Every part of Sokal has it’s secret. Some of them can get you killed.
It was late afternoon. The sun peeked over the long NorKal horizon line casting it’s last baleful rays over the baked clay of the valley like a broken microwave. A haze of irradiated heat caused a the burnt remains of telephone poles, trees, and the crucified remains Kingdom of Garlic serfs who had looked at the King funny to dance in the heat like they were on the stage of the FUBAR and it was 2 for 1 topless night. It was unpleasantly hot and muggy even by Norkal standards, like the inside of well worn leather assed chaps, also during 2 for 1 topless night.
Smoker sat on the rock out cropping. He found himself doing something he hated, once again, waiting. Waiting was something other people should be doing for *him* the way he saw it. He was the one with rep for miles and a list of deals long as a grizz-alope’s barbed dick after all.
But for once, he didn’t mind. He’d been asked a favor by a Follower. They always found ways to make his time worth it. Be it chems, smokes, the old “hot yoga”, whatever. They found a way.
It wasn’t an easy favor either. Visitors were allowed in and out of the Kingdom of Garlic at the King’s discretion. But the serfs NEVER were allowed out. So getting a small handful out….. Well that was worth a lot of chems, smokes, and “hot yoga”, details to be agreed upon.
Smoker pulled out his binocs and scanned the path out of the Kingdom he’d staked out. It was getting close to twilight and he was getting antsy. The timing had to be precise if his plan was going to work and he’d signalled them at just the right time. There, there they were, three of them approaching the guard point on foot just like they said. He glanced at the watch on his wrist. It’s cracked but still priceless face matched up with his plan.
The group reached the guard station. The helmeted figure grabbed his crossbow and let the bolt on his watch torch. That was their trick, if anything went down he’d fire that up in the air and it’d signal the Lancers to show up and kick nine consistencies of shit out of everyone. The guard had a nasty looking club on his hip made out of a couple sections of rebar and Smoker knew they could fight.
The group approached the the station slowly. Good, Smoker needed a bit more time. Right on queue the guard waved at them.
“Halt, in the name of the King!” he bellowed. What the fuck was with the way these assholes talked? But the group stopped at his command. Smoker pointed his Binocs further into the Kingdom. He could see them setting up the huge wooden man. Part of some sort of harvest celebration, and the key to getting them out of hear if his intel was correct. There is was, further down the hill. They were setting up what he needed. He broke cover and started down the hill.
“All of you, state your business!” The guard was nervous. Smoker could tell. A bunch of people leaving all at once, during a harvest festival when there would be food. It didn’t make sense. Especially when some crazy looking Waster (Smoker) clambered down from the hill behind him.
“Hey, hey bud. No need to stop this group. They’re with me.” He only kept the info to the bare minimum. He had to stall.
The guard rounded on him. The crossbow flicked toward his chest. Smoker almost wanted him to shoot that thing at him and waste his signal. Except he might not miss, and one of those things was almost as damaging as a rifle. “Nonsense, they’re serfs. Possessions of the King to work his fields. State your business outsider.” The Guard barked at him. If he noticed the gun at Smoker’s hip he didn’t acknowledge it. Either dumb or way, way too smart.
“Look….. look man. Yeah they’re you’re serfs but I think we can make it worth your while…. If you know what I’m saying.” When in doubt, bribery.
“Filthy outsider. My loyalty to the King cannot be purchased. I am not some corrupt wanderer like yourself.” Great, self righteous as well.
“Let’s not harsh our mellow man, lets stop and talk this out.” As Smoker spoke the guard started to raise the crossbow. Over his shoulder though, there it was, a trail of smoke leading skywards.
This set the guard off “Again, the King’s word about your kind rings true. You attempt to deceive me to steal the King’s property and when that doesn’t work you stoop to bribery. But let this be a lesson to you that the King’s men are made of stronger stu-” A loud, slightly staccato bang sounded as the firework behind the guard exploded. A neat little hole appeared in the front and back of his helmet, bone and brain fragments coughed out of the back as the guard pitched backwards. Dead before he even hit the ground. The crossbow dropped and the bolt fired, skidding across the ground harmlessly.
Smoker looked down, his shooting iron was in has hand smoking. Hundreds of hours practicing had payed off. He’d timed the shot with the firework to mask the gunfire and keep the Lancers from bearing down on them. He holster Vocare ad Regnum and lit a cigarette with shaking hands. Making it look easy was hard.
“You all alright?” He said after puffing a few times.
Lafayette started when she was addressed. She had thought that they were done. She and her friends where going to be crucified for even thinking, or dreaming of freedom. The kingdom was ruled by a mad king, and he was not fond of his “possessions” developing minds of his own. Her gaze moved between the Guard now rather dead on the ground, a small pool of blood, to Smoker. Without much of a thought, she tapped out the flaming bolt with a few steps. No sense in having the entire Kingdom go up in flames. She pushed an errant lock of hair out of her face. Laffy’s eyes darted from Smoker’s, to scan the area.
She felt some of her rising panic falter. Laffy knew stories, and seen with her own eyes, the lancers run someone down with all the impunity of the King himself. With a sigh of relief, she turned back to Smoker. An uneasy smile pulled at the corners of her lips.
“I… am honestly not sure. With… everything plus,” She gestures at the guard-that-had-been. There was a beat as she looked Smoker earnestly, “You okay?”
Smoker took another drag. With the adrenaline come down came the shakes and the nicotine helped there. “Yeah, yeah I’ll be fine.” Another drag. “We better get going though. You guys must’ve made an impression in the Followers. They’re giving me some primo barter to get you out of here.”
“I…” Lafayette scrunched her face, trying to think through all the duress. “I guess. A group of them came through the kingdom a while back. There was this wild party. Lots of things happened that night. They did this weird thing with cards and they said something about how I had a great aura about me? And that I needed to…”
Laffy looked over her shoulder, towards where she knew the great Wicker Man was. She’d seen a spirit there that was horrific beyond words. It was present at each Wicker Man, and after each burning, each sacrifice, it would cause the fields to grow so green and so full of food. At least this year… maybe it would be different without a sacrifice. It seemed… wrong to feed this massive spirit the lives of people. But was it right to let people starve? She shivered.
There had to be another way.
“… I needed to help people, and in helping others that might help start the healing of the World Chakras.” Laffy gave Smoker a quizzical look, as if to say that she didn’t fully believe this. “Whatever that means.”
Smoker dragged the final mouthful out of the cigarette. “Well there’s only one place where you’re going to find that out.” Behind Lafayette, the huge wooden man suddenly burst into flames. “….. And it ain’t here. C’mon we’d be in a bad spot if we got caught here. Let’s move.”