Part II here.
After a showdown with a Bluecoat patrol, my character Gunner finds himself in a predicament: an armored carriage he so meticulously cleansed of guards became a target for a rogue thief. With several injuries and mounting stress, Gunner must now defend his prize.
Consequences, coin-tossers, and beggars
For a long time, Gunner refused to believe the cliché “nothing is ever free in Doskvol”. He thought of it as a grandiose advertisement made by the uppers, or coin-tossers, as he named them. They are the architects of order, the ones he blamed, the ones who strew their crumbs and let the masses scramble. He despised the cursed life people were forced to live, sometimes eagerly, often with pride. Even today, twenty years after they broke him, he still gets goosebumps when toasts reach his ears from the moldy inns.
“Every meal, every bed,
paid in blood or coin the death I’ll wed!”
the outlaws would sing.
“Ours is the choice!
Ours is the choice!”
He was determined not to become one of them. He was going all white, by the books, living honestly from his craft. His rifles were praised and sought in the Nightmarket. They granted him entrance to galas and parties, clean water, and good food. He climbed slowly and legally, watching his footing until fine silk and heavy blankets welcomed him. His hands brought him business, a room with a view, fresh air, and a night with gorgeous Maxime. But his nose for justice brought him heat, for he wasn’t selling to the highest bidder. It gave him six years in prison because he refused to play Doskvol’s tune. It delivered him dissolution papers because “his workshop failed to meet new standards”.
The game stays the same: upper or lower, they all climb to the top on the stairs made of bodies. The only difference is in elegance.
So he elegantly eluded bribery, threats, and tycoon claws, fighting the city with his righteousness.
Then the elegance turned into efficiency, efficiency into survival, and now he has to kill a young soul so another day can greet him.
• • •
The young soul didn’t care for philosophy. The only thing that concerned her was the sureness of her step as she hopped towards the carriage. We take a sip, Gunner and I; mine was tea, and his was cheap whiskey. I snap him out of lament and charge toward the carriage, but the leg gives, and we fall. He leans on his rifle, Mercy, and the bone and the wood creak. Our position is desperate, and the effect is normal, so I Push him for an additional die in order to catch her. Spurred by the 6 we got, we started running. The Blue Four rain bullets on us. We cut the thief’s angle and charge her just as she was climbing onto the carriage. Her nimble feet change direction, and she dodges most of our impact, but it throws her off balance and prones her onto the cobblestone. Under her hood and bandana, two eyes stared at us: one regular blue, the other bright red.
I look at the character sheet, and my smile wanes. Our Stress bar reached 9, so technically, the heist would end. Luckily, the solo rules allowed me to circle Reckless Trauma and keep going; our Stress has now reset. Otherwise, this would be a very short job.
In addition, it played perfectly into his character. Wouldn’t you forsake a bit of reason after your hard work is about to be stolen?
Gunner ducks beneath the carriage, his tinkering tools in hand. I take a Devil’s Bargain for us: no matter the outcome, we’ll be surrounded by the patrol and the thief. A proper Iruvian standoff. I roll to fix the shaft, and a satisfying sound informs me of success. Gunner jumps into the driver’s seat and grabs the reins just in time for the Blue Patrol to cock their weapons point-blank.
“Move, and we’ll turn you into a lovely watermelon, scum.”
He raises his hands and waits expectantly, and I don’t know what to tell him. Any acrobatics are out of the question, and if we so much as look at our rifle, we’re done. The thief was hiding on our left, opposite the patrol, a dagger gleaming.
“All right, let’s just…” Gunner started as I rolled Finesse, whipping the horses with all my mind’s strength. I double stack us with Push and Devil’s Bargain; we get extra dice, but the thief comes with us.
“Hyaah!” he hollers, ducking to the side as the horses yank the carriage into motion. I look at the dice, jot down two Stress, and return to the imagination screen just to see the thief on top of us. The bullets swoosh past us, patrol yelling, but Gunner doesn’t flinch. His red demonic eye gazed at another one of the same kind, and his mouth opened.
See, the highest die for the previous roll was a 4, and for this complication, I chose emotional harm and changed one specific detail.
“Hello, father”, the thief said, dropping her bandana. Diedra, the daughter of Maxime and Mardian “Gunner” Booth, is the deadliest combination of the two. She had her mother’s beauty, her father’s aim, and a grudge for both.
• • •
“Dee! What are you-“
Her fist clocked him sideways, darkening his vision for a moment—level 1 harm, Bruised Face.
“Dee! This is not the time-“
Contrary to his belief, this was the perfect time for her dagger to lunge toward his chest, and I had to step in. I couldn’t trust Gunner’s reasoning; our position and effect were terrible. For all I know, he’d allow his cute, little pumpkin to carve us.
As the blade cut its way, I decided to shove Dee off the carriage and deal with his late alimony later. But our Skirmish is 0, and I had to double stack us again. Push plus the Devil’s Bargain: she’ll get us in the leg.
I roll badly.
He swings, she ducks, and a level 3 harm finds its way onto the sheet—Vicious Leg Wound. Gunner lets out a deep growl, and without skipping a beat, Dee switches her blade hand and tries again.
“Diedra! Stop!” he yells as I intersect with a Flashback. Otherwise, the horses can take us straight to Spirit Wardens, as our injury box is almost full.
Five days before, Gunner met with Lyssa, a prominent gang leader and “owner” of Shade Street. After a bit of carousing and a promise of a cut, Lyssa agreed that this heist only belonged to us. No one will interfere.
In retrospect, I could’ve thought of something better, but truth be told, I was taken aback by Dee. What devil have I unleashed upon us, and how do we get out of this?
Back to our climax and the carriage that has broken a couple of stalls, Gunner grabs his daughter’s hands.
“Diedra, are you out of your mind? This is uncontested; Lyssa will see to it. She’s not a forgiving woman, please, just-“
Just roll something higher than a 3, he thought, because my Command roll showed two 2s.
Our vision dimmed, and our nose was bleeding. The Stress I paid to pad this action went perfectly with his recklessness but got us nowhere near the resolution. I could have dug deeper into their relationship. I could have tried to understand her hatred when it was her mother who forbade Gunner from seeing his daughter. Perhaps if we had fewer injuries and half a mile more of road, we could sort things out. Split the cargo and go for a drink. Rekindle the spark of the reunited family. But it wasn’t my place to mend twenty-year-old wounds. I was the one giving them to Gunner, hoping to squeeze him to the limits for my amusement.
While I was thinking, Dee broke free and charged her elbow toward our forehead. I Push Gunner, burning Stress like it’s cheap coal, and he spots a rock. Round, medium-sized, and sturdy enough to topple the carriage at the right angle. She dives for a hit, and Gunner ducks and pulls the reins. The horses reared and tugged left. The rock smashed the wheel and sent Dee onto the hard cobblestone. He looks at her one last time, then shifts his weight to the opposite side. He tried calming the horses, but they were frenzy, drawing the eyes of so many witnesses. He squeezed the reins until color left his knuckles and yanked them sharply into a smaller alley. Behind us, Bluecoat whistles swarmed the streets.
Our Stress is 7 out of 9, and our harm table is full. If so much as a cat sneezes at us…
Quickly, we go into another Flashback to uncover where the safe house is. A scoundrel of his caliber would surely have it ready. He makes a couple of turns, and after several minutes, Girthy Esme is covered by cardboard in a ramshackle hut. Safe and asleep, one of her four “legs” busted the same as Gunner’s. He’ll return later when the heat subsides.
• • •
Gunner ditched his clothes, took rags from the trash, and went to a busier street, limping. The air was thick, and the dusk painted the sky a somber gray. The shattered pieces of the sun sparkled like diamond shards. The kids’ story says it’s the ultimate prize for a brave criminal. He hooded up and blended with the crowd, but then it dawned on me. I haven’t paid for the flashback and we are at seven out of nine.
“It makes sense”, I mutter, and fill the bar to the fullest.
Another trauma came Gunner’s way, slowly and in increments. Every few steps, he would turn, assured that Dee was approaching him. He was startled by a man in a navy blue coat, and his heart pounded ready to fight the “copper”. He thought of Maxime and concluded that she was behind Dee’s sabotage. Then he changed his mind and persuaded himself that Maxime had forgotten him. Then he jumped when he saw his reflection. The leg finally gave when the makeshift splint shattered, and Gunner collapsed near a shop. He was twitching, frantically looking left and right, forcing his mind to stay conscious. With a heavy heart, I circle the second trauma—Paranoid.
Hours go by, and rain starts. A well-dressed couple rushes past Gunner’s sprawled silhouette. A few minutes later, they return. The man is holding an umbrella for his wife, who struggles to keep her dress off the puddles. She’s rummaging through her purse.
“Honey, please, it’s pouring!” the man complained.
The woman ignored him until she produced a golden coin and placed it in Gunner’s unconscious hand.
“C’mon, we cannot help him”, the man says, and they leave.
The street is busy with people seeking cover—coin-tossers and beggars alike. It’s marvelous to observe them trying to avoid each other, unaware they run in a similar fashion: hands over heads, necks tucked in, steps light on the toes.
The only difference is the elegance.