Qasin’s eyes narrowed as he glared at Eve, who was still adjusting her black dress. She had saved the town, and no-one else in the peasant’s group had died because of her. She had done it so quickly and smoothly, in fact, that no-one had even sustained any additional injuries after she had cast her spell; but, for some reason, it irked Qasin. It didn’t just irk him a bit either. It annoyed him worse than being stuck behind a group of slow-walking people in a narrow hallway who insisted on talking so loud he could have heard them two rooms over. The problem was that there wasn’t a reason it should have annoyed him. Sure, she had been snappy when insisting that they leave immediately to continue their hunt, but she had turned the ship for him and completed his goal of saving the people. She had done what he wanted, to the letter, and now he was annoyed. Why?
He didn’t get long to contemplate it though. The sword, it itched again. It itched worse than before the fight started. It was the same sensation he got when he skipped lunch but insisted on sneaking a sweet anyways. He wouldn’t notice he was hungry, the work would keep him occupied, but the second the sweet chocolate or snack touched his tongue, his stomach would wake up and growl with a fury. He would find himself starving where just a moment ago he hadn’t even known he was hungry. That’s why he was annoyed. That’s why the sword itched. He had been enjoying himself, and like a mother who stepped on the toy of a child and took away the whole set, Eve had intervened, and he now found himself without his playthings–without his enemies to kill. Is this who I am? he thought, looking down at his hand resting firmly on the grip of his blade.
“Thank you!” a voice pierced his contemplations. “Thank you so much. Without you two, we’d all be dead. Is there anything we can do to repay you?”
“Oh, um . . . Actually . . .” Qasin paused and looked at Eve. She would probably want a ship so that the two could continue their chase, but given what had been done to their harbor it was unlikely they had one to spare. “Is this going to be enough?” he finally voiced. Trying not to outright ask if there was anything left for him to kill. “Are you guys going to be safe now?”
“Safe? From them? Yeah. From my wife? Not once she sees what our savior did to my fishing boat, ha ha ha. I won’t be killed, but I sure as heck won’t be safe!” one of the peasants laughed inappropriately. “Maybe the kind couple would let me flee with you two?”
“I think your wife will be far less ugly than the monsters we are sure to encounter,” Eve said this time, answering for the Qasin, who wasn’t prepared for the fisherman’s response.
“Stevens, come on now. Don’t worry about your wife at a time like this, we have to thank our heroes!” the leader of the guards that were holding off the pirates said, patting the worried husband on the back as he walked closer to Qasin and Eve. “Now heroes, my name is Jason. I’m the Captain of the town.”
Captain of the town? Not just the guards? Qasin puzzled as he reached out his hand to shake Jason’s. “Qasin. I’m . . .” do I introduce myself as a King, or a regular person? I’ve left the Kingdom in someone else’s hands, albeit someone who is supposedly trustworthy, but still not me. I’m still no longer the one responsible for the welfare of my people.
“He’s the King of the Human faction, ruler of the White-Horns and Black-Horns,” Eve picked up his introduction for him, “and I’m Eve. A pleasure to meet you.”
“A King, ey? I didn’t realize a small town like this warranted a King’s saving, but I’m glad you came,” Jason said, scratching his head, “It is surprising though. I mean, truth be told, even though we’ve been sending messengers out to the Panda King for years, he’s never sent anyone. I sure as heck didn’t expect him to contract another King.”
“Well, the answer to that is easy, my dear,” Eve said, “It’s because we weren’t sent by him or anyone. We just saw your plight from afar on our way to the White-Walled City. A city we must desperately get to.”
“Ugh, makes sense. I knew that tyra– . . . I mean, I knew the Panda King wouldn’t get around to sending anyone to save a couple of Humans. If we were bears? Sure. He might even have sent someone if our tributes were larger, but not for poor, false monkeys like us,” Jason almost spit. The contempt was palpable as his voice quivered. Qasin was sure that if Eve weren’t there, the whole statement would have been riddled with profanities too. “Anyways, enough of that. How can we repay you? Anything you can name, it’s yours.”
“A boat?” Qasin suggested. He knew the situation with the harbor, but he also knew that they might have one out at sea, one that they might talk the owner into selling rather cheap.
“Yes, or lacking that, a pair of good horses,” Eve suggested. “Preferably one with a saddle that is friendly for a lady to ride.”
“Hmmmmm . . .” Jason scratched his head again. “Stevens, you fish the same waters as that town up the coast to the east, right?”
“Yeah, reckon I do. They have a lot better alcohol than old, cranky, blah blah what’s-his-name makes. You ever had their beer? It makes Tubs’ beer taste like piss and water,” Stevens said, laughing as the nearby Tubs’ face turned red. “Oh, don’t be get mad, Tubs. You’ll end up looking like a red, pickled, pepper-popped acne.”
“You think they have a boat for sale?”
“I bet they do. That weird squirrel fisher is too busy chasing nuts to ever hit the seas with me,” Stevens said, still laughing at the red-faced ‘Tubs.’ “I reckon he should easily part with his pretty princess boat for a little coin.”
“How far away is the town?” Eve asked
“Missy, with one of those little magic, whirly-twirly, doodad spells, does it even matter?” Stevens asked.
“It’s forty miles, maybe fifty from here. You’ll find the road pretty easy to follow. We only have two leaving the town and it’s the one heading east,” the man called Tubs spoke up, his color returning to normal.
“Forty miles is a dang long walk,” Jason muttered. “Tubs, I mean, Frank, get a pair of horses for these two. That’ll cut the journey down to half a day if they ride hard. Oh, and get them some supplies for the road. No skimping either, you cheap bugger.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m on it. You better pay me back old man, savior or not. I’ll be dead without new horses for the route,” Frank said, lifting his fat belly and walking off.
“Well, there. That’s the best we can do. We would normally be able to send you off with money to buy the horses, but . . .”
“The Panda King?” Qasin finished his thought.
“Yeah, the Panda King. We sent him another tribute hoping he’d save us from the pirates. We didn’t have enough for the pirates to be satisfied with the looting the last time they came through . . . so we knew this time it’d be a fight to the death.”
“What happens if you don’t send him a tribute? Is he worse than the pirates?” Qasin wondered.
“That’s putting it mildly. One of the Human towns west of us didn’t have enough fish to make a tribute for a year, and well . . . there ain’t even ashes left,” Jason said. As he talked, everyone but him and Stevens slowly dispersed. They were either injured, helping someone injured, or just cleaning up debris around the town. The spell had been cast, the excitement was over, and they had things to do.
“I can see the reason for your ire. Perhaps we could make a detour . . .” Qasin said, feeling his sword itch again.
“No, no, you don’t need to make a detour,” Eve said sternly.
“What do you mean? Our people, good Humans, are being butchered and ignored . . .”
“I mean you don’t have to make a detour. Where do you think Darwin is as we speak?”
“Oh. Well, you were right then. We probably need to start moving quickly in that case. We don’t want him to leave the place before we get there.”
“Qasin,” Eve said, leaning in very close to his ear.
“There won’t be anyone to kill when we get there,” she whispered, her icy tone bringing back Qasin’s earlier irritation.
“That’s not why I wish to go. I merely want to make sure we find your brother and make sure that these people are treated better.” Qasin felt pierced from her words. She was dead on the money.
“If you say so, but until then, you need to keep that sword in check,” Eve whispered back as Frank approached with two horses in tow, both loaded to the brim with saddlebags of supplies. “We’re not on an adventure to wet your blade; we’re on an adventure to save the world.”
“Here you go, you two,” Frank said, handing the reins to Qasin. “If you end up taking a boat and not using the horses, make sure to get the town to send them back. Horses aren’t easy to come by in these lands. Them animal people don’t take too kindly to domesticating a beast.”
“We will, and thanks for the help.” Qasin took the reins, handed one pair to Eve and then hopped on the nearest mount.
“Nah, thank you,” Jason said, “We won’t forget this. You said you were the King of the Humans?”
“I am,” Qasin admitted.
“Well, maybe . . .” Jason seemed to want to say something important. “No, forget it. Have a safe journey, and I hope you reach your destination in time.”