Part I here.
After the climactic chase, Gunner finds himself on the street, the valuable carriage stashed away. Paranoid and beaten, he cannot decide which hurts the most—his wounds or the fact that his daughter tried to stab him. He must seek aid and cash in the heist, but another surprise awaits.
Downtime, skydock, and best friends
Gunner has dragged himself to his physicker, paid coin, and fallen in and out of restless dreams for a day and a half. In them, he relived his favorite scores, made his most complicated rifles, and spent endless nights with Maxime. The doctor, a man of skill and no questions has sutured his leg, encased it with a strong splint, and then slapped Gunner awake. The only time a scoundrel can truly rest is during a patch-up, and it’s always too short. I reduced our injuries by one level and tapped the sheet as a gesture of good luck. Gunner doesn’t know it yet, but we’ll need it.
• • •
“So why are you bringing me all this exactly?” Mr. Sallivan, our contractor, asked through a thick cloud of smoke, looking at the crates that ruined his office. He leveled his square glasses and adjusted his silk bow tie.
“Don’t play naive with me, hound. I vouched for you so you could deliver me the mask. Obviously, it’s not here.”
“Obviously, the carriage was a decoy,” Gunner said, relaxing his throat. “The artifact wasn’t there.” He threw the fake Mask of a Thousand Faces onto the table—a useless yet pretty prop.
“I’m bringing the contents of the carriage,” he continued, spreading his arms, “as a gesture of goodwill and collateral for gold.”
“Is that so?” Mr. Sallivan raised his eyebrow.
“That so. I need it to continue the heist.”
The contractor stood up, straightened his vest, put out the cigar, and combed his hair. He made Gunner wait, taking slow, deliberate actions before he threw a coin purse onto the table. Rubbing our injured leg, Gunner grabbed the purse, nodded, and exited.
“Don’t make me go back on my words, scoundrel.”
The most valuable thing for a heist fixer is a job well done.
• • •
For the next several days, Gunner did the following: he drank himself to sleep; he spent a whole day in a museum; he thought of Dee and sought answers at a shooting range; he paid for information about the mask’s whereabouts; and he bought a bomb. Not necessarily in that order. Our shabby flat was raided, Mrs. Perkins had problems with young neighbors until Gunner knocked on their doors, and the weather was humid. It was a typical Downtime in Doskvol.
We gather information, Gunner and I. He was sneaking around the skydock in the pouring rain, and I was writing down notes. The Imperial Transporter, a highly secured airship that docks every eighth day for one hour only, will make its refueling break tomorrow at dawn. It will host an unwelcome party of three different gangs, seven proven thieves, and a plethora of nosy dock workers—so says the Underworld. It is also home to the fabled mask, worth twelve coins to the right buyer. It’s worth a new life if you assassinate the right person and take their face.
• • •
We greet the dawn, limping our way to the two-hundred-meter-high tower. The airships soared in and out like giant bumblebees, bringing goods from all around the world. Workers rushed around, delivering crates to the warehouses. The elevator takes us to the very top, and Gunner puffs his cigar. A long cordon of Imperial soldiers and Bluecoats stood firm, their backs against tall bars. Behind them, the Imperial Transporter just docked, its spark engine shut, the levitation crystal dimmed and depleted, its hull resting on two steel supporters.
I wasn’t feeling this, to be honest. I knew about the decoy and the fact that we would end up here—I wrote this heist. But once present, with no support other than our guns, it was scary. This grumpy yet oddly caring criminal grew on me; his story, past, desires, and distorted justice were etched in my mind. I wanted him to find solace, peace, and serenity if such things could be found in Doskvol.
And if not, why stay? Why not finish this job, go deep into the Deathlands, and settle on a homestead? Hunt the besties, distill their essence, sell them, and live comfortably in silence, away from this noise. After all, he would exit this lifestyle with his head on his shoulders, which is more than the majority of scoundrels can brag about. I think it’s the ultimate conquest: silencing the ego and abandoning the game that is stacked against us. It would be poetic. He’d retire and become a famous scoundrel who got away, a lovable NPC, a quest-giver for all my future campaigns.
But I wasn’t alone, and he still had things to prove.
So I rolled our Engagement dice, and they showed a 3. This immediately threw us in a Desperate Position, with security tightening up as you read.
With so many eyes on the prize, it’s impossible for the Underground to hide their intentions, and the military is prepared.
I look at the character sheet and see our Reckless trauma. And when I searched for Gunner among the myriad of people, I caught up to him just as he was approaching the checkpoint with the Heavy Loadout. A scene from The Matrix comes to mind, one where Neo and Trinity enter the building with bags of weapons. But Gunner cannot stop bullets with his hands, and I must stay true to the consequences; it’s the first promise I made before embarking on this journey.
I close my eyes and we enter a Flashback.
The night before, while he was surveying the location, Gunner discovered a fallacy in the nearby transformer. Its wires pulled power from the core of the Skydock, which he could access at lower levels. He purchased a small overcharge ball, a sabotaging gadget. He wound it up at the desired time and stuck it onto the exposed wires.
For this, I paid one reputation, which we garnered on Shade Street, and rolled Prowl, which gave us a 6.
The dice are with us, and as he approaches the gate, a loud, sizzling noise bursts out of the transformer, and ZAP!
The transformer electrocutes everyone within a ten-meter radius in a cloud of blue light. The bells ring, the technicians come running, and the Bluecoats try to contain the panic with their batons.
We slip effortlessly through the gate and leave the chaos behind.
• • •
“Please state your command,” the small, rusty automaton says through its speakers. It was waist-high and rusty, with two long arms reaching its triple wheels.
“You will,” Gunner mutters, his arms deep into the automaton’s chest, “deliver this backpack—”
He finds the wire and takes the cutter from his mouth.
“—to the captains’ quarters!”
We were tinkering for a while after a failed attempt to approach the famous Skyworthy Club. Imperial soldiers had their hands on rifles, ready to fill anyone with lead if they so much looked at the quarters. All of the airship pilots gathered there to share a drink and a chat before sailing out again. We got caught sneaking, and Gunner failed to deceive the guards. They didn’t believe we were looking for the loo, and I paid two Stress and a Devil’s Bargain for that roll. It failed, and the Suspicion Clock started ticking.
So here I was, hiding behind the crates, controlling Gunner not to smack the machine into obedience. I Push him and take another bargain—the automaton will cause trouble after it’s finished with the task. But until then, I steady his tinkering tools; this is no place for a tremor or a droplet of sweat.
“Easy, easy,” he mutters, ready to cut.
Dice clack and I get three 3s. This would be perfect if we were playing Rat’s Gambit, but instead, this combo further exposed us to the guards. How? By turning our automaton into a lunatic breakdancer.
“Sir, you are touching me inappropriately,” the automaton said calmly before two blades appeared from its forearms. The wheels squeak, and the knives start swirling in a lethal flourish, chopping barrels, crates, and ropes with ease.
“What the h—?” Gunner started before the blade cut the tip of his chin.
“Please stand by for neutering,” the automaton announced.
Gunner’s eyes widen, and he dashes to the side as I roll Finesse and try to dodge the menace. To his protest, I forgo any additional dice, but it’s all fine because we land a critical. Two 6s. With a military-grade swoop, Gunner ducks behind, rolls over the automaton, and jams his hand into its chest.
“You heartless little—” he yanks the wires, shutting it down. We quickly change our position, blend with the crowd, and observe.
• • •
The whole point of us reaching the captains’ quarters, the Sky Club, is to cut off the head of the snake. Without the captain barking orders, the Imperial Transporter would be crippled, we thought. This proved to be difficult, as we had the guards alerted, and two failed distractions weren’t thinning them. And when in doubt, light one up.
You let the smoke clear your mind and stare into the crowd behind a small warehouse. Everything I thought of, Gunner deemed stupid, and his every idea was too risky for me. After some banter that yielded no results, Gunner pulls out his necklace and does something he swore he’d do only in an emergency: he rings a little bell on it.
A few minutes later, a cat approaches us. He’s old and gray, with black stripes over his back and arthritis in his joints. He comes and greets Gunner, and he pets him. They wear the same expression of grumpy males who are fed up with the world but still refuse to surrender.
“I see you are still a sucker for scratches,” Gunner says, reaching behind the cat’s ears. The collar says, “Mr. Pawsy, Gunner’s little furball.”
“Oh yes, yes you are; no point in lyin’.”
Every criminal rifleman, or hound, as people call them, has a pet. A best friend who helps them steal and cut.
The legend began when the famous hound Georgio used his dog as a partner in crime, climbing to the very top of the hierarchy. After that, the belief rooted itself in the Underworld: when the hound completes their first score, an animal finds them. Sometimes, they’ll stumble upon each other during the heist; other times, they’ll help each other in need; but most of the time, the animals await them at the front doors, as if sent by the lord.
Gunner bought Pawsy from a street vendor because he was tired of superstition. He was four heists in, and still, there wasn’t even a mouse in his flat. So he broke the bad omen and gave the furball a home. He rarely involved him in the business; he was much happier letting him stare through the windows and chase pigeons.
“You’ve got to do me a solid one, little fella,” Gunner says, lowering his cigar. Mr. Pawsy licks its cap and meows. “You know I bring you only when I need you, but still, you follow me around even when I forbid you.” He crouches and secures a small backpack on the cat’s back, kisses him on the head, and points toward the Skyworthy Club.
“Be light on the step, use the gutters, and go near the building. Wiggle out and then pull the string, okay?” Gunner said, slowly annunciating every word. He gently tugged the string that hung beneath Mr. Pawsy.
“There’ll be plenty of fish, Pawsy, after we finish this. Go on now, just as we practiced,” he ushered him, and the cat sprang into action.
• • •
If the government weren’t one-sided, the populace wouldn’t need to steal.
If we didn’t have best friends, the skies would rain a lot more.
If guards weren’t busy oppressing because they were told, they would find themselves under their batons.
If the world went silent for just a moment, it would hear a rhythmical ticking sound coming from the backpack strapped onto a cat.