Chapter VIII

Finding Happiness

Youthful beastkin eagerly approach them, congratulating Lumi on his victorious battle from the previous night. They make their way through the throngs of people, Lumi can not help but feel a twinge of envy while he watches droves of women swarm around Khimi, gawking at his fierce display in the arena. But Khimi just smiles and nods, basking in the attention with ease. Eventually, they slip away from the crowd and slip into an alleyway that leads to the eastern edges of Betset.

There, perched upon a red brick wall, they take in the evening sun as it begins to dip below the horizon. A desert willow nearby rustles gently in the northern winds, adding to the peaceful atmosphere. The only sound is the distant chatter of workers in fields of golden wheat, their baskets filled to the brim with the harvest.

They sit in a comfortable silence, Khimi places his hand on top of Lumi’s resting on the rough stone wall. Lumi turns to look at Khimi, their fingertips brushing against each other while they share this intimate moment. Without saying a word, Lumi moves closer and rests his head on Khimi’s shoulder while placing Khimi’s hand on his inner thigh. It feels almost like being back at the temple again.

Khimi leans in and brushes his cheek against the top of Lumi’s head, an unspoken understanding passing between them. In this quiet moment, surrounded by nature and each other, all doubt and worry melts away.

Khimi chuckles to himself, scraping his stubble over Lumi’s rounded ears. “I don’t know how you found that lion…but I am glad you did,” he whispers into Lumi’s ears.

Huh?! Really?” Lumi asks with a surprised, but excited look in his eyes.

“I am,” Khimi replies, giving Lumi’s thigh a tight squeeze. “It’d been a while since I got to take part in the arena. Not to mention, I was surprised with how you handled yourself.”

Lumi scoffs, “I didn’t do anything…every time someone ran at me, you would ge–”

“I think of myself as your protector,” Khimi interrupts, his eyes still fixed out over the fields. “It’s my duty.”

Lumi contemplates his words, “I could have managed,” he says, pursing his lips. “I– y-you don’t have to protect me.”

Khimi sighs, “You would say that.”

“I’m serious!” Lumi shouts, then tugs on Khimi’s linen shirt.

“Look, all I am sa–”

Khimi’s words are jumbled, Lumi’s lips press harshly against his own, interrupting him. Lumi grabs hold of Khimi’s shirt, his fingers twist into the linen fabric, his nails ripping at threads. He pulls himself into Khimi’s lap, rocking from side to side while he finds a comfortable position, holding their lips together. Their lips remain locked until Lumi grows breathless, he pulls back slowly, holding his forehead against Khimi’s. Khimi eyes him from beneath his brow, they stare at one another while Lumi catches his breath. Lumi’s heart thrums in his chest, the reverberating purrs begin to course through him.

“How do you never run out of breath?” Lumi croaks. A smile crosses his cheeks, his fingers clamp back into the fabric.

Khimi laughs, then grows quiet while a man walks by. “You just hold your breath too long,” he continues. He places his hands tenderly on Lumi’s hips. “I remember the first time I got to see you in this…”

“Rashid doesn’t like it,” Lumi sulks. “And…I know it’s not a temple outfit. Hasim told me it was, but I think I always knew.”

“You knew?” Khimi drums his fingers over Lumi’s waist. “Rashid doesn’t have to like it,” he says, his lips nearing Lumi’s.

“I always liked how I looked in it,” Lumi admits in a whisper. He moves his hands behind Khimi’s neck. “You don’t seem as nervous as you normally do.”

“What do you mean?” Khimi asks, glancing out the corner of his eyes while a woman passes on the street behind them. “I do–”

Lumi mashes his lips against Khimi’s, forcing him to shift his focus. Khimi resists the kiss, his movements are slow, his tongue restrained. Lumi attempts to breathe more steadily, losing himself slowly, his body writhing against Khimi’s. Khimi’s hand slides down Lumi’s waist, his fingertips move beneath the loincloth.

Whimpering softly, Lumi nuzzles against Khimi’s neck and whispers, “This is what I mean.” Khimi’s hand slides beneath the black thong, his fingers beginning to stroke the length of Lumi’s shaft. Lumi gasps at the unfamiliar sensation, remembering how Khimi had always been hesitant to touch him in public.

Khimi glances back at the road behind them, his voice low and husky as he says, “I guess you just bring it out of me.”

“I remember the first time we walked through Rhaz together,” Lumi continues, whimpering again as he grinds his hips against Khimi’s waist. The outline of Khimi’s cock nudges against him through the thin linen sarouel.

Khimi’s hand moves along Lumi’s torso to his chin, gently tilting his face up towards his own. Their eyes meet and Lumi can feel his cheeks flush with heat. Khimi’s thumb rubs against his bottom lip, “Open,” he demands in a whisper, bringing his forehead against Lumi’s.

Lumi complies without hesitation, eager to please. Khimi’s thumb rubs against his coarse tongue. His eyes locked with Khimi’s. Lumi rocks his hips, his cock sliding between Khimi’s slickened fingers. He’s…so gorgeous. Lumi’s cheeks brighten, the sound of his purring roars louder throughout his body. He closes his lips around Khimi’s thumb, Khimi’s cheeks widen into a feverish smile.

Khimi laughs softly, brushing his lips over Lumi’s blond hair. “This is indecent,” he jokes.

I do’on c’ur,” Lumi declares boldly before taking Khimi’s thumb back into his mouth, sucking on it eagerly. Khimi chuckles at the sight, his cheeks widening into a feverish smile.

Khimi laughs, “What’s that now?”

Lumi pulls Khimi’s thumb from his mouth, “I don’t care!” He exclaims, his cheeks a furious scarlet. His body trembles against Khimi’s with his excited purrs.

Khimi’s lips nestle back into Lumi’s hair, “You’re such a minx,” Khimi teases between kisses.

“I’m a lion,” Lumi corrects playfully, rolling his eyes at Khimi’s teasing.

“How could I forget?” Khimi replies with a smirk.

Lumi bites down on Khimi’s thumb sharply with his fang, causing him to wince and pull away. But Lumi holds his grip, using the opportunity to push against Khimi even harder. Khimi retaliates by squeezing firmly on Lumi’s arousal, causing him to moan and writhe in pleasure. His efforts increase, his fingers barely having to move to stroke Lumi’s full length. Lumi pants heavily, his thighs gripping tightly around Khimi’s waist as he nears climax. His tongue hungrily licks and sucks on Khimi’s thumb, occasionally running over the soft underside of it.

Khimi grips Lumi’s chin and raises his face to meet his own, pulling his thumb from Lumi’s mouth only to replace it with his tongue. Their tongues dance together in a passionate and heated exchange, while Lumi continues to pant and writhe against Khimi’s body. Suddenly, he can’t hold back any longer, and he presses himself tightly against Khimi as warm seed spills out onto their clothes.

Khimi holds his hand over Lumi’s now spent cock, gently fondling it while it continues to slowly dribble. With a satisfied sigh, he finally pulls his hand back and replaces the thong over Lumi’s exposed genitals.

“You never would have done that before,” Lumi breathes out in amazement after taking a moment to catch his breath.

Khimi brings the slickened fingers to Lumi’s cheek. “I do feel… more at ease during travel,” he confesses quietly, looking behind them at the empty street.

“Look at me,” Lumi whispers, taking Khimi’s hand. He carefully licks along the length of each digit, giving Khimi a coy smile.

Khimi curses under his breath, his cock nodding more aggressively beneath Lumi. “You’re out of control.”

“The taste doesn’t bother me,” Lumi replies while he licks between each finger.

Khimi tousles Lumi’s hair, watching Lumi lick each finger with careful consideration. “I’ve been thinking a lot…about us lately,” he whispers, glancing at the setting sun behind Lumi.

Oh?” Lumi sounds, peering from over Khimi’s hand.

“I am –” Khimi pauses. Lumi’s tail slaps between his thighs. “I am admittedly…bad at expressing myself sometimes.”

You don’t say!” Lumi teases, snorting with laughter.

“I’m serious,” Khimi says, pulling his hand back. “I want to be able to…express myself more with you. I want to tell you more.”

“Do you want me to go first?” Lumi asks, straightening himself on Khimi’s lap. He clears his throat and lifts his head up high.

Khimi looks at him curiously, “What are you inferring?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.

Lumi smirks, then continues, raising a finger, “You don’t have to tell me…some things if you don’t want, Khimi,” he says softly. “Even if you…don’t say you love me. It is enough for me to see it.”

Khimi shakes his head, “It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s still just I don’t know how to say it,” he whispers. He grabs Lumi’s raised hand. “But, I will tell you that…what we have, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

Lumi closes his eyes, his nose wrinkling. “I-I uh need a moment,” he whispers, his eyes filling with tears. “What’re ya sayin’?” He asks, smiling between sniffles.

“I want to protect you…Lumi. I just feel th—“

“I love you too!” Lumi interrupts.

Wait, listen!” Khimi begins again, “Lumi…it’s more than that.”

Lumi stares blankly, waiting anxiously on Khimi’s lap. He lets out a deep sigh, “Please don’t keep me waiting like this,” he whispers, bouncing in anticipation.

Hmph!” Khimi sounds, turning his head with a smirk. “The moment passed now, too la—“

Shut up!” Lumi shouts, grabbing Khimi’s shirt and giving him a solid shake. “I’m sorry, I won’t interrupt.”

Khimi glances down at him, the corner of his lips curling into a smile. “Well, I was thinking that…I know you’re young, and you never got a chance to be with anyone else. But may–”

“Who cares,” Lumi interrupts anxiously, his eyes alight in wonder. “I don’t wanna be with anyone else.”

Lumi!” Khimi grumbles in frustration.

Lumi slams his forehead into Khimi’s chest. “I’m sorry, just…what is it!?” He pleads, looking up at Khimi with soft, watery eyes.

“I was saying! I know you haven’t gotten to be with anyone, els—”

“Why would I want that?” Lumi interrupts again with a scowl. “You’re who I am destined to be with!”

Khimi rolls his eyes, “You’re incorrigible,” he mutters, placing his hands on Lumi’s smooth hips. “I want to spend my life with you…if you feel the same way tha—“

Lumi’s heart races, his eyes quickly meet Khimi’s. He cuts him off, “What?!

“I mean…you don’t have to say anything now,” Khimi whispers, his thumbs rubbing against Lumi’s waist. “You can say no, I won’t hold it against you.”

Lumi shakes his head in dismay. “Wait, what are you saying? I need you to be perfectly clear!” He demands while he scans Khimi’s expression with hopeful eyes.

“I don’t want to share you,” Khimi murmurs, his fingers depressing into the soft flesh of Lumi’s waist. “I know it’s not…commonplace for beastkin and humans to cross that line.” His brow pinches in worry.

“I don’t care about that,” Lumi whispers in response while he embraces Khimi tightly. “I thought…you were gonna ask me to leave or something again…say that I was too stupid an—”

Hm,” Khimi sounds, his arms engulfing Lumi. “You certainly know how to find danger and maybe you are a bit dense…but I want to protect you,” he whispers into Lumi’s ears. “And if you find danger, I will be by your side.”

“I-I don’t need protection…” Lumi’s words trail off. He goes silent, allowing their embrace. “Okay…you can protect me,” he decides in a whisper. He smiles while Khimi pulls him tighter, their bodies smashed together.

Khimi brushes his cheek over Lumi’s head. “There is something else,” he mutters after a lengthy silence. “I’ve only recently been made aware of one of the reasons beastkin and many of the other races…don’t mix.”

Mmm,” Lumi sounds and looks up to meet Khimi’s stony gaze. “What’s that?” He asks quietly, a hint of concern in his voice.

Khimi’s brow furrows over his iron expression, “I was told by an acolyte that the souls of beastkin and other races aren’t all destined for the same afterlife. Lumi…if something should happen to us, we won’t know eternity…in fact, we may never know eternity,” he whispers, then looks past Lumi. The red sun slowly fades behind the horizon. “When most are wed, it is part of their vows to share their eternal bond through the next life.”

Lumi’s face screws up, “That’s dumb,” he says suddenly, taking Khimi off guard.

Khimi laughs quietly, “I-I have to agree,” he says, watching Lumi’s stupefied expression grow to anger.

“There…has gotta be someway,” Lumi thinks aloud and itches his head in contemplation. “I’ve known several beastkin who have bonded and paired with humans or elves…are you sure? Nina oversaw a yilan and an elf’s bonding ceremony at the temple.”

Khimi sighs, placing both hands over Lumi’s ears, “Positive,” he says. “I’ve been at the Palace inquiring about it myself much in the past month…”

“Then…are you sure?” Lumi asks under his breath. “Is this what you want?”

“Yes,” Khimi responds quickly. “I’ve been thinking about this ever since you walked back into my room in Rhaz…Lumi, I want to be with you.”

Lumi smiles uncontrollably while Khimi scratches behind his rounded ears, “Then we’ll find a way. We’ll find a way to share eternity!” He exclaims, pulling himself against Khimi with a hearty embrace.

“Those are lofty goals,” Khimi whispers. Lumi nuzzles his cheek against his chest.

Lumi becomes silent, his face pressed firmly into Khimi’s linen shirt, “Khimi…y-you have no idea how much you mean to me,” he stutters. Khimi’s hand tangles into his hair. “I’m serious, Khimi…before I found you.”

Khimi looks down at Lumi, “Before you found me.?”

“No one cared,” Lumi sighs, “Living with the other aslan…my brother.”

“But you had Nina,” Khimi replies, scratching the back of Lumi’s ears. “But, I am here with you now and…” His words trail.

Lumi rubs his wet nose over Khimi’s linen shirt, his tail swaying happily behind him. “Khimi…”


“Do you think…maybe we’ll always be together?”


“We’ll find a way, right?”

“We’ll try.”

“Do I make you happy?”

“Of course.”

“I’m glad.”


The pause that follows seems never ending.

“I love you too, Khimi,” Lumi whispers finally, breaking the uncomfortable quiet.


Days had passed, their time in Betset, drawing to a close. The ship sits heavy in the water, its hull bursting with precious cargo. Khimi, ever cautious, insists on finding lodging close to the docks in case of an emergency. They settle into a small building perched over the wooden piers, their temporary home for the remaining days of their stay. The smell of fish and brine permeates the air, causing Lumi’s nose to wrinkle in disgust. He finds himself wandering away from the bustle of the docks, seeking solace along the rugged cliffs and crags, where he could watch the sea in peace.

Ships moor along the piers, sailors hustle back and forth, their voices echoing through the harbor. Lumi longs to spend his last day here with Khimi, but he knows his partner is busy fulfilling his duties as Lord Zeybek. Feeling frustrated, he kicks rocks off the edge of the cliff and watched them tumble down onto the rocky shore below.

Suddenly, he hears footsteps approaching from behind and turns to see Rashid, Khimi’s advisor and friend, making his way towards him with labored breaths. His plump figure is emphasized by his hands resting on his hips, and his tan kaftan is coated in dirt and dust. Letting out an exasperated sigh, Rashid finally catches his breath and greets Lumi.

 “Quite a hike,” he manages between gasps for air.

Lumi turns back to face the vessels, still feeling uneasy around Rashid after their previous altercation. There is a part of him that hold onto anger towards Rashid for their sparring match — something he had yet to forgive or forget.

Rashid sucks his teeth, approaching slowly. “Ya still hate me since our little spar?” He asks abruptly after a lengthy silence. He looks out over the ships and buildings. “I think Khimi is down there,” he points to a building near the eastern side of the dock with a thatched roof.

“I saw,” Lumi replies, hugging his knees. “He’s been there a while.”

Rashid lets out a sigh of resignation. “Ya ready to put all this business behind us?” He asks and lowers himself on the dusty sandstone beside Lumi. “Ya haven’t a clue…how much that boy means to me. He’s like my own.”

Lumi turns to Rashid, giving him a blank stare. “I still…think if you hadn’t told Khimi anything, then we would have been fine. He never would have seen that woman. He never would ha—“

“Ya don’t know that,” Rashid interrupts. He huffs, before spreading his legs out over the stone.

Lumi turns his head defiantly. “I know you told him I was immature and emotional,” he replies furiously. “Khimi told me.”

Rashid scoffs, “Well, y’re immature…and emotional. But y’re also young. Ya haven’t lived through what Khimi ha—“

Lumi stands quickly, “You don’t know what I’ve been through!” He shouts, throwing his hands out before him.

Rashid nods in a slow calm. He runs his fingers through his graying beard. “I don’t, but ya never shared,” he says, glancing up at the angered Lumi. “I knew after that day…ya’d never forgiven me. I could see it plain as day,”

Lumi’s teeth clatter together in anger, “I did mean it. I hoped to put everything behind us,” he says, crossing his arms. “I thought about it…and the more I thought about it, the more angry I became.”

“Ya can ask Khimi…from the moment he met ya. I thought it was a good match, but…y’re so young, Lumi,” Rashid whispers, glancing up at him with soft eyes. “Ya’ve never experienced the world like Khimi has.”

“And I never would have if you had your way!” Lumi growls, his tail flails angrily behind him, “What do you want from me?” He demands. “I don’t understand whatever game you’re playing at! Do you even care about Khimi or is it just the Cerulean Star?”

“Ya could go back to the temple,” Rashid begins, “Live out a life of peace. Is this the type of lifestyle ya want? Dangers and traveling?”

Lumi pulls his hair in frustration, “I’ll NEVER go back to the temple!” He shouts. “Kh-Khimi means everything to me! My life is with him! My life IS him!”

Rashid scoffs, stretching his legs over the cliffside. “Look at how quickly ya got angry,” he laughs, watching Lumi bear his fangs. “Ya feel like hitting me right now, right? Well, don’t cha?”

“Of course I do!” Lumi continues, “How can you just…ask me that? You know how much he means to me! Do you want me to give up Khimi and go back to the temple so badly? Are you that bent out of shape that Khimi chose to love me?”

Rashid clicks his tongue, pushing himself up to his knees. “How about a do-over?” He asks, clapping his hands free of dust.

“Do over?” Lumi asks, backing away from Rashid. He tugs on the linen half shirt, “For what?”

“Our little sparring match. Just us…here. No spectators this time,” Rashid begins, turning towards Lumi.

“What for? Lumi growls again, “You’re mad if you think I want to spar with you after last time,” he adds in a furious haze.

“Don’t get y’re sarouel all knotted,” Rashid laughs, “I won’t call you names…or insult you this time.”

“Why though? There is no reason to,” Lumi mutters while he continues to back away from Rashid.

“My approval…if that even matters,” Rashid chortles, walking to Lumi, “Because, I want to see ya grow. I want ya to prove to me that ya’d give anything for Khimi,”

Lumi’s brow furrows, “Your approval means nothing to me!” He barks, his tail swings behind him furiously. “But I’ll fight you just because!”

“I brought a spear, it’s against a palm down the way,” he says, pressing his knuckles against his lower back. “Y’re young and spry. Go fetch it.”

    Lumi scoffs at the old man. He turns abruptly, running down a short series of sandstone stairs carved into the rocky outcrop. Making his way down the small gully, he finds Rashid’s shamshir tucked against a palm, a spear lying on the ground nearby. He picks it up, feeling the wooden shaft in his hands. It feels weighty, much more than those which he was familiar with. He practices a few quick jabs against the palm, testing his form with the unfamiliar weapon. Rashid is settin’ me up for failure…it’s twice as heavy. Lumi sighs, then collects the shamshir, swinging the sheathed blade over his shoulder by the leather cord. He trots up the sandstone stairs barefoot, the evening sun beats down over him. At the top of the yellowed cliff, Lumi spots Rashid stretching in preparation. I can’t hate him…he’s one of Khimi’s only friends, he tells himself with a grumble of aggravation.

Rashid turns to stare at him. “Ya alright, boy? I heard ya makin’ some sorta funny noises,” he mutters at Lumi’s approach from across the stony ground.

Lumi blinks slowly, “It’s nothing…I want to be clear. I don’t hate you, Rashid,” he says, tossing the sheathed blade across the distance.

Rashid rushes to catch it, “Careful! That’s a precious piece of history!” He shouts at Lumi, catching it in both arms. He pulls the curved blade from its sheath, inspecting its length. His fingers test its sharpness with several quick taps. “I know ya don’t hate me,” He says, glancing up from the blade.  “Ya just resent me a bit is all…maybe a bit more than resent.”

Lumi chuckles, “I guess that’s one way to put it. I just…wish you had faith in me,” he says, twirling the heavy spear in his hand.

“Heavy innit?” Rashid asks with a smug grin.

Lumi’s ears twitch, “I knew it, you are trying to kill me,” he chuckles, spinning the spear behind him. “It’s twice as heavy as the ones I trained with.”

“This one won’t break easily, little lion,” Rashid says, cracking his neck menacingly. “It’s made from heartwood. It’s dense, and has a heft to it.”

Lumi groans, then rolls forwards and backwards on the balls of his feet. “It’s too heavy to throw,” he says, testing an overhanded toss. Just before it leaves his fingers, he stops, clenching tightly to the wooden shaft. “I don’t thin–”

“It’s not a javelin, Lumi. It ain’t for throwing,” Rashid grumbles, preparing himself.

Lumi places his hand on his hip and stabs the pole into the dirt. “A spear should be able to be used as a javelin,” he mutters angrily.

 “Not this one,” Rashid begins. “It’s much too heavy. Especially for y’reself, ya don’t have that kinda upper body strength.”

Hmph! I’m a lot stronger than I look!” Lumi says, lowering himself into a crouching position. He brings the spear before him, pointing it at Rashid. “I took out that chain man in the arena.”

“Right ya are,” Rashid scoffs, “No magick this time!” He calls, wagging a finger.

Lumi’s eyes meet Rashid’s, “Why not?”

“Because…I already know ya have the potential with magic. Show me what’cha learned at the temple. Each order employs their own style…show me what ya learned at y’res,” Rashid explains while he tests his blade with several swings.

The sound of the blade cutting through the air causes Lumi’s ears to twitch. “Not using your shield this time?” he asks, waiting for Rashid to approach.

Rashid shrugs, “Won’t need it,” he adds confidently.

“A-Alright,” Lumi says, tilting his head with curiosity. “But when I kick your a–”


Lumi crosses the distance over the stone within a blink, his footfalls barely make a sound over the stones. His spear slides along the blade of the shamshir with Rashid’s parry. He somersaults, stirring a cloud of dust in his wake. Rashid pursues him, swinging violently, his slices effortless and direct. Lumi blows the hair from his eyes, while forcing a gap between them.

“You’re actually trying to kill me!” Lumi howls. He spins the spear in his hands, “You are, aren’t you?!”

Rashid lets out an ominous laugh, his expression blank. “Kill ya? No, I’m certain Khimi’d have my head.”

“We can stop now,” Lumi sighs, backpedaling from Rashid. “I-I have too much to live for…”


Rashid dashes at Lumi, his leather caligae grinding against the dirt and pebbles on the sandstone cliff. He slides into his attack, slashing at Lumi. Lumi attempts to divert the blow, being pushed back by the sheer force of Rashid’s swing. He stumbles backwards, a second swing smashes into the heaven wooden handle. It takes considerable effort for Rashid to pull the blade out of the heartwood handle. Lumi’s face changes from excitement to worry, Rashid presses him further back towards the stairs.

“Where’s that fighting spirit?!” Rashid shouts with increasing intensity.

“You’re trying to kill me!”

“Swing at me!”

“No! You’ve lost it!” Lumi shouts, deflecting another blow. “You’ve gone mad!”

Lumi thrusts his spear in several quick jabs, each closer to Rashid than the next. Sweat begins to drip from Lumi’s brow. He recalls his hundreds of hours of training with Hasim. Though Hasim had used a variety of weapons, he had been fond of scimitars during their sparring matches. Lumi instinctively pushes forward, his spear smashing against Rashid’s shamshir. He notices the awkward gait in Rashid’s movement, every jab along his side puts him off balance. He feints another thrust. Rashid swings to deflect, and Lumi pushes the tip of the spear between his legs. Sweeping the spear wide, he takes Rashid off guard. Rashid stumbles back, falling to one knee, he looks up at Lumi with a smile. Lumi points his spear at his chest.

“That was good, little lion. But we’re jus’ gettin’ started,” Rashid mumbles.

Lumi groans in defiance.

The hours seem to pass in a flicker. Lumi and Rashid continue their sparring until the sky darkens, the red sun setting behind the cliffs. Lumi finds himself exhausted, his feet covered in layers of grime from a mixture of sweat and dust. He notices Rashid developing a deeper limp, an awkwardness in his gait. He wipes a layer of soot from his cheek, letting his shoulders slump, before he falls to his knees in a mock exhaustion.

“Rashid, you’ve bested me!” He calls out over the cliff, lowering his head in defeat.

“Come now. You would have had me twice over.”

“No…I can’t bear another moment!”

“Fine, there will be plenty of time on the ship to practice,” Rashid mutters, then stretches, rolling his shoulders.

Lumi cheers mockingly, “I can’t wait.”

Lumi stands and slowly approaches Rashid, extending a hand to him. Rashid takes his arm, gripping it tightly, a cheerful glint in his eyes.

“Are you going to tell Khimi?” Lumi asks, a smile touching his eyes. “About your health?”

Rashid grumbles while Lumi carefully escorts him to the stairs, “I can heal my wounds, but not the wear of age. Khimi doesn’t need to know about my health.”

“I won’t say a word,” Lumi promises, patting Rashid’s arm. “Is the spear…for me? I rather liked it.”

Rashid gives Lumi a knowing look, “Course it is. Ya can still use the lighter spears for throwin’. If ya improve your strength, you could throw that one too…even if it’s not meant for it.”

Lumi halts, before they begin to descend the stairs into the gully. Rashid winces, lowering himself onto one of the dust covered stairs carved into the ridge.

“Rashid…” Lumi whispers in concern, “Here, drink,” he instructs, bringing a waterskin from their things to Rashid’s lips.

Rashid drinks deeply, squeezing the leather pouch tight. The lukewarm water streams into his mouth, “Thanks,” he breathes between gulps, “I’ve been feeling overwhelmed since the Dolmans attacked.”


“No…let me finish.”

“Al-Alright,” Lumi mutters, taking a seat beside Rashid on the dirty stair and stares at his feet, slapping them together to remove the dust.

Rashid rolls his shoulder again, stretching before taking another drink from the waterskin. “I know ya have Khimi’s best intentions in y’re heart. But, Khimi thinks less around ya. He becomes rash and quick to make decisions without weighing their outcomes.”

“If you’re referri–”

“It’s not just the one time,” Rashid continues, interrupting Lumi. “There have been several instances where ya have seduced him into acting out of character…it’s unlike him.”

Seduced, huh?” Lumi asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Don’t know how else to phrase it,” Rashid chuckles. “Ya make em’ dumb.”

Lumi’s face screws up, “Kh-Khimi is the smartest person I know!”

“I’m not sayin’ he isn’t smart, just sayin’ ya make him…less rational. I need ya to look out for him, Lumi. I won’t always be around to protect him. He’s a man full-grown now,” Rashid mutters, watching the palms sway gracefully in the gully.

“Khimi doesn’t need to think that much anyway,” Lumi says, waving his hand at Rashid’s words.

“I appreciate ya being with him, and I won’t do anything to keep ya apart. But I have to express my concern for the Cerulean Star,” Rashid says, glancing sideways at Lumi. “But…Khimi’s happiness will always be my first concern. He’s never had feelings for anyone before, so this bond ya both share…it’s special. Protect it, protect him.”

Lumi remains quiet, picking at the dirt over his sarouel while carefully contemplating Rashid’s words. Rashid pats Lumi on the shoulder, remaining silent.

The sea breeze moves past them, carrying the scents and smells of the docks through the gully. Salt, fish, and smoke. The lanterns in the buildings begin to illuminate with the sunlight beginning to fade.  

“Khimi is the only thing I have to protect,” Lumi finally manages. His eyes focused on a frayed thread on his linen trousers. He picks and tugs at the loose string. “Rashid, I love him. I know it doesn’t seem like it has been that long…but I have always loved him. Bu–”

“I’ve seen romances that blossom into marriages within days, by all means, I don’t believe y’re going too quick,” Rashid interrupts. “But I do believe that y’re Khimi’s weakness, so I’d just simply ask ya, Lumi. To care for ‘em. If ya truly care about Khimi, love ‘em with all y’re heart.”

“I’ll always love him!”

“Good, then we have nothing else to discuss…”


Hm? Something else?” Rashid asks. Pushing himself up with a heavy grunt, he turns back to Lumi.

“I-I…thanks,” Lumi whispers.

“For the spear?”

“For the spear…for being kind to Khimi. He told me how much you mean to him. How you’ve been like a father figure throughout his childhood. He told me about Ziad and Aleyna,” Lumi whispers, his voice faltering.

Rashid clicks his tongue, “Khimi had a rough life. Ziad certainly affected his psyche. I feared he would become mute…the year after Ziad left, he barely spoke a word.”

“Khimi told me the other night…he was scared Ziad may have returned. Do you think it’s true?” Lumi asks, gauging the elderly man’s expression.

Rashid places his hand over his eyes, “Hells, ya tell each other everything?”

“Just about,” Lumi murmurs, “or at least I try to.”

“Well then…I do. I believe that he may have returned briefly,” Rashid whispers softly.

Lumi looked at Rashid with concern, “Then… Aleyna? Should we go to Sidi?”

Rashid sighs loudly, leaning back over the stairs. “I am concerned for Aleyna, but my sworn duty is to Khi–”

“Then you should go to Aleyna!” Lumi interjects, standing from the stairs. “If Ziad is there…Khimi told me about how he treated Aleyna!”

“Lumi…” Rashid replies in a delicate tone. “I will go to Aleyna. As soon as I see Khimi to the Isles, I will see to her health shortly afterward. I told Khimi I was planning to leave his service for a whil–”

WHAT?!” Lumi interrupts, his eyes growing wide. “It wasn’t because of me, was it?”

Rashid chuckles, “Aye, just a few moments with ya were enough to scare a warden from his ward.”

“You’re joking, right?!” Lumi says, narrowing his eyes at the elderly man.

Rashid slaps his knee joyfully, “Course. Can’t scare me off that easily. No matter how hard ya might try,” he says, pushing himself back up with a grunt.

“Rashid,” Lumi begins. He stands and takes Rashid’s arm, aiding him down the stairs. “How old are you?”

Rashid scoffs, “I was old before Khimi’s birth.”

“You’re not that old…I think you’re fakin’ it,” Lumi chortles.

“Tell me how ya feel after serving for twenty-five years as a paladin,” Rashid mutters angrily. “Then huntin’ Khimi down over the Desert Cities for a decade.”

“Twenty-five years isn’t that long,” Lumi replies dismissively. “And Khimi was a good child, I am sure,” he adds with a smile.

Rashid sighs, “Khimi was an ideal child, but raising him wasn’t without its complications!”

“Oh! You’ve piqued my interest,” Lumi says, walking through the deep gully towards the small harbor. “What kind of kid was he?”

“He was quiet, but he had an adventurous streak. He was learning to ride a horse around three years old,” Rashid pauses. He looks around them in the gully. “Khimi ran away from home many times. I’d always hunt ’em down before Ziad found out he was missing.”

Hmph! I knew he was a troublemaker,” Lumi begins, “I knew he couldn’t be that perfect!” Laughing at Rashid’s recollection.

“I’d always find him in places like this…quiet places where ya could think…his face always somber like he was lost in his head.” Rashid smiles, continuing along the path, “Khimi gave his tutors more trouble than me though, he has an inquisitive mind. Like ya said, Khimi is smart…but he lacks wisdom in certain fields.”

“Such as?” Lumi pleads, guiding Rashid over a wooden bridge towards the harbor.

“Khimi has a way about him. He understands concepts and has studied them, but applying them into practice can be difficult for him,” Rashid says, glancing at Lumi out of the corner of his eyes. “From what I can tell, ya have the opposite sort of scenario goin’ on.”

Lumi scratches his head, “I guess, I don’t know a lot of stuff…but I can usually figure things out pretty quickly…and Saint Nina said I was a really quick study.”

“Precisely. Ya have the wisdom to apply concepts, while Khimi has the intelligence to know them,” Rashid grumbles just before they near the entrance of the harbor.

“Rashid, can I ask you one more thing?”


“I feel…we had a strange start. Do you hate me?”

Rashid pauses just past one of the many mudbrick buildings. He shakes his head at Lumi, turning to face him. “The moment Khimi met ya, he seemed happier. I was happy to see him happy for the first time in his life…but ya also showed me some concerning featur–”

“Which?” Lumi blinks, looking dejected.

“Y’re emotional, full of rage, and impulsive. When I told Khimi…after that evening, I wasn’t expecting him to tell ya anything,” Rashid says. He shakes his head again, “I never expected that things would go that way, and for that I apologize. I feel partly responsible for everything that happened after.”

Lumi sighs, “I think…” he begins, “We should put that behind us. I think that it made Khimi and I appreciate one another more. So perhaps…you have my thanks.”

Rashid scowls at Lumi, “Don’t patronize me. I know when I made a mistake.”

“Please, Rashid.”


Lumi hangs his head, “Rashid, it’s okay. Really. Khimi and I are better for what happened.”

“Then ya forgive me in earnest?” Rashid asks, giving Lumi a curious peek through the corner of his eye.

“I do, at least…I think I do,” Lumi says, kicking his feet through the sand.

Rashid sits in silence for a moment, “It’s better than nothing, I suppose.”

“How about…I’ll buy you dinner to show you I mean it?” Lumi says, his lips curling into a smile.

“Wh-What? Impossible, you don’t have any coin!”

Right,” Lumi says to himself, scratching his chin. “Well, I offered at least,” he says with a shrug. “That’s a start, right?”

Rashid chuckles, “I suppose that’s the truth of it.”

The Emerald Shoal

The darkness of night had descends upon the coastal town, filling the tavern with rowdy equine[1] sailors. Their Lorian galleon sits proudly docked in the harbor, too cumbersome to bring to port. Lumi and Rashid sit alone beneath a small walled porch at the front of the lively tavern. The air is filled with the smell of freshly brewed ale and the sounds of laughter and music. Small pots, lovingly painted in vibrant primary colors, adorn the walls in neat rows, each bursting with fragrant herbs. Lumi finds himself captivated by the display. The night has already been filled with many rounds of drinks, but Lumi’s love for alcohol knows no bounds. Rashid cannot help but tease him about it. Though Lumi may find the taunts annoying, he endures them with a smile, eager to solidify their newfound friendship. During their wait, a sudden outburst of shouting echoes from within the tavern walls. Curiosity getting the best of him, Lumi quickly grabs his wooden cup and rushes to the entrance of the bustling establishment. He peers through the open window in search of the source of the commotion.

The Equine sailors stand about a circle, shoulder to shoulder, shouting and cheering. Lumi pushes a small barrel beneath the window, standing on top of it. He sees several familiar faces from the tavern in Betset, but it is neither Raife, Soad, nor Zaeem who stand in the center of the impromptu ring. Instead, two Halflings circle one another, each with a blade in hand. The tavern keeper and its employees attempt to quiet the crowd and separate them, but with little success. Lumi calls for Rashid and the elderly man hobbles to him, placing his hand on the barrel.

“It looks like…a halfling fight,” Lumi whispers to Rashid. Others under the porch stare at them curiously. “You have to see!”

Rashid chortles, “Halfling fight?”

“Yeah, they seem really intense! Look at ‘em!” Lumi begins, nearly stumbling from the barrel.

Rashid puts his weight against the barrel, keeping it in place while Lumi tips back and forth in his drunkenness. “What’re ya seein’ up there?”

“The brown haired one looks really mad, but it’s hard to see over all those sailors. C-Can we go in?” Lumi asks, pressing against the window.

“I’d rather not go in the middle of that sort of thing,” Rashid chuckles, grabbing Lumi’s ankles. “And I don’t think Khimi would approve of it either way.”

Lumi looks down at Rashid, his cheeks flush from drink, “S-Shut up,” he musters with a laugh. “What Khimi doesn’t know won’t hurt him!”

 Lumi chuckles, watching the halflings dart about the circle. They feint swings left and right, and the crowd shouts bawdy taunts and jeers. Raife bounces up and down on his heels, his drooping ears flapping merrily. Several equine figures exchange handfuls of coins behind one another’s backs, placing bets on the winner. Curious of what could have spurred such an event, Lumi steps from the barrel and darts to the door of the Emerald Shoal, shoving his way past a small gaggle of bystanders. The tall, blond equine sailors move out of the way for Lumi with his aggressive nudges against them. He finds himself beside Raife, who shakes his head in disbelief once he spots Lumi beside him.

“Funny seeing you without your other half, Lumi!” Raife shouts over the crowd. He places his arm around Lumi’s shoulder. “Seems that we stumbled upon something special!”

“What’s happening!?” Lumi asks cheerfully, standing on the tips of his toes.

Raife laughs, “From what I can gather…that Halfling slept with the black-haired one’s wife. Who is…right over there,” he gestures to a large woman in the corner.

Whaaat?!” Lumi sounds, glancing at the massive woman with a kerchief to her nose. “I guess…she has a type,” he mumbles, watching the orcish woman mourn over the event.

Lumi had only seen an orc a few times throughout his travels. Once in the temple there had been a traveler who stayed with an orcish guard and then again in Rhaz after he arrived with Khimi. The woman likely weighed five times his own weight and had muscles comparable to some of the fiercest aslan he had seen. 

Soad leans in past Raife, “Absolutely right about that. Certainly a curiosity!” he chuckles, “It’s like…that one troupe. The Cirque di Fortuna.”

“Shouldn’t someone get a guard or something?” Lumi asks the surrounding men.

Raife and Soad give Lumi a careful glance, “And ruin the entertainment?!”

“They could get hurt though!” Lumi says quickly. He pauses thoughtfully, “Actually…I guess I would be feeling the same as them.”

Raife gives Lumi a nod, “There we go! Now, who do you think is gonna get the first stab?”

Lumi watches the two Halflings, one wearing a stable hand’s jerkin and the other wielding a kitchen cleaver. One is probably a cook and has a better sense of using a knife. On the other hand…the stable hand is likely much stronger. He watches the two Halflings curiously a moment, considering his choices. The chef skillfully and dexterously swings his cleaver, while the stable hand leaps forward, thrusting his dirk aggressively. The stable hand’s brow and cheeks flush from the heat.

“The cook,” Lumi says abruptly. “He’s calm…is he the husband?”

Soad laughs, “I think she was married to the stable hand…he barged in here with his wife right behind ‘em.”

 “So the cook made a cuck of the stable hand, huh?” Raife says to himself, watching the melee with a joyful smile. “Sounds ‘bout right. All the cooks I know think they are the greatest things in Talmus.”

 Rashid approaches behind Lumi and places his hands on his shoulders. The brawl continues, the halflings shifting back and forth trying to gain the upper hand on one another.

Rashid grumbles, “Senseless violence. Anyone going to break them up?”

“Do-Don’t think so,” Lumi hiccups. “Oh, Rashid, did you want to stop them?”

Rashid looks about the room, then sighs. The rowdy crowd cheers again, calling for bloodshed, “Best we not. Else someone might just put one between our ribs.”

Raife whistles, “You think you’re up to stop two Halflings from carving one another?”

“Not interested,” Rashid replies quickly.

Soad leans in, “I bet twenty gold you couldn’t stop them?”

Lumi’s ears perk up at that, “I’ll do it for fifty!”

Rashid groans, “Where is Khimi?” He asks himself aloud. “Don’t you dare, Lumi.” 

Zaeem carries a mug of ale to Lumi, “Hells, if you can get those two idiots to quit fighting, I’ll give you the gold right now. I’ll throw in twenty and Raife can throw in ten if you can stop them…but I doubt it.”

Lumi smirks, taking the ale from Zaeem’s hand. “Does it matter how it’s done?” He asks, taking a lengthy sip while keeping his eyes fixed on the fighting.

The three men laugh heartily before Raife says, “Perhaps we shall leave that up to you,” he says, clapping Lumi’s shoulder.

“Well th–” Lumi chokes on the ale from Raife’s slap. “I guess…I’ll see what I can do!”

Rashid sighs, shaking his head at the three men. “If something happens to him, it’s on you three,” he says, wagging an angry finger. “He’s not all qui–”

Rashid’s words are drowned out, Lumi pushes past the two large Equine sailors standing before him, bursting through the crowd. Several people eye him skeptically while he carelessly walks between the two halflings, extending his hands at each of them. The halflings lower their weapons, staring at him. A lengthy silence follows. Lumi glances back and forth between the two, waiting for either of them to act first. Members of the crowd holler and jeer at Lumi, booing him to get out of the ring. Raife chuckles with the other men, and Rashid’s eyes fill with worry. In his drunken stupor, he feels alert and awake. He ignores the calls and screams from the crowd. 

The halfling dressed in stable livery begins to push past Lumi. Lumi reaches for his wrist in that moment and directs his momentum back into the crowd. The crowd caws while the stable hand slams into onlookers. The cook bores holes through Lumi with an angry scowl, then leaps forward, slashing down in a swift motion while howling at the top of his lungs. Lumi steps aside, his tail swaying behind him, aiding his balance. He retaliates with a backhanded punch, his knuckles making violent contact with the halfling’s jaw. The cook looks up at Lumi with a dumbstruck expression, his hatred for the stable hand quickly forgotten. The stable hand finds his bearings, shouting angry curses. Lumi remains expressionless, focused on his surroundings. Just remember what Ennui said, “Don’t get distracted.”

“HEY! YOU!” The stable hand calls, waving his hand up at Lumi. “What’s the big deal? You want in on the action? You fuck my wife too?”

The thought of sleeping with the orcish woman brings tears of laughter to Lumi’s eyes. “Hells,” he mutters, wiping the corners of his eyes. “No, I just want you two to quit fighting!” He says cheerfully. 

Right,” the stable hand replies, wiping sweat from his brow. “Well, ain’t gonna happen, and y’re in my fookin way,” he says, his dirk pointing at Lumi.  

“What’s your goal here, cat?!” The cook shouts.

Cat?!” Lumi growls. His tail curls in anger, then stands on end while his ears twitch. “I’m a LION!” He roars as loud as he can manage in his drunken state before he stumbles forward.

“Feline, aslan, pantera…all the same to me,” the cook grumbles, “Now get out of the bloody way, you little shit!”

Lumi grumbles to himself, and the crowd laughs at their exchange. The cook meets Lumi with his cleaver in hand and makes a mock swing in front of him threateningly. Lumi feels the ground shaking, the stable hand dashes behind him. He turns, evading the halfling barreling towards him. Annoyed, Lumi kicks the back of the man’s knee, knocking him to the floor. The cook follows up once the stable hand falls to the floor, he swings the cleaver at Lumi, and cuts a large gash over Lumi’s shoulder, the cook howling with every voracious swing. Lumi backs away, dodging the cooks’ continuous swings. I should have kept my eyes on the cook.

The circle widens, the Equine sailors move back from the crazed halflings. Lumi’s eyes grow wide with worry. Khimi pushes past two sailors. The cook continues to focus on Lumi, swinging at him repeatedly. I could have ended this before…but I didn’t want to hurt anyone. The stable hand pushes himself to his knees, looking up at Khimi passing him by. He shouts at Khimi for being in his way, yet finds himself ignored.

Lumi’s head spins from the alcohol, but his eyes are fixed on Khimi. The tall and imposing figure of Khimi stands behind the cook, a smirk playing on his lips as he meets Lumi’s gaze. Suddenly, the cook lunges at Lumi with a cleaver in hand, but Khimi effortlessly grabs hold of the cook’s arm. With a swift movement, Khimi lifts the cook off the ground and kicks him from behind, causing the halfling to fall to the floor with a loud thud. Khimi pulls the cook’s arm further back, there is a sickening popping sound as it dislocates from its socket. The tavern falls silent, everyone watching in shock and horror.

“You alright, kitten?” Khimi asks, his voice laced with genuine concern as he continues to apply pressure on the screaming cook’s arm. With a faint smile still present on his lips, he tugs until a second snap echoes through the room, the sound of bone breaking causing Lumi’s cheeks to flush bright red. Despite Khimi’s violent arrival, Lumi can not help but feel giddy and elated at being in such close proximity to someone so handsome and perfect. The linen shirt adorning Khimi’s muscular frame hangs loosely open, exposing his scarred yet flawless chest. His face is like a work of art, every line and contour captivating and beautiful.

Khimi shakes his head in disbelief and palms his face, muttering “You’re drunk” in embarrassment before releasing the cook’s broken arm. The cook scrambles past the legs of the sailors, holding onto his injured shoulder and howling in pain. The stable hand, having watched the entire display, rushes through the crowd to his wife’s side.

Slowly but surely, the circle of spectators begins to disperse, sailors booing and shouting over the abrupt end to their excitement. As Lumi puts a hand against his warm cheek, feeling the effects of intoxication wash over him, he mutters “Where’d you come from?” before quickly apologizing to Khimi.

Khimi just laughs, a fond smile on his lips. “You always find a way to get into trouble,” he says as he approaches Lumi and grabs his arm. “I hope you didn’t start this mess.”

“No, no!” Lumi grows defensive, pulling away from Khimi’s grasp. “They were fighting and I was trying to break it up–”

“And he was challenged to intervene,” Rashid interrupts with a smirk.

Khimi shakes his head in amusement. “What a mess,” he murmurs as he examines the deep gash on Lumi’s shoulder. “Can you heal it?”

“I’ll do it,” Rashid offers with a hobble towards them. “He’s had too much to drink too quickly. Can’t even recite a proper incantation most likely.”

Lumi squirms away from Rashid’s approaching hands, his eyes narrowed in annoyance. “I can do it myself!” he declares, pulling himself away from Khimi’s grasp.

“Fine, do it y’reself  then,” Rashid shrugs, giving up while Lumi presses his hand over the bloody shoulder.

Lumi feels a gentle squeeze on his shoulder, pulling him back to reality in the crowded tavern. He closes his eyes, trying to block out the overwhelming noise and focus on the sharp pain in his shoulder. As he does, the rest of the room fades away into a bright white light. He can hear crackling flames and smell the distinct scent of burning ash. A soft warmth envelops him and a soothing blue light forms over the gash in his shoulder. The skin begins to knit itself together, aided by the healing magic coursing through Lumi’s body.

When he opens his eyes again, the room is spinning from his dizziness. “Is something burning?” he asks, wrinkling his nose at the lingering smell.

Rashid responds with a laugh, “Probably just y’re damned brain.”

Khimi shakes his head disapprovingly but adds, “You’re getting quicker at that, Lumi.” He takes Lumi’s hand in his own and gently urges him towards their table. “You need to eat.”

“We were waiting for you and Ennui,” Lumi replies and shifts on his feet.

Just then, Soad, Raife, and Zaeem push through the dispersing crowd towards them. The three are laughing and cheering as they approach Lumi. Raife immediately places a hand on top of Lumi’s head, ruffling his feathery hair. Lumi half-heartedly tries to fix it as he looks up at his friends.

“Well…they quit fighting,” he whispers sheepishly.

“They certainly did,” Raife agrees with a chuckle, pushing his drooping ears back beneath his head wrap. “I suppose we ought to pay you now.”

Zaeem joins in with a laugh of his own and produces a small leather pouch from his pocket. “Here is my part,” he says as he extends it towards Lumi.

But Khimi is quick to intercept, placing his own hand over Zaeem’s. “We appreciate the thought, but Lumi is always happy to help,” he says firmly.

“We insist,” Raife chimes in, counting out the coins and returning them to the pouch before tossing it to Lumi.

Khimi sighs, clearly trying to dissuade his friends’ generosity. “We appreciate your kindness, but we are doing well enough on our own. Lumi, please return their gold.”

But Raife waves him off with a grin. “Keep it, Lumi. You deserve it.”

Lumi shoots a grateful look towards Khimi from the corner of his eyes. “Thank you all for your generosity,” he says with a slight bow of his head.

“No need for apologies!” Soad interjects with a hearty laugh. “It was quite entertaining to watch you take down those two fools. I’ve never seen anyone move quite like that.”

Khimi looks over at the three men, “I had figured you three would have been long gone by now.”

“Things didn’t quite go as planned,” Raife says, looking at the other two men. “We were supposed to go back through the desert…but it seems the route is waylaid with bandits from what we’ve heard,” he says, looking about the room.

Zaeem continues, “So we hired some Lorians to drop us off in Rhaz, then we’ll hire a boat at the Western Docks to take us to Porat from there,” he says with a heavy sigh as he finishes. “It’s not the trek we were hoping for, and we unloaded many of our wares, but better safe than dead.”

Rashid gracefully gestures to an empty table, his warm brown eyes inviting, “Perhaps we should continue this conversation over a meal?” he offers.

Khimi glances back at Lumi with a small smile, “Yes, please allow me to pay. It’s the least I can do after hearing about your troubles,” he replies, gesturing towards the table.

Lumi takes Khimi’s arm affectionately, whispering softly, “Should I return the gold?” He asks, leaning against him.

Khimi leans back into Lumi’s embrace and whispers in reply, “I don’t like taking coin from strangers.” He scratches between Lumi’s ears lovingly, “But it’s ultimately your decision.”

The group of six finds their seats around a round wooden table with intricate carvings. The table is adorned with various plates and dishes of appetizers – olives, sliced citrus fruits, and stuffed grape leaves. They are soon joined by Ennui, who flashes a dazzling smile at the group before taking a seat between Rashid and Lumi. She crosses her legs elegantly as she sits.

“Causing quite a stir are we?” She comments, taking Lumi’s drink from the table and sipping it delicately.

Lumi closes his eyes briefly and takes a deep breath before responding unsteadily, “N-No,” he stammers before plucking an olive from the plate and popping it into his mouth confidently. “I didn’t start anything,” he adds with a slight tilt of his head.

“It was my fault!” Raife interjects with a chuckle, giving Ennui a curious look before raising his hands in surrender. “I didn’t think he would actually go through with it though,” he admits with a sheepish grin.

Khimi gives Lumi a gentle yet stern look from the corner of his eye, “Well, no one got hurt in the end…so no harm done,” he says with a reassuring nod.

“I had heard quite the commotion. By the time I arrived, all the excitement was over,” Ennui muses under her breath while swirling her drink in her glass. “I was hoping to see something more thrilling,” she adds with a hint of disappointment.

Rashid scoffs at her words, “Nothing too exciting happened. Lumi simply knocked around some halflings and Khimi nearly broke one’s arm.”

Hmph! I would have loved to witness that,” Ennui mutters with a mischievous glint in her eye.

Soad leans in closer from across the table, “He gave ’em quite a beating. I thought for sure the cook’s arm was going to come off!”

“It really wasn’t much pressure,” Khimi reassures them modestly, shaking his head.

Lumi turns to Khimi with admiration in his eyes, “Don’t let him fool you! He was incredible!”

Ennui leans in closer to the group, looking around with curiosity, “It was just a halfling after all, not much trouble for someone like you.”

Ennui!” Rashid reprimands sternly, his wrinkled brow furrowing. “Their size has nothing to do with their strength and abilities! You know this!”

“It was all in good fun, Rashid!” Ennui retorts playfully, rolling her eyes at the older man. She casually props her feet up on the table with a smirk. “Besides, I know a dwarf who can outmatch any of us here,” she adds with a knowing wink directed at Rashid.

Rashid mouths curses under his breath to himself, leaning back in his chair with crossed arms.

Raife jostles a handful of dried nuts, “We heard about what happened in the arena. Was a shame that we didn’t get to witness everything.”

Soad scratches his head, “How did you guys find yourself in that situation anyway?” He asks.

Well,” Ennui begins, “I don’t know exactly what happened, but Lumi found the lion…and the rest is history.”

“Right…” Zaeem begins. He looks about them uncomfortably, “I’d heard that someone freed it. Was it you lot?”

Rashid averts his gaze, turning to Ennui. “We had nothing to do with that!”

“And,” Ennui says, leaning in, “If we did…what of it.”

Raife swings his arms before him defensively, “Nothing of it!”

Lumi laughs, leaning over the table, placing his chin on his mug, “I heard the lion from the center of town…he kept roaring,” he says, looking down into the mug of foamy ale.

“Ah, you could hear because of your ears, right?” Soad asks with a tilt of his head. “Wish I had me some fancy ears.”

“Right,” Lumi replies, “And, so I followed his roars,” he pauses, hiccuping loudly. “I found him down beneath the arena…he was sick. I could hear he was upset,” Lumi pauses again, shrugging. “I told him I would help him,” he adds quietly.

Soad laughs, “So you…put yourself in the ring to save the beast?”

Khimi reaches his hand along Lumi’s back, his fingertips brushing along his spine. “Lumi has a kind heart,” he says, glancing across the table defensively. “He’s much gentler than most.”

“You say that,” Ennui laughs, “But I’ve seen him be anything but gentle.”

Lumi drums his finger over the table, “Gentle most of the time,” he corrects Ennui.

Rashid rolls his eyes, “Gentle with a subtle violent streak.”

“Either way,” Khimi whispers, “He’s got a soft heart. Especially when it comes to animals,” he says to the table.

“They’re better than most people,” Lumi offers in response.

Soad and Zaeem look curiously at one another.

“So then, what do you eat, if I might ask?” Raife asks. “As a lapine, certain types of meat…just don’t sit right with me, but I don’t fault people for hunting rabbits.”

Lumi takes a sip of his ale, “I enjoy most types of fish, though I do love most meat…I’d never eat a cat, though.”

Curious,” Ennui replies, nodding her head absently, “I’d consider eating a devil. Just to see what they taste like.”

“Cannibal,” Rashid chokes.

“Rashid,” Khimi says with a look of reproach, “We are fortunate in that we mustn’t worry about the types of game we eat.”

Raife jeers, “I’d hardly say cat is standard game,”

Soad pulls on his ear, “Well…now, I’ve been to places that eat cats.”

Lumi’s brow raises, “That is horr–”

“Uncivilized,” Raife agrees, interrupting Lumi. “But is eating a rabbit any more civilized?”

Zaeem looks at Raife, “I’ll never eat rabbit in front of you…but I do like the taste.”

Hells!” Raife shouts, placing his hands over his eyes. “Just don’t tell me you’re eating it, and I’ll be fine.”

Ennui sighs, “How about we change the topic to something else.”

Right,” Rashid agrees, looking around the table. “I think we can all eat fish then…unless one of you is a damned sahaugin.” 

The table picks up casual conversation. Hours pass before Raife, Soad, and Zaeem give their farewells, thanking Khimi for the meal and praying to meet again at some point in the future. Khimi pulls Lumi’s chair close, placing his arm around his shoulder. Drowsy, Lumi lays his head against Khimi. Rashid’s and Ennui’s conversation gradually fades while he finds himself dozing, cradled beneath the security of Khimi’s arm.

[1] Beastkin with the traits of horses.