A tree stood tall, anticipating the coming storm. It was ready, as it had been countless times before.
Thunder rumbled and shook the cracks in the arid soil. Lightning ripped through the sky searing the ozone apart. It seemed as if the storm was trying to force the tree into submission, into begging for its assault to cease. For almost half an hour, it raged high above with no sign of letting up.
Whether the storm lasted mere minutes or hours, however, the tree welcomed—no, invited the lightning. Its brances and leaves shook in the wind and, if one were to listen closely, it almost sounded as if the tree was cackling, taunting, begging for more. The sky rumbled with thunderous admiration.
Lightning streaked from the clouds above, striking the tree. Perhaps on any other planet with any other tree, that would be the end—charred and consumed by flames.
But not this tree.
It remained standing—defiant, sturdy, strong, and resilient. It was prepared for the storm, ready to embrace it each and every time. It would not crumble.
The storm had met its match once again. A worthy opponent. One that could fight back. At last, with a final spark of lightning and a thunderous crash, the sky opened up and the rain began to fall—a sign that the storm had lost this round once more.
The rain pooled at its roots and the tree consumed it like a ravenous animal, leaving not a drop—its prize for a fight well fought.
The tree was the victor.
The door to our bedroom flew open and we frantically threw the covers over us. John screamed and quickly closed the door behind him. Ira and I exchanged a look before we burst into laughter.
"SORRY! Watt, why didn't you tell me they were—" John's voice faded into the background behind the walls.
"So glad we were done," Ira said as he wiped himself off with a towel.
I, however, was defeated. I stretched out on the bed, my heart racing. My eyes didn't leave him, not for one second, which only kept my heartbeat up. I watched Ira toss me the towel—which I ignored in my bliss—and he climbed out of bed and began getting ready for a shower.
He shot a look back at me.
It wasn't a question. It was an invitation. A demand.
I scrambled out of bed to join him as the thunder picked up again outside.
Season 2, Chapter 1
I hope you all didn't miss our Detective too much. There's so much in store for Season 2, and I'm glad you're here for the ride.
Now, without further ado, let's get into Chapter 1...
+1 (heart) + 1 connection with Ira = +2 => 4 vs 5,8. A miss!
What an amazing way to start Season 2. lmfao But a Miss on Sojourn isn't bad.
Resolving this by saying he's Healing and Heartening, bringing both back to the max from our Season Finale.
I'm also going to do the Lightningbranded recharge. With Spirit at its maximum...
+5 => vs 8 vs 5,6. Strong hit.
+3 Lightning, also bringing me back to full. WE EATING GOOD AT THE START OF SEASON 2!!!
Now, I wonder what this community needs from us...
I couldn't complain about the last few months. Never in my life had I been so...
After all this time, I was legitimately happy. Weird, right?
Ira, John, and I were working with Legacy on New Bohemia, freeing all the Branded that we could and doing our best to upset the balance of power in our favor. There were a few close calls, but we'd completed every mission we set out to do.
We dropped the escapees off on nearby planets and settlements and gave them a way to contact Diogenes. Going into debt wasn't always the best, but she had the resources and could help them start a new life. Many of them needed someone to talk to, someone like us. The intake process before they ship you to Avam was brutal, and those with more fiery tempers had more bruises to show for it. Ira told me how hard it was for him, but he never went into too many details.
Like him, I'd rather forget that part. I dared not ask him.
On a related note, now that we weren't in a hellscape with other prisoners fighting for our life, Ira and I were able to connect on a level I had never truly imagined we'd be able to. I thought that my love for him might fade or that I'd find out that we had simply trauma bonded. I thought we would have a few good nights and that would be the end of it. I feared I would do something to mess things up, or worse: that he wasn't the man I thought he was.
I was prepared to get my heart broken in some way. Life had never been kind enough to let that kind of bliss last.
But to my complete and utter shock, he was perfect. I was...perfect enough. Somehow he was even better than I could have ever imagined. I wanted to be so much better for him, better than he could have ever dreamed of.
The man I thought I didn't deserve let me know every day that I do.
After our shower, Ira checked in with his Legacy connections while I made us some lunch. Back before Mike disappeared, my mother used to make this curry dish with rice and veggies. If we had enough money, there'd be scraps of meat in it. I had taken it upon myself to learn how to perfect it. I was surprised how easily the memory and all the emotions attached to it bubbled up to the surface now that I was smiling regularly. I was so excited to share that piece of me with someone.
"So, so sorry, by the way," John said as he stuffed his face with Curry Attempt #3. He seemed to like it, though it was still a bit off from what I wanted it to be.
I barely felt embarrassed, and I was pretty sure Ira felt the same. Not that we wanted the kid we considered our little brother to walk in on us, though. I couldn't help but laugh, and said, "It's okay. What did the SPD have for you?" I resigned to settle with what I had made—for now—and retrieved a bowl of white rice from the steamer and sat down to eat. Watt floated closely behind John before moving to water some of the plants inside for us.
"Nothing. There's some weird power shift happening. They wouldn't tell me anything about it." He spoke in-between spoonfuls, bits of it landing on the table. It also made me happy to see John enjoy my cooking as well. He reminded me so much of Michael.
"Anything to do with Saffron?" Ira reappeared.
I didn't like the look on his face.
I knew, despite my best attempts to think otherwise, that my luck had finally shifted. Things were going to change. Forever.
Right on cue.
"Uuuh, I dunno." John put his spoon down. I think he could feel the emotions shift between us. Ira only sported that look when things were serious.
"Legacy is saying that the power shift you just spoke of was on Saffron, and it's not looking good for our team there. A lot of S.P.D. agents—including some informants—were let go and things are changing, fast. There's someone new in charge and it seems like they're planning something."
"Is that normal?" I said, looking between Ira and John. The power dynamics of the sector's law enforcement were foreign to me.
"No, it's normally pretty formal. Happens every few years or so. There shouldn't be an election for another"—John looked to a calendar on the wall—"sixteen months."
"Something doesn't feel right. But we're all too busy here with the Branded, and they keep changing their location because of our rescues. We haven't been able to get a lock on where they're holding—"
"I can go to Saffron. I know it like the back of my hand." I said the words before I could truly process what they meant. I had this urge to help him—to make him smile—and I would have done anything for him.
Ira was speechless. And a little upset.
I spent the better part of that evening convincing him—and myself—that it was a good idea. I tried to get him to come with me, but he was right: there was too much to be done on New Bohemia. And, unlike myself, Ira was a vital part of Legacy. He was needed here.
Defeated, Ira let out the heaviest sigh I'd ever heard, and said, "I'm in love with the hero."
"I can be an asshole, too."
"Oh, that was never in question." We exchanged dirty, playful looks with each other.
"Promise me you'll keep me up to date. I...I've grown attached to talking to you every day, Locke."
I embraced him. "I promise. And you know I'm good for it. We'll talk all the time."
I fished a hand into my pocket and pulled out the black iron coin with the rose and its thorns.
"What are you doing?" Ira grabbed my hand, pinning it and the coin within against my chest. "You don't have to do that, not with me."
"I know, but... I dunno. It means something. You mean something, to me. To us. I swear," I began, looking him directly in his eyes. "I will come back to you."
// Swear an Iron Vow
+1 (heart) + 1 Ira connection = +2 => 3 vs 2,5. Weak hit.
-sigh- So, I forgot to bump up my momentum here. Oh well.
"It's still so weird that you're more Ironsworn than me. And a bleeding Heart, too? Every day you make me second-guess which of your attributes are the lowest. Today? Maaaaaybe your Edge. Not your Shadow, though. You are loud." He gave me that look.
"I'm loud, am I?" I feigned disbelief, mouth wide open. "I don't think so. And I'm sure I can put Edge up in my Top 3. We should do a little research..." I looked at him like he was my next meal.
...Well, he was.
Until John opened the door without knocking again.
"OH SORRY SORRY SORRY."
"Maybe you can get him to learn to knock while I'm away," I said, annoyed but laughing through it. I was going to miss both of them.
"UM... HOW WOULD HE TEACH ME IF I'M WITH YOU?"
Ira and I shared looks of confusion. We got dressed and I threw open the door.
"Your...uh...shirt's on backward, Locke," John pointed out. At his side was his bag of things he took with him when he went out on SPD missions. Watt hovered above it, a smiling face on his screen.
"What do you mean, 'if I'm with you'?"
"I'm coming with you, duh." He was dressed dressed. As if we'd be leaving tonight.
"Who said you were coming with me?"
"I did. About the same time you did."
"You should stay here. Ira could use you and how would the S.P.D. take you running—"
"Already worked it out with the S.P.D. I'm escorting you back home. And they have all the help they need here, really. Plus since you don't really know anything about the S.P.D, you need someone who can get inside and actually figure out what's going on on Saffron." He spoke so fast I could barely keep up.
Another heavy sigh from Ira. "He's not wrong," he said.
I sighed the heaviest sigh I could muster—he was right, I was loud. "Fine. But... we're not leaving until tomorrow."
Yes, yes, yes.
JOHN IS COMING WITH US!
I'm spending five XP on John. Three to acquire him as a Sidekick and two to upgrade and get his third ability.
And since we're Advancing already, I'm going to spend my last 3 XP to acquire the Infiltrator asset. We do a lot of sneaking around.
That's it. We're outta XP.
Tomorrow came too fast.
When Ira and I finally left the room, I gave my new home a final look just as it began to drizzle. The thought of leaving this place—leaving him—had never dared cross my mind since I found my way to him again. He consumed my every waking and dreaming thought, impulse, and desire. I had even put aside my search for the Benevolent and who hired Amari Wade. I'd set aside every vision with the Hivebranded and ignored anything that did not involve Ira.
Outside, Ira pulled me in and kissed me. I knew that he felt the same way. When I opened my eyes, the plants around us had overgrown. We fought to contain a small laugh.
"Okay, we get it. You two are going to miss each other. Can you two let go of each other long enough for us to take off?" Just like a kid brother.
I just cracked a smile. "Shut up," Ira said and playfully pushed me away toward the Scarlet Adler.
"I love you."
"You two even said it at the same time! AWWWWWWWW!"
// Set a Course
+3 => 6 vs ...
We'd barely left orbit before I called Ira. He laughed. John did, too. How long did I expect to go without seeing him, without holding and kissing him? The trip to Saffron alone would take a week with all the stopping and starting.
But we managed. It sucked, but we managed.
I had never traveled long-term with someone else in the Scarlet Adler before, but John made himself at home rather quickly. He knew where most of the things were from his short stay after I found him in the escape pod, and he'd probably gotten more familiar with it when he carted the Scarlet Adler all the way from Portent to New Bohemia.
I loved how John and Watt interacted. They were more buddy-buddy with each other than either of them were with me. I wasn't jealous, exactly, but I did wonder how the two bonded so fast.
And to be honest, I didn't mind his company—the fact that I didn't mind was actually the annoying part. Was I really a Bleeding Heart?
In between calling Ira and sleeping, the three of us trained. While I was in bliss on New Bohemia, I was safe from the thoughts of every conspiracy that had found its way to me. But being back on my ship, surrounded by the vastness of the Salvi Pass, brought it all back. I wanted to be ready if we ran into any of the Benevolent. The remaining three—Curtis Winter, Ashley Hendrix, and Althea Lontoc—were out there, somewhere. I hadn't given it much thought since then. In truth, I was afraid that if I went looking for them, I'd find them.
But just for a second, I was able to shove it all from my mind again. The sight of Saffron was bittersweet. It was covered in electrical storms.
Just like the day I first saw it after escaping from Avam.
John and Watt took their spots in the cockpit and I strapped in so we could make our descent. I pinpointed where Baker's Shipyard was, knowing I could make my way through the Designated Eye at its location.
The Scarlet Adler shook and rattled, much more than it should have. I'd passed through the Eye so many times before with zero problems. And today—
The lights flickered as a bolt of electricity struck the ship, throwing John and myself forward in our seats.
"Hold on!" I yelled, flipping switches and pulling on the controls.
Of course. Everything's back to normal.
It wouldn't be my life unless I crashed into Saffron.
// Set a Course Result
6 vs 1, 9. Weak hit.
What good is the start of Season 2 without a bad omen?
One of the Designated Eyes is... off.
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