Chapter XII

Heavenly Caller

Lumi rests his chin against the wooden rail, an uneasiness churns within him. The Schooner had disappeared from his sight into the dark of the night. Yet, he keeps watch with two other sailors. They stand beside him, their hands tense over the cloth wrapped handles of their recurve bows. The sky darkens, the flames from the enemy vessel disappear into the dark of the night. Lumi wonders when or if the pirates would return. From what the men on the deck had said, it was unlike pirates to allow such a valuable find to go untouched. Why do people care so much about spices? Lumi question, pacing back and forth, deep in his thoughts. 

After several moments, Lumi sits beneath the wood rail, sticking his legs between the banisters. He listens close to the sounds in the distance, his eyes closed. With his head pressed between the wooden banister, he listens more carefully. The rounded lion-like ears twitch at the slightest sounds. The waves, softly lapping against the side of the cog, the faint murmur of the sailors behind him, and finally deep in the distance, the sound he had feared. The roar of wooden oars beating against the water. He ponders how long it would be until Khimi and Rashid surface from Ennui’s room. A sense of guilt overtakes him for not being able to aid Ennui, or perhaps it is disappointment that his healing skills had been drawn into question yet again.

Lumi opens his eyes, bringing himself up from the planks of the deck. He looks behind him, watching the few able-bodied sailors above deck huddle about. A sudden presence causes Lumi to jolt against the rails. The sight of Y’sol is one which always causes Lumi a great deal of anxiety. He pulls at the hem of his choli, attempting to cover his body in her presence. The Goddess stands before him, a white sheer dress loosely falling from her form. She stares out at the sea, her wild mane of russet hair trails down her back, billowing with the soft wind.

“Things are dire,” Y’sol says softly, her aetherial eyes set ahead into the darkness. “You are chosen as the envoy of the Gods, Lumi. Impose your will.”

Lumi clears his throat, glancing back at the sailors huddled about, “I don’t know what you mean, Goddess. How?” He whispers, nervously casting looks between the Goddess and sailors. “I c-can’t do anything…”

“Channel the powers of the Gods,” she says simply, pinching her brow. “Lumi, do not be afraid of our gifts. You were chosen.”

“Goddess– Y’sol, I can’t–”

“Can’t or won’t?” She asks, turning to Lumi, a tinge of anger showing in her expression. “There will be days to come, Lumi. Times when you need our gifts. If you don’t use them, then what purpose is our existence? The chosen are to act in accordance with the will of their Gods…you are one of the fourteen chosen, Lumi. Act like one.”

Lumi stammers, peering into her eyes, which match his own. “I-I don’t know.”

“Then listen,” she begins, placing a hand on Lumi’s shoulder. “I cannot sit idly by and watch you expire because you are too stubborn to harness our gifts,” she spits with a joyless expression.

Lumi eyes her curiously, “What would you have me do?” He asks softly. What can I do?

“Lend me your body,” she says, her thumb strokes along the choker on Lumi’s neck. “Empty your mind and allow me a moment to show you the true power which you wield.”

Lumi looks back to the sailors, who glance back at him in response. “Can they see you?”

“Only you,” Y’sol responds quickly, lifting Lumi’s chin, directing his gaze back to her. “Now…will you heed me?”

“I just need to clear my mind?” Lumi asks in a hushed tone. 

Y’sol’s finger strokes along his cheek. “Create an empty space in your mind. Think of something calming. The vastness of the Aldorrian Desert, the calm waters of the Emerald Coast, or the breezy plains of Loria,” she instructs. “The sounds of the Dolman Jungle, the lapping of the waves along the Dolman Coast.”

“I’ve never been to Loria,” Lumi replies, his eyes pinched closed. “Why did the God’s choose me, Y’sol?”

“That is a path you must discover on your own…but know that we have faith in you. We believe that the day will come when you restore our order,” she begins, then pauses. A glance over the water once more and she continues, “It isn’t long now, perhaps a few short moments before it is too late.”

Lumi peeks at Y’sol between his closed eyes. “I’m trying!

“Try harder. Else you have regrets when this vessel is set upon.”

Y’sol releases her grip from Lumi’s chin. Lumi grabs hold of the wooden railing and recalls the many sessions of healing with Cecilia. He finds a blank space among the vastness of the Aldorrian Desert. He imagines himself walking across the dunes like he had done when he was younger. The sand sinks beneath his feet and filters between his toes. The warm desert breeze brushes against his face. His brow furrows in frustration, thoughts of Khimi push their way into his mind. I need to protect Khimi.

“Empty your mind, Lumi,” The Goddesses voice demands, booming through the expanse within his mind.

Lumi tries again to clear his thoughts. He sits hurriedly and presses his head between his knees. Images of violence erupt within his mind. His brother’s hand tight on his neck, choking him while darkness surrounds him. Sevrin. The bruises and scratches across his body ache with a radiating dullness. No. The masked mercenary holds him down, a familiar panic fills him. At least he had been strong enough to fight back against this assailant. Never again…I don’t want to be weak. The night of the sahaugin attack comes back to him. His only concern had been for Khimi.

“It’s not so easy!” He shouts across the vastness of the dunes.

“Push everything from your mind,” she instructs again, her words an icy calm. Lumi sighs, opening his eyes. He jolts back when he notices the Goddess standing before him, “You know I can appear here. We’ve met under similar circumstances…”

“Right…am I dream—“


“I can’t focus!” Lumi shouts in anger. He grabs a handful of his blond hair, tugging it sharply. “How can I help anyone?”

Y’sol looks at him, the corner of her lips tug into a smirk. “Perhaps something different may work for you. You and I may be more similar than I believed,” she adds knowingly. “Lumi, do you know what would happen should those pirates board your vessel?”

“We’d be taken pris—“

Don’t. Don’t be naive,” she interrupts. “I care for you, Lumi…but you know the truth of it.”

Lumi looks down at the shifting sands beneath his bare feet. “They’d slaughter us,” he whispers, his hair swaying before his eyes. 

“They don’t care for who you are, only what you have. That is greed,” she replies. She places a hand on his head, tousling his hair. “You have less than twenty crew. Their vessel has eight and six.”

Lumi groans and grabs at Y’sol’s fingers over his head. “Goddess, what do I do?” He pleads, “what can I do?”

“I want you to imagine…what would happen should that come to pass. Your devil is already injured…bleeding in her cabin. Khimi feels the exhaustion from the magicks he invoked. The old paladin’s age is getting the better of him…the ship would be swarmed,” she begins, pulling Lumi’s hair so their eyes meet. “Listen!

Lumi struggles to avert his gaze, looking beyond her and ignoring the pain from his hair being pulled.

Listen!” She shouts again, tugging his hair with sudden strength. She forces his eyes to meet hers. “Lumi, you will die. You will watch them all die. Unless you act!”

Lumi keeps his eyes focused on hers. Tears stream down his cheeks, “What must I do?”

“Do what you must to protect what you love,” she replies. “Or else all is lost. Your path to restoring our order on Talmus is long and arduous. Steel yourself, little lion…for your journey is only just beginning!”

“How do I channel your power? How do I impose my will?!” He begs, his head shaking in his hands, “Khimi can’t die…we’re jus-just starting our lives together.”

Y’sol clicks her tongue, “Then show them the power you possess. The gift we Gods had given you…if you prove yourself, then the other Gods may appear to you in time. They may see you as worthwhile of their efforts.”

Lumi wipes the tears from his cheek, “All of those people on the other sh—“

“They’d not give you a second thought before cutting your throat. It’s best you repay them in kind,” she interrupts sternly.

Lumi nods slowly in response.

“Now imagine it. Allow the burning rage inside of you to free itself. Even if only for a moment, no matter how brief,” she says, kneeling beside him. “Feel the chains that tether your rage break and release that anguish onto them.”

Lumi chokes back tears, envisioning the events unfolding in his mind. The vessel being overrun by the pirates. Khimi fights to protect them and their friends. Only able to endure for so long before the masses of the enemy ship swarm him. The imagery fills Lumi with intense feelings of sorrow. He wants to reach out and help, but he knows it is only a vision. He will do anything to protect Khimi. A pressure builds in his chest, his heart nearly bursting. His tail swings behind him angrily in the sand. The faces of the enemy crew swirl into misshapen fiends, rage fills him while he watches them cut down crew and friends alike. His fingers curl in on themselves, his nails bite into the skin of his palm. Khimi can’t die. Khimi can’t die. I can’t let Khimi die. Khimi, you can’t die!

 The desert around him fades. Opening his eyes, he feels clarity and surety. The front of the schooner comes into view from the darkness. The many oars slap against the water, the sound becoming more audible, its approach becomes imminent. Y’sol places her hand on Lumi’s shoulder from behind. The men from the crew run to the bow of the deck beside him, looking into the darkness.

“They’re back?” One of the crew shouts at Lumi for affirmation.

He keeps his gaze ahead, reminding himself of Y’sol’s words.

“Harness it,” Y’sol whispers behind Lumi, her hand on his shoulder, her finger brushing against the golden choker.

He closes his eyes, imagining the scenario playing out in his mind. He reminds himself of the hatred he has felt throughout his life. The inhospitable nature of those who should have loved him. His father. His brother. His tribe. The acolytes from the temple.  He thinks of Khimi, of the one person he has ever loved, the only person he will ever love. The only family he ever wanted. Reaching forward, he extends his hand out towards the schooner. Unsure of what exactly to do, he begins to pray.

“Gods of Light and Fire,” Lumi begins in a hurried voice.

A sudden flush of warmth rushes through him like a desert wind, brushing against his cheek with fiery intensity. His brows furrow in concentration, his gaze fixed on the vessel looming ahead. The beat of his heart thunders in his ears, drowning out the chaotic shouts and curses of the sailors. A stifling heat envelops him, Y’sol’s nails dig into his shoulders, her grip firm and unyielding. The salty breeze swirls around him, filling the air with its briny scent. He exhales softly, his breath like a gentle whisper amidst the chaos. His rage towards the merciless pirates simmers beneath the surface, fueling him with newfound strength. His eyes open, golden lines crackle to life along his outstretched arm, pulsating with raw power. A soft glow radiates from them, casting an otherworldly aura around him. A searing heat surges within him, threatening to consume his very essence. His fingers twitch with anticipation, a scowl etched onto his face while the intense heat spreads through every fiber of his being.

“Command their fate,” The Goddess whispers, her ethereal voice somehow overpowering the frenzied screams of the crew.

Lumi’s eyes glow with an intense, crimson flare, as if a fire burned within them. An ancient sigil forms in the sky overhead, its intricate design pulsating with golden rings of dancing flames. A clap of heat lightning illuminates the cloudy night sky, casting a reflection across the water’s surface.

A strange and otherworldly heat courses through Lumi’s body, causing a prickling sensation at his fingertips. He raises his hand towards the oncoming vessel, the completed sigil looming ominously overhead.

Y’sol grips his shoulder tightly and urges him, “Speak the word.”

As Lumi’s eyes cloud over, bolts of streaming light stretch through the clouds. The crew on either side of him shout and scream. The word enters his mind — Ignis. Suddenly, a cacophony of voices floods his mind, their screams and shouts echoing like thunder. Lumi wonders if these are the voices of past saints or even the Gods themselves.

A golden laurel crown appears on Lumi’s forehead, bearing a sunburst symbol —  the mark of his Gods. The heat within him intensifies, the burning sigil glows brighter. Lightning bursts from the sky and strikes the water with deafening cracks. Both vessels are bathed in light, revealing the pirate crew standing on deck. Fueled by rage and determination, Lumi imagines the pirates from his vision and eagerly anticipates bringing them harm.

The Goddess whispers to him, urging him to speak the final word.

“Ignis,” Lumi mutters with conviction and power

The sigil blazes to life, its lines pulsing with a violent crimson light. Gradually, the clouds above morph from their soft, puffy white into a menacing red, like blood seeping through cotton. Lightning flashes and crackles through the sky, striking ominously over the water. Panic sets in for him. He watches the oncoming vessel draw nearer. His breath comes in ragged gasps, and he looks to his companion for guidance.

“Say it from the depths of your soul,” she urges, her grip tightening on his shoulders from behind, her lips pressed against his ear.

“IGNIS!” he bellows, his voice laced with equal parts anger and fear as he stares down their approaching enemy.

A radiant tendril of light surges forth from the center of the intricate sigil, piercing through the dark night sky and saturating it with a heavenly, blinding glow. The sudden and startling hiss that accompanies its arrival fills the surrounding air, causing steam to rise in thick waves from the water below. The tendril expands, silhouettes of pirates aboard the enemy vessel briefly materialize before being engulfed by the all-consuming beacon of light. Lumi gasps for breath, his heart pounding wildly. He stands on deck, arm outstretched towards the mesmerizing display. But as quickly as it appeared, the glowing tendril recedes back into the sigil, leaving behind only a dissipating fog and eerie silence. He collapses against the railing, feeling both relieved and unsettled by what just transpired. His eyes widen in disbelief, searching for their pursuer through the mist. Is it truly gone? Slowly, the glowing laurel crown etched onto his skin fades away, returning his appearance to normal. And as if awakening from a dream, his eyes return to their aetherial hue.

Lumi!” Khimi’s voice calls, running across the deck with Rashid close on his heels.

“What happened?” Rashid inquires gruffly.

Thunder rumbles across the sky. A light drizzle begins to tap across the deck.

Rashid lifts his hand before him, “Rain? What happened?” He asks again, his eyes narrowing at Lumi.

Lumi remains staring ahead into the darkness, his eyes trained where the schooner had been merely moments before. Crew on either side stare ahead, their mouths left wide with shock. Water sprinkles overhead, drenching him in the cold rain water.

“Y’sol,” Lumi mutters softly. He turns to look behind him, his knees sink against the deck. “Y’sol,” he says again. “Are they dead?”

The Goddesses’ absence sends a shiver down his spine. Her words would only confirm what he knows to be true. He had seen it with his own eyes, the vessel reduced to ash. Eight and six crew. A hand on his shoulder causes him to flinch.

Lumi?” Khimi asks, kneeling beside him. “What happened?”

Lumi looks up, grasping Khimi’s hand in his own. “Khimi…something happened.”

“We were saved!” A crew mate shouts to the heavens. “Gods be good! Praise the heavens!”

Another joins in praise, “Praise the Gods!”

“Someone tell me what happened!” Rashid demands, grabbing a sailor by the collar and shaking him.

He looks at Rashid with wide eyes, “A miracle!” He exclaims, clapping Rashid’s shoulder. “The divine saved us! The aslan is one of the chosen!”

Khimi cups Lumi’s chin in his hand, “Tell me what happened,” he says in a quiet but demanding calm. 

Lumi shivers from the rain and cold, “I k-killed them,” he stammerers between chattering teeth.

“Come on,” Khimi whispers, pulling Lumi to his feet. “Let’s get you out of the cold,” he says, placing his arm around his shoulder.

“Wait,” Rashid says, stepping before the two of them. “I’ll hear it from your mouth, Lumi.”

Lumi remains silent.

“Let him rest, then you can ask him what happened,” Khimi says while he runs his hand along Lumi’s shoulder.

Rashid looks past them at the billowing fog. “No,” he says suddenly. “Tell me, Lumi. Who did ya invoke?” He asks, a hint of annoyance in his voice. “What did you do?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Khimi replies, glancing down at Lumi.

Rashid shakes his head, “This…isn’t normal. Not even a High Priest could do something like this…”


“No, Khimi. He owes us answers. We were just making plans to parlay and no—“

Lumi’s brow pinches, feeling the weight of Rashid’s judgement upon him. “It was the Gods of Light and Fire…”

“Light and Fire?” Rashid says in disbelief. “Ya’ve never trained a day at the Sun Temple…”

Lumi brushes his hair from his eyes, his tail swishes behind him in defiance. “It’s true!” He pleads, pushing Khimi’s arm from his shoulder. “The Goddess told me what I had to do…”

“Liar…” Rashid mumbles, “Y’re bloody lying!”

“The Goddess…she told me I was chosen…”

“Rashid,” Khimi sighs, following behind Lumi. “This isn’t the time,” he says, brushing past his advisor.

Rashid stands silently in the rain, the braziers on deck begin to sizzle. 

Lumi pushes the door to their room open and rips the choli over his head quickly, tossing the wet shirt onto the wooden planks. He grabs loose clothing from the bed, drying himself in haste. The door opens behind him, with Khimi entering behind him, a concerned look on his face. Lumi turns to him and breathes a heavy sigh.

“I don’t know what to say,” Lumi begins, wiping the wetness from his face with the linen shirt. “Khimi…how is Ennui?” He asks from behind the cloth.

Khimi closes the door gently behind him. “She’s fine. She’s asleep. Rashid offered her some temporary healing. She was overcome with pain and passed out. When we saw the lights through the window, we rushed to the deck,” he says softly, leaning against the wooden wall. “Care to tell me what happened?”

Lumi’s skin glows red from the chill. “What…what should I say?!” He shivers. Taking a nearby blanket, he drapes it over himself.

“Whatever happened, it saved us,” Khimi says solemnly. “Do you need me to warm you?”

Lumi groans, “I’m not in the mood now,” he says, shivering beneath the blanket.

“I know,” Khimi replies, crossing the room then embracing Lumi. “We can just rest.”

Lumi pulls the silk waist scarf from around Khimi’s hip. The wet linen sarouel thud heavily against the wood plank, his arms wrap tight around Khimi, feeling the warmth of his partner permeating across their bare skin. Khimi knots his hands together behind Lumi, lifting Lumi against himself and placing a kiss between his twitching ears.

“Khimi,” Lumi whispers. “I…I told you.”

“Hm,” Khimi replies while he brushes his stubble through Lumi’s hair.

“It happened so quickly…I could only think about you.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“You won’t remember anything I tell you about the Gods. You remember that, right?”

“I know,” Khimi responds quietly. “But at least I’ll remember everything else.”

“Y’sol appeared…the Goddess.”


“She sai— she said that you’d die if I didn’t act. She said all of you would die. But Khimi…all of those people. So many people,” Lumi mutters. “What if they had passengers or slaves like the Dolmans?”

Khimi lifts Lumi suddenly against himself. He carries Lumi to the small mattress, dropping onto his back with Lumi on top of him. He takes the blanket from Lumi’s hand and tosses it over Lumi’s naked body.

Lumi nuzzles his nose against his chest and Khimi sighs, “They would have killed us…regardless of any diplomacy we tried. We were badly outnumbered. Ennui knew it too. She said as much and even sugges– well never mind.”

“The Goddess was right then…”

Khimi raises an eyebrow at Lumi, “Loathe as I am to admit it, but…yes. Whatever happened, whatever you did. It saved us.”

“Then I saved everyone,” Lumi whispers against Khimi’s chest.

“Yes,” Khimi replies, stroking Lumi’s damp hair from his eyes.

“Rashid is always going to hate me.”

“Don’t worry about Rashid,” Khimi snorts, “Rashid is just a stubborn old man. But don’t worry about Rashid, you should rest,” he whispers, his tone comforting and softer than usual.

Lumi melts against him, his ear pressed against Khimi’s chest, listening to the beating of his heart.

“I felt so much warmth and power, Khimi.”

“How did it make you feel? Happy?” Khimi questions under his breath.

“Not particularly,” he groans against Khimi’s kaftan. “You’ve got blood all over this,” he says, grasping at the fabric.

“I can take it off if you prefer?” Khimi asks, managing a playful smirk. “You’ve already taken my trousers.”

Lumi looks up, meeting Khimi’s eyes. “No,” he smiles. “I’m just happy you’re here.”

“Lumi,” Khimi whispers at the top of his head, his fingers massaging the soft round ears.


“Why did you stay at the temple? If you aren’t a follower of the Gods of Life…?” Khimi asks, itching behind Lumi’s rounded ears.

Lumi’s expression becomes serious suddenly. “Because Y’sol asked me to stay there. And she said the Gods of Fire…are no longer loved by their own order.”

“What?” Khimi inquires, “That sounds absurd…the Sun Temple has one of the most far-reaching orders. Everyone praises the sun.”

“The Goddess said…their order is filled with deceivers. Those who are true to the Faith have long since passed,” Lumi whispers against Khimi’s chest.” His ears twitch at Khimi’s touch along the rounded edges. “She said it was my duty to revive their order.”


“It’s okay,” Lumi interrupts. “I don’t want any of it,” he says, lowering his eyes. “I’ve never wanted it. I just want to be with you.” His body instinctively purrs while he lies atop Khimi, his body heat warming him.

Khimi closes his eyes, resting his head against the thin pillow. “Lumi…I don’t think the Gods are going to allow you to ju—“



“Please,” Lumi sniffles. “I don’t want to think about it. Not yet…can I just pretend a little while longer?”

“No, Lumi,” Khimi insists. “I’m sorry…but you need to tell me…what are you supposed to do?”

A lengthy moment of silence follows Khimi’s question before Lumi replies. “I’m to become a chosen of the Gods.”

“A saint?!”

Lumi closes his eyes while resting atop Khimi and releases a lengthy sigh, “I don’t know what I am supposed to do, Khimi. Y’s— the Goddess said I must become stronger. She’s told me much the same before. Time and time again.”

“I— Lumi, I’m sorry. I want to spend my life with you,” Khimi replies, pressing his lips at the top of his head. “Whatever challenges the Gods have in store for you…we can make it through.”

Lumi’s eyes pop open, “We will!” He exclaims, reaching for Khimi’s hand. “I promise. We’ll find a way to be together. To make it work.”

“The Go—“

“Khimi,” Lumi interrupts, his voice quivering. “We’ll be together. I promise.”

Khimi remains silent. A pensive look on his face. “When we return to Rhaz, I was thinking that we should go ask Nina some questions.”


Khimi pulls at a loose strand of Lumi’s blond hair. “About souls…the afterlife. You want to spend eternity together, right?” He asks, giving Lumi a loving smirk. “Its what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“Of course,” Lumi says solemnly. “I didn’t think you took me seriously.”


Lumi manages a weak smile, I’m glad,” he whispers, nuzzling against Khimi’s chest again.

The Greater Cay

The inlet of the Greater Cay is packed with hundreds of vessels, their sails unfurled like wings against the blue sky. The vibrant port city of Amassia buzzes with life, the salty tang of the sea fills Lumi’s nose with each step he walks on the weathered planks of the harbor. He had been told that people from across Talmus gathered in the Isles, and now he could see it for himself. Weaving through the bustling crowds, his eyes are drawn to a kaleidoscope of clothing unlike anything he has ever seen before.

Feeling overwhelmed by the sights and sounds around him, Lumi reaches for Khimi’s hand and squeezes it tightly. Khimi gives him a reassuring tug and guides him through the throng of people. Everywhere they turn, there are whispers and murmurs about the mysterious light that had appeared over the sea. But Lumi pushes those thoughts aside, reminding himself that no one will ever know it was him who caused it. They will be safe here.

As they make their way towards the heart of the city, Lumi takes a sip from the flask Khimi had given him. The warmth of the alcohol soothes his nerves slightly, but he can still feel a knot of anxiety in his stomach. He wonders how many lives Ennui had taken in her quest for power. Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? She’s like a living nightmare.

But then Khimi looks down at him with a mix of nervousness and love in his eyes, and Lumi can not help but smile behind the silver flask while he replaces the stopper. The rough planks beneath their feet soon give way to smooth limestone cobbles, and they find themselves surrounded by colorful buildings that seem to bloom out of nowhere. The architecture is fantastical, a mix of wood and stone that somehow manages to hold together despite its haphazard construction. To Lumi, everything about this place feels strange and otherworldly. His attention is caught by a man playing an oud near the edge of a street, the haunting melody adding to the surreal atmosphere. On a nearby balcony, several women dressed in sheer gowns wave at them from above. It’s like something out of a dream. 

Khimi leads Lumi up a hill and into the central area of the wharf city, where dozens of merchants call out their wares in a vibrant array of colors. Rashid and Ennui limp behind them at a slower pace, two sailors from their vessel keeping a watchful eye on them. Though everything seems peaceful enough, Lumi can not shake off the feeling that they are being watched. The Golden Isle may have a reputation for wild brawls and ruthless privateers, but stories like those only serve to make him more anxious.

Finally, they reach their destination —  Rose Manor, situated on a small hill in the distance. Once owned by a renowned swashbuckler named Laurent Rose, it has since been converted into an inn and tavern for wealthy travelers and nobles.

“Fucking hells, Khimi!” Ennui shouts suddenly. “You couldn’t get a cart? Rashid and I are at our ends.”

Rashid clears his throat, then stops mid-stride. “We’re almost there now, Ennui,” he says, pointing ahead to the manor. “Just a–”

“My leg is still bloody sore,” Ennui groans with a glance up at the manor. “Perhaps you’d like to carry me, Khimi? You owe me after all.”

“I told you,” Khimi sighs, “you could have both stayed on the ship.”

“I’ve had about as much of the ship as I can handle!” Ennui spits, her tail swishing behind her in angry slashes. “I want to go the fuck home.”

Lumi stands awkwardly beside Khimi, “I’m sorry I couldn’t heal it perfectly.”

Rashid looks at Ennui, “Nonsense,” he mutters. “You did the best you could. Better than this old man could have.”

Things had been somewhat awkward between Rashid and Lumi since Khimi had told the elderly man of Lumi’s status as one of the chosen. A sense of fear and awe had arisen every time they spoke, almost as if Rashid was afraid of offending him.

“I’m certain we’ll find someone who can help you more,” Lumi musters after a moment of silence.

Ennui manages a faint smile, “Nonsense. It’ll heal on its own.”

“Lumi can try again after he gets some rest,” Khimi insists, placing his hand on Lumi’s shoulder.

Lumi’s tail flicks in defiance, “Right…” he says, pressing his fingers to his temple. “Maybe after I get some sleep. I’ll have more energy.”

Khimi frowns. “He hasn’t slept since that night,” he says, turning a quick eye to Rashid. “But we can come back for you both.”

“Aye,” Rashid mutters. “Ya both carry on. Ennui and I’ll wait till later. We’ll catch a bite.”

“Right,” Ennui replies, narrowing her eyes. “Guess I’m feeling peckish after all.”

“Peckish?” Khimi scoffs. “Very well, I’ll send for you both soon.”

Lumi looks up to Khimi, “Let’s hurry…I don’t want to keep them waiting,” he says, turning back to the hill before them.

    Lumi’s stomach grumbles at the mention of food. It had been days since he had eaten something hearty and filling. He had grown bored with salted fish and the water from rain barrels with that strong oak aftertaste. The scent of roasted bass hangs about the square, along with the scent of garlic roasting in oil.

“We can eat if you want,” Khimi begins, watching Lumi’s eyes widen while he surveys the square for the scent.

“No, no,” Lumi insists and begins to walk past Khimi, between a row of buildings. “Come on,” he adds, turning to beckon Khimi to follow. “Let’s not keep them waitin’.”

Khimi turns back to give Ennui and Rashid a nod before following Lumi. “I’ll send for you both. Stay out of trouble.”

Ennui smirks, “In the Golden Isles? Right. Easier said than done.”

Rashid groans, “Lead on,” he says to Ennui. He gives Khimi a dismissive wave.

Khimi quickly trots to catch up to Lumi ahead of him, making his way up the small hill and past several blocks of the busy streets. Lumi keeps his head down, glancing occasionally at the variety of people in the Golden Isles. He had heard from the sailors that there are all manner of races, but he is still taken aback by the sight of other Dolman races. Pantera, aslan, and even a few draco. Lumi pulls the traveler’s cloak tighter against himself, passing a small group of pantera. He had always felt a sense of guilt at his size when he encountered pantera or tigre. Of the larger feline beastkin, aslan and tigre are supposed to be the largest. His brother had already been nearly double his size when he had last seen him. I wonder if he’s taller than these?

Lumi?” Khimi calls, rushing to his side, his boots splashing through the mud.

Lumi turns back, his thoughts suddenly empty. “Khimi?”

“You took off,” Khimi replies, matching his step beside Lumi.

Lumi shakes his head, “I guess I just got distracted…or I’m hungry.”

Mmm, we can go back and eat with Ennui and Rashid,” Khimi suggests, motioning back towards the town square.

Lumi rubs his eyes, “I’d rather find our rooms first,” he says, his ears fluttering.

Khimi eyes him suspiciously, “You look exhausted, you need rest.”

“I just…need a bit,” Lumi whispers, adjusting the traveler’s cloak tighter around his neck like a tightening slipknot.

Khimi places his hand on Lumi’s upper back. “Lumi…you didn’t do anything wrong,” he insists while they continue to walk down the limestone street.

Lumi maintains his silence. The path towards the manor quickly turns from cobbles to dirt, the last of the wooden houses fade into pastures. The road turns to muck once they are near the pastures. Lambs bleat around them, rushing to the fence line to greet them. Lumi puts out his hand and runs it over the young sheep. In the distance, a canis shepherd raises his crook, calling to his canine companion. They stand against the fence line, observing the comforting scene around them. Lumi extends his hand slowly from under the cloak and Khimi takes it in silence, his eyes trained ahead on the field.

“Is this the life you wish for?” Khimi asks quietly. “If it is— we can make it so.”

“No,” Lumi whispers in response. I just want a life with you.”

Khimi gives his hand a light squeeze, running his fingers along Lumi’s sharp nails, “I’ll always be with you.”

Lumi continues to gaze into the field. Together, they watch the guardian dog herding the young sheep back to the center of the field. He reaches out, placing his hand upon the wooden fence post. Attempting to hold his composure, he sniffles while the sheep dash through the field away from the yelping dog. Suppressed emotions rise within him. Tears form, running down his cheek, quickly falling into the muddy patch of dirt. Khimi remains quiet. He listens, wrapping his arm around Lumi’s shoulder.

The sobs grow louder. What I di–

“You saved our lives,” Khimi says, interrupting his thoughts. “Don’t blame yourself.”

Lumi looks up to Khimi, his eyes brimming with salty tears. “What if— what if there were innocent people on that ship?!”

“You can’t know that, and you won’t know that,” Khimi says, gripping Lumi’s shoulder. “You need to understand, Lumi. Understand that the world is cruel…we would have died,” he says, shaking his shoulder.

Lumi turns his gaze back to the field. “Back in Rhaz. It was different. I knew those people wanted to hurt us…I could see it on their faces,” he says quietly, “I could feel their intent.”

“But these…pirates?” Khimi asks, putting himself in Lumi’s eyesight. “What is it about them?”

“It wasn’t personal. They weren’t trying to kill us…they just wanted our stuff…it’s just stuff,” Lumi says, his eyes watering. “Why would the–”

Khimi grasps Lumi by his shoulders. He shakes him softly, “Lumi,” he begins, releasing an exasperated sigh. “If it wasn’t our ship. It would have been another. They probably killed hundreds before, you did the world a favor.”

“You don’t know that!” Lumi shouts, slapping Khimi’s hand off his shoulder. “You don’t know that!”

Khimi sighs and leans over the fence. “What will it take for me to prove it?”

Lumi remains silent. He shakes, sobbing into Khimi’s cloak.

“Ennui already told you,” Khimi whispers. “They were after us for our wares…your life. My life. The lives of our crew. None of our lives would have mattered.”

Lumi weeps, exhaling unevenly. Unable to put words to the sounds passing through his lips. “I— I, don—don’t,” he stammers, his words faltering.

Khimi kicks his feet through the mud. Finally, he clicks his tongue and goes to lift Lumi from the mud, “It’s going to be alright,” Khimi whispers. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Lumi calms himself down, his body held tight against Khimi’s. His breathing steadies while Khimi gradually lets him back down onto the muddy path. He looks down at his feet, cold mud cakes the side of his feet. His stomach churns, his empty stomach grumbles in protest. He buckles over, falling to his knees. His empty stomach releases its bile into the mud. Khimi squats beside him and rubs Lumi’s back with a gentle caress.

“Sorry,” Lumi says suddenly, looking up from the mud. He wipes his lips over his cloak. “I’m sorry.”

Khimi stands, pulling Lumi up from under his arms. “You’re exhausted and hungry. Come on.”

Lumi smiles weakly in response, walking beside Khimi. He picks large clumps of mud from his cloak. “I hope they have somewhere to bathe.”

“I’m sure they do,” Khimi whispers and places his arm over Lumi’s shoulder. “The whole crew needs a bath.”

Lumi manages a shallow laugh. “Yeah…we do.”

“I think we all have a bit of a stench on us now,” Khimi replies while they cross through the fields.

Shallow, muddy creeks drain beneath culverts under the dirt path. Rain clouds loom overhead in the distance. The remaining path is filled with puddles and deep mud. Wooden planks rest across the deepest parts, allowing carts to pass unhindered.

The Rose manor sits atop the hill ahead of them. Stained-glass windows adorned with colorful roses are affixed on each of the dormers. The wooden shingles on the front of the building speak of better days and a lack of care. A brick wall on the side is overgrown with ivy, obscuring a circular stained-glass window. Khimi grimaces, his lips curling into a thin line.

“Not quite what I was told it was,” Khimi grumbles to himself.

Lumi’s ears twitch. “It looks…scenic.”

The muddy path switches to stone pebbles. Several horses bray, their bridles tied to posts at the edge of the pebbled path. Large oak trees surround the house in a crescent, giving the Rose Manor a feeling of grandeur. A single woman in velveteen livery stands beneath the awning, a hooded lantern pulsing with low light near her feet. At their approach, she pulls her hair back, tightening her hair into a single length. She gives a quick bow before she walks towards them.

Her dark hair swings over her shoulder with her deep bow, “Guests of the Rose Manor?” She asks, tossing the length of hair back behind her.

“Well, yes…but,” Khimi begins, while he looks bewildered at the building. “Is…this it?”

The woman clicks her tongue, “I can assure you that you won’t find a finer stay on Greater Cay,”

Lumi lowers his hood, “It looks a bit rough,” he says, inspecting the wooden shingles covered in a layer of green lichen.

Her eyes narrow at Lumi, lingering over his aslan features. “Certainly the manor has seen better days, but the accommodations inside are better than those around Amassia.”

“Once we’re situated, could I borrow a cart to return to the city?” Khimi asks, looking over the horses hitched to the posts.

The woman nods, her eyes still fixated on Lumi. “It shouldn’t be an issue,” she replies cautiously.

Lumi, sensing the woman’s gaze, fidgets nervously. He grabs hold of his tail, “I’m sorry,” Lumi begins, “Are beastkin not allowed?” He asks, pulling his hood back up.


“Originally, no,” the woman interjects with a surprising quickness. “Laurent Rose was known to be distrustful of beastkin. Though Laurent has been dead for many years and the Rose Manor is now open to all manner of guests,” she explains, her expression becoming somewhat gentle.

“Are there any staying here now?” Lumi asks, kneading along the coarse fur of his tail.

She looks down at her feet, shifting them slightly. “Well, no.”

“Any particular reason?” Khimi asks, raising an eyebrow and crossing his arms.

“Most frequent sailors know that Laurent had a poor reputation with beastkin…and as such not many choose to stay here,” she says quietly, “But I promise, no harm will come to you. No one here is like Laurent or harbors those types of feelings.”

Lumi groans, “Khimi…It’s fine.”

“Alright,” Khimi mutters under his breath.

The woman rushes to the door, pulling the large wooden door open. “Please, come in. You both seem weary. Relax, and enjoy the pleasantries the Rose Manor has to offer.”

Lumi walks across the pebbles and up the small stone stairs. Khimi follows closely behind him, peering down, watching Lumi’s muddy sandals track onto the wooden parlor floors. A comforting light flickers from a stone hearth across the room. The light shines brightly across the lacquered heart pine floors. A man near the door approaches them, extending a hand. Khimi grabs hold of Lumi’s cloak and pulls him back from wandering further into the Manor. He removes the clasp holding it in place, sliding the drab cloth from his shoulders. The man by the door takes the cloak and folds it neatly, waiting for Lumi’s.

 “Sorry,” Lumi says, ripping the clasp from his soiled cloak. “It’s muddy…I can wash it.”

The man offers a gentle smile, “I’ll see to it,” he says, gently taking the cloak and slinging it over his arm.

The man turns, walking into a room off to the side. Lumi attempts to peek inside while the door pushes open. Canvas sacks and small casks line the wall. The man folds the cloaks over a wooden table before the door closes behind him. A storeroom? Khimi places his arm on Lumi’s shoulder, encouraging him onward. Lumi steps into the large hall. The stained-glass window on the right wall allows a bit of colored light through the red rose, the remainder of the light is blotted out by the overgrown ivy against the outer rim. Two women sit alone in the hall and turn to glance at the two of them for a moment before returning to their conversation. Khimi shifts back and forth, grumbling under his breath.

“Do we just…find a room?” Lumi murmurs quietly to Khimi.

“Hardly necessary,” the woman says, appearing suddenly.

Lumi turns abruptly with a gasp, “Hells.” He grabs at his chest in shock.

“Sorry,” she announces, “I didn’t mean to startle.”

Khimi looks curiously at the woman, “Can you see us to our room and I will clear up the pay afterward?”

“Of course,” she says, motioning to a hallway across from the large open dining room. “It’ll be the third door on the left.”

Lumi looks back at the woman, “Might I have your name?”

“It’s Alicia,” she replies, following behind them.

Lumi quickly introduces himself and Khimi while they walk down the long hallway. They pass several rooms with open doors, each room filled with stuffy decorations. Lumi grimaces at the lifelike geese staring back at him from the mantle in one of the open rooms. He turns towards the door she had mentioned and pushes the door open, glancing inside at the small stained-glass window across from him. Two small beds rest feet apart, a patinaed copper tub in the corner. Dreary velveteen curtains are pulled open on the side of the window, dust swirling through the light shining through. Lumi looks back to the two beds, two beds…why is there two beds?

“Is it possible…perhaps there is a room with larger bedding?” Khimi asks, turning towards Alicia.

“I apologize,” she bows quickly. “This is the layout of most of the rooms.”

Lumi looks back from the room towards her, “You don’t understand…Khimi isn’t going to fit in that tub,” he mutters.

“I’m sorry,” she says again, bowing deeply.

Khimi grumbles again, “It’s fine.”

Alicia smiles after a moment, “Then I’ll leave you two to get situated. If you need a bath, please don’t hesitate to ask at the front.”

Lumi enters the room, removing his sandals in haste, leaving them by the door. Khimi closes the door behind him. He sighs again before tossing a leather bag onto the bed.

“You hate it,” Lumi laughs through the room, relishing the look of anguish on Khimi’s face.

Khimi sits on the mattress, testing the strength of the frame with his weight. “It…was a bit talked up, I suppose,” he mutters. “I’ve seen better rooms in village inns.”

“Yea…well, Laurent Rose seems to have bee—“

“A piece of shit,” Khimi snaps.

Lumi smiles to himself while he hops into the empty copper tub. “That’s certainly one way of putting it,” he replies, stretching his back against the sturdy frame.

“I should see about getting Ennui and Rashid here,” he says, leaning back over the small bed. “I’d always heard the Golden Isles were open to all manner of people. Guess that was a lie.”

Lumi’s ears twitch. He turns back to glance at Khimi. “Are you surprised?” He asks, curiously. “Bigots are everywhere.”

“In Sidi and Rhaz…it’s rare to come across people who openly express their dislike of beastkin,” Khimi begins, rubbing his hand across his stubbled chin. “But I suppose the Desert Cities are also a world apart.”

Lumi nods, his tail slaps against the copper tub, causing a metallic ringing through the room. “Rashid always said the Desert Cities were his favorite place.”

“Rashid always talks about his travels,” Khimi laughs, turning on his side. He smiles at Lumi. “But truthfully, his journeys were very short-lived. Though he tells it like he spent a hundred years across the realm.”

Lumi leans back, his head hitting the back of the tub with a resounding clang. He laughs loudly, rubbing the back of his head, “He likes to pretend he’s so traveled.”

“I mean, he has traveled,” Khimi laughs in agreement. “But he most definitely isn’t the worldly man he wants you to think he is.”

They converse together at their friend’s expense until silence overtakes both of them. The exhaustion from their travels and journey finally taking them. Lumi’s head slumps against his shoulder in the empty tub. Khimi snores softly into the thin feather cushion under his cheek.

The sun falls while they sleep, the last rays of light shining through the stained-glass fade, the night becomes filled with stars. The moons of Talmus are particularly bright, throwing a warm bluish glow across the Manor. Lumi stirs, stretching his body in the tub while he begins to awaken. He knuckles his lower back and massages the base of his stiff tail. He glances over at the bed, catching a glimpse of Khimi snoring under a thin knit blanket. Lumi pulls himself from the tub, crossing his arms from the chilly night air. He dashes quietly across the room and lifts the thin blanket to slide beneath it beside Khimi. Khimi turns slightly, opening his eyes and meeting Lumi’s gaze.

“Couldn’t stay away?” Khimi asks in a whisper, a subtle smile forms across his lips.

“You forgot Rashid and Ennui,” Lumi replies quietly with a frisky smirk.