Chapter XIII

Looking Ahead

Rashid and Ennui keep a dour demeanor during the following days. Though Khimi prays their moods would lift, he knows the journey had taken much out of his friends. They had all grown tired of the long days spent aboard the vessel, the sleepless nights of the creaking and rocking vessel. The days they had spent at the Rose Manor proved to be less relaxing than anticipated. The morning after their arrival, dozens of corsairs from across the Golden Isles had come to make their stay in the stuffy old building. The stagnant, humid air and the moldy scent of the wet lichen growing over the Manor leaves much to be desired. Despite making the best of the accommodations, Khimi had already begun to miss Rhaz.

Much of their final days on the Greater Cay is filled with brokering trade and filling what little space remains in their hold with more lucrative treasures. The Golden Isles is known for being a place in which one could find nearly anything if they put time into finding it. Khimi and Rashid had perused the market, selecting the finest of antiques and oddities to bring back to the Desert Cities, items which may catch the eyes of some enigmatic collectors known to live throughout Rhaz. Other notable contributions to their haul included spices traded from Loria; Black pepper, red chilies, laurel, marjoram, and fennel.

At Khimi’s insistence, Lumi and Ennui remain at the Rose Manor. The two had slept much of their days at the manor, and Khimi feared putting the two of them through any unnecessary danger.

Khimi strolls through the side streets, picking through the stalls of vendors selling dried meats, fresh fruits, and spirits. Rashid hobbles beside him, taking his arm and allowing Rashid to put much of his weight on him. He recalls his friend’s woes and the growing pain that plagues his advisor.

“I think we should set sail soon,” Khimi says suddenly, before he turns a small orange fruit in his hand.

Rashid peers at the orange fruit in Khimi’s hand, “It’s one of those queer ones,” he says under his breath. 


Rashid chuckles, “Here,” he begins extending his hand.

Khimi hands him the small fruit, watching curiously while he helps hold Rashid up.

Rashid’s thumb pushes through the rind. “It peels easier…breaks into segments,” he says, removing the remaining peel and breaking the segments into individual pieces. “It’s a curious fruit. One that doesn’t naturally grow in the Desert Cities, but with enough care and attention I am sure it could flourish…”

There is a pointedness in Rashid’s words, and Khimi cannot help but wonder if there is a meaning behind them. Immediately, his thoughts flicker to Lumi and their meeting. How would you have fared in the Desert Cities if we didn’t meet, Lumi? Khimi cracks a smile while he remembers how resilient Lumi has been throughout their adventures.

“I-I think we should leave soon,” Khimi begins again. He places one of the segmented pieces in his mouth. “Are you planning to return to Sidi now?”

Rashid places a copper piece on the vendor’s stall. “I had intended to find another ship back to Sidi, aye. What of it?”

“Could I ask you for something?” Khimi says, giving him a curious look.

Rashid shakes his head, “Always favors for ya, innit?”

Khimi thumbs the remaining segments of the fruit in his palm. “I need you to run the estate for a while,” he says, purposefully. “I’m bringing Lumi away from the Desert Cities for a while…I think he needs time away from people.”

“Aye, Khimi…I would, but ya know. Aleyna may be in need,” Rashid says before he drops another copper piece, taking another of the fruits from the cart.

Khimi clears his throat, “I promise to send Ennui. I need your help, Rashid.”

Rashid gives Khimi a look of resignation, “You know Ennui has suggested…just yesterday in fact that she knows a man who could run the estate in your absence.”

Khimi scoffs, “I can’t imagine who she would even suggest. It isn’t like her to have many friends. If any friends.”

“A dwarven man,” Rashid chuckles. “I know,” he laughs, gauging Khimi’s expression. “But from what she says, it seems the man is educated and has a past in the north.”

Khimi ponders during their walk down the damp streets. “What was the name?”

“Mamir,” Rashid replies, his thumb punching through the rind. “He’s supposedly quite skilled at counting and managing his business.”

Khimi finishes the rest of the pulpy fruit, “Then when we arrive back, we can set a meeting with him. But in the meantime, I need you to return to Rhaz.”

Rashid grimaces, “Aren’t ya concerned in the least for Aleyna?”

“Rashid,” Khimi whispers and turns swiftly, “If something was wrong with Aleyna…I am certain word would have reached us by now. Ziad would have said something. Perhaps even gloated or hinted.”

Rashid sighs, “He made no claims,” he agrees through clenched teeth.

A lengthy moment of silence follows, both men deep in their own thoughts.

“I’ll return to Rhaz and maintain the estate until ya find a replacement. But I pray Ennui will find Aleyna in good health,” Rashid mutters in response. “If something happened to her, I don’t think I could live with myself.”

Khimi claps Rashid on the shoulder, “You have my thanks.”

“Might I ask where y’re headed to?” Rashid inquires.

Khimi looks around them, his eyes darting back and forth before he continues, “Dolmas.”

Dolmas?!” Rashid spits, staring curiously at Khimi.

“Not to the city, but I planned to take him along the coast. Away from the cities and perhaps north of Thurma. We should be able to have access to passing merchants and Lumi’s tribe lived along the sea,” Khimi says, looking up towards the hill in the distance. “He said where the sea meets the plains and jungle.”

Rashid follows his gaze to Rose Manor in the distance, “Y’re not concerned about mercenaries or bandits?”

“No,” Khimi replies, beginning their walk back towards the manor. “Lumi told me of a place with Yurts that the aslan abandon during their migration.”

“So, it’s a getaway for you both, is it?” Rashid asks softly.

Khimi grunts and shakes his head, “Something of the like. I’m thinking of taking a wagon and some supplies. Dried meats and fresh water for about a fortnight…Lumi needs this.”

“So you’ll be gone for longer than a month?” Rashid inquires, raising his brow. He drops the peel from the fruit onto the side of the street. “Khi–”

“Most likely, possibly longer,” Khimi interrupts, pausing before they step foot onto the muddy path.

Rashid’s lips thin, and he palms his cheek, “Ya should at least take a few guards from the estate with ya,” he adds, looking at Khimi from the corner of his eye. “Take Jiya and a few others we can trust. Jiya has served the Ce”

“Nonsense,” Khimi replies swiftly. “That’d eliminate the whole purpo—“

“I still think it wise,” Rashid begins. “As y’re advisor, I have to at least state my concern.”

“We’ll be fine,” Khimi scoffs. “I imagine between Lumi and I we can handle the odd bandit or so.”

Rashid sighs, “Why not just stay in the Desert Cities? Find y’reself an inn?”

“I want to bring Lumi somewhere that feels familiar,” Khimi whispers thoughtfully. “I think a part of him wants to see it again, even if his tribe is gone.”

“And a marriage in Sidi afterward?”

“Well, perhaps,” Khimi replies with a faint smile. “Maybe.”

Rashid smiles and pops the last piece of the fruit into his mouth, “Aleyna will find Lumi endearing…of this, I am certain.”

“Well, I think it’s hard to dis—“

The rumbling of thunder overhead and a single bolt of lightning dancing overhead is enough to send Rashid and Khimi rushing back to Rose Manor.

Alicia opens the door and looks up at the cloudy skies. A variety of loud men and women in finery stand about the dining hall, their eyes turn towards the odd pair upon their entry. Soaking wet, Khimi shakes his linen shirt, glancing up at the strange assortment of corsairs. Bloody pirates.

“Excuse me, Rashid,” Khimi says, teasing the wet cloth from his chest. “I’ll be in my room.”

“Much the same,” Rashid mutters, following behind.

Several bowls of posies rest on shelves along the wall, their floral scent masks the dank scent of mold and decay. Khimi presses his hand against the door, pushing the dark door open cautiously. Lumi turns in the tub in surprise, his rounded ears shaking in alarm.

Oh! I was worried you might have been a pirate,” Lumi mutters, splashing water across the wooden floor. He stands in the tub, “You look wetter than me,” he adds while he devours Khimi with his eyes. Taking note of the way the wet clothes cling tight to his body.

“I’m freezing,” Khimi says, shaking himself and tugging his shirt over his head.

A loud, raucous laughter erupts from the dining hall.

“Enjoying the guests?” Khimi asks, giving Lumi a warm smile.

Lumi groans while he exits the tub, “I think I’d rather deal with the ghost of Laurent Rose than that lot.”

“Ghost?” Khimi asks, removing his trousers.

“Alicia was telling me about how this place is supposed to be haunted by Laurent’s ghost,” Lumi whispers, closing the drapes. “That is why beastkin don’t stay here…she said that sometimes beastkin would get murdered here and peop–”

“Great,” Khimi grumbles. “Ghosts on top of everything else?”

Lumi walks to a small cupboard, running his hand over a small silver candelabra. The wicks flicker to life with flames. Khimi places his hands on either side of the tub, sliding into the warm water. Water flows over the side, pouring across the wooden floors. He leans back, releasing a long, deep breath.

Lumi moves to the tub and his places a hand on Khimi’s cheek while he sits on the ledge. His wet tail returns to the water, swiping across the top of the murky, warm water.

“Is Rashid coming back to Rhaz with us?” Lumi asks, his face nearing Khimi’s.

Khimi opens an eye, giving Lumi a smug smile, “He agreed to it. Though, I think it would be wise to put his worries about my mother at ease…somehow,” he says, his brow pinching in thought.

“Are you not worried?” Lumi questions with a tilt of his head.

Khimi closes his eyes and sinks deeper into the tub, his feet stretch upward onto the sides of it. “Aleyna is resilient,” he says gruffly. “Just like you. She’s strong.”

“I-I can try to contact her,” Lumi says, pulling Khimi’s face back towards his own. “If you want.”

Khimi opens an eye curiously, “Like the saint?”

“If she can do it, I am sure I can manage it,” Lumi insists. “Maybe…”

    Khimi reaches a hand behind Lumi’s head, bringing Lumi’s lips against his own. Alcohol and berries. Lumi’s tongue forces its way between his wet lips, their tongues swirl against one another. His lips are so soft. Khimi’s hand glides down Lumi’s shoulder to his waist.

Lumi pulls back, “Khimi,” he says abruptly. “I’m serious,” he adds with a punch against Khimi’s chest. “I want to help if I can.”

“Do I need to do anything?” Khimi asks, releasing Lumi from his grip. He sinks back deeper into the water, deflated.

Lumi leans in once again, “Describe Aleyna for me,” he says with a wide grin.

“Describe my mother while I’m staring at my naked lover?” Khimi groans, his lips sitting just above the water.

“I’m serious!” Lumi croaks, “Just tell me, as best as you can, what she looks like. Describe her to me.”

Fine,” Khimi grunts, closing his eyes. His feet slip back to the top of the copper tub. “She’s got lengthy brown hair…the color of coffee beans. She has a sharp nose and soft brown almond eyes. Freckles cross the bridge of her nose and are on the tops of her shoulders. She always wears a scarf over her head. Her favorite color is lilac, but she enjoys weari—“

“Just tell me the details of her appearance,” Lumi instructs, his eyes pinched shut. “I want to see her as you do,” he says, placing his hand on Khimi’s shoulders.

“She’s a good bit taller than you. She carries herself with an air of dignity and pride. She has a warm smile,” Khimi whispers.

Lumi brings Khimi’s face to his own, pressing their foreheads together. His ears twitch while he begins to whisper in a strange language. High Talman…what is he saying? Khimi eyes him wantingly, his hand runs along the length of Lumi’s calf to his soft inner thigh. Lumi opens his eyes, giving Khimi an annoyed roll of his eyes. He presses his forehead back against Khimi’s. Khimi watches Lumi’s mouth moves with unspoken words, faster and faster until he stops.

“What did you say?” Khimi asks, then gives Lumi a sharp tug.

Khimi!” Lumi squeals. “Wait!” He slaps at Khimi’s hand, signaling for him to be quiet.

Khimi raises his eyebrow while a smile comes across Lumi’s lips. “It worked? Did she reply?” He asks in excitement.

Lumi remains silent for a moment, his ears twitching as if he is listening intently.

“She’s alright,” Lumi says, his eyes closed. “She said she wants to know how you are…she has such a soft…but demanding voice.”

Lumi,” Khimi whispers, he tugs Lumi sharply, dragging him into the lukewarm water. “Tell her that I’m whole and hale.”

Water splashes across the wooden floor again, “I can’t have a lengthy conversation,” Lumi mutters. “But I’ll try my best.”

Khimi sits silently and rubs his hand across Lumi’s back and shoulders, pulling against him. Lumi remains silent, his eyes closed. Khimi’s fingers trace along the gentle lines of Lumi’s body beneath the water. Khimi pulls him firmly against himself and rubs his stubble through Lumi’s blond hair. Lumi opens an eye, peering up again with an annoyed expression.

“I don’t know exactly how it works…but it stopped,” Lumi whispers. “She seems kind. She’s very worried about you.”

Khimi groans, “Now you have to tell me what you told her,” he says, giving Lumi a look of intrigue.

“I just introduced myself…I told her that Rashid and you were concerned,” Lumi replies softly. “She said she’d like to meet me one day.”

“Is there something else, Lumi?” Khimi asks. He furrows his brow. “Lumi?”

Lumi moves uncomfortably away from Khimi and situates himself across the tub. “She sounded scared,” he says, eying the murky, steaming bath. “But I could be reading her wrong…”

“Probably because you used a type of magick she’s never experienced,” Khimi offers.

Mmm, maybe,” Lumi whispers before he lifts his feet through the water in front of Khimi.

Khimi takes the small foot and pushes his thumb deep into the tissue of the soft arch. Lumi’s eyes roll back into his head, his tail brushes against Khimi beneath the water. Khimi bites his lip, his eyes devouring every bit of Lumi’s body. His cock through the water, his desire building by the moment. The last thing he wants to speak of is his mother. He wants the warmth of Lumi’s body, the softness of him enveloping him. Fuck.

“Either way, I’ll be sending Ennui to Sidi once we arrive in Rhaz,” Khimi says, trying to focus on Lumi’s pleasure.

“Why not see if she can find a vessel from here?” Lumi asks, moaning when Khimi presses his thumb deep into the soft tissue. “Ahh, that feels wonderful,” he whimpers, then slides into the tub.

Khimi tugs at Lumi’s foot, dragging his nose nearly beneath the water. “She hasn’t recovered, and I’d rather give her the task once we arrive in Rhaz. Perhaps she’ll be more amenable if I hire her friend,” he says before he presses a finger between each of Lumi’s toes, stretching a gap between them. He looks up from his hooded eyes, “Did you know Ennui had friends?”

“Other than you?” Lumi asks, glaring up at Khimi. “I didn’t know Ennui kept friends. A few times in Rhaz she took me to a tavern for drinks…people seemed familiar with her. And she took me to this place…where she bought oils for me.”

“Well then,” Khimi mutters, “Maybe she can take this Mamir with her.”

Lumi laughs, “That sounds like a good time for them…though I think she said something about disliking Sidi…or maybe it was the paladins or something.”

“She’ll be fine…and we’ll have our own good time,” Khimi says, a playful smirk crosses his lips. He brings his lips against the sole of Lumi’s foot, planting a soft kiss.

Lumi purses his lips, “You’ve been rather tight-lipped about it,” he says, his ears quiver. He begins to jerk and shake at Khimi’s kisses, spilling water over the edges of the tub. “St-Stop, I’m ticklish!”

Khimi continues against Lumi’s shaking body, dragging Lumi through the water onto his lap. “It’s like back at the temple.”

“Except this time…” Lumi pauses, begins to straddle Khimi’s lap, “you’re going to fuck me,” he adds with a coy smile, his hands linked together behind Khimi’s neck.

Khimi’s lips move along Lumi’s neck, pressing against the soft, tender skin. “Of course,” he replies before nipping and suckling.

“You never told me where we were headed,” Lumi breathes against Khimi’s ear, before his fang teases the soft lobe.

“Somewhere special,” Khimi confides, his teeth still against Lumi’s skin. A fresh purplish discoloration is left when he pulls back.

Lumi’s hips shake, his tail drags behind him through the water. “You should tell me where it is,” he says hurriedly, his lips pass Khimi’s cheek before seeking his lips.

Khimi’s hands grip Lumi’s waist, sliding him further up along his hips. His hardened cock pushes flush between Lumi’s ass. “I promise, you’ll love it,” he manages between hungry kisses.

“As long as I am with you,” Lumi mutters against Khimi’s lips, “I know I’ll be happy,” he adds, his forehead brushing against Khimi’s. “What are you smiling about?”

You,” Khimi snorts, his fingers burrowing into Lumi’s waist.

Lumi smiles in response, “Are we going somewhere fun at least?”

“Somewhere special,” Khimi laughs, “Somewhere that we can be ourselves.”

“We can be ourselves anywhere,” Lumi whispers, then pushes his lips against Khimi’s with eager enthusiasm.

Unexpected Farewells

It is always difficult for Khimi to rise in the morning when Lumi is beside him. Watching him sleep, his chest rising and falling with each of his breaths. It had become one of his favorite morning rituals. He would often find himself bringing his lips against Lumi’s shoulder, running them softly along Lumi’s back, pausing along the few small beauty marks on his form. He would test himself many mornings, doing his best to not wake Lumi from his gentle repose. In the rare instances he would somehow manage to awaken him, he would relish the moment Lumi’s eyes would flutter open, the striking aetherial eyes staring back at him, so similar to the shallow waters of the coast.

As the morning light creeps into the room, Khimi stirs and presses his lips softly against Lumi’s bare back. The small bed creaks with each of his movements, but Lumi remains asleep, breathing gently against the emerald green silk sheets. Khimi rolls the sheet down Lumi’s Lumi’s naked form while he continues to brush his lips against his skin. Gently, he runs his fingers down Lumi’s spine, pausing at a small beauty mark just above his right buttock.

Lumi shifts under Khimi’s touch, stirring from his sleep with a long breath. “Khimi,” he groans, still keeping his eyes shut.

“Sorry,” Khimi mutters, sliding his hand underneath the sheets and between Lumi’s warm thighs.

Lumi’s tail flicks in response. “Last night wasn’t enough?” he asks, rolling onto his side to face Khimi while he snuggles closer to him.

“It’s never enough,” Khimi replies, pulling Lumi closer and nuzzling against him. “You know I could have you again and again,” he adds in a husky voice near Lumi’s ear.

Lumi smiles sleepily. “How early is it?”

“We have an early start today,” Khimi responds, brushing his lips against Lumi’s once more.

Lumi glances towards the stained-glass window, noticing a faint light peeking through the velveteen curtains. “First light?” he grumbles under his breath in disbelief.

“The ship is ready to depart…I thought we could have a bit more time alone,” Khimi whispers before capturing Lumi’s lips in a tender kiss.

Lumi holds his gaze with Khimi while their lips press together, “Thank the Gods,” he whispers excitedly, coiling his leg about Khimi’s.

A sharp knock at the door causes Lumi to blow air through his lips angrily, throwing himself onto his back across the small mattress. Khimi pushes himself from the bed, crossing the small room with unusual speed. He pulls the door open, peering through the small opening. Alicia, the Manor attendant, stands outside the door, an expressive look on her face. She smiles, then looks up at Khimi’s face searching through the crack. She places her hand on the door, pushing it gently. Khimi places his foot against the back of the door, closing it slightly further.

“Yes?” Khimi grumbles in annoyance, his foot pressed firmly against the door.

Alicia beams with delight, “I had no clue that you were Lord Zeybek, son of Emir Ziad Zeybek!” She exclaims.

Khimi staggers, “What?”

“There is a courier who arrived late last night to meet with you, he stayed the night as he didn’t want to disturb you,” Alicia says, wedging her foot between the door even further with inexplicable strength

Khimi?” Lumi asks from the bed, watching them curiously.

“Oh,” Alicia begins, attempting to look inside. “Well, since you’re both awake, then shall I tell the courier?” Her words come out in a rush while she tries to peer into the room.

Khimi pushes the door against Alicia’s intruding foot, his irritation palpable. “Tell the courier to meet us out front.” His voice is firm and commanding.

“Right,” Alicia smiles, “I’ll let him know,” she adds, withdrawing her foot slowly.

Khimi closes the door behind him, “Sorry.”

“For?” Lumi asks, his tail flailing against the bed in agitation.

Khimi scratches through his black locks while pacing around the room, “Ziad sent a courier…I better see to it. Can you believe, people on these damn Islands already know his name…like he’s some famed corsair?” His frustration is evident in his tone.

Lumi cocks an eyebrow, “From what you’ve mentioned of Ziad…I am not surprised,” he says, attempting to smile.

“Either way, I’ll see what this business is about. You can stay in bed,” Khimi insists, searching through his leather bag for a set of dry clothes.

Lumi slides over the silks from the bed, “I’ll go with you,” he says, pulling his half shirt over his head.

They quickly gather their things, collecting their belongings in haste before waking Ennui and Rashid from their rooms. An attendant at the front of the Rose Manor offers them their cloaks, free of the mud and dirt that had covered them previously. Khimi hurries Lumi through the building. In the pebbled yard, a man in a dark bliaut stands with his hand upon a curved scepter. The courier is a mage? The man bows his head, his long, copper locks of hair falling over his deep brown eyes. With a determined look, he quickly raises his head and brushes the loose strands away.

“Are you the messenger?” Lumi asks nonchalantly, scratching his head in thought.

A warm smile curls onto the man’s lips. “Renaud Dior,” he introduces himself with a peculiar wave of his hand.

“Fancy stick,” Lumi adds with a tilt of his head towards the scepter. “I’ve seen people at the temple with them.”

“Yes, it was–”

“Why did Ziad send you?” Khimi interrupts with a scowl on his face, pulling his traveler’s cloak tightly over his shoulder to conceal the handle of his scimitar.

Renaud purses his lips, “He has come himself to see you, Lord Zeybek. Surely a father wishes to see his son off,” he explains, bowing his head once again. “Will you attend to him?”

“How old are you?” Lumi interjects with a curious glint in his eye.

Lumi!” Khimi growls under his breath, his eyes widening at the question.

Renaud turns to Lumi, “Curious question, but a fair one. Mages tend to age differently than other mortals. I am certainly much older than I look.”

“I feel it,” Lumi says with a nod. “You’ve got something weird about you.”

“But where is Ziad?” Khimi demands, interrupting their conversation.

Renaud taps his scepter against the ground, “I have prepared a comfortable meeting location,” he says, his hand running through his hair once again. “Somewhere with a breathtaking view.”

“Can Ziad meet us somewhere else?” Lumi asks hesitantly.

“It is Emir Ziad to you,” Renaud corrects him sternly. “But no, I was instructed to escort Khimi to a secure location for the meeting.”

Khimi scoffs, “Fine,” he shrugs.

“Khimi,” Lumi whispers urgently, turning to face his friend with an expression of concern. “No,” he insists with a worried tone, “please don’t go.”

Renaud bites his lip, hesitating before speaking. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to bring the beastkin,” he mutters, then taps his scepter against the ground once more, causing the pebbles to shift beneath his feet.

“Khimi,” Lumi grimaces, standing nearer, “I hate mages,” he mutters under his breath. “That woman…at Omar’s was a mage.”

“She…was certainly something of the sort,” Khimi replies while Renaud recites an incantation.

Lumi stares at Renaud with a look of concern, “WHERE. ARE. YOU. BRINGING. US?!” He shouts over Renaud.

Renaud peeks a glance at them with one eye, before returning to his incantation.

“Khimi, we should tell Ennui and Rashid,” Lumi says worriedly. “What if…something happens?”

Khimi stares at the mage, pebbles blow away from the scepter, rolling on the ground towards them. “A bit lat–”

Khimi’s words are cut short, a feeling unlike any that he had experienced in life takes hold of him. His stomach convulses, seemingly pulling ahead by an unseen force. Within a few short seconds, the landscape around them changes to a cliffside. Large basalt columns lie about around them, curious stones with runic writing. Khimi grabs hold of Lumi’s shoulder the moment they appear. Lumi places his hand on one of the columns, supporting himself, while Renaud walks past, seemingly unaffected by the strange sensation.

“Khimi,” Lumi whispers, his eyes focused on the mage. “Why did we do this?” He pleads.

Khimi’s eyes remain fixed ahead, a figure is seated on a large basalt column looking down the cliff face. “If Ziad summons you, you don’t get to deny him…that just isn’t how it works.”

“The mage is leaving us?” Lumi asks, watching Renaud walk away from them and down a worn pathway.

“It doesn’t matter,” Khimi begins, his eyes focused ahead. 

Khimi crosses past broken stone and basalt, looking at the figure seated near the edge of the cliff. Thoughts of his father fill him with every step. A part of him fears nearing the cliff, fears that his father may make some attempt to end his life. He glances at the man sitting on the rocky formation. Without looking, Ziad motions to a spot beside him on the rock. He adjusts the golden buttons of his crimson kaftan, turning to look at Khimi down the sharp hook of his nose.

“Fa–Ziad,” Khimi says under his breath, he looks back at Lumi. “You summoned?” He asks, unable to control the hint of nervousness that pervades his tone. “I thought our business was concluded.”

Ziad remains still, looking out over the cliffside. His gaze is focused on the rising sun in the distance, “It’s cold out here, isn’t it?”

Khimi’s eyes move back and forth, unsure of what to make of his father’s question. “It is colder than I am used to, certainly,” Khimi replies before he takes his seat beside Ziad. “Enough to make me miss the Desert Cities…”

“Did you have to bring him with you?” Ziad mutters, attempting to hide the malevolence in his voice. He clears his throat. “Why is he here?”

“Does that matter? He makes me happy,” Khimi sighs, forcing himself to continue, “I just…want you to know that this is what I want.”

“This won’t end well for either of you,” Ziad replies. He places his hands upon his knees. “Their kind were never meant to breed outside their own…that is just the natural order of it.”

Ziad,” Khimi begins and turns his gaze back to the rising sun. “I am sorry that I won’t bring you the grandchildren that you desire…but I was never going to be able to give you that.”

“There comes a time in a man’s life, Khimi. A time when he has to perform his duty, even if it is something that he doesn’t enjoy. Something that he doesn’t love.” Ziad lowers his head, “And I will never give you my blessing to marry a Demi-human,” he says with a quiet calm. “But I do want you to know that…I will always love you, Khimi. Everything that I have ever done has always been for you. For the future of the Cerulean Star.”

Khimi’s face screws up, his fingers bite into his palm. “Right,” he says through grit teeth. “I can only promise you…that I will do my best to represent our family with honor and dignity.”

“You must, as a Zeybek. You must.”

A long silence follows, the two sit staring into the distance. Lumi waits anxiously behind them, listening to their every word. He drums his fingers on the basalt column, looking into the distant fields of high grass. He stands on the rock, peering over the waving fields of grass.

“If you truly intend to go through with this union,” Ziad says suddenly. “Keep it private, don’t tell a single soul of your sin.”

Sin?!” Khimi questions in disbelief. Before he can think, he rises to his feet, “There is no si–”

“It IS a sin!” Ziad growls, losing his composure.

Khimi growls and hangs his head. The words which leave his lips are filled with venom, “You’ve never known love in your life…you were betrothed.”

“As you should have been! I should have married you off when you were still a child,” Ziad says, shaking angrily. “The years you spent alone with Aleyna made you so weak…so weak that the thought of being a proper man fled from your mi–”

“Proper man?” Khimi shouts, unable to meet his father’s eyes. “You are the worst example of what a man should be.”

Ziad stands from the column, looking at Khimi and then to Lumi. “Your preference for beastkin boys will be the only thing people will talk about in the Desert Cities. They’ll make a mockery of our family,” he says again. “Imagine what people will say about you? Imagine what people will say to you.”

Lumi straightens on the column, his tail stiffens behind him. Khimi doesn’t like beastkin boys,” he shouts from his rock. “Khimi doesn’t like anyone…I’m just special.”

“He doesn’t even know his place,” Ziad says, motioning to Lumi. “Speaking out of tur–”

“He’s my partner,” Khimi protests, “he can speak when he pleases.”

Ziad runs his fingers through his hair, “Khimi, I beg of you. Do not walk this course. Do not make me your enemy.”

Khimi looks at the rising sun. The salty breeze lifts the cloak around his form while he turns back to Ziad, “I think…” He pauses with a deep breath. “You were always my enemy, Ziad. From the moment I was born, we were at odds. And for as long as we both draw breath…we will always be.”

Lumi walks towards them, pulling his cloak over his shoulder to shield himself from the wind. “Can your mage send us back now?” He asks hurriedly, shivering at the chill in the air.

“Khimi!” Ziad shouts, his calm breaking further with every step Lumi takes, “You couldn’t have chosen another merchant prince or someone respectable at least? You could have been with anyone, spilled your seed in a hundred concubines…but this?”

“I already said it,” Lumi laughs suddenly. “Khimi only likes me. He doesn’t need whores or anyone else!”

Lumi,” Khimi begins turning towards him, “It’s fine…just go wait.”

Lumi smiles, “It’s not fine,” he insists. “Zia–”

“I will not take lectures from a child. A beastkin child no less,” Ziad interrupts with an angry scowl.


“I know you’ll never like me, Ziad,” Lumi begins, stepping onto the basalt column behind them. “But Khimi is my life…I’ve known that he was animae dimidium meae, the other half of my sou–”

Lunacy!” Ziad shouts, “Khimi, did you fall for this?”

“Listen!” Lumi shouts angrily, “You’ll always hate me. I am no– I am not smart…but I am smart enough to know you’ll never like me,” he says, his voice growing softer, “of course, I want you to like me…”

“It will never happen!” Ziad shouts, “Khimi, don’t tell me you’ve fallen for this nonsense?” he asks, massaging his temples. “Khimi?”

Khimi looks to Lumi, then back to Ziad, “I lov– he means the world to me, father. More than anything,” he says while he walks to Lumi.

“Ziad, your son means everything to me. He’s the only person who has ever shown me lov–”

Lecherous worm!” Ziad spits, his glower intensifies. “Khimi…is and will always be too good for you. He will never love you…you’re nothing more than a hole for him to fill. Just like a man with a weak heart to fall for a whore…he may not see it yet. But he will.”

“Enough!” Khimi shouts, “Enough…just stop.”

Ziad breathes heavy rage filled breaths before slowly regaining his composure, “Tch, very well.”

“Father, please,” Khimi begins softly, “We will leave you to your thoughts, but I beg of you to allow us to leave in peace…to live our lives in peace.”

Ziad’s eyes return to the steadily rising sun. He exhales heavily, “Khimi,” he whispers. “I just wanted our farewell to end on a– a different note. I still want that.”

“It still can,” Lumi says, “Your blessing…would mean so much to him. But we won’t force that out of you. Even i–”

“Even if you deny me. We will do it anyway,” Khimi interjects and grabs hold of Lumi’s hand.

Ziad remains silent, his gaze directed into the distance. “I will always love you, son,” he says softly. “But, you will never receive my blessing.”

“Then we will take our leave,” Lumi whispers, giving Khimi’s hand a slight tug. “We will not hold you up any longer.”

“Renaud!” Ziad shouts, “Let them go.”

Khimi’s heart is torn, he wants to scream and shout. A part of him wants to push Ziad off the cliff, to end years of pain and misery at the source. And yet, Lumi’s grip on his hand fills him with hope. Hope that things can and will be different. That Ziad, having seen him with Lumi, may find it in his heart to allow them to be together.

“Father,” Khimi whispers, bowing his head while he steps over the basalt column. “I-I’m sorry.”

“A weak man apologizes, Khimi.” Ziad glances at Khimi once more, “Perhaps we will meet again in another couple of decades.”

“You can always use Renaud,” Lumi says swiftly, turning to him with a smile. “Renaud can bring you to see us.”

Ziad’s gaze returns to the rising sun. His perpetual scowl slowly fades to a contemplative frown. Renaud appears from the brush. The mage gives the two a cocksure smirk and brushes loose bits of grass from his bliaut. He raises his scepter in greeting.

“Done already?” Renaud chortles and turns to Ziad, “Send them back?” he asks, waiting for affirmation. “Are you certain?”

Ziad nods without turning back.

Renaud smiles, “You must have really upset him,” the mage whispers, glancing at Ziad once again.

“He’ll be fine,” Khimi mutters and looks back at his father in frustration.

Lumi squeezes Khimi’s hand, “It’s okay,” he says, glaring at Renaud reciting an incantation.

Renaud raises the scepter into the air, the strange wind returns. The grass around the mage flattens, the scepter taps against the ground. Khimi takes a final glance at Ziad before the mage finishes the incantation. Light emanates from the scepter, the strange feeling returns, the ground around them shifts. Their surroundings shift back with that horrific churning. The pebbles appear beneath their feet, the oaks beside the Rose Manor appear around them. Lumi looks about in wonder, excitement on his face. Renaud vanishes from view with a snarky grin.

“Lumi! Khimi!” Ennui shouts. “What the fuck?!”

Khimi looks at Lumi, a somber expression on his face. “I’m sorry you had to hear all of that.”

Lumi shakes Khimi’s arm, “Don’t worry about it,” he says, turning to Ennui. “I knew how Ziad would be,” he confesses under his breath.

Rashid stands from the stairs at the front of Rose Manor, “Ennui saw you both vanish with that man,” he says and presses his hands against his lower back. “Who was it?”

“It was someone nam—“

“One of my father’s retainers,” Khimi interrupts, clenching Lumi’s hand.

Ennui’s tail sweeps behind her, displaying her anger, “I hate mages,” she grumbles to herself.

“Ziad then?” Rashid asks, raising an eyebrow.

Khimi nods, “He wanted to clear things up, part on better terms.”

“It didn’t go so well,” Lumi grimaces and rushes to them, pebbles crunching under his feet. “He’s crazy!”

“No,” Khimi begins. “He summoned us somewhere up the Lorian Coast. It was cold and there were basalt pillars…I’ve not the slightest clue where we were.”

Ennui fingers the tips of her horns, “Well, you’re probably right. There are a lot of islands off of the coast there. Curious, he didn’t bring you straight back to Arx Mari.”

“Curious that he didn’t kill us!” Lumi laughs nervously, unable to contain himself. “I told Khimi that we shouldn’t have gone.”

“Can’t really deny, Ziad,” Rashid chortles nervously in response to Lumi. “He isn’t the type to allow for that.”

Khimi sighs, “Well, I suppose it’s time to go back to the ship.”

Ennui forces a grin, pointing a finger at Lumi. “You’ve got work to do, kitten.” 

Lumi cowers at her words, “I don’t think I can heal your wound more,” he stutters, “I-I am not the best healer…”

Rashid lifts the canvas sack from the stairs. “May as well try. We’ve got a voyage ahead of us.”

Khimi grabs a canvas sack from the stairs. “Who knows, maybe you’ll get better at it.”

Ennui rolls her eyes, “He’d better.”

Lumi groans, “I’ll try my best. But Cecilia only taught me so much.”

Rashid combs his gray hair back, “I suppose I can lend a hand…though I am really only suited to combat. But I can show ya some tricks.”

Lumi smiles in response, “Thanks, Rashid.”

Khimi smiles while they begin their walk to the harbor, “To Rhaz, then.”

“Aye,” Ennui says with a hint of excitement. “Home.”