The Sign of Four
The flames shambled forward. A blackened hand reached out. It grasped at nothing, then the form collapsed. My heart stopped and my breath caught in my chest.
I tasted bile.
I was right. He'd done it. That bastard had actually set someone on fire! He was escalating – or had he always been this way? I had to stop him. He was royalty. If I didn't enact justice, no one would. They would let him get away with literal murder. My fingers dug into my palm. Electricity laced up my arm. I had to–
A shot rang out. A Risen collapsed onto the ground, blackened blood dripping from the bullet hole in its head. One of the agents kicked the body.
My eyes snapped to the burning mass.
I centered myself and calmed my thoughts. I suppressed my lightning and released the breath I was holding.
I almost blew it all for a Risen.
I reminded myself why I was here as I surveyed the room. I hadn't thought this plan out well.
Akim continued his talk on his comms. There were two agents in the room. If I ran in and confronted him, they would be a formidable challenge, one I did not feel like dealing with especially while dealing with a Mimic. Not to mention there were maybe two other agents perusing the derelict unaccounted for. And what if the agents I had neutralized suddenly found themselves back in my presence?
I weighed my options. I could leave. I could turn around, grab Watt, and go back to Baker's. There had to be other ways to get Akim to pay for what he'd done. It would take some time, but I'd be safe.
The Usagis deserved better than that, though. Roger and Jessica were depending on me.
And Karim's legacy deserved better than this.
"You two," – Akim snapped and gestured in my direction, towards the exit– "go check on those other fools."
I pressed myself deeper into the darkness. The agents moved down the hall and disappeared around a corner.
// Tension clock: The Guards' Return
This clock will have 4 segments. They aren't going too far, so if things go a little to the left with Akim, they will make haste and return.
// Oracle rolls
Akim has been faceless until now, so let's flesh him out.
First look, 56: mutated. Wha? I think he's not as good at being a Mimic as his brother, and maybe he's wearing the Mimic gear wrong. It's so discombobulated that it makes him look mutated. He has no idea what he's doing actually.
First look, 38: graceful.
Disposition, 94: Threatening. Makes sense. He's a straight-up asshole.
What's Akim doing right now? Action + Theme, 97 37: Uncover Fellowship. Wha? Oh... ooooohhhh... Maybe there's a bunch of other Branded-hating Mimics? He's on, like, a call or something.
"No, no, no." Akim gestured dismissively in the air. "The Benevolent will remove those fucking Malice-infected scum from all the sectors, no need to worry. When the four of us get to Reichenbach, I will greet you personally."
Reichenbach? Where the hell was that? Was it a settlement? A planet? A whole sector?
I studied him. He looked odd wearing his brother's Mimic gear. It was as if he'd never learned how to wear it. In fact, I didn't recognize some of the parts. Had they been damaged and replaced? Did Akim think his modifications were better? Karim had used the gear with such ease. I couldn't picture Akim doing the same with the flamethrower draped at his side. It looked cumbersome on him, and the whole setup seemed to almost mutate him. He still carried himself as if how he did it was the correct way – he was royal, they carried their own air of grace that few could match, whether it was deserved or not.
To me, he looked... wrong. And it felt wrong. He had used this gear to undermine all of his brother's good work.
It pissed me off.
I remembered Karim Salvi freeing us from our cells on Avam. I remembered fighting beside him as he took down those that had opposed us.
I remembered crying from afar at his funeral, spying on the ceremony via Watt.
Electricity raced up my arm.
I decided that Akim did not deserve to wear that gear.
I stepped out of the shadows, the lightning at bay once more. The light from the burning Risen provided just enough illumination to reach me in my all-black environment suit.
He looked in my direction, more annoyed than startled. "Oh fuck. What the hell do you want? Let me call you back. Yeah, yeah. See you soon."
"I have a few questions about Karot DeWolf."
He rolled his eyes. "Keep them."
The tube on his back shifted as he gripped the flamethrower in his right hand. Clear liquid moved through a tube from a reservoir to the flamethrower. A motor sputtered, and Akim turned to face me fully.
My suit showed that the temperature in the room had increased drastically.
// Enter the Fray (entire combat in the drop-down)
In order to not break up the flow of reading the combat with so many moves, I will post all of it within this dropdown.
Since the lone SPD agent was Dangerous, Akim has to at least be formidable. Also, as previously hinted, if the other agents return, the two of them will also be formidable. So, it's in our best interest to deal with Akim without filling in that clock all the way.
Enter the Fray, +1
+1 (Heart) => 3 vs 5,10. Miss.
We start off in a bad spot. The worst outcome, but honestly not that bad.
React Under Fire, +1
+1 (Edge, to avoid the flame) => 5 vs 8,10. Miss
Well... bollucks. And I can't burn momentum for this. Let's fill in our first clock segment [1/4]
+1 (Edge, with gunfire) => 6 vs 1,9. Weak hit.
Progress +1 [1/10]
And the gunshots were loud, so let's fill in another segment of the clock. [2/4]
React Under Fire, +2
+2 (Shadow, to divert his attention) => 6 vs 2,3. Strong hit!
YES! Just what we need.
+1 momentum , and in control
+3 (Iron, a devastating blow) => 7 vs 1,3. Strong hit!
Progress twice +2 [3/10]
Gain Ground, +2
+2 (Shadow, hiding in the shadows) => 3 vs 2,5. Weak hit.
Glad I went this route. Marking progress +1 [4/10]
Gain Ground, +2
+2 (Wits, trying to figure out how to disable the Mimic gear) => 6 vs 3,9. Weak hit.
Progress +1 [5/10]
Gain Ground, +3
+3 (Iron, to actually disable the suit) => 9 vs 3,8. Strong hit!
Progress +1 [6/10], and +1 forward
+3 (Iron) + 1 Forward = +4 => 8 vs 3,8. Weak hit.
Gonna burn momentum. => 9 vs 3,8. Strong hit!
Progress twice +2 [8/10]
Flames erupted in my direction. I leaped over a table, glass and metal crashing against the ground as I did. I winced. The other agents had to have heard that. They would be back any moment now if I wasn't careful.
I needed to get him to talk immediately.
"Why did you murder Karot?" I did my best to sound calm and in control despite my worries.
"Who?" He knew who. It was clear.
Asshole. Typical royalty, enhanced by a superiority complex. And this one had a flamethrower.
I dodged another blast of fire, gripped my pistol, and returned fire – figuratively. I thought I clipped him, but neither situation changed. He was still dominating this fight with his stolen, unearned, misused tech. More glass shattered. I could smell something burning off to the side.
In hindsight, the gunfire was probably not a good idea. I only drew more attention to the skirmish. I had fucked up. This was going to be how I died. My heart started racing. I needed to leave. I fired a few more shots and eyed the exit. I could make it if I–
"Im gonna call you Thunderfang."
The thought of his voice — him – made me smile.
It reminded me of what I was capable of. My words held power.
I steeled myself and spoke with authority. "You torched his office in Portent. Pushed him out a window. An innocent man – Roger Usagi – was blamed."
"Ooh, that rings a bell. Poor guy. How's he doing?"
He unleashed more flames. He was a piss-poor shot – his brother would be embarrassed. I ducked into the shadows and scanned the room. Lots of tables and breakable things. A few motionless Risen, one with its head chopped off. I tossed one of my staves to the side. It clanked along the ground.
Akim took the bait, unleashing more flames towards an enemy that wasn't there.
"Where the fuck are you, you little bitch?"
I dashed towards him from right outside his peripheral. My fist collided with his face. Akim spun around and stumbled back, and I took this moment to duck into the shadows once more.
He was pissed.
Without aim – not that he ever had any – he began torching tables, equipment, and darkened corners. He was way off. I smiled behind my mask.
I took another look at his gear. If I could render it useless, the fight would be mine. I knew he wouldn't be a complete pushover without it – he was royalty, after all – but the only reason he was a threat to me was his gear – his brother's Mimic gear.
The flamethrower was attached to a long tube. Reservoirs filled with accelerant cascaded down his back, the tube connected to the lowest one. Karim's setup had been different. He had forgone the large rifle-like flamethrower for two smaller ones on his wrists that could be activated just by expanding his fingers. Karim also knew that one long tube wasn't a good idea because it could get snagged on something.
Or, it could be pulled off. A single point of failure.
Akim aimed the flamethrower at me as I jumped out of hiding, but I did not falter. I ran to him and gripped the rifle, then spun around him and placed my foot on his back. I yanked on the tube connecting it to the accelerant reservoir. The familiar smell of paint thinner filled the air and I heard it pooling onto the floor around us. It was probably not the smartest move – considering all the fire – but it needed to be done.
"You broke it!"
"You did a good job of that yourself." I circled him, getting a good look at his face. "Your brother was a great man, and you are doing nothing but tarnishing his legacy."
Akim laughed. "A 'great man'? His legacy?" He doubled over, hardly able to contain himself. His bruises and his gear no longer seemed to concern him. "He got killed freeing those scum from Avam. He deserved what he got. And now, I get to—"
My fist collided with his gut and an elbow smashed into his face.
// Take Decisive Action, 8
8 vs 3,9. Weak hit.
UGH. Whatever. Rolling on the WH table to figure out what happens.
97: It gets complicated. The true nature of a foe or objective is revealed. Okay, ominous.
And let's try the new Story Clue oracle! 93... Aw, lol. Descriptor + Focus, 61 89: Lost Threshold.
Admittedly, it took me a moment to think of an interpretation for this, but I was determined to stick with it. I'm happy with how this turned out...
His own brother deserved to die?
"Did you kill Karot DeWolf?" I yoked him up by his collar as he recoiled in pain, wishing for just a moment my spittle could land on his face.
I needed a confession.
His smirk returned amidst his agony. "So what if I did? I am Benevolent. And as long as the associates and enablers of scum breathe, I will rid this sector – no, this galaxy of them all. Of people like you. It is my right."
I released him, tossing him into a pool of the paint thinner. He laughed more as I turned to leave.
"Do you think you helped whatever cause you serve by coming here?" Akim's face twisted in agony and delusion. He raised his hands. Blood and accelerant dripped, eyes wide, trained to the ceiling. He spoke with a sort of reverence that only cult followers could muster. "Thank you for this sign. I know now our path is just. I have been tested and I have passed! Thank you."
Movement at the entrance made me press back into the shadows. As the guards rushed forth to save their precious leader, I went back the way I came.
// Progress on Roger Usagi Vow [7/10]
It took us a lot to get here, but we're here.
// Secure an Advantage, +2
+2 (shadow) => 5 vs 4,10. Weak hit.
+2 momentum 
// Set a course, +5
+5 (supply) => 11(10) vs 6,7. Strong hit!
+1 momentum 
Watt and I escorted the agent back to their ship. I had found Watt and him playing cards.
"Thank you for not killing me." He was so young, probably barely able to drink. It steeled my resolve that I had done the right thing. It was my "sign" that I was on the right path.
I took my seat at the helm of the Scarlet Adler and replayed the video footage of Akim practically confessing. It'd get ripped apart in court, but it was something. I initiated the transfer to the ship's local storage as well as Watt's. I wanted this footage secured.
// Fulfill your vow, 7
7 vs 3,7. Weak hit.
We're going to take our full reward (4 ticks, meaning we get 2 XP!) and swear a new vow.
"The Benevolent." I pulled out my black iron coin and rolled it between my fingers. "I knew we were hated but a whole cult to wipe out the Branded? Seems a bit excessive. And where the hell is Reichenbach?"
I held the coin firmly in my hand. "I need to find out who the other three in the Benevolent are."
// Swear an Iron Vow, +1
+1 (heart) => 6 vs 9,9. Miss + match.
SO. MUCH. FUN.
I plotted my course back to Baker's. Coordinates locked in, I slipped the coin back into my pocket. I pressed a button to initiate the launch sequence and flipped a switch to retract the legs. I scanned the sensors. All clear. I glanced to Watt, who had taken its typical spot in the co-pilot seat, plugged into the system. I gripped the controls and initiated take—
The Scarlet Adler lurched forward. I hadn't done that. I look–
Sensors erupted in a discordant melody.
I gripped my seat to stay upright.
My eyes widened as we spun uncontrollably.
I checked the perimeter cameras as my ship was sent hurtling towards Saffron.
The derelict no longer existed.
Only flames remained.