laughing loudly. “There isn’t a merchant prince who doesn’t want someone dead.”

“Back to murder for you, then?”

Ennui rolls her eyes, “I reckon if you decide to up and split, then that is my future. Who knows, maybe another merchant prince will want you dead,” her lips curl into a cruel smile.

“I have no intention of leaving my station. Though I’ve been thinking of traveling with Lumi once we return to Rhaz. It is, as you said, running the Cerulean Star is my birthright, and I have no intention of giving that up,” Khimi says, ignoring her comment.

Ennui taps her hands over the rails, “Who will you leave in charge in your absence?” She says, giving Khimi a curious glance.

“Rashid was my hope, but it seems he may be amiss after we return to Rhaz. Perhaps I can ask some older members to take up the mantle in my absence. There is also Mar, but I’d need him to move to Rhaz from Sidi.”

“I’ll do it,” Ennui says, slapping Khimi on the shoulder. “You don’t even have to ask!”

Khimi raises an eyebrow, “Right, I’d sooner burn it with my own hands.”

“Surely you jest! I am quite capable of managing day-to-day operations.”

“No,” Khimi laughs, shaking his head while nearly buckling over from his laughter. “We’d come back and Rhaz would be reduced to rubble.”

Ennui rolls her eyes, “Ye of little faith!”

“I would like you to keep an eye on the Estate. I trust you, Ennui. I don’t know who better to be my eyes in Rhaz,” he says, turning towards her.

Ennui purses her lips angrily, “You’re not going to ask me to go on this little trip with you and Lumi?”

“Are you upset?”

Ennui rolls her eyes, “Not in the least, if I have to hear you two humping again I thi–”

“We have a long journey back from the Golden Isles yet, Ennui. And many more adventures still,” he interrupts with a cheerful smile.

Bloody bastard.”

The two sit in quiet contemplation, their silence only broken by the occasional caw of the seagulls overhead. After a while, several men from the crew make their way onto the deck, breaking the tranquility.

Ennui suddenly turns to Khimi and begins reminiscing, “Remember when you were a mercenary? We were hired to eliminate that group of deserters in the village south of Gomorrah.”

“I remember,” Khimi responds, his eyes taking on a far-off look as he recalls the events. “The area was nothing but waist high grass. Dasht, they called it – the open plains. By the time we arrived, you had already taken care of all the bandits.”

“Apparently, I let one live,” she says, averting her gaze from Khimi. “I saw their captain. On the night I told you about Omar in the stables. I recall his name…I even collected the bounty, though there was no head to turn in,” she says. “Jahan…”


“I killed him,” Ennui confesses, averting her gaze from Khimi. “In a tavern…left his body and all.”

“What about it?” Khimi inquires.

“I just wanted to share,” Ennui shrugs nonchalantly. “It always bothered me that Jahan somehow escaped. I left him with a nasty scar, but I was too proud to pursue him further.”

Khimi closes his eyes and lets out a deep breath, the sea breeze washes over them. “When we got to the village, I was amazed by what you had done. You managed to take down a whole company by yourself. How many were there? Twelve? Fourteen?”

“I think it was closer to twelve,” Ennui replies under her breath.

“And now that you’ve finally killed Jahan…do you feel any happier?” Khimi asks, studying her expression closely.

Ennui lets out a heavy sigh, resting her cheek on her arms while she leans against the railing. “He was annoying me. If only he had the sense not to speak to me…I probably would have forgotten about Jahan altogether.”

“How long did it take you to realize the man you killed was Jahan?” Khimi asks quietly.

“It wasn’t until almost a month later,” Ennui replies with a shrug. “As I was packing my things to move into the estate, I found a letter from our contractor, Cecil. You remember him?”

“Of course,” Khimi says with a small smile. “An interesting man, if I recall. He had a fondness for Dolman wine and young women.”

Ennui’s expression darkens, she continues, “I killed him too.”

Khimi’s eyebrows raise in surprise. “You killed a contractor?”

“Cecil Rao was a despicable man,” Ennui states plainly. “But that wasn’t why he died.”

“Then why?” Khimi presses.

“He annoyed me too.” Ennui’s voice is devoid of any emotion.

“I see…there has to be more to it.”

“Certainly,” Ennui agrees, her gaze still focused on the waves below.

Khimi leans over the rail, following Ennui’s gaze into the water. “Why are you confessing to these things…?”

Ennui pauses before answering, her voice tinged with uncertainty. “Because…it feels good?” she says, more like a question than a statement.

Khimi sighs and gives Ennui a small smile. “I thought it was something else,” he murmurs.

“If you think I would willingly turn myself in for…my actions, then you’re well mistaken,” Ennui scowls, her tone defensive.

“I thought you may have been telling me you were leaving us,” Khimi whispers, his expression turning serious.

“Oh.” Ennui sounds surprised. “No, I was just in a mood.”

Khimi chuckles and shakes his head. “I’d always wondered why Cecil went quiet. Glad to know I can forget about him.” He turns to Ennui, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “You’re right though, he was always a troublesome man. Jahan was a murderer at heart…you did the world a favor.”

“I’d like to think sometimes I keep the scales in balance,” Ennui laughs wryly to herself.

“Like the real Saint of Balance?” Khimi jokes with a gentle laugh.

“Just so,” Ennui replies with a smirk.

Khimi smiles before they turn their attention back towards the blue water. The porpoise following along the vessel no longer jumps playfully beside. Khimi places his hand on Ennui’s shoulder in an effort to comfort his friend. She quickly shrugs it off, giving him a knowing smile. They remain in silence, each unsure of what to say to one another.

“Anyway,” Ennui finally breaks the quiet, leaning her back against the smooth wooden rails and stretching out her stiffened muscles. “I’ll tell you one more time. Whatever was plaguing you before, forget about it. It’s not worth worrying over,” she says firmly, pushing away from the rail and turning to face Khimi. As she walks backwards across the deck, her carefree demeanor returns. “Just forget it!” Her words hang in the air, a reminder to let go of any troubles or doubts that may have been weighing on Khimi’s mind.

Khimi nods and Ennui turns back towards the cabins. I’ll try my best to forget them. He turns back to the waters, wondering where their journey might begin. Perhaps we should go to the temple and seek the guidance of Saint Nina…certainly she may know something of souls. The vessel’s navigator carefully approaches the contemplative Khimi. He presses his fingers beneath his turban, straightening the cloth over his forehead.

Sair, the ship’s navigator, had been one of the men Rashid entrusted Khimi with in order to complete the journey to Betset. Most of Khimi’s travels during his mercenary years had been done over land and through caravans. Though he is comfortable on vessels and knows the workings of a ship, he had never captained one.

“My lord,” the navigator stammers nervously as he approaches Khimi, “we seem to be arriving ahead of schedule.” His hands tremble with anxiousness.

“Arx Mari?” Khimi scowls.

“It was requested that our vessel arrive in Arx Mari before heading to Palma, I hope you understand,” he says, giving a short bow.

Khimi tilts his head, “Who gave you that order?” Khimi demands before he grabs the navigator’s shoulder.


“Rashid?” Khimi asks, his brow furrowing. “Where is he now?”

The navigator shuffles his feet uncomfortably under Khimi’s intense stare. “Rashid himself, my lord. He asked me not to tell you…but my loyalty lies with the Cerulean Star.”

A muscle twitches in Khimi’s jaw as he digests this information. “I see. Thank you, Sair. I appreciate your honesty.”

Sair fidgets with the sleeves of his linen shirt, looking nervous and guilty. “I must apologize for my behavior earlier…I was out of line.”

“It is understandable, Sair. The attack caught us all off guard. I never want to encounter another sahaugin again,” Khimi replies with a forced smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “But it seems Lumi managed to help in some way.”

Sair brushes off his shoulders awkwardly. “H-he was more helpful than I care to admit. It was like he could predict the winds before they happened…the boy sat there next to me and told me which direction they would blow.”

Khimi raises an eyebrow in surprise. “I was not informed of this,” he says while scanning Sair up and down, searching for any hint of deception. “Was Lumi speaking to someone?”

“No, my lord. He simply sat and meditated, occasionally issuing instructions to the crew. It was quite peculiar, he claimed that the Gods were guiding him,” Sair explains, scratching his cheek nervously.

“Interesting,” Khimi murmurs, deep in thought. “Thank you for sharing this with me, Sair. Please continue on the course set by Rashid.”

Sair bows once again. “Of course, my lord. I will leave you to your thoughts.”

As Sair steps away, Khimi turns back to face the bow of the ship, a troubled expression crossing his features.

Rashid’s Promise

Under the cover of darkness, Khimi finally makes his way below deck. The weight of the day’s decisions weighs heavily on him as he contemplates what to say to his oldest friend and advisor. Turning the ship towards Arx Mari had brought forth a myriad of questions for Khimi, each one causing him to second-guess their course of action. The ancient fortress is notorious for housing dangerous prisoners, and it was concerning that Rashid would send them there without just cause. A small part of Khimi silently hoped that Ziad had been captured by the Golden Isles.

    Carefully gripping the large metal ring, Khimi pulls open the heavy latch with a sharp tug before descending the ladder into the hold. The gentle swaying of hammocks greets him as he navigates through the rows of sleeping crewmates. Dimly lit lanterns swing from thick hempen ropes, casting a soft glow throughout the space. The grumbling and snoring of men fill the air, accompanied by the occasional creaking of wood and creaking ropes.

     Approaching Rashid’s room, Khimi notices a flickering light from beneath the closed door. With a slight push, the door squeaks open to reveal Rashid sitting at a small desk, furiously scribbling away with his quill on a piece of parchment.

Khimi closes the door behind him, “Rashid,” he begins, crossing the room. He sits on a thin mattress over a built-in wooden bed. “Why Arx Mari?” He questions with a glance at his advisor.

Rashid’s quill stops abruptly. He replies without looking up, “Ziad has made Arx Mari his home.”

“As in…he’s imprisoned, right?” Khimi asks, an almost hopeful tone in his voice. He leans against the wooden wall behind him. “Right, Rashid?”

Rashid scoffs, “We wish,” he replies before the quill continues to scribble thoughtfully. “I think it’s best we deal with Ziad before enjoying ourselves in the Isles. If it pleases ya.”

“I would have liked to know these things beforehand,” Khimi replies, brushing his hair from his eyes. “How did I not hear about Ziad taking over Arx Mari?” He grumbles, his fingers twisting at his dark hair.

Rashid sighs, “It was simple. Transactional. He purchased it from the Lorians who occupied the place. Though, I have my suspicions in regard to his intent.”

“If you have some insight into his motivations, then perhaps it’s best you tell me,” Khimi demands, pulling his hair in annoyance.

Rashid remains still, his expression unreadable as he absorbs Khimi’s words. His quill falls from his hand and he slowly turns in his chair to face him. Pushing back the strands of gray hair that have fallen into his eyes, Rashid reveals flushed cheeks and glassy eyes. It is clear that he has been drinking heavily. Khimi takes note of the several empty bottles of rum scattered about the small room.

“You’ve been drinking,” Khimi states plainly.

Rashid nods, “And what of it?”

“You seem troubled.”

“Troubled…I suppose,” Rashid replies with a quick shrug.

“What has you so agitated?” Khimi demands, sitting up straighter. “This isn’t like you,” he adds calmly, tapping his knuckle against the wooden frame of the bed.

Rashid lowers his gaze and fiddles with the laces of his tan linen shirt. “It feels like we are approaching the final hour, Khimi.”

“Are you truly that anxious about seeing Ziad?” Khimi asks, raising an eyebrow to hide his own fears.

Rashid steals a glance at Khimi. “It has been a long time, my friend,” he begins. “Remember that your father is a ruthless man. As he has aged, he has only grown quicker to anger. I have been keeping tabs on his movements in the Golden Isles.”

“Surely Ziad hasn’t made that much progress since arriving there?” Khimi questions, his face turning grim as he starts to reconsider their voyage. “Perhaps we should sail for Sidi instead?”

“No, Khimi. We must see this through,” Rashid says and reaches for another bottle hidden under the desk.

Khimi groans and flops onto the thin pillows. “I must admit,” he says, rolling onto his back, “I am starting to feel a sense of excitement at the thought of putting this business behind us. I am tired of feeling sick every time Ziad’s name is mentioned.”

Rashid’s voice booms with enthusiasm, “Perfect! Then let us put this business behind us. We will speak our minds to Ziad and leave the Golden Isles in our wake.”

Khimi manages a small smile while he watches the older man bring the colorful bottle to his lips. Rashid drinks deeply, savoring the taste before holding the bottle out to Khimi. As Khimi takes a swig of the rum, Rashid wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his linen shirt.

“It’s never come up before, but I reckon you’ve never been to the Golden Isles, eh?” Rashid asks, gazing longingly at the bottle while Khimi takes another sip.

“I haven’t ventured much further north than the Temple of Life,” Khimi replies quietly. “But one day, I’d love to visit Loria. I’ve heard such wonderful stories about it.”

Rashid grunts in response, leaning back against the desk. “Buncha stuck up lords and ladies there. The Emperor, Julius Crassi…they say he descends from a Goddess, but everyone knows it’s a load of bullshit. It’s a place best avoided if given the chance.” He pauses for a moment before continuing, “Now, Rigo is a different story altogether. And if you’re heading to the far reaches, you should definitely visit Middenbourg or Wiltz.”

“You sound more traveled than I recall, old friend,” Khimi replies. His eyes focus on the light of the candle, listening to Rashid’s drone on.

“Well, it’s been years since I got to travel properly. Since Aleyna asked me to be y’re guardian and all. But, fore ya were born, I had traveled much of Loria. I was seekin’ my place’ I suppose ya could say. I had grown tired of the military and felt a lack of house and home. Anyhow, I took up with the Sun Temple in Loria for a bit. Pompous lot they are. I’ve never seen a group of acolytes or clerics who were more afraid of a little work. The Sanctum of Balance, the Sepulcher of Rites, and the Bastion of Knowledge have much more wo–”

“Rashid,” Khimi interrupts with a laugh. “Why didn’t you just tell me about Arx Mari?” He asks pointedly, cutting off his advisor.

Rashid pulls at his earlobe nervously, avoiding Khimi’s gaze. “I wanted to wait until we were closer. But after we finish our business there, we can head to the Greater Cay and sell our wares.”

Khimi reclines on his back, taking another swig from his bottle. “Once we leave Arx Mari, things should be smooth sailing then.”

Rashid lets out a hearty laugh at this statement. “I suppose that all depends on how our meeting with Ziad goes.”

Khimi sits in silence, drinking the remainder of the bottle, while Rashid turns back to his letter. He listens to the older man grumble about his travels across the realm. Khimi turns on his side to face Rashid. He thinks back to his conversation with Lumi. Should I ask Rashid his thoughts? If I ever was to take a wife… Rashid was supposed to officiate as my advisor and friend. Khimi pushes himself up, supporting himself with his elbow.

Rashid,” Khimi begins, interrupting the older man’s droning. “When you get back to Rhaz…I’d like for you to…be the one to officiate Lumi, and I’s union.”

Rashid turns in his chair and blinks slowly in surprise, “Did ya ask the aslan to marry?” He asks, his cheeks turning growing ever more red.

“I didn’t…so much as ask him to marry me. I asked him to spend his life with me,” Khimi replies softly. He turns to Rashid, noting the furious expression on his face.

“When were ya going to tell me?” Rashid howls, pushing himself from his chair. “Of course I’d be happy to wed ya,” he says, forcing himself beside Khimi on the wooden bed. “What did he say?”

“He seemed happy…I was happy,” Khimi begins, unsure of what to say. He holds his hand over his chest. “I felt my heart beating through my chest,” he admits quickly. He pauses, then polishes off the bottle.

“Worried…?” Rashid asks, slapping Khimi on the shoulder.

Rum splatters over Khimi’s chest. “Yeah! Worried that he was going to think it was too sudden,” he says, coughing.

Rashid laughs, “I doubt ya have anything to worry about on that front. He’s always lookin’ at ya. Though…”


“Though, I have heard some Dolman tribes don’t believe in weddings or unions…they take several partners,” Rashid offers, narrowing his eyes at Khimi menacingly. “Are ya prepared to share your bed?”

Khimi’s brow furrows at Rashid, “Don’t even make those sorts of jokes!” Khimi spits, wiping the rum from his shirt with Rashid’s pillow.

“No, no, it’s true. Many of them don’t take partner’s. But I’m certain with the number of years Lumi spent at the temple, he understands that commitment,” Rashid says with a playful smile.

Khimi looks up at Rashid, noting his aging advisor’s years. “I don’t think I could share him,” he says, then pauses. Dabbing the pillow, he cleans the rest of the rum from his shirt. “When you see my mother. After you depart from Arx Mari…will you tell her that she can come?”

“Y’re not planning to go to Sidi with me? Khimi, Sidi holds a very special meaning to y’re family…I believe that if ya ever are to wed, then it should be there,” he says in an apologetic tone.

Khimi sits up against the wall, “I’ll talk to Lumi about it, but I don’t think location is something he would even be concerned about. Though I think Rhaz holds something special for both of us.”

 He does seem like he’d be happy anywhere as long as y’re around ‘em. Maybe married life will tame the little whelp!” Rashid says, laughing loudly.

Khimi shakes his head at Rashid’s laughter. “I don’t think anyone will be able to tame Lumi,” he grimaces with a knowing look at Rashid, “trust. I have tried my best.”

Oi, we’ve all heard y’re attempts to tame the boy! The moans and curses are loud enough to be heard through the Emerald Coast!”

“It’s not my fault that he’s so loud…” Khimi mutters, then sits up from the bed, placing the mostly empty bottle on the wooden plank floor. “So, then, it’s a promise?” He asks and turns to Rashid.

“I promise, on my oath as a paladin of Balance, Khimi. I’ll officiate y’re union,” he says, his hand placed over his heart.

“Then I suppose…that’s it then.”

“Wait,” Rashid says, holding out his hand.

“What is i—”

Khimi’s words are interrupted by Rashid’s tight embrace. Rashid holds Khimi against him, swaying his body from side to side. Khimi returns Rashid’s embrace with equal fervor, and closes his eyes with soft sniffles in his ears. Warm wet tears fall over Khimi’s shirt, the elderly man unable to control his emotions.

“Rashid…I thought you said Lumi was the emotional one,” Khimi teases, squeezing him tightly.


Khimi sighs, “I promise…it’s okay. I care about him. More than I’ve cared about anything.”

Rashid pushes Khimi back at arms length, looking him up and down. “I’d never thought I’d see the day ya found a wife!” He says happily.

“Well…he’s not my wife bu—“

“Same difference.”

“Completely different,” Khimi says, his lips straightening into a thin line.

Rashid laughs, “Fine then, husband…though I’ve heard ‘em called y’re paramour as of late!”

Khimi sighs, “He’s actually introduced himself as my paramour once. I believe it was Ennui who provoked him into using that term…now it’s stuck.”

“He’s bold, I’ll give ‘em that at least,” Rashid says, wiping a stray tear from his face.

“And what did you mean, never thought I’d get married?!” Khimi asks with an angry scowl.

“Well,” Rashid begins, nervously tousling his own hair. “Ya just didn’t seem like the marriage type…if ya catch my meaning.”

“I don’t.”

“Don’t worry about it then!” Rashid says with a laugh.

Khimi glares at Rashid through narrowed eyes, wondering the meaning behind his words. Didn’t seem like the marriage type? He looks about the tiny room, drumming his fingers over the wooden desk, then glances down at the letter, noting the correspondence. Aleyna? He instinctively reaches for the parchment. Rashid moves quicker, slamming his hand over the page, obstructing Khimi’s view.

“What are you writing to Aleyna about?” Khimi asks. The candlelight flickers over his face, and he grips the edge of the paper.

Rashid pulls the letter from Khimi’s grip, “it was nothing but humble greetings and prayers that she is doing well,” he chuckles nervously.

“You plan to continue reporting to her?” Khimi asks with a smirk.

Rashid offers Khimi a smile in response, “I suppose, old habits are hard to break.”

“Then, when you send that letter. Tell her about my intentions. Tell her it would mean a lot if she’d be there,” Khimi says as he gauges Rashid’s expression. “No more spying, Rashid. Just speak your mind from now on. I know my mother means well.”

“If that is y’re wish,” Rashid replies softly. “I was only writing to her about Betset. We’d become friends by the letter, if ya will. Though we mostly speak of y’re well-being, and more recently we’ve spoken of Lumi.”

Khimi runs his fingers across his eyebrows, pinching the bridge. “Just tell her that…I appreciate her. I hope that she’s well. That I’d be pleased if she was happy for me.”

“I’m certain Aleyna will be quite fond of the little lion,” Rashid replies, his expression softening. “I’ll rewrite this then,” he says, folding the thick paper into smaller bits.

    An uncomfortable, awkwardness fills the tiny cabin. Khimi shifts his weight from one foot to the other. There has been so much that Rashid seems to hide from him lately that he feels unnerved.

Khimi places his hand on Rashid’s shoulder. “I’ll always appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I’m sorry that we don’t always see eye to eye.”

“I’m sorry that we haven’t either,” Rashid mutters, “But, y’re a man full-grown now, Khimi. Ya won’t have me around with you forever. Ya can make y’re own decisions.”

Khimi scoffs, laughing softly. “You speak as though I am an ancient beast, I’m not that old.”

“You’re old enough,” Rashid jokes. “Some will joke y’re robbing the cradle when ya wed,” he says, raising his eyebrows.

Stop!” Khimi laughs, “Ennui has already told me what others have said.”

Rashid shakes his head, “She is right, we’ve already heard it said plenty enough.”

Khimi groans, “That’s great. I guess the Zeybek reputation will take a beating.”

Eh,” Rashid shrugs, “It isn’t his age that most people seem to consider, it’s the fact that Demi-humans[1] don’t tend to marry outside their own.”

“Lumi isn’t one to follow traditions, it seems,” Khimi replies. He looks at the wooden door, a reluctant smile creeps onto his face while he speaks, “He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever met.”

Rashid returns the smile and pulls Khimi into a warm embrace. “There you go, smiling again!”

Khimi can not help but feel excited, almost surprised by his own emotions. “It’s been the only thing on my mind since we first set sail.”

Rashid claps a hand on Khimi’s shoulder, “Well, I’m glad for that.” His eyes narrow in curiosity, “Is he awake yet?” 

Khimi shifts his gaze, cheeks flushing slightly. “He didn’t sleep last night,” he admits shyly, scratching at the back of his neck. “But he’ll probably sleep for a while longer.”

“Right,” Rashid says through narrowed eyes. “Ya’d best bring him something to eat…other than salted fish.”

“Unfortunately, that’s all we have on board. And our cook isn’t exactly skilled —  just the other day he nearly set the ship on fire.”

Rashid chuckles as they approach a wooden door. He wraps an arm around Khimi’s shoulder, “Let me show you how to make a proper salted pork stew.”

Khimi mutters under his breath, “How difficult can it be?”

You’d be surprised,” Rashid replies with a knowing smile. “Maybe when you’re married and settled down, you can surprise Lumi with some delicious salted pork stew.”

 Khimi playfully rolls his eyes, “Ah yes, the true delicacy of Desert City.” They both share a laugh, the door swinging closed behind them.

Arx Mari

The small vessel arrives south of Arx Mari nearly a full day ahead of schedule, the fair winds bring them to their destination much quicker than they had anticipated. Sair, confused by the expediency of the trip, offers his apologies to Khimi for his miscalculations. Khimi, suddenly facing the reality of his situation much quicker than he wishes, stands at the bow of the ship. He watches the small island come into view. The hulking citadel which had been known as Arx Mari sits in its center, consuming much of the island.

A small harbor located on the western side of the island awaits them. Flags fly high above the walls of the citadel, a blue field with a golden eight pointed star in its center. The symbol of the Cerulean Star, The Zeybek’s merchant company. The realization that Arx Mari now belongs to the Cerulean Star brings Khimi anguish. To what purpose does Arx Mari serve you, Emir Ziad? Lumi stands beside him, pointing over the rails at the massive vessels anchored outside the harbor. Harbinger, one of Ziad’s private galleon style vessels, had been commissioned in Khimi’s youth, and he recalled the many trips he would take with Rashid and Ziad to see its construction. The terrible vessel sits still before him, dark timbers shining with lacquer. Its sister vessel, Apathy, drifts outside the harbor, equally intimidating. An ominous dread permeates throughout him while their small cog sails closer to the harbor. Lumi leans over the rails in excitement, looking between the sister ships.

Gods!” Lumi exclaims, “I’ve never seen ships so big!”

Khimi places his hand over Lumi’s back, not sure if to comfort Lumi or himself. “It’s a pretty large ship,” he mutters under his breath.

Khimi keeps his eyes trailed on the several stories of stone walls built around the harbor. I wonder if we should have moored outside the harbor. He takes notice of the large holes in the stone during their passage. Chains, massive steel chains built to keep vessels in or out of the docks. Ennui approaches behind Khimi, watching smaller cogs being unloaded into the citadel.

 Does the island have a name or is this whole thing,” Ennui begins, motioning to the island, citadel, and harbor. “All just known as Arx Mari?”

Lumi looks back, “Khimi said it’s all just known as Arx Mari…and they used to hold dangerous prisoners,” he adds with an impish smirk.

“That so?” Ennui asks, narrowing her eyes at Khimi.

“But,” Rashid says from behind Ennui. “There shouldn’t be any prisoners here any longer. I can’t see Loria giving up its political prisoners or its most violent criminals.”

Lumi glances back at Rashid, “If they’re criminals and murderers…wouldn’t they just kill them?”

Khimi chokes at Lumi’s words.

“It’s not always that easy, Lumi,” Ennui says in an effort to explain. “Sometimes, in places like Loria. Nobility or blood can…lessen your culpability, or even in some instances free you from a crime.”

Huh? That sounds dumb,” Lumi says with a baffled expression, turning back to the harbor. “That doesn’t sound fair at all.”

Rashid sighs, “Lumi, listen. Y’re gonna need to know this. In some societies, some people are seen as being worth more than others and thus can get away with things others could not. In Loria…this is very common. A poor criminal will be executed. A wealthy noble, on the other hand…will come here.”

“So, these are just criminals, then? Thieves and crooks?” Lumi asks without turning back. “Wealthy criminals?”

“Not necessarily,” Ennui says, shaking her head. “You see, sometimes…people like myself are imprisoned. Usually in the hopes of being broken or reformed to serve the nation’s needs. Assassins, murderers, mercenaries, even the occasional mage gone rotten.”

Lumi leans back against the rails, “Y’sol told me that Loria was once a beautiful place…but it changed…maybe this is what she means. It sounds awful,” he pouts, then puffs his cheeks and looks down at the dark water.

“Who told you what now?” Ennui says, furrowing her brow.

Lumi tilts his head in realization. “It’s nothing…don’t worry about it.”

“Lumi,” Khimi says, placing his hand on Lumi’s head. “Do you want to stay on the ship?” he asks, his fingers brushing through his hair before he recoils suddenly. I shouldn’t touch him here.

 Ennui and Rashid cast curious glances at Khimi. Khimi looks back at the two of them with a grim expression.

Eh? Why?” Lumi asks, looking up at Khimi. “I’m sick of being on the ship,” he grumbles and grasps Khimi’s hand, placing it back on top of his head.

Ennui cracks a smile, “If it pleases you, Lord Zeybek…I will keep an eye on the little lion,” she says, taking Lumi’s arm.

“Fine,” Khimi replies coldly.

Khimi fidgets with the golden thread on his sleeve while he watches Ennui adjust Lumi’s white choli. She pulls the cloth down his midsection, covering more of Lumi’s tanned skin. When did they become so close? Lumi tightens the blue waist sash wrapped around his white sarouel. He looks up to Khimi with a wide grin, his tail whisks excitedly behind him.

“Khimi!” Lumi begins. “It’ll be alright!” he exclaims, embracing him suddenly.

Khimi leaves his hands to his side, Lumi snuggling against him, “I just fee…I fee–”

“I’ll watch him,” Ennui interrupts. “It’s fine. You and Rashid handle your business,” she says sternly, with a knowing look at Khimi. 

Rashid clears his throat, “I don’t mean to sound…obtuse. But, I think that Lumi should meet Ziad,” he begins. “It stands to reason that if Khimi offers his intentions, that Ziad would like to meet him.”

“I disagree,” Ennui growls, cracking her knuckles. “Ziad doesn’t need to approve of Lumi. He won’t approve of Lumi. I know men like him, they’re all the same. Bloated egos.”

Khimi runs his fingers through his hair, pulling at his short locks in contemplation. “I’m with Ennui, Rashid. No matter what, he is going to be angry. If he meets Lumi, then I fear the situation may get out of hand…”

Lumi shrugs and beams up at Khimi, “I don’t mind either way…but I am sure someone will tell him I am here. He may be angry if I don’t meet him,” he says, looking back over the railing.

The vessel slowly draws its approach to the piers, sailors call down to the dockhands. Massive ropes are tossed down to the men along the dock and within moments, the ship, its sails furled, finds itself stilled. Rashid looks uncomfortably up at the massive stone citadel.

“I heard it was built by a witch,” Rashid says under his breath, breaking their lengthy quiet. He squints his eyes at the large circular window looming high above the harbor.

Ennui rolls her eyes, “I bet the Emir is up there right now. Like a King in his castle.”

Khimi tugs on the blue sleeve, the golden threads rips from the blue fabric. He tightens the yellow silk waist sash and looks up with the others. It certainly looks like a witch could have built it.


“Yes, Khimi?”

“My blade, please,” Khimi requests, extending his hand.

With a graceful gesture, Rashid presents Khimi with the curved shamshir. The rare blade, gifted to him by Ziad during his childhood, glints in the dim light. Its razor-sharp edge, crafted from Sidian steel, has not tasted blood since its last encounter with Ziad. For Khimi, the blade is more of an ornamental piece than a weapon; he has made a vow to never unsheathe it.

The sun hangs high in the noon sky, yet no rays pierce through the heavy clouds. A thick fog rolls in from the sea as they disembark from the small cog. Rashid and Khimi step onto the pier, closely followed by Lumi and Ennui. An elderly man with a tawny beard stands at the end of the dock, impatiently rolling back and forth on his heels. He eyes Rashid and Khimi up and down before removing his leather skullcap and silently motioning for them to follow him. With hands buried deep in his oiled leather coat pockets, he leads them towards the citadel. Rashid and Khimi exchange knowing looks before trailing behind him. Meanwhile, Ennui and Lumi remain at the bottom of the gangplank conversing with Sair, casting worried glances at their comrades.

They make their way through the small harbor, the old man moves briskly ahead without uttering a single word. Dozens of smaller wooden buildings line the water’s edge, their windows filled with crates and barrels of mysterious goods. Khimi steals another glance upwards at the formidable citadel looming above them as they walk over dark, uneven cobblestones. The path winds beneath the structure in a low archway, lined with stacked wooden boxes and barely lit by flickering torches. They venture deeper into the heart of the citadel, the light from behind them soon fades away, and Khimi produces a small orb of flame to light their way. The shadows seem to grow darker and more ominous while they continue forward.

The tawny-haired man looks back, “Useful trick,” he mutters in a vexed tone.

Khimi remains silent while they continue down the dank passageway. The man stops before a gated entry. Behind the metal bars, a lengthy set of spiral stairs rise upward several floors. The man jangles a set of keys in his hand, he deftly procures a heavy looking brass key.

“Might we have y’re name?” Rashid asks. He pulls the blue cloak marked with the eight pointed star over his shoulder. “I’ll tell Ziad how helpful ya were.”

“I don’t need you to put in a good word on my behalf,” the man replies coldly. “Emir Ziad is aware of my loyalty,” he adds in a mumble.

The man opens the gate, encouraging Rashid and Khimi to enter before him. They ascend the massive spiral staircase. Reaching the first floor of Arx Mari, beautifully hand woven rugs run along the staircase to the second floor. Tapestries hang along the wall, woad blue with an eight pointed star in its center, thread of gold woven along its border. He spent a fortune decorating the place, it see– his thoughts are suddenly interrupted by an Elven woman carrying a swaddled babe from the second floor. The elderly man nods to the dark-haired Elven woman. Khimi’s heart races while she passes. He looks back in an attempt to capture a glance of the child.

“Does Ziad keep retainers here?” Khimi asks with a hint of curiosity. He clenches his fist and looks ahead. “Whose child is that?”

Rashid places a hand on Khimi’s shoulder, “It’s likely the child of a guest of the house I am sure,” he says, trying to comfort Khimi.

“Emir Ziad allows trade partners to stay in the citadel on occasion,” the man replies plainly. He offers a cold shrug before he continues through the citadel.

Khimi allows a sigh of relief. “The woman looked as if she was from the Desert Cities, where does she hail from?”

“A small village.”

Rashid remains quiet, his cheeks growing red. “A small village is it?” He questions after a moment.

“Right,” the man replies.

“Is there something that interests you, Rashid?” Khimi asks. His eyebrow raises while he turns to study his advisor’s expression. What aren’t you telling me?

Rashid grimaces, “Nothing. Just thinkin’,” he confesses.

The second floor opens into a massive chamber, supporting columns rise from the ground to the ceiling in a beautiful display. The elderly man leads them from the stairwell into the chamber. Blue light filters through the room from massive stained-glass. Depictions of sailing vessels on the Emerald Coast adorn the glass with masterful artistry. Figures about the room pause, staring at Khimi and Rashid. They are escorted beneath the stained-glass, an open archway extends outside to a stony balcony. The man pauses, motioning once more for them to continue ahead. Khimi and Rashid step onto the balcony, the sound of conversing nearby.

The atmosphere in the courtyard is heavy and somber, gray clouds loom overhead. A majestic oak tree stands tall in the center, its branches reaching towards the sky, casting long shadows on the cobbled walkways and benches that surround it. Khimi leans against the cool stone railing, his gaze fixed on the busy servants tending to the manicured garden landscape below. Memories of his youth flood his mind, when he used to help Ziad tend to the courtyard in Sidi. The familiar scents of blooming mums fill his nostrils, bringing a wave of nostalgia and longing for simpler times. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, savoring a moment of peace amidst the chaos of his current situation. Suddenly, the sound of approaching footsteps snaps him back to reality. With a quick exhale, he straightens his posture and turns towards Ziad with determined resolve.

As Ziad approaches, Khimi can not help but notice the subtle changes in his appearance. His once copper skin had taken on a lighter hue, and strands of gray now thread through his jet black hair. The sharp lines of his jaw and features had softened with age, giving him a dignified air. However, there is a weariness that hangs beneath his eyes, hinting at the weight of his responsibilities. Dressed in an emerald kaftan that cascaded down to just above his ankles, Ziad exudes an aura of authority and importance. The fabric shimmers with threads of gold woven throughout, adding a touch of ceremony. Hateful thoughts swirl through Khimi’s mind while  he reaches out to shake Ziad’s hand in greeting.

Khimi inhales sharply through his teeth, the sound almost a hiss. He takes his father’s hand in his own, prepared to pour out his thoughts.

His words die on his tongue while Ziad engulfs him in a warm embrace. The scent of sandalwood and musk fills Khimi’s nostrils, bringing back memories of home. It has been too long since he felt this familiar sensation. The sudden rush of emotions is overwhelming, like being caught in a whirlwind of nostalgia. Khimi can barely find his voice to respond, “Father…” His breath hitches. Clearing his throat, he finally manages to speak, “It has been a while.”

Ziad pulls tighter against him, drawing him deeper into a welcoming embrace. “It has been too long, son.”

“It appears it is as they say!” Ziad says after their embrace. He holds Khimi back at arm’s length. “You’ve really sprouted! Become a full man in your own rights.”

Khimi blinks slowly in confusion, “Yes…the years have been kind to you as well, father.”

“Glad you think so! Now, come indulge me. Ahh, Rashid, you’ve managed to make the journey as well,” Ziad says, his eyes narrowing at his old friend.

Ziad,” Rashid begins, offering a bow. “It has been many years. You seem to be in good spirits.”

Ziad places an arm over Khimi’s shoulder, leading him into a large chamber along the balcony. “Why would I not? It is the first time I’ve seen my son in years,” he says with a glance back at Rashid. “And the Isles have been kind.”

“We’re not staying,” Khimi says abruptly, snapping back to his senses.

“Not even for the night?” Ziad pouts. “Come, let’s get you fed…we have much to discuss.”

Rashid follows behind them, keeping himself just within earshot behind the two, “We have a lot of business to attend to in the aisles. Surely you understand?”

“Of course, of course,” Ziad replies, a fleck of anger in his tone.

“Fa– Ziad, we just came to pay our respects to you before continuing onward,” Khimi says, his voice trailing. “It would be rude to come to the Isles without off—”

“Right.” Ziad’s fingers drum against Khimi’s shoulder. “I understand. At least join me for a meal then.”

Khimi glances back at Rashid, who nods in response. “Very well, Ziad. We do plan to arrive at the Greater Cay tomorrow evening,” he says while his father leads him through a series of arched doorways.

They enter through a stone archway, passing into the northern wing of Arx Mari. The archway opens into a rectangular chamber, a large dark wooden dining table placed in its center over a Rhazian style rug. The room remains dark except for a single hearth which casts its light across the empty table. Wooden chairs, upholstered with Sidian silk, line the dark table. Ziad situates himself at the head of the table, gesturing for Khimi and Rashid to sit on either side of him.

Ziad places his fingers beneath his chin, “So, what brings you to the Golden Isles?” He asks with an eerie smile.

Khimi sighs, “Ziad, I know you’ve kept your eye on me through the years,” he confesses, taking his seat.

“What do you expect?” Ziad responds in kind. “I like to keep an eye on all of my assets.”

“Khimi deserves his freedom,” Rashid says, raising his voice.

Ziad sucks his teeth, his expression becomes seething, “I was talking to my son,” he says, tapping his palm on the table. “Your time for conversation will come.”

“He means we–”

“Certainly,” Ziad interrupts, keeping his eyes on Rashid. “Perhaps we should speak of pleasantries over dinner. We can at least be civil while we eat…or no?”

“Right then,” Khimi begins, “What was your reason for this? For Arx Mari?”

Ziad closes his eyes, releasing an audible sigh. “It had recently been acquired by Sidian nobility from the Lorians. They didn’t realize what they had acquired or the amount of work Arx Mari required to maintain. I was all too willing to take it off their hands….”

Khimi gives a coy smile, “I’m certain you’ve already found a way to profit from this venture?”

“I wouldn’t have offered to take this…stone tomb had I not figured out a way to make it worth my time,” Ziad smiles.

“And the priso—“

“Let us enjoy our meal,” Ziad says, a slight irritation in his tone.

Rashid remains quiet, his hand clenched to the pommel of his dagger beneath the table. Ziad calls through the hall for a servant and within a mere moment, an array of small plates are delivered before them. Salted pork, sliced into thin sheets. Dried apricots and figs, toasted almonds, sliced peaches, peppered sausages, and a variety of rich cheeses. Ziad and Khimi steer conversation away from heavier topics. While the tension between the three men is easily readable, they manage to maintain a level of peace between them.

A bottle of Sidian red is brought to the table along with three gilded goblets. A Lorian woman with an ivory complexion pours the red before them, offering a meek smile at Khimi. He brings the goblet to his nose. The familiar scent of his homeland’s fermented grapes brings back somewhat fond memories of Sidi. He remembers the first sip he had taken of Sidian red. Aleyna had offered him a drink of her wine after Ziad had left. The gesture had become something Khimi quickly became accustomed to. Everyday following Ziad’s departure from Sidi, Khimi would share a bottle with Aleyna. When he left the estate many years ago, it had become something that he thought about often in his travels.

“Now that we’ve had our fill,” Ziad begins, motioning to the empty plates before them. “I believe we can speak candidly now. So, what brings you here, Khimi?” He asks, his hands tucked against his stomach.

Nervousness leaves him the moment he looks into his father’s blue eyes, “I’m aware that you’ve kept someone keeping their eyes on me— so I know — I know you are aware of what I am planning to say.”

“I know of your Demi-human lover,” Ziad whispers calmly. Itching his bearded chin, he continues, “I’ve sent suitor after suitor. You denied each one.”

Khimi sighs and hangs his head. “Lumi…means a lot to me, and I plan to wed him.”

“You’re aware that no heir will come of this? The Desert Cities— nay, all of Talmus will look down on you, on our family,” Ziad claims. He rests his hands in his lap. “Khimi, you know I can’t approve of this union. There are hundreds wh—”

“I-I wasn’t seeking your approval!” Khimi exclaims, gripping the table.

“Khimi’s happiness should account for something!” Rashid insists.

Ziad sighs, his knuckles audibly cracking beneath the table. “I cannot allow you to shame our family, Khimi. The Zeybek name is synonymous with honor and dignity!”

“Honor and dignity…? If I cannot even choose my own partner…what is the purpose of all of this? I don’t want any of it then!” Khimi replies, his palms smashing on the wooden table. 

Ziad tilts his head back, “Son, don’t test me on this. You have a duty to your family and you must complete it. I’m not telling you that you cannot keep him around if — that is what you want.”

“Are ya truly fine with the aslan being around?” Rashid asks, a fury in his eyes.

Ziad turns his gaze to Rashid. Glowering, he says, “As fine as one can be with my son shaming my family,” he pauses. “Rashid, you’ve become quite the contrarian in your old age. Perhaps it’s best if you step outside.”

“There is no shame in it!” Khimi murmurs angrily.

“Khimi,” Ziad grumbles. “While you may think nothing of it, you weaken our house with this nonsense. Do you have any idea what the other merchant princes will think?”

“If this is what you thi—“

“Do not heed him, Khimi,” Rashid interrupts. “He has no control over ya, or y’re decisions.”

Ziad smiles, seemingly holding back laughter, “I have no say in my son’s future?”

“I-I’ve only ever thought of what you and Aleyna wanted,” Khimi says, pushing himself from his seat. His breath is shaky while he tries to calm himself. “You have no idea how long those thoughts— the idea of being the last heir, needing to produce, being this ideal son have haunted my mind. I don’t want any of it.”

“Are you renouncing yourself as the heir to our estate?” Ziad asks, his face is cold as stone.

“Ya have no right to force Khimi from his inheritance!” Rashid says, slamming his balled fist on the table.

Ziad snorts, “If you don’t plan to bring children into this world, our line will die. There will be no more to the Zeybek name, except for the pathetic offshoots of our lineage who cling so desperately to our name for their power. Is this what you want?”

“Of course it’s not,” Khimi replies and shakes his head in dismay. “I returned to our family out of the love I feel fo—”

Liar,” Ziad snorts, he fingers the tip of his pointed beard. “You came back because your mother forced you. You have NO love for us,” he says, pushing himself from the table. “No love for generations of merchants and lords who have given their lives in service to the Cerulean Star.”

Khimi growls, “You have no idea how much I’ve given for this family!”

Rashid stands, “Perhaps we should leave, Khimi,” he says over the two.

“Not until I’ve said my piece,” Khimi replies through grit teeth.

“Speak your mind? You already have,” Ziad laughs. “I don’t believe I need to hear another word.”

Khimi sighs, “I came here as a courtesy to you. I am going to wed Lumi. He wanted to meet you, but I think it’d be—”

“I have no intention of meeting him,” Ziad interrupts in a growl.

Khimi remains silent, rage surges through him. “You’ll never meet him. I won’t let you.”

“As I said, I have no intention of seeing him. It’s best you take your pet and return to the Desert Cities.”

“Khimi, please return to the ship,” Rashid insists suddenly.

Ziad sighs, “It is a pity to see things go this way, Khimi.” His eyes do not meet Khimi’s. He turns back to the trays before them.

“I am sorry as well,” Khimi replies, turning his back on Ziad. “Are you coming to the ship, Rashid?”

Rashid remains silent, his cheeks glowing scarlet. “I’ll be there in a moment. I have private words to share with Emir Zeybek,” he mumbles.

“I’m sure my son can stay and hear,” Ziad insists, gesturing to the chairs. “Don’t you want to hear what your advisor has to say to your old man?”

Rashid looks at Khimi, “Go to the ship, boy,” he demands.

“I’ll hear whatever you have to say,” Khimi whispers hurriedly.

Rashid grumbles angrily. “I won’t ask ya again, Khimi. Go to the ship!” He exclaims.

Khimi gives Rashid a scowl but holds his head high, “Very well, but you will tell me what this is about.”

Ziad calls to Khimi, then begins to leave the dining hall, “Despite our differences…you’ll always be my son.”

Khimi does not reply, a knot forming in his gut. Within the meager amount of time he has been with Ziad, he had already contemplated murdering the man. An unquenchable anger filled him, something that occurred whenever he’d thought of Ziad. For whatever reason, he had imagined the outcome of this meeting would have gone differently. A part of him had wished that whatever horrible things he recalled about Ziad from his youth were childish apparitions, that he had created his father to be some horror. He knows now that the anger and fear he had felt before was warranted. Ziad is just as selfish and loathsome as he had remembered.

“I’ll see you out,” the elderly man says.

Khimi sets foot onto the stone stairs, motioning for the man to lead ahead, “Carry on then,” he mutters with an exasperated sigh.

“Your friends were already seen back to your vessel,” he grumbles, procuring the ring of keys. “They wandered quite a distance,” he says, turning back to Khimi with a toothy smile.

Khimi casts a suspicious glare, “They are all well, I take it?”

Oh, very much so. They are confined to your vessel. Wandering hands and eyes aren’t very kind,” the man says.

Khimi remains silent, his mind muddled with the hours of conversation with his father. He thinks of hidden meanings behind his father’s words. He wonders if Rashid’s anger is for his own benefit, or if there is more to the heat behind Rashid’s words. Feelings of frustration and anxiety take hold of him. I need to see Lumi. The elderly man opens the gate at the bottom of the stairs.

“I can make it from here,” Khimi says, turning back to the elderly man.

“Very well.”

Khimi walks in silence through the dark hallway. He contemplates turning back, telling his father he wishes to leave the family. But instead he presses on, staring ahead at the bit of light piercing through at the end of the lengthy hallway. The sound of his footfalls against the stone floor echo over the cobbles. In an attempt to clear his thoughts, he slaps his cheek once he draws near the end of the tunnel.

The vessel comes into view once he leaves the tunnel, light from several large braziers illuminates the small docks. A thick and heavy fog rolls through the area, lightly obscuring his vision. Through the fog the view of an approaching figure draws his eye, he places his hand on the hilt of his dagger in preparation. The sight of Lumi running across the wooden pier brings a sense of relief and hope. He relaxes the grip on his weapon. Lumi’s bare feet trample over the wooden planks, a massive grin on his face.

“Khimi!” Lumi calls, laughing while he dashes to him.

Khimi smiles, suddenly forgetting the dark thoughts clouding his mind. “Lumi,” says, almost a whisper.

Khimi’s arms accept Lumi, whose body slams into him. Lumi’s arms coil behind him, clinging to him. Khimi cannot help but melt in Lumi’s embrace. He lowers his head against the Lumi’s ears, brushing his lips through Lumi’s hair.

“We got kicked out,” Lumi snickers, looking up at Khimi with a cheeky grin.

Khimi sighs, “You’ll have to tell me about it on the ship. I’m feeling a bit drained.”

Lumi smiles, taking Khimi’s massive hand in his own hands. “If you tell me about how things went with Ziad.”

“I’d rather not,” Khimi replies. He lets out an exaggerated groan while Lumi pulls him along the dock, “It was worse than I was hoping.”

Lumi back at Khimi, exclaiming cheerfully, “It’s fine, we’ll be out of this place and home before long!”

“I’ll be glad to put a league between us and Arx Mari,” Khimi replies. His eyelids already heavy with exhaustion from the day’s events wearing on him, “A hundred leagues.”

“How long will it take us to get to the Greater Cay?” Lumi asks at the gangway.

Khimi thinks silently while their footfalls tap over the planks. “About a day or so,” he whispers.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Lumi says and pulls himself against Khimi, wriggling wantingly.

“Maybe we’ll get some time alone.”

“We better.”

“We’ll make time.”

[1] Demi-Human is often used as a more derogatory term for beastkin.