So Many Conversations
I pinched myself. I felt Watt's still overly warm body that matched the humid air. I tasted the dirt below me in a desperate plea for confirmation. Disgusting, as expected.
I had to know I wasn't dreaming anymore.
I snacked on a few of the plant leaves I had acquired and stayed hydrated, my eyes locked on the tree in the distance, unsure of whether I was actually awake or not. I could hear and feel the hum from the solar farm in the distance, in the direction of the tree.
There had been no greenery at all within the desert when I was a child, especially not a tree of that size. And from the looks of it, it had been there for a few hundred years at least. It was tall, massive and imposing in its size, yet somehow inviting – it was calling me almost as much as the electricity was. I could just barely make out the small abandoned home in its shadow. Miles and miles of solar panels stretched off into the distance and I could feel its energy coursing through the ground beneath me.
Hallucination or not, I had no other path forward. I felt slightly better, and with the moon still lighting my way, I progressed on, keeping an eye out for any more oddities.
// Undertake an Expedition
+2 (wits) => 4 vs 5, 7. Miss.
OH COME ON.
Array, 1: Descriptor + Focus, 53, 15: Hoarded Commodity.
Like a food truck just sitting in the middle of the desert.
I smacked myself across the cheek, hoping it would wake me. When that didn't work, I grabbed a pinch – then a handful – of dirt, hoping that I would realize it actually tasted like cotton candy or something. I spat it out and took a swig of water.
If the food truck had looked beaten and abandoned, I could have taken it as fact. But it was pristine. Freshly filled condiments lined the outside, napkins waved in the wind, and the smell of tacos filled the air. It reminded me of Port Wreck. Food trucks occasionally made their way from the Salvi Sigil to my hometown, providing us with a break from the despair. From them, we got to experience foods from all over the Salvi Pass, many of the owners having settled into the Salvi Sigil from other planets. I'd only had a taco once or twice, but I remembered the smell, the taste that burst forth, and how happy it had made me.
I took a step forward. And then another.
I could have killed for a taco.
// Face Danger
+2 (wits; to notice something is amiss) => 8 vs 3, 9. Weak hit.
-1 momentum 
Watt slammed into my chest and pushed me back and suddenly my vision cleared, the mirage – or did this have nothing to do with the heat? – broken. I was mere feet from the edge of this part of the plateau. The fall wouldn't have been deadly, but the twenty or so foot drop would have hurt.
"Thank you," I said, patting Watt for a moment. I would be dead thrice over, perhaps more, if it hadn't been for Watt.
IF YOU CONSUMED HIS ENERGY, MAYBE YOU COULD THINK STRAIGHT.
I took a deep breath. The solar farm wasn't too far away, I told myself, hoping it would lessen my hunger. If I could make it before the heat took me, I could recharge and think up my next plan properly.
I looked over the plateau and wondered if, just maybe, it would actually be better for me to go down a level. There'd be more shade. Or, I could continue forward the way I'd been traveling and hope for the best.
// Secure an Advantage
+2 (wits; think over this plan) => 7 vs 5,6. Strong hit!
+2 momentum 
I weighed my options, trying to determine exactly which was going to be better for me. Ultimately, I kept going forward. I couldn't risk diverting further from the path I had taken many, many years ago. I was already lost and simply could not afford to make it worse.
// Undertake an Expedition
+2 (wits) + 1 Forward = +3 => 7 vs 7, 8. Miss.
I always have the WORST luck on Expeditions.
-2 Momentum 
Staying on that path did not yield better results. In fact, as the moon began to set and the sun began its ascent, I stayed in the heat far longer than I probably should have, the sun's rays practically baking me at this point. I used my shirt to dab up the sweat and I wrung it out, debating on whether or not drinking sweat would help quench my thirst.
"And to think, I chose you to take that ship."
Before me, Karim Salvi stood. I swallowed loudly.
"Yes, you're hallucinating, just to get that out of the way. But come on, are you seriously letting a little heat and a trip you made as a kid get the better of you?" He walked up to me and shook me. It felt so real but I could tell it was all in my head.
"I... I'm just a little lost." I didn't know what else to say. I kept moving forward, Karim keeping step at my side, completely unaffected by the heat. He was wearing a white t-shirt and black pants – one of the outfits he wore after rescuing us – not a drop of sweat in sight. He smelled like burning incense and charcoal.
"We didn't know each other for long," he began, "but I know you are so much better than this. Where's the ship I gave you?"
"I... left it on Saffron."
Karim sighed heavily. "Why?"
"I was supposed to not announce my arrival, or leave it behind if things got fucked up. The former already happened, and the way this is going, I'm quite sure the latter will, too. I can't risk losing the Scarlet Adler."
"Oooh. Scarlet Adler? What made you name her that?"
I felt my temperature spike a bit. If I wasn't this shade of Black, he could have seen me blushing. "Scarlet, after you."
"Oh, cause of the fire?" As if he was Infernobranded, Karim opened his palm, a small flame flickering there. He smiled. "That's sweet. And Adler?"
"Someone I... left behind on Avam."
"You have a habit of leaving important things behind, I see."
"I didn't mean to!" I was getting defensive with a delusion. "When you showed up, things got crazy real fast. I–"
"That sounds like an excuse. Why did you leave him behind, or – better question – why haven't you looked for him?"
Karim stepped in front of me, arms crossed. He knew the answer, but he wanted me to say it. "Don't give me some bullshit about not having time. I may be dead – and a delusion – but we both know that's not true. Didn't he say where he was from? Or what he wanted to do after getting off that hellhole of a planet?"
"He named you. And you left him behind?"
"I don't deserve him."
"BULLSHIT. Try again."
That was my answer. I didn't feel like I deserved him. He had changed my life so much in such a short amount of time and shaped me into the man I was today. He taught me his values and instilled so much confidence in me. He was too good for me. "I'm serious. I don't des–"
"You're scared. You're scared that, in the real world, he'll make you happy, even more so than he did on Avam. You're afraid of success. The man I knew would try and fail repeatedly until he succeeded. How do you think you survived on Avam? How do you think you got through those balefires surrounding Avam? You are on the precipice of cracking this case with the Benevolent – you are this close! Who knows what else you're going to achieve? You doubt yourself far too much, Locke."
Karim looked to the sky, the sun far too high at that point, then back at me. "Why don't you chill out until nightfall, then try again."
I was thankful for the change of subject. "I've barely made any progress today. The longer I'm out here, the worse–"
Karim was gone.
He had been right, though – about more than one thing.
I was no good passed out and dead in the desert sun. I gritted my teeth and looked around for a good spot to recuperate.
// Secure an Advantage
+2 (wits) => 4 vs 3, 5. Weak hit.
+1 Forward. I feel like we need that more at this rate.
A deep depression in a towering plateau provided ample shade from the sun. I spent the rest of the day there sleeping, blocking out the voices haunting me, and thinking over Karim's words.
// Undertake an Expedition
+2 (wits) + 1 Forward = +3 => 6 vs ... 6, 8. Miss.
WHAT THE FUUUUCCCCCKKKKKKKK
-2 Supply 
I sat beneath the stars, hot and tired. This trip had been an absolute disaster.
To add to my crushing despair, I had only recently considered the possibility that the solar farm no longer existed. What if I had made this trip only for them to be non-functional? What if the hum I was following had been a crashed ship or something? The great detective bested by his assumptions.
I shook my head. I was truly stupid.
"You are truly stupid."
A chill ran up my spine as I snapped my head in the direction of the child's voice. Visions of Amari and Akim were not my favorite, but I could handle them. Karim? Sure, he was friendly enough. I could have dealt with John showing up – I had last seen him alive, so it wouldn't have brought me much pain.
But I had never thought my mind would conjure Michael.
"You chose to come all the way out here and didn't even check to see if your destination was even a thing anymore?" Just a little over five-feet tall and full of snark and sarcasm, my older brother, Michael, stood before me. He was wearing the same clothes he wore the last day I saw him – a blue collared shirt and beige pants, ready to look like he came from anywhere else but Port Wreck – and he hadn't aged a day. I hated my mind for doing this to me. I could handle seeing literally anyone else.
Tears began to well up. "Please don't get mushy. It's gross," he said, sticking his tongue out in disgust.
"Well excuse me!" I shouted. "I haven't fucking seen you in like twenty years!" I wanted to hug him but I knew he wasn't really there. Just a trick of the mind sent to make death easier for me before it whisked me away. If I was dreaming again, I wanted to wake up now. I considered grabbing a large rock and bashing my head in.
"This is how you know we have different dads. We're nothing alike." Mike rolled his eyes, as preteens often did, and huffed. "Lucky for you, you made the correct assumption. Jackpot."
I caught myself before the tears escaped. It hurt to remember. I had forgotten how much he loved to say 'jackpot.' It was such a little thing. I couldn't believe I let that detail slip my mind.
"What do you mean, I made the correct assumption?"
He looked at me as if I had asked a completely illogical question. "How are you a detective, again? You're just... dumb."
"Mikey, look, I miss you so much bro, but can you please lay off me?"
I thought I had upset him, but then I remembered that he was a delusion. I laid on my back, hands behind my head, hoping that I would regain my sanity soon. Talking to everyone I let down had drained me.
"Did you look for me?"
I sat up, eyes locked on him. "Of course," I responded, quicker than intended and with more force than I had planned. "Of course I looked for you. But I was so young. There was only so much I could do." I had secretly practiced those words all my life, hoping one day to be able to convince him that I tried my best.
Michael's disappearance was what caused me to begin paying attention to anything and everything. I looked for a clue everywhere I went. I snuck into so many buildings, eavesdropped on so many conversations, connected so many dots. I was determined to find my older brother despite not hitting a double-digit age.
All I knew was that he didn't come home one day. My world had never been the same since.
I couldn't keep expecting to find him every second of every day. Hope hurt. Of all my failures, I feel like I let him down the most. I hated having to remember it now. I eventually had to stop my search, and like everything else that troubled me just a little too much, I shoved him in one of my mental boxes and hid it somewhere in my mind's attic, never expecting it to see the light of day again.
"I know," he said, tracing a picture into the sand yet leaving no trace. "I'm rooting for you, Locke." He looked towards the large tree in the distance, the one that should not have been there but had not shifted or wavered since I had first seen it. It had to be real, despite the impossibility of it.
When I looked back at Michael, he was gone.
I needed to get the fuck out of this desert.
// Undertake an Expedition
+2 (wits) => 7 vs 3, 10. Weak hit.
That's all we need!
-1 momentum 
-1 Watt , and not going to Endure. (Don't want to make it worse.)
The sun rose once more during my late-night trip. I could practically touch the tree now. Watt had begun to flash his temperature an hour or so back, but I had us push on. I could see the finish line. We were tough and resilient; we could make it.
The hum of the solar farm had gotten louder and louder as we approached. I could feel the electricity within me surge, begging me to consume and quell the ravenous urge within me.
// Finish an Expedition!
9 progress vs...
Michael had been right: my assumption was correct.
I made a note to never make such an assumption again.
// Lightningbranded, Recharge
+0 (Yup, Locke has 0 Spirit right now) => 1 vs 5, 9. Miss.
Figured this. Luckily the move always charges you, it just hurts. lol
+2 Lightning 
-2 Health 
It hurts soooo good.
Endure Harm -2
+3 (iron, higher than my health of 1) => 6 vs 1, 2. Strong hit!
+1 momentum . Embrace the pain!
I clambered towards the first row of solar panels and gripped them. I didn't care that they burned my hands.
I needed to FEED.
There was a spark. The energy I craved became visible as I drew it from the contraptions before me. Some of it arced through the air, a feeble attempt at escaping me, but my presence trapped each and every ampere. I drew it back within myself and let it all course through my veins.
The pain was excruciating but I embraced it. My eyes rolled into the back of my head. I didn't want it to stop. I would deal with the pain each and every time if that was what it took to feel this feeling. I licked my lips, the electricity still flowing. My skin buzzed and blood coursed through every vein. I was in heaven.
// Finish an Expedition Result
9 vs 3, 5. Strong hit!
The situation favors us.
You know, if we aren't hallucinating, that is.
No, no, NO. NOT HIM, TOO!
I pulled my hands back from the panels, pissed. I was still hungry, the hum from the solar panels chanting, MORE MORE MORE! I caught myself as I stood, stumbling. I was still dizzy from the heat and the trip – and high from my feeding – and I still felt mentally and physically shaken. I couldn't deal with yet another delusion bringing my spirits down even more. The male stepped out of the abandoned home, a look of confusion on his face.
As if a delusion could be confused.
I met his eyes, pushing down those feelings that had been urging for release for so long. Electricity crackled around my fists. I did not care if I fell off a cliff this time. I charged, screaming in agony, fist held high ready to banish this hallucination. I needed to feel something else besides emotional guilt.
There was no way that Ira Adler was on New Bohemia.
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