Stomach Pains: Qasin

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Qasin somehow found it comforting to swab the deck. The simple back and forth motion of the yarn mop across the floor served to keep his hands busy and away from his sword while the disappearing stains manifested in him an odd sense of pride and accomplishment he wasn’t exactly expecting when he first began. He had set out to do something, and it bore results. Even though it was a small, insignificant task compared to the one he had accomplished defending the Human Race and their allies on the beach, it was still a task that bettered the world. But, neither of those pleasant feelings were what made the simple cleaning chore so comforting.

Rather than either of them, it was the nostalgia. Before he was a King, he had been a soldier, and as any soldier who ever enlisted in an army can tell you, if they weren’t performing their task, training, standing guard or waiting around for orders, they were cleaning. They were polishing their swords, organizing the contents of their chests, or cleaning their floors. They were making their beds four times because the outcome had to be ‘just right’ for their commanding officer’s approval. Add this to the fact that the first few tasks for a run-of-the-mill sword-and-board infantry pawn only took two to three hours a day at most, and that meant that Qasin had spent five to six hours of every day cleaning. That’s why it was so comforting to return to an old task he had grown so familiar with for the first time in . . . How long has it been?

Qasin looked up as he paused in thought, puzzled by a realization that sat on the tip of his tongue but never wiggled free, until he finally understood what he was looking at.

“Eve, can your magic see what is going on in that town?” he asked his companion who was holding the wheel.

“Yes,” she answered, “I can.”

“And?” he asked as he put the mop back in the bucket.

“And?” she sighed in a manner that seemed entirely out of character for her. “It’s exactly what you see: a battle.”

“Eve, don’t dodge the question. You knew what I meant,” Qasin’s blood began to rise. It was just the type of skirting about the issue the councilmen had done in the castle around that forsaken council table.

“It’s a battle, dear Qasin. A group of mischievous pirates are assailing a village town with their stench and charm,” Eve finally said after a moment of thought. “The villagers who are actually wearing armor seem to be holding them off for the moment. They have a good defensive formation, but it’s not likely to stay that way for long.”

“Then let’s hope they last until we arrive,” Qasin said, putting his hand on his sword. It’s itching again.

“Qasin, we’re not going to arrive,” Eve said coldly. “We’re hot on Darwin’s trail. At this rate we’ll catch them before they reach shore.”

“Your brother isn’t facing death; those people are. Are you going to turn your back on them so easily? Is an hour’s worth of chasing Darwin worth the lives of the people in that town?” Qasin’s grip on his blade grew stronger. She isn’t them; she isn’t the council, he had to tell himself.

“No, it’s just, Qasin, this is about more than a village. This is about an entire world. You’re a King. You should know by now that wars require you to make the hard call and give up a few soldiers to save a thousand.”

“I was a poor King as you were quick to point out. There are simply lessons I am too foolish to ever learn.”

“Qasin, this is my boat if you haven’t forgotten, and I am not risking everything. I didn’t come this far to give up here. I am not changing the course.”

Qasin had heard enough. His hand was itching and his patience was gone. There was a problem on the shore, and everything down to his bones told him he couldn’t let those people die. He walked to the edge of the boat where the railing was. “I signed up to help you, not to be your pawn. You turn the boat towards those people, or I will swim to shore on my own.”

He watched Eve stare at him sternly, then turned to the rail. We don’t have time for this, he thought, about to jump off the boat, when she stopped him with a shout. “Fine! I’ll turn the boat, but we better still catch Darwin. Don’t make me regret this more than I already do,” Eve bellowed out angrily.

“Saving lives is not something you can regret easily,” Qasin said, parting from the ship’s side and walking up to the wheel where Eve was steering.

“You may be right, but I’m worried that the number of lives we save today will be incomparable to the number of lives that may die tomorrow as a result of this. Either way, we were set to arrive at Darwin’s port before he did with just wind alone earlier. If we’re going to make this detour and still be on schedule, we’re going to need to speed things up,” she said, turning around to face the back of the boat. Eve calmly raised one hand to the side of her head as a gust of wind began to creep out of nowhere, pulling ever so slightly at the ends of her black dress as it pressed against her. The gusts behind the sails became stronger and stronger with each passing moment until the boat had gone from a comfortable cruising speed to one where it tore through the water like a hot knife through butter.

Qasin, momentarily mystified by the sudden effects of a magic he had not seen, caught on to what she was doing and quickly grabbed the wheel to steer the ship towards the town. What would have been a ten or fifteen minute venture was shortened to mere moments. Unfortunately, as Qasin quickly saw, there was nothing that would stop the ship from simply colliding into the docks and tearing them in half.

“BRACE!” he yelled at Eve, whose focus was on the spell and not the impending crisis.

Eve didn’t move though: whatever the spell was, it took all of her attention. Qasin didn’t bother warning her a second time. As the ship got closer and closer to ramming the dock, he simply tossed her over his shoulder and, using a fireman’s carry, rushed to the edge of the boat where he proceeded to jump into the water.

As Qasin broke through the water’s surface in an awkward, feet-first landing, he felt Eve’s body slip off his back, buoyed by the water pressure. He turned around, opening his eyes to see where she was despite knowing how much the water would sting them and then swam up to grab her again. Luckily for him though, by the time he reached her, she was already aware of what was going on and had started treading water towards the shoreline, which was now covered with debris from the splintered boat and dock.

“Are you okay?” he asked her as he slung her over the wooden dock remains.

“Yeah, just go save your village, and tell them they owe me a boat,” Eve said as she coughed up a little water.

“Right,” he agreed, not waiting to see if she had anything else to say as he dove underwater and began his swim to shore. He made sure to stay as deep in the water as possible to avoid the floating obstacle course above him until he finally reached where the sand and air converged.

He broke into a sprint the second his feet hit dry land and ran as hard as he could towards the fight. He couldn’t see what was going on, but he could make out enough details to know who were the good guys and who were the ones that needed killing. The peasants were dressed like they were trying out to be potatoes in a court play, and the guards were in three tight tower shield formations moving independently to block the invaders. They wore a uniform he didn’t recognize, but he knew the garb of a guard like the back of his hand. After years of having to deal with men of that ilk escorting him even to the lavatory, their style of uniform was more familiar than any. The pirates, on the other hand, with much smaller, plank-like bucklers, were charging forward in clustered groups and ramming into the defenders’ formations as they tried to propel their blades over the shield wall. They were unsuccessful, however, as their attempts were constantly being parried by free blades.

Eve was right: they won’t last forever, Qasin thought as he charged headlong into the conflict. The defenders of the town had already lost five men, and, with a few more men down, they would lose their buffer zone and get surrounded. The pirates simply had more men and were attacking in waves designed to wear the guards out, get their shots in and drain their numbers a little each time as they rotated into fresh, fully-manned groups. Just as much as the Captain clearly knew what he was doing, so did the pirates, and they would have undoubtedly won the skirmish with few to no losses.

Qasin came up behind the group furthest back that was readying for another slam and slashed his blade as hard and quickly as he could into their backs. Four down, he smiled as his blade moved from one enemy to the next. The crash, his running up behind them–they hadn’t noticed any of it over the constant clanging of metal upon metal, and their focus was still entirely on the battle before them. Qasin had open hunting season on his foes, and he planned to kill his prey before they noticed he was taking aim.

As he finished cutting through the back wave, with only a few noticing him in time to even try to stop his blade, the next group up spotted him. They pivoted from facing their initial line of foes to facing him, and charged with their defenses up as if he represented an entire wall of wood and metal. There aren’t openings. The formation is beautiful, Qasin admired as they grew closer to his position. It’s too bad that their awareness of their surroundings is far too lacking, he laughed to himself, noticing that the closer the pirates came to him, the closer the freed up group of guards came to slamming into the pirates from behind.

He almost wanted to just back up and watch the massacre, and it probably would have been more than just a thought, if it weren’t for his urges: the same urges that made his hand itch for his sword during idle conversation and made him smile as his favorite piece of steel rended flesh like a butcher cutting meat on a busy day. Those same urges were what now compelled him to unnecessarily rush into the mass of potential victims just to kill as many as he could before the rear attack from the guards could assist him.

However, just as he was about to hit the line and slay more of the pirates, his blade eagerly hungering for the action, the pirates started dropping their armaments and clenching their chests. Almost all at once they fell to their knees, panting and screaming. Wounds started opening up all across the bodies of the assailing sea bandits and blood started to funnel out of the fresh gashes and pool above Eve’s victims in a single, giant, floating red blob that starting whirling and flattening out like a disc as it approached the shore line. There, it settled upon Qasin’s charge, Eve, where the spinning disc became a sphere and enveloped her completely before growing smaller until only Eve was visible again.

Qasin, along with every guard and villager that was in the fight, stared at Eve.

“There. Are you happy now?” she said, dusting off her once-again pristine black dress. The only bit of red still visible from the vampiric death spell she had cast was the crimson shine in her eyes as she flashed Qasin her usual sly smile. “Shall we continue our hunt, dear?”

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