“Just getting a snack,” Garth said to the heavy breathing hulk with a sword to his neck, slowly snapping off a pea pod. The brute watched him with narrowed eyes. Garth put half the pod in his mouth and bit it off.
“Mmm.” Garth chewed, nodding with a smile. The peas were actually a little bland and rather tough, but the guy didn’t need to know that.
“Go back to your people.”
“You got it.” Garth did an about face and headed away from the pile. The guard frowned and went back to his leader, whispering something in his ear.
“When will the rest of your party return? If you don’t wish to cede the Heartstones to us, we need proof your group is as large as you say.” Garth heard the alien’s leader say as he sauntered over to the wall where a man was watching him approach.
“What the hell happened to you?” The guy asked, looking his purple skin up and down.
“Fucked a goddess.” Garth replied, shelling a pea out with his thumb. He needed some kind of bandolier across his chest. They might have some at the sporting goods store. God knew people liked to hunt deer around here.
“I tell it like it is,” Garth said, tossing the seed off to the side. The pea hit the ground, and shook the parking lot under their feet, cracking open the pavement and creating a large bush with hundreds more peas attached to it. Everyone’s attention was drawn to the plant that hadn’t been there a moment ago, including the armored aliens.
“What the hell are you doing to the parking lot?” the idiot demanded – Garth recategorized him as such.
“Is this your parking lot?” Garth asked, picking a few handfuls of peas. “Were you planning on parking here anytime soon?” The idiot stared at him for a moment and stalked off while a woman approached, taking his place. She was about forty with brown hair and quick eyes that seemed to be aware of everything at once.
“You must be the one who helped us earlier,” she said, holding out her hand “I’m Carol.”
“Nice to meet you Carol.” Garth said, freeing his hand by putting a pea pod in his mouth. They shook hands while he crunched down on the pod, freeing a pea and tucking it in his cheek with some slight of tongue. Never hurt to have a spare.
“Can you tell me what’s going on?” he asked.
“I don’t know, they asked if there was anyone with a rank, the girl stepped out, and they’ve been arguing about who’ll take the stones.”
“You ever seen one?” Garth asked, to which the woman shook her head.
“We spent all our time staying alive, we never had time to…do that. I read the same letter as everyone else, but I never thought it would be true, or that they would be valuable, but now they’re threatening us if they don’t get what they want. I don’t know why she doesn’t just give it to them, but they won’t even let us speak.”
“She’s not giving it to them because they’re valuable,” Garth said, shelling some more peas until he had a respectable amount. “Did they actually help kill the Kipling?”
“Not really, they showed up a minute after your plants immobilized them, killed a couple and declared that they belonged to them.”
“Huh.” Garth said, casting his gaze over the aliens. They didn’t seem like people to pick a fight with, their uniforms implied they were part of a larger organization, and the heavy armor would be a bitch to get through, even if he pinned them down. Leanne could just cede the point and move on. There were plenty of Kipling to go around.
Garth was pondering that when one of the aliens ran up to him. The friendly woman disappeared like smoke as the heavily armed soldier approached. Good survival instincts.
“Forest Wizard. Our commander wishes to speak to you.”
“Okay,” Garth started walking toward where the two of them stood, but the soldier blocked his path with a sword.
“Drop the seeds.”
Garth narrowed his eyes. “Why?”
“It is an order. Drop the seeds or we will beat you.”
“Fine.” Garth set the seeds down in a little pile before walking back to Leanne. “You need something?”
Their leader, a hulking mass of iron nearly seven feet tall, looked Garth over from top to bottom, his flat face scowling under his steel visor.
“What is your rank, wizard?”
“One star iron, apparently.”
“Listen well recruit, I outrank you and disobedience in the sphere military is punishable by death. Tell me, how many more humans are in your group?”
“I can’t trust you– “
The leader barked, “Silence!”
Garth’s mind started whirling. From his vantage point beside the leader, he could see several wagons pulled by large, ox-like creatures. The wagons had large waterproof oiled canvas drawn over them, almost reminding him of Oregon trail.
Fact: The soldiers were surrounding the humans, and not the Heartstones.
Fact: Leanne had told the leader that there were more humans coming. She was stalling him.
Fact: Heartstones didn’t require a wagon train to transport, not even thousands would fill a single wagon.
It was possible that they were using the wagons to transport their own food, but Garth found himself doubtful as he watched take a bloody bite straight from a Kipling.
Leanne had said the words ‘can’t trust’. They had more weight now that Garth took into consideration her magical eye for people.
If Leanne said so, these guys were up to no good.
Maybe I should have taken my chances with the asshole tiger.
“Who’s your commanding officer?” Garth asked.
“I’ll ask the-“
“Where are you deployed from?” the best way to catch someone in a lie was to bombard them with questions. It was also a good way to piss people off.
“We’ve been sent from-“
“What are your standing orders?”
“listen here, you–“
“What’s the going price for human slaves?”
Their leader hesitated for an instant too long. He knew it, and Garth knew it. The aliens face contorted in a rictus of anger, so wrinkly that it would have been comical except for the man’s tusks. (Garth assumed it was male)
“Take these two alive! he said, pointing at the two of them. “The rest, do as you wish!”
Instantly, Leanne sprang into action, turning and sprinting toward the soldiers blocking her path back to the other humans. A looming dusky skinned alien stood over her with his arms wide, aiming to catch her.
Rather than duck under or try to run around, she lunged forward and caught the man’s breastplate with her forearm, flinging him aside with one arm. The steel clad soldier tumbled backward and slammed his head against the brick wall of the shop across the street.
“Damn,” Garth said as she flung the linebacker sized soldiers out of the way one after the other with one arm. Girl was strong.
Steel hands clamped around Garth’s arms. He didn’t bother struggling, he was too beat to shit to make a good getaway anyway. Tearing open his wounds and getting crippled wasn’t part of the plan.
Leanne shouted as she ran. “Back of the store, run!”
As if by magic, the regular, untrained civilians who’d been idly chatting with each other as though they didn’t have a care in the world, turned as a single entity and ran into the store. The sight made goosebumps stand on Garth’s skin. We are borg.
Maybe there was more to Leanne’s abilities than she was letting on. Garth mused as iron gauntlets dragged him toward the wagons, his heels dragging against the pavement.
The leader watched Leanne disappear and shook his head, snorting like a wild animal with a temper. His men started after the humans, but he stopped them.
“Let her go. She would have been valuable, but it would cost us too much to hunt her down, I think. The wizard will fetch a great price at a Nezair plantation.”
Garth knew he should have been terrified, but he found himself having a harder time being afraid of anything, recently. Maybe his amygdala had burnt out over the last couple days. Mostly he just felt tired, an exhaustion radiating directly from his brain.
“Is nezair a drug? Because I could see myself as a drug lord, but I always wanted to own and operate a brothel.”
A gauntleted fist caught him in the jaw and nearly made him swallow his only lifeline, the pea tucked away in his cheek. Thankfully it the tough pea didn’t smush against his teeth, either. Garth didn’t know whether to be proud of how hard the peas had become, or to check and see if he’d lost a tooth.
“be silent, prize.”
“I was wondering why you guys had such nice armor and weapons and I guess it’s for the same reason successful con artists have nice suits. If you look good, people will believe you’re legitimate, right?” Garth started filling in the blanks. That was the why, but the who was still a complete blank. These guys probably couldn’t afford their own uniforms. They worked for someone.
“Take him to the wagon and put the magic supressors on. If he speaks again, cut out his tongue.”
Garth swallowed his next words, keeping his mouth shut as they hauled him away.
It wasn’t time to use the pea yet. Like a certain pirate once said. ‘wait for the opportune moment.” Or something like that.
The back cover of the nondescript wagon was flipped open to reveal iron cages stacked on top of each other of various sizes. There were animals of all shapes and sizes in the, from yapper dogs to deer and even a lizard about the size of his forearm sitting in a tiny steel cage. The smell was unbelievable. Garth was pretty sure something was dead in there.
“Hands out.” One of the aliens said in its gruff, non-englishy words. Garth was more curious how they got a universal translator without electricity when-
“OW!” Garth shouted when the big ugly yanked his wounded arm behind his back and clapped big, runed iron clasps on his arms, connecting them to a collar around his neck and shoving him in a cage that seemed to be two sizes too small for him.
Hell, the deer got a bigger cage.
“You’ve got one hour to butcher the kipling, then we’re setting off,” Garth heard the leader shout. Shortly afterward, he heard the thunking of heavy blades sinking through flesh as they began doing just that. “These smooth roads make for easy travel, so I expect us to be in the next town by morning!”
Garth contorted in his cage, twisting his back and shoulders, wincing with pain as he tweaked his wounded leg and shoulder, all to put his left hand underneath his mouth. In a heartstopping moment, Garth let the pea fall from his mouth into his hand, dreading the damn thing falling out of place and missing his hand. One pea stood between him and a life of slavery.
Now all he had to do was wait until the aliens had collected all the Heartstones and gone to sleep and he wouldn’t have to share with Leanne.
The lizard watched him accusingly.
“What? They’re the bad guys, and Leanne gave up on them. They’re mine by right.”
Garth could have sworn the lizard shrugged and turned away.
Now, for a proof of concept. Garth took the pea, grunting and watching it out of the corner of his eye as he held it against the cuff’s lock. If he could get the root to sprout in the keyhole, he might be able to pick the lock, or simply break it. Garth wasn’t sure which one was the better choice.
He could barely see what he was doing, twisting his wrist at an unnatural angle to get the pea lined up properly, and he had no idea which side the root would come out. There might be an element of luck to this. Now was the moment where he found out whether or not these magic suppressing cuffs did as advertised.
Garth tapped the pea against the wood floor, letting a gentle trickle of Beladia’s blessing flow through the seed. When it touched the organic surface, It sprouted a little root and leaves. Garth cut off the power, keeping the plant small as he lined the root up with his cuffs.
Maybe the cuffs didn’t seem work on blessings. They’d called him a wizard, but he wasn’t actually using magic. At least he wasn’t using his own magic. Maybe gods were too powerful, or the source was coming from outside his body, so the cuffs couldn’t stop them. In any case, Garth had a shot at getting out of here.
“Come on…you bastard.” Garth said, grunting, his spine buckling and threatening to fold in half as he finagled the tiny root into the keyhole. “Get it in, right…there! Shit!”
The sprouted pea dropped out of Garth’s straining fingers and rolled out of his cage, coming to a stop in front of the little, triangular-headed green lizard. It cocked its head, staring at the pea.
Garth gasped and flopped over in his tiny cage, glaring at the errant pea. Maybe when the wagon hit a bump, the pea would slide back over to his cage. Garth stuck the fingers of his bound hands through the bars, but he could only reach a few inches outside the cage.
“Damnit!” no, be calm, I’ve got all day, I can still use Beladia’s blessing. An opportunity will come.
The lizard licked its lips, staring at the pea sitting just in range of its pointy snout.
“Don’t you dare!”
The lizard picked up the pea with a lightning quick strike, pulling it into the cage and raising its head to wolf down the little treat.
“Hey!” Garth shouted, pointing at the lizard with his bound hand in impotent fury.
The noise startled the lizard, and it dropped the seed, turning to run away, smacking the seedling with its tail in the process, rolling the little orange seed back over to Garth.