Taunting, Sobbing, Laughing
We're jumping straight into this Troublesome Expedition. I'm going to be using an Array for my waypoints.
1-3: Descriptor + Focus.
4: Desert Planet, Observed from Space
5-6: Desert Planet, Planetside Feature
Before the blazing sun of New Bohemia could rise, I began my journey. I'd made this trip countless times as a child and I could navigate there in my sleep if I needed to. The trip to Wreck Solar Farm had been mildly dangerous when I was younger, but I continued to make it out of necessity, and each time it got a little easier.
The solar farm contained a field of solar panels, the home on-site and actual farmland abandoned long before I was born. It provided me with solace and solitude when things got crazy.
I jumped down over a ridge, a mere five feet drop, and dust kicked up around me. Small creatures scurried away. I let instinct guide me and I continued on.
// Undertake an Expedition
+2 (wits) => 4 vs 8,9.
WE'RE OFF TO A GREAT START.
-2 momentum 
Array, 3: Descriptor + Focus, 92, 25: Subsurface Dimension.
The route I took as a boy had been well-traveled by myself. I had countless landmarks to guide the way.
Apparently, landmarks change with time.
I was lost twenty minutes in. What I had vividly remembered as a bull-looking rock formation no longer existed, and more random greenery than I'd even seen in this part of the desert had sprouted. The path I had intended to travel either looked completely different now or I was going the wrong way.
"Fuck." The sun crept higher and higher, its blazing glory beginning to press down on me. If I wasn't quick, I was going to have to travel during the worst of the day.
I needed to remain calm. If I could make the journey in a few hours as a boy, I would be to the solar farm in less than one as an adult. I was a much better navigator now and knew my own strengths.
I just needed to trust my instincts.
// Undertake an Expedition
+2 (wits; trusting instincts) => 3 vs 5, 6. Miss.
Array, 5: Planetside Feature, 53: Severe temperature fluctuations.
By the time the sun was at its peak, I knew just how fucked I was.
I tossed my shirt into my bag, hoping that my body could somehow catch whatever slight breeze drifted my way. Sweat drenched the ground beneath me only to evaporate mere seconds later by the heat. I took a swig of water; it was no longer cold and refreshing. The air was thick and difficult to force down into my lungs.
Watt flashed a fire emoji and began displaying its temperature. It was too hot for either of us. As I reached out to touch it, I quickly recoiled my hand as a – harmless, but sudden – spark burst forth.
"OVERHEATING. SHUTTING DOWN NON-ESSENTIAL SYSTEMS." The message scrolled on its screen at the bottom in small type.
// Companion Takes a Hit
-1 health for Watt 
+3 => 4 vs 5,6. Miss. Nooo! -1 Health 
I held my shirt over Watt, hoping that it took the internal temperature down at least a degree or two.
We were going to have to stop.
Making the journey during the day had been a waste of time. I was quite sure I had made zero progress and was actually only five minutes from Port Wreck. I cursed my luck.
No. Not luck. I couldn't help but think that this was some elaborate plot, crafted by the Benevolent or whatever had killed Amari.
Once the sun began to set, Watt and I continued on, keeping as close to the shadows as possible. Our goal wasn't to remain unseen – though, on second thought, the sun was acting as an entity against us.
Then by all means, yes, it was to remain unseen.
// Undertake an Expedition
+2 (shadows; mostly just to stay cool, lol) => 3 vs 1,5. Weak hit.
Our first bit of progress! +3 [3/10]
But there's a cost. Let's do Sacrifice Resources, -2 
This waypoint is... Array, 2: Descriptor + Focus, 30, 38: Defended Gas. Drawing a blank, so I'm going to shift the 38 to be 37, and go with Defended Fortification.
I had used up a lot of my water and food by the time I passed by the now-defunct SPD station. It looked similar to the one in Sirius, though this one wasn't made to hold as many people. From what I could care to remember from history lessons, this one was short-lived as it was quickly decided that this planet would become the capital of the Salvi Pass.
I passed it by without incident.
// Undertake an Expedition
+2 (shadow) => 7 vs 1,8. So close. Weak Hit.
Progress, +3 [6/10]
Might as well tick away some more supplies. -1 Supply 
And we can say it's been slow going trying to stay in the shadows. -1 momentum 
Array, 1: Descriptor + Focus, 76, 99: Preserved World.
Also, I have predetermined something at his destination, so some of these results don't seem completely logical, but they'll make sense eventually.
What I did not simply pass by was the small forest that had apparently just... sprouted. They were hardy plants, built to withstand the heat of the sun, but I knew for a fact that none of it had existed in my childhood.
I took a moment to sit in the shade of a tall cactus and marveled at what I was witnessing. Were they trying to terraform the rest of the desert? Port Wreck – and the Salvi Sigil, actually – were always somewhat overcrowded. Were they thinking of expanding out?
Watt nudged me, its body still enormously hot. "You're right, you're right." I stood and began to leave, then stopped a moment later as a thought crossed my mind.
I was low on food, even lower now than when I last checked. And my water was almost gone.
+2 (wits; this seems the closest, for scavenging) => 5 vs . . .
I eyed the plants. It wouldn't be the best of meals but they'd propel me to my destination more than starvation or dehydration would. I fished a small blade from my bag and began hacking away. I nibbled on leaves. Most were edible or at least didn't make me barf. I packed as many into my bag as possible and any fruits I came across.
I'd never sliced a cactus open for water, but I'd heard rumors so I gave it a shot. I took an entire cactus and hacked away at it, storing the insides in a container for food and moisture. As I went to hack away at another, I froze.
Before me, a cougar. We locked eyes. I slowly raised my hands – then realized it probably didn't understand that I was trying to convey harmlessness. In fact, it misunderstood me entirely. It sprung towards me, snarling and ready to attack. Instinctively, I tapped into my dwindling lightning and thrust my hands forth.
// Face Danger
+3 (iron; with strength!) + 2 (lightning) = +5 => 7 vs 4,10. Weak hit.
-1 Lightning 
The cougar whimpered and scurried off.
As for me, I fell to the ground. My heart was racing. I was...
That didn't seem right. I won, and had found enough supplies to get going.
Why... why was I...
I slapped my hand on my chest, hoping that that would somehow calm my nerves. I tapped into my inner charge once more and realized what was wrong.
I was low. Unsafe levels of low. I had maybe one charge left in me.
After that, I would be defenseless.
// Endure Stress
Spirit, -1 
+1 (heart) => 3 vs 7, 8. Miss.
-2 momentum 
Locke is now Shaken
// Resupply Result
5 vs 3, 8. Weak hit.
+2 Supply 
LOOK AT THIS WEAKLING. IS HE SCARED?
DOES HE WANT HIS MOMMY AND DADDY?
OH, YEAH. LET'S RING THEM UP. THEY ARE SURE TO BE A BIG HELP.
What would I do if something attacked me? What if the thing that killed Amari got to me now, too? What if SPD swooped in and grabbed me? Would I end up back on Avam?
I needed to feed.
NO, I shouted internally. Watt saw what was happening to me and rushed over. It knew. I reached a hand out to it. "Watt: Low-Pressure Protocol."
The Low-Pressure Protocol was enacted many years back when I'd hit a similar rough patch. I had been beaten down physically and mentally and was at risk of doing truly dangerous things – to myself and everyone around me. I hadn't needed it in so long, I was unsure if Watt was even prepared.
// Check Your Gear
+4 => 5 vs 1,7. Weak Hit.
-1 Supply 
Much to my relief, Watt dropped three white pills into my hand. I tossed them into the back of my throat and swallowed. I just needed to quiet the voices long enough to get back to the journey.
I had to keep Watt out of sight. I wouldn't be here without it's help, but... I could taste the electricity flowing through him. I could feel it and I just knew it would make me feel better than any pill ever could. I shoved away the thoughts of ripping my companion to shreds just to lap up the energy coursing through it. Besides, it wouldn't satiate the hunger for long and I'd be down a best friend in the process.
I stood, doing my best to quiet the cacophony in my head. I needed a cool place to relax and gather my thoughts – my thoughts, not the chaotic energies that surrounded me.
I looked for the first not-as-hot spot.
// Secure an Advantage
+2 (wits) => 4 vs 3,10. Weak hit.
+2 momentum 
I crawled to a wall of a nearby plateau and sat beneath it, hiding within its shade.
I just... needed... a nap...
The world called out to me.
I could hear the storm happening on the opposite side of the planet. It whispered, taunting. YOU ARE NOTHING. YOU WILL DIE HERE.
I could hear the Salvi Sigil some miles away in... whatever direction it was. It screamed, sobbing. WHAT WILL YOU DO? THE BENEVOLENT ARE GOING TO FIND YOU - AND EVERY BRANDED – AND THROW THEM BACK ON AVAM. OR WORSE!
The solar farm in the distance called to me. It howled, laughing. HAHA! COME ON! I MEAN, I GUESS YOU CAN STAY THERE AND GET EATEN BY COUGARS. MAYBE SOMEONE WILL CHOP YOU UP LIKE YOU DID THE CACTUS AND DRINK YOUR INSIDES.
I awoke with a start. The sun still sat high in the sky, but it had begun to make its descent. I climbed to my feet. I hadn't meant to sleep for however long I had, but the pills seemed to be working. The voices – previously taunting, sobbing, laughing – were now barely a whisper.
I stood and took a sip of water. My mouth was dry as the sand and dirt around me, but the water helped a bit.
I kept my eyes off Watt and began moving.
// Undertake an Expedition
+2 (wits) => 7 vs . . .
The sun disappeared.
Not just the sun. The desert disappeared.
I was surrounded by metal and tight spaces. A thin layer of something like mist filled the top of my new surroundings. Something about the place felt familiar. I spun around.
Watt was gone.
And... I had on my Mimic suit. The entire thing, helmet and all. I had my detachable bo staff, too. I could have sworn I'd left it on the Scarlet Adler.
I smelled... something.
Smoke. The mist on the ceiling was smoke.
I was back on the derelict.
I turned, taking in my surroundings with more clarity. I was in the room where I'd seen the burning Risen.
And where I'd fought Akim.
The last remaining son of the Salvis stood in the center of the room, hands held high in reverence. He cackled. "YOU DID THIS." His head snapped in my direction and he ran at me. I couldn't move.
I blinked and Akim was no longer there. Instead, Amari was rushing towards me. He grabbed my shoulders, eyes wide, blood dripping from his eyes and ears. "YOU. DID. THIS!"
I shoved him away and fell to the floor. I scrambled until my back hit a wall. Amari – no, Akim now – stood there, cackling. His face kept shifting between the two, their voices combined, overlapping and horrifying.
"YOU KILLED ME."
"Y-you killed so many people! And I didn't kill you!" Confusion consumed me. I was talking to Akim one second, then Amari the next. As if being displayed by ancient tech, their forms shifted from one to the other and back again. Both were as I last remembered them, for better or worse. Both mangled in the Infernomimic gear.
"IT'S YOUR FAULT I'M DEAD. IF YOU HADN'T OF BEEN THERE, I'D STILL BE ALIVE. YOU STUCK YOUR NOSE IN MY BUSINESS AND NOW I'M DEAD."
"You... you did bad things. I had to stop you." The similarities regarding their circumstances were not lost on me.
"UNDER WHAT AUTHORITY? WHO CROWNED YOU SAVIOR OF THE SALVI PASS?"
Why was I trying to save everyone?
I don't think I could have prevented getting involved in Akim's death. I was hired to do a job, and it brought me to him. That was it. But Amari's? Completely avoidable. I felt like I had to save all of the Branded, but why? Despite having an entire planet devoted to being our prison, we were really doing just fine... right? I could fade into the background and let the other freedom fighters do their job. They helped free me, and they helped free John. I had no doubt that they would continue freeing Branded whether they had my assistance or not.
I didn't have to be this hero.
"OH, LOOK AT HIM," Akim/Amari said, eyes wide. Their form solidified into one being now, their voices still overlapped, a discordant echo filling the derelict and surrounding me. Amari's hair, Akim's eyes, their composure taking hints from both. Blood dripped from one eye and their smile twisted on both ends, one half up – Amari – and the other half down – Akim. "HE'S BROKEN. WHAT WILL YOU DO IF YOU KILL SOMEONE ELSE? OH, I BET JOHNNY BOY IS YOUR NEXT CASUALTY."
I tapped at my lightning then stopped. John was safe on Saffron for all I knew but... I already felt as if just interacting with Akim and Amari caused their deaths. Why would John be any different? I had already almost killed him once – the explosion on the derelict was my fault, right? That meant I killed every other SPD officer there...
"HE'S BROKEN. CRAWL BACK INTO A HOLE A DIE."
"You inspire me, Locke."
Akim/Amari and I looked at each other in confusion. Did... did he hear the voice, too? We looked behind them. A large tree – not there moments ago – stood, surrounded by flowers and fruits and vegetables. It sprouted from the derelict as if it was in fertile soil. A cool breeze blew past; I could smell something sweet. Apples?
"I have never cared about my promises before you," the plants echoed, in the voice of the man that meant more to me than life itself. "I grew up being told that my word means everything. I swear a vow, I follow through. I never cared about that, and it didn't seem anyone else did, either. But you... You actually embody what that means. You actually are Ironsworn."
I remembered this talk.
"SHUT UP." Akim/Amari let loose a gout of flame towards the tree and greenery, but they stood, unphased by the fire.
"Your words. They are just as strong as your fists."
With effort, I stood, filled with confidence. "I... I do this because my word means something."
"I'm gonna call you THUNDERFANG. Your bark is just as powerful as your bite, if not more."
Breathing was laborious. It felt like the air was thick, but the greenery brought to life feelings I had long forgotten. "I made a vow to clear Roger Usagi's name. Akim was a monster and deserved to be brought to justice. Amari Wade killed two people. I made it my mission to stop him."
"OH, BUT YOU WERE GOING TO LET HIM GO. PRETTY PRIVILEGE, I GUESS?"
"And he wouldn't have killed anyone else in cold blood. I would have made sure of it." I did not hesitate. My chest puffed up, conviction swelling within.
Amari's visage faded from view. Akim stood there, hands stretched out. One towards the sudden talking tree, the other pointed at me. "AM I NOT REDEEMABLE THEN?"
"I was NOT responsible for your death!"
// Face Danger
+2 (wits; coming to his senses) => 7 vs 2,6. STRONG HIT!
+1 momentum 
I awoke with a start.
Watt was fanning me with a large leaf it'd acquired from somewhere. My body was drenched in sweat – more than just what I'd gained from being in the sun, which was no longer in the sky. The moon was high and it was a few degrees cooler. Watt pressed a cord against my forehead, my temperature flashing on its screen: 101.1 degrees, and descending.
// Undertake an Expedition Result
7 vs 9, 10. Miss.
Hell of price. lol
I looked into the distance, my breathing slowing and my senses return–
I had to still be hallucinating.
A half-day's journey away was a tall tree, its branches swaying in the light breeze sweeping over the desert.
|Value At End of Chapter||Last Updated|
|Spirit||0/5 (Shaken)||Chapter 16|
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