Six Hours to Midnight Actual Play

image from ArtBreeder

filed under actual play on 14 Dec 2016
tagged 6 hours to midnight, narrative, sawyer, and rpglet

An experimental playthrough of my oracle game, 6 Hours to Midnight.

As is the case almost always, the names are randomly generated – I ended up picking more of the “real” ones that slipped through than usual because it just seemed to fit.

Content is also generated on the spot as it occurred to me, also as usual – play to find out! – except the epilogue which I thought a bit about and wrote up today.

I did edit a bit more heavily than usual (which is still very little), mostly to remove duplicate phrasing and correct some dialogue, which is always hard to write on the fly.

Mechanics evolved a bit in play, but overall I’m pretty happy with them (and the game itself).

This is a long one, about three times the length of my usual “session”, but I couldn’t think of a good way to break it up since it’s already divided into “hours”.

The adventure begins...

First, character generation. Pretty straightforward.

Roll four d6s or choose one option from each line that seems most interesting.

Rolling 4d6 1 times.
[ 2 3 6 1 ] 12

I am called Feckless, but I am Creative. My flaw is to be Maladroit, and I am wearing someone else's mask.

Is that Lord or Lady Feckless?

[Gender Appearance] male

My goal, hmmm. I'll roll a d6 to see.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 5 ] 5

My goal involves scandal; for now, it is to avoid scandal, to prove to my father the Duke that I am not a disappointment.

Let's set the initial scene.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 3 ] 3

Interesting; a secret room, filled with arcane machinery, rumbling and dangerous. Is that arcane as in "esoteric" or "magic"?

I think that's plenty to go on; let's see what event happens this hour.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6

Someone requests a dance, eh?

Oh, before I forget, what mask am I wearing?

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 1 ] 1

The sleek bronze serpent it is.

[New Actor] Lord Feckless, the Creative and Maladroit son of a Duke who wants to prove to his father he is worthy despite not being a warrior.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6

So, he's vowed to avoid scandal from this point forward, which implies past scandal, yet he still ends up right away in a secret room filled with arcane machinery, rumbling and dangerous. And he's not alone, because it is six hours to midnight.

Creative, Feckless, and Maladroit; clumsy and enthusiastic and not subtle at all, and at a masquerade ball with people who are dangerous.

I love this kid, even though he's not my usual hero. I hope he lives. Or at least has a good time.

Goal, impress her with that creativity and enthusiasm, complication, she's here to lure him into trouble, complication, does it malfunction? if not, it's completely broken.

And I get a progress die for placing myself in a lover's power, so I'll roll 4d6.

Rolling 4d6 1 times.
[ 6 6 1 2 ] 15

So I have a few options. Two clear successes, two clear failures. I can move one die to my reserve for the end game, and higher is better there. But if I move a success that leaves me two failures, and I'm pretty sure I don't want whatever this machinery is to break.

So I'll succeed at the goal, succeed at only causing a malfunction, fail at not getting into trouble, and move the 2 to my reserve.

hour one

The feathers on her peacock mask, as blue as the gems, tickle my nose and I sneeze most ungracefully. She laughs in a satisfied, indulgent way, and I can't help but grin, even as I idly wonder her name.

We're not supposed to be in here, in the cogs-room that powers the sky-castle, and we're most definitely not supposed to do what we just did on top of one of the rumbling, twisting cogs.

A passing thought of my vow, hardly an hour old, to avoid scandal henceforth, is quickly banished by her inquisitive hands. "What kind of man do you think I am?" I say, in mock reluctance, and she laughs.

"The kind who rises to the occasion," she says, and I can see the smirk on her lips as her hands quest lower. I am nothing if not obliging --

It's sort of like dancing.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2

Oh! She's the Rival!

So she gets a reserve die for advancing her own goals.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 1 ] 1

Good, low is better in this case.

My gut feeling is she's not the Lover, though. I'll keep playing to find out, but for now I'll treat her just as the Rival.

So the trouble she's going to get him into is for breaking some of the cog machinery; he's a scapegoat. Probably to be murdered and thrown overboard or something. But let's not get too far ahead.

My goal is to notice that the machinery seems to be malfunctioning. The complication is that she's doing her best not to have me notice and I might not care even if I do notice. Complication: do you know anything about it? If not, your Rival taunts you.

I need to clarify that the Rival only gets their once per hour reserve die at the end of the hour, because otherwise there's not time to thwart them! In this case I don't think it matters too much.

Also, since he's placed himself in her power, and she's the Rival, she gets to hurt him. I will think about that.

This will definitely hinder the Rival, if he's paying attention, requiring her to act more quickly. So that's one progress die.

Going to add "someone who is present"; a guard, I think.

So that gives me 5 dice to roll, and potentially 2 dice to my reserve.

I should also point out that I'm moving pretty slowly here, calling for more rolls than I personally would usually use. My usual feeling is, go for the fiction, and only roll when you need to know what happens next.

Rolling 5d6 1 times.
[ 6 3 3 3 5 ] 20

So that's a partial success (a 3) for noticing the malfunctioning, and a success on averting being too distracted to care (5), and a failure on knowing anything about it, and thus getting taunted.

Which leaves me a 6 and a 3 to move to my reserve.

Something impinges on my awareness, a change in the tenor of the machinery rumbling and whirling around us, and even occupied as I am I can tell there's something not quite right.

I pick my head up, listening hard. As the son of a Duke, I've spent more than my fair share of time in sky-carriages, and while this is certainly a much larger machine, the principle is the same.

She twines her fingers in my hair, pulling my head back down, and I resist, trying to identify the sound that alarmed me.

"Darling," she drawls, a bit exasperated. "You really should keep your mind on the things you're good at."

She laughs at my expression, or what she can see of it around the mask. "Oh, don't look so wounded," she says coaxingly, "You know you're great fun."

It suddenly occurs to me that she thinks I'm a complete fool. Is she right? I wonder, as I disentangle and back away.

"I have to go tell someone there's something wrong with the engine," I say stiffly, feeling frustrated and angry with myself. My father is going to be absolutely furious. "If you'll excuse me." I manage a half bow.

That's pretty well-taunted.

[New Actor] The Rival, voluptuous, experienced, jaded, tricky. The peacock mask.

"No," she says coldly, and so quick I almost don't follow a dagger's in her hand and then winging towards my face.

A silvery mage shield appears between us at the last moment, the dagger slowing to a stop inches from my left eye, then clattering to the ground.

"You're under arrest for sabotage," a steely female voice says. She's armed, and wearing the black and gold of a Kingsguard and a black and gold half-mask in honor of the occasion. Her eyes are narrowed and she's ignoring me entirely.

Which suits me just fine.

"Don't even think about moving," she hisses at me, and I'm impressed at her ability to convey cold disdain and absolute command with only five words.

Fortunately, I've had plenty of experience with both of those in the person of my father, the Duke. I start casting around for an exit.

"Not this time, lackey," the woman in the peacock mask says gleefully. She snaps her fingers. The lines her nails drew earlier on my skin burn like fire as they turn a poisonous black and I gasp, my eyes going wide.

"Chase me or save the pawn -- if you can," she says mockingly, and then she's running.

The guard starts after her, and then glances at me and curses.

So that's how she hurt him when he was in her power; some sort of magically activated poison? Or something worse.

Ok, goal is to be healed, danger is that it will get worse, complication is "does something physical happen between you? if not, something emotional does."

Going to invoke sheer dumb luck on this one.

Rolling 4d6 1 times.
[ 3 3 2 3 ] 11

That's not good. Moving the 2 to my reserve. Partial success on goal. Failure on complications.

She unbuttons my shirt, pushing it off my shoulders, her fingers tracing this black lines on my skin. Wherever her fingers move, I feel better, then worse as they move on.

She scowls, her fingertips drifting lower. "Is there anywhere she didn't touch you?" she mutters, and I manage a half smirk even though my teeth are starting to chatter.

The vibration of the cogs gives me a severe headache, and the light hurts my eyes, so I close them. I don't remember lying down, but I am. And there's a Kingsguard crouched over me with her hands in a very scandalous location.

"This might be worth dying for," I say faintly. The pain seems to be ebbing. If I can just rest for a bit I know I'll wake up feeling better.

She gives me an exasperated look. "You are incorrigible, you know that?"

I nod, my eyes drifting closed again. "So I've been told," I murmur, and she slaps me. I open my eyes to give her a sour look, and she does it again.

"Stop," I say, grabbing her hand before she can hit me again. It's surprisingly soft, with a callus across the palm and fingertips from swordplay.

Her face is very close to mine now. Her eyes are the color of steel and they lock on mine. "You must focus, must want to live as hard as you can," she says intently. "If not--" She hesitates, then says firmly. "You must."

Roll: goal is to be healed, complication/danger is that she'll be poisoned too, and chosen complication is "does control slip a bit? if not, it goes completely out of control".

I've already used up my progress related dice for this hour so I'll invoke an injury or condition.

Rolling 4d6 1 times.
[ 5 3 3 2 ] 13

So that's a 3 for the reserve, one success, two failures, or one partial success, one aversion, one complication.

And a quick test to make sure roll is updated properly since I found a small bug. All set.

Going to do a partial success; he's healed up enough to move to the next hour, she's not poisoned, and whatever's between them goes totally out of control.

We're engulfed in silver. I can feel the magic drawing the poison out, and for an instant I'm relieved, and then she sinks against me as dark lines trace across her skin.

I'm no mageborn, but I'll be damned if I'll let her die for me.

I flounder clumsily in the silver eddying around us, trying to reverse it, and she scowls at me and pulls harder. We wrestle for a moment, and suddenly I am in two places at once -- myself, staring at her, and also staring back at myself, impatience all tangled up with duty and desire and frustration -- and then with a snap I'm just me again, and the lines are fading from her skin.

I'm going to discard a die to reduce her number by 1.

I sit up, feeling wrung out, but better. The lines are gone from my own skin but somehow I can still feel them, just underneath. "What did I just do--" I ask, and I know she doesn't know, and I don't know how I know that.

She shakes her head, and climbs to her feet, and pulls me to mine. "Get dressed," she says, her voice clipped. "You have some questions to answer."

hour two

It's very interesting, treating sex with the same weight as combat. I've made some slight tweaks to the rules and we'll see how things go.

First, let's roll up a location and an hour event.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 4 ] 4

A discreet drawing room nearby, the sounds of music and voices tantalizingly close. A missing Guest of Honor.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 1 ] 1

And someone reveals a secret!

Oh, and I need to work in the idea of "someone else's mask" too. I think I have an idea.

Going to restore my sheer dumb luck Invocation, too. I think he's going to need it.

"And I told you, I don't know," I say, my patience finally snapping. She's frog-marched me into a drawing room off the ballroom and spent the last half hour grilling me about the particulars of the event. In exhaustive and, frankly, embarrassing detail.

There wasn't much I could say, and what I could, I have said four different ways already. I am feeling dirty and frustrated and ill-used. And a little petty.

"If you're going to arrest me, do it, or my father will--" I say, drawing myself up, and a harried-looking Kingsguard wearing the uniform of a senior officer bursts in. He's not masked; we both turn to look at him.

His expression is confused when he sees me. "What are you doing out of bed?" he asks.

She's just as confused as I am, I can tell with our connection, but her face is expressionless. "What?"

"The Prince was ill," he says, perplexed, and I laugh. I can't help it.

We are of a height and similar build, and we both have the royal reddish black hair, but my cousin Octavius is far more imposing and forceful than I am. He's also an ass, and that's when he's getting his own way.

When he's been crossed or thinks he's been slighted, he's downright terrible.

Then I remember I'm wearing a mask and that my amusement is unwarranted -- and at someone else's expense. "My apologies," I say, with a formal bow, and his eyes bug out.

She's staring at me with a calculating look on her face. And I feel a sudden sense of alarm. "Oh, absolutely not," I say firmly and her eyes are like ice.

"Or I can arrest you for seven different high crimes, the least of which is fornicating on a skycog, and we can see what your father thinks of that as I march you, unmasked and manacled, out through the ballroom."

Which is why I now find myself seated in the Crown Prince's seat at the banquet, wearing his best formal garb in black and copper, hiding my extreme discomfort behind a mask of copper and gold shaped like a fox.

And with two Kingsguard, one of them my blackmailer, directly behind me, I'm not going to get the chance to bolt any time soon. How does Octavius put up with this? I wonder. The terror that I might make a mistake is warring with boredom as the dignitary next to me blathers on about trade possibilities and stock prices.

I can feel her icy stare on the back of my neck and I know when she turns her gaze to the rest of the room. How long is that connection going to persist? I resist the urge to scratch the side of my neck, feeling again the black lines under my skin.

They're using me as bait, hoping whoever it is that's trying to stir up trouble will make a second attempt on the Prince and they can capture them then. It seems like a terrible plan to me.

At least I don't have to worry about poison at dinner with the standard formal detection plates -- just knocking my wine glass over or insulting a dignitary.

Octavius, of course, is legendarily graceful, a swordsman without parallel, and ruthlessly polite to boot.

I've been instructed to speak as little as possible and glare imperiously as frequently as I can. I've spent enough dinners being bullied by my cousin to mimic him pretty well.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 5 ] 5

Not the hour event, but related to it. A discreet assignation.

[New Actor] The Lover, Caelia, Kingsguard, mageborn, warrior

I get a die for at least trying to avert scandal.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 5 ] 5

I should roll a d6 and see what the Rival's up to, but I think I'll wait a bit on it.

Afterwards, I have to suffer through an endless receiving line of masked, glittering people. I do so many precisely formal bows of just the right depth to convey my superior status that I start to get dizzy.

I get through it by doing my best impression of my father -- cold, distant, and disdainful -- and it seems to be pretty convincing. The sword at my hip is much heavier than the dress sword I would normally wear to such an event and my feet hurt in Octavius' fashionable leather boots, which to my secret satisfaction are half a size too small.

When the line finally ends, the two Kingsguards usher me over to a comfortably appointed side room, and then take up position outside it. "Stay in character," Caelia, the Kingsguard, orders under her breath before drawing the curtain. I resist the urge to salute. Standing stiffly at attention doesn't seem very in character but neither does collapsing on the settee.

For perhaps the thousandth time tonight I thank my lucky stars I only have to be Prince for an evening, and then I can go back to being a constant disappointment to my father in quiet obscurity on our country estate.

This thought has barely crossed my mind when a girl in a silver butterfly mask slips in, her movements furtive. I open my mouth, to say what I don't know, and she throws herself in my arms for a passionate kiss.

Let's see, now seems like a good time for a roll. How about, roll to see if I can disentangle myself gracefully, the danger is tipping her off to my true identity, and, hmm, do you hurt them? If not they hurt you.

No invokes on this one, I think.

Rolling 3d6 1 times.
[ 5 6 6 ] 17

Ha, nice. That's three full successes. I'm going to swap one of the 6s to my reserve in exchange for a 2. I disentangle gracefully, I don't tip her off that I'm not the Prince, and she hurts me in some way.

For a moment I enthusiastically reciprocate, and then the gears in my brain catch up to the rest of me and I push her away reflexively.

She stares at me, eyes narrowing, and then she knees me very hard. I'm not expecting it and double over, gasping. "I knew you'd taken another lover, you swine," she spits out as the Kingsguard burst in.

They take in the scene and Caelia, at least, is laughing behind her impassive expression. I glare at her even as her companion discreetly hustles the woman out.

This time I do collapse on the settee. The Kingsguard cocks her head and gives me an odd look. "Why didn't you just do what your cousin would have?" she asks.

I raise my head and scowl at her again.

"I'll pretend you didn't just imply I would take a lover with deceit," I say stiffly, and she gives me a second look that I can't interpret.

That's good for an "impress" I think, which means her regard improves. I'm going to drop the requirement to spend from the reserve but also make it possible to worsen the number too.

"You're not very good at this," she says, and I bristle, then my shoulders slump in defeat. It doesn't matter what "this" is, she's probably right.

"I meant that as a compliment," she says, and it's my turn to give her a sideways look.

"I am a very good painter," I say suddenly, shyly. "I sculpt, too." It sounds conceited the moment I say it, but my work has been shown in the finest galleries -- under someone else's name, of course. My father would not approve.

I don't even know why I've shared this secret with her, and I feel suddenly very vulnerable. "And I'm a superior rider, as well," I say with a smirk, and she rolls her eyes.

"Just a very bad judge of which mare to ride," she says tartly, and I acknowledge the cut with a flick of my wrist and a rueful grin.

Let's see what the Rival's up to. roll 1d6

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 4 ] 4

It's "learn something of use". Well, it's unopposed, so I'll grant the reserve die.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6

Hmm, not sure where to go from here. Should the scene end with a bang, or just end?

Still four hours until midnight; I think I'll move time along.

hour three

Ok, setting, event, and frame.

Rolling 1d6 3 times.
[ 2 ] 2
[ 1 ] 1
[ 4 ] 4

The garden maze, perfume and low voices wafting over the hedge. Many-layered masks. Someone takes liberties.

Caelia instructs me to wait a bit, then take a stroll in the garden, and I'm happy to oblige. The night air is cool, and it is three hours to midnight. The skycastle has been raised high in honor of the Prince's birthday, and the city below glitters like a second starry sky.

She trails along discreetly, and then formally takes her leave as I enter the maze. I'm not sure about this, but I remember the dagger earlier and have faith she'll be close enough to jump in should anything happen.

Let's see what the Rival will do, since this is a likely moment to strike. First I'll roll, and if necessary I'll choose.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 5 ] 5

Oh, interesting, reveal an ally or asset, already in place.

And there's always the junior guardsman, who remains firmly by my side. He doesn't seem too friendly but he does look like he knows how to use the sword at his hip.

Hey, guess who the Rival's hidden ally is?

I wander aimlessly through the maze, finding my way more through blind luck than skill or ambition -- which just might be the story of my life, now that I think of it -- and eventually find myself at the heart, where a bench awaits lovers or the contemplative.

There's a woman there, draped across the bench carelessly, her bright blue peacock mask's gems winking in the moonlight, and I freeze. "Octavius, darling," she croons, and I feel the point of a sword in my back. "It's so nice you were feeling well enough to attend the festivities."

The traitorous guard nudges me forward, and tells me to unfasten and drop the sword belt, which I do, slowly, to cover my awkwardness. If she realizes who I am, she will likely have me killed out of hand.

I do my best to stare daggers at her, but it is really not my strong suit.

She trails her fingers in the water of the gazing pool, smiling as her reflection twists and distorts. "It will be just perfect when the castle falls, killing you at your own birthday party," she says, climbing off the bench with the grace I noticed earlier.

She's smiling like we're talking about the weather, not killing hundreds of people above and below the castle. "You're mad," I burst out, and she laughs again. I feel sick that we shared intimacy earlier.

"Mad?" she says, stopping very close to me. I don't want her to touch me again but she does anyway, running her fingernails along my jaw. "I assure you, I am absolutely furious," she says, and her voice drops into a near hiss as she digs her nails into my throat.

I don't think I want to know what Octavius did to her, but I think I'm about to be punished for it. She steps back and gestures for the guard, who forces me over to the bench.

"If he resists, cut him," she instructs, and I struggle to keep my face impassive as the traitor draws a dagger. I still have faith Caelia will intervene.

"All this, because..." I start to say, hoping to get her talking, then make a strangled sound as she drops into my lap, her mouth hungry on mine. Earlier she'd been flirty and engaging; now she's vengeful. Her nails dig into my skin and her teeth sink into my lower lip.

Goal: get the exposition going, complication: you hurt them, if not, they hurt you, and complication: she figures out "Octavius" doesn't know who she is.

Well, this counts as "protect my secret", which is "I'm not the Crown Prince".

Rolling 4d6 1 times.
[ 5 1 1 3 ] 10

Oh, good grief.

So definitely putting a partial, the 3, towards the goal. Too risky not to put the success towards keeping her from realizing "Octavius" doesn't know who she is. Which leaves a complete failure on "hurt" and to the reserve.

I don't even care what they'll do to me; I jump up, dumping her right off my lap onto the ground. The guard swings and I throw up an arm to block; the blade opens my arm from wrist to elbow and I yelp even as I take a step back.

She's laughing, wildly, like this is the most amusing thing ever, and I glare at her, my back to the reflecting pool, with nowhere to run. And then she stops laughing, and it's worse.

"Because you forced yourself on a peasant girl who had no way to defend herself," she says, her eyes glittering, "But unfortunately for you and everyone you know she has a mageborn sister who does."

She snaps her fingers, and her nails are very long and red, and they're outlined in the same black poison that almost killed me earlier.

I feel sick again. Octavius is a bully, but he wouldn't -- even as I deny it I know he would, if he thought he could get away with it, and he would always be able to. Who would believe she wouldn't be flattered at his attentions?

"So I'm going to kill you and all those fools who suffer you," she continues, almost reasonably, "And that will be some measure of repayment for what you took." She shakes her head in the moonlight, and her hair gleams, and her eyes are utterly mad.

So now I know why, but I don't know how or where or when.

Or, you know, how I'm going to get out of this one alive.

"You can't do this," I say bluntly, and she laughs again.

"Yes, darling, I can," she says, "I'm going to be rich, and you're going to suffer, and then you're going to be dead."

"Bring him," she says to the guard, "And don't spill too much more of his blood. We'll need it to stop the skycogs."

Unfortunately, being part of the royal family and very closely related means our hero's blood is probably good enough for whatever nefarious purposes.

I'm going to roll to see if I can stall them until Caelia intervenes; if I fail, I'll end the hour and move to four, somewhere else. Complication: they knock me out for transport. Complication: do you hurt them? If not, they hurt you.

I'm going to say being creative will help in this situation, so I'll get to reroll on die and take the highest.

Oh, and the ally was revealed, so a die to the Rival.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2

I'm going to get a die for "help the Lover" too. Which is my last progress die this hour.

Rolling 4d6 1 times.
[ 5 6 1 1 ] 13

Rerolling the 1.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 3 ] 3

Still a failure, but at least not a 1.

Going to put the 6 into the reserve, the success to stalling, and the failures to getting hurt and getting knocked out.

He draws his sword and advances towards me. I cast around for some escape, but the pool is wide and deep and surrounded by hedge.

To his left, a silver sphere erupts into being, as silent and radiant as a star. I have just a moment to puzzle about it before it explodes in a soundless shower of light and I'm sent flying, back into the pool and darkness.

hour four

Rolling 1d6 3 times.
[ 2 ] 2
[ 1 ] 1
[ 4 ] 4

Hour 2 was 241. Hour 3 was 214. Hour 4 is 214. What a weird anomaly.

Well, that means back to the drawing room, for setting, and many-layered masks, and "someone knows you" is the event. Since it's a repeat room, I'll pick something similar in theme but different enough to be interesting.

Awareness returns very slowly. My arm hurts, and my head hurts, and I feel queasy. I sit up. I'm still wearing the Prince's finest, but my jacket is gone and I'm in my shirtsleeves. And I'm lying on a pile of table linens. My arm's been bandaged, expertly, with what looks like one of them.

Going to add "knowledge of the Rival's plan" to my list of Invocations.

So, what happened? Caelia rescued him, more or less.

The Kingsguard, Caelia, is sitting on a crate a few feet away, her head back against the wall and her eyes closed. We're in what looks like a disused cellar. It's dusty and cold and there are crates everywhere.

"What happened?" I ask, wincing, and she opens her eyes to look at me.

"I used standard extrication methods," she says, sounding listless. "I dropped a magebomb."

"You set a bomb off, knowing I was right there?" I say, incredulous, and she just looks at me.

I'm stung and angry and I'm on my feet before I know it, right in her face, not even caring that she's armed and mageborn. "You could have killed me," I say, and still, she just looks at me.

"Your cousin would have ducked," she says, like it's somehow my fault I wasn't quick enough not to get hit.

I've never done violence to a woman before, but I am sorely tempted. "You're lucky I'm not my cousin," I say through gritted teeth, breathing hard, and she closes her eyes again.

"You are nothing like him," she says, in a very final way, and I can't tell what she means by it. That I'm not as strong as he is, or as bold, or as determined? As much of an ass?

I want-- I don't even know. Not to be careless, irresponsible me, for certain. Not to feel ill-used and vulnerable and foolish. To not know what I now know about my cousin, and will have to face, sooner or later.

I'm so angry and keyed up and hurt I can't see straight, and for lack of anything else to do I kiss her, bruisingly hard.

Do I think she's going to reciprocate, hmmm.

Well, she is the Lover, and she is resisting -- she's sworn to a duty, and she's just discovered her duty is to someone she can't respect, and that there's corruption in the Kingsguard. And she has no idea who to turn to or who she can trust. But she has to know she can trust him, because he's obviously a pawn.

Ok, goal is sex. Complication, something physical happens between you, if not, something emotional does. Compllcation, the machinery that powers the skycastle is partially ruined. They do have a blade soaked with his blood, after all.

Going to add a die for someone who is present and a die for taking the Lover.

Rolling 5d6 1 times.
[ 2 1 5 3 5 ] 16

He's pretty clumsy, so I'd normally need to reroll one die and take the worst but since it's already a one I won't bother.

I'm going to go bold and put both successes into the reserve. The partial success (3) into the goal, the failure (2) into accepting emotions into it, and the failure (1) into the castle being disabled.

For a moment I don't think she's going to respond and then she does, hungrily, her hands in my hair as she pushes me back down to the floor. I reach up to pull the fox mask off and she catches my hand, stopping me, and slides it up under her shirt instead. I am nothing if not obliging--

She's part of Octavius' personal guard. My thought is she's been sleeping with him, accepting his philandering but not knowing he's a very bad person, and now that she's discovered it she's lost and confused and our hero is an awful lot like a gentler, kinder version of his cousin...

That's terrible. I love it. Nicely fills the "partial success" niche too.

There's nothing in the rules that says the Lover has to love you back.

Damn, if he survives this is he going to be a lot wiser and a lot sadder.

I'm shaking, after, and she raises her head from my chest to give me a curious look. Her hair is curled with sweat and her mask is askew and she's beautiful and dangerous, and I am in love.

"You're very young, aren't you?" she says, and I laugh, catching her hand and kissing each finger in turn, then the palm.

"Is that a request for another--" I start to ask, and I feel a sudden wrench, deep inside, as if machinery I didn't even know was running suddenly stopped. The whole castle freezes for a moment and then lurches to one side.

We slide along the floor into the wall, and I have the wind knocked out of me. The machinery starts again, more slowly this time, with a faltering gait.

Her eyes are wide with alarm. "It's not possible, they don't have royal blood--" Her eyes fall on my arm, bandaged, and she curses.

Oh, the Rival gets a die, too.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 5 ] 5

"We have to stop them before they drop the castle," she says, pulling me to my feet, and we gather our things. "I wasn't sure who I could trust," she tells me tersely. "I thought if I kept you out of harm's way, just until I figured it out..." Her voice trails off, and she curses again, using a term I've never even heard before.

I run after her as she sprints up, towards the ballroom, and we burst into the room. People are huddled in small groups, and I can tell they're only moments from panic. There's a scattering of gasps and a flurry of bows, and for a moment I'm confused and then I realize I'm still wearing Octavius' mask.

As the son of a Duke, the brother of the former king, I should be accorded nearly the same respect, but everyone knows my father thinks little of me and I am generally disregarded. Which usually suits me fine.

"There has been an accident," I say calmly and coolly, with what I hope is Octavius' usual imperious manner. "The party is over. You may leave. Now."

Goal is to get people to leave. Complication; there's panic. Complication; do you know something about it? If not, someone taunts you.

Going to add a die for moving towards the goal, my last progress die of the hour.

And I'm going to invoke a past experience that has bearing, his recent experience playing at being Prince.

Rolling 5d6 1 times.
[ 2 4 3 3 5 ] 17

So, success at goal (5), put the 3s into reserve, put the 4 to succeed at no panic, and the 2 to the "do you know" complication, which will come into play shortly.

People start filing out, talking animatedly to each other and bowing or curtseying to me as they pass. I ignore them, pushing after Caelia, who is headed towards the stairs down to the engine room.

Abruptly my path is blocked by an imposing figure. A tall warrior, with salt and pepper hair that was once as dark as mine, and an aquiline nose that looks regal on him and I've never been entirely comfortable with on my own face.

My father, the Duke, brother to the dead king.

"What is this nonsense," he snaps, and I feel my shoulders curve briefly as I am suddenly reminded that I am not my cousin once again.

Hmm, does he recognize me? He's not what you'd call a hands-on kind of parent. But he's a canny old warrior, too.

I look past him, to where Caelia has just vanished down the stairs to the cogs, and I have a sudden realization, so blindingly obvious that I wonder why I never realized it before.

I straighten and give him a look of my own, and he actually takes a step back. "I have more important things to worry about than you," I say coldly.

He grabs my arm, heedless of the bandage, and I hiss as his fingers dig into the gash on my arm. "You're a fool, Sawyer," he says, and I almost wilt.

And then for the first time in my life, I glare back at him, drawing myself up to my full height. With a frisson of shock I realize I am taller than he is.

"And you're in my way," I say, and shake off his hand, and sprint after Caelia.

hour five

Rolling 1d6 3 times.
[ 1 ] 1
[ 1 ] 1
[ 4 ] 4

Can't use much there since most of my elements have been used. Will definitely do "a venomous serpent, gleaming but deadly". Location is the control room of the cogs. I'll pick "makes a threat". And the Gift is at midnight, which is the end of this segment.

Going to clear my "someone who is present" Invocation, and that's about all there is to do for prep.

Let's see, Caelia's just a few steps ahead of him.

The last time I was down here, only a few hours past, though it seems like days. Then there was giggling and clumsy stealth, and we looked for a dark room.

Now, I skid out of the stairwell into the cavernous engine room, filled with cogs from the size of my fist up to the size of a table, lit with glowspheres and clunking along so out of sync it makes my ears hurt.

Caelia and the woman in blue are trading magefire, one silver, the other black, as they dart in between the massive cogs.

I take a step forward, towards them, even as I have no idea what I'll do. And then I stop, suddenly, looking down at my chest as a blade appears through my shoulder, as someone stabs me in the back.

"No," I hear Caelia shout, her eyes wide as she turns towards me. She's running towards me, even as I drop to one knee in absolute shock. The woman in blue takes the opening and a bolt of black fire wings towards Caelia's unprotected back.

I'm going to roll to have him figure out how to mageshield. He saw her do it once, and they're connected, and he obviously has some hidden talent for it. I bet his mother was a mage.

Going to add a progress die for helping the Lover, and invoke a past experience that has bearing. And someone who is present, in this case, the Lover.

That leaves me one progress die and four more Invocations.

Complications: does it malfunction? if not, it's completely broken since he's bleeding on the floor now, and the danger that if she's hit, she'll be knocked down into the central cog-filled pit I just now envisioned.

Rolling 6d6 1 times.
[ 4 3 6 2 2 4 ] 21

That's one clear goal success, two clear complication successes. OR I could bank the clear goal success for later, use the 3 as a partial success, fail the malfunctioning, and succeed on not letting her be knocked into the pit.

I'll do that. 6, 4, 2 to my reserve, partial success on shield (3), failure on keeping the machinery going (2), and success (4) on not letting her get knocked into the pit.

Somehow I will a shield of gold into being between them. The bolt glances off the shield erratically and just barely kisses her leg. She's knocked to her knees, her sword skidding from her hand, as the woman in blue gasps in surprise.

My blood is trickling along the floor, running down into the central cog pit, and I can hear the cogs grinding to a halt in response. Abruptly, it's deafeningly quiet. There's a contemptuous snort behind me, and the sword is drawn free, and I clutch my shoulder.

Octavius steps around me, sheathing his sword, and gives the woman in blue a sour look. "All you had to do was kill my weakling of a cousin," he says, and she shakes her head, confusion on her face as she looks between us.

There's dawning realization on mine. "But... why?" I ask, and he barely spares me a look. He's unmasked, and I know for the first time I'm seeing past the bully to the man within, and it is terrifying.

"What use is being king if you're fettered by old men in Council, too weak to seize what should be ours?" he says, as if explaining the way the world works to a child. "All of them, gone, and a ready excuse for a war with whichever of our foes most tempts me." His eyes are the same color as mine, but mine are never that cold.

"But the city--" I say. "All those people--" Caelia is on her knees, her expression stricken and defeated and I don't understand why until Octavius stops in front of her.

"I didn't intend for you to be a casualty," he says sincerely, and extends a hand to her. "You can still be my queen, my love."

The pain in my chest is a thousand times worse than that in my shoulder. The castle is starting to shake as, without the machinery to power it, the magical fabric that keeps it in the sky begins to unravel. She refuses to meet my gaze, turning her face away from me to stare up at my cousin, the prince.

"You have to know I could never choose a man like you," she says, and there are tears on her face, but her eyes are like ice. He looks disappointed.

He drops his hand to his sword. "Then this is goodbye."

I can't beat him in a fair fight. Probably couldn't beat him in an unfair one. He's harder than I am, and he's killed before, and he's willing to kill hundreds more to achieve his ends. And still I push myself to my feet and pick up her sword.

Reaching up, I rip the fox mask off my face and throw it at his feet. He looks over at me and gives an incredulous laugh, and I raise the sword in an unmistakable challenge.

"Unless you're afraid, cousin," I say. "If you wish to hide behind your 'illness' a bit longer, I will understand."

"No," Caelia says again, fear in her voice, and I give her my best smirk.

Octavius draws his sword, and there's no frivolity in his movements, only death. My death. I'm already bleeding, and he's fresh, and I used to skip out on sword lessons to paint landscapes.

I take a step back as he advances, then another, and another, until I'm right at the edge of the pit and there's nowhere left to go. The castle is shaking harder now, and I know any moment the last failsafes will go and it will begin a long descent from the sky.

"I dislike that you've been pretending to be me, cousin," he says. His sword flicks out, opening a cut across my cheek. I'm not even close to fast enough to parry, but I do knock away the second blow before it can land.

"You're better at this than I am," I acknowledge, "But I do believe I have one advantage."

Ok, goal, get out of the way as the woman in blue takes her revenge. complication: I get pulled into the pit too. complication: does one of your flaws hinder you? If not, it causes a disaster.

I'm going all in on this one. Invoking the partner who is not the lover -- the Rival -- and a fact -- that Octavius raped her sister -- and knowledge of her plan, which is to betray him and take his money -- and sheer, dumb luck.

Plus one last progress die, for "help the Lover".

Rolling 8d6 1 times.
[ 4 1 5 2 6 2 5 2 ] 27

Whew. And a 1, so no need to reroll it.

That's a clear goal success (5), plus a clear success (4) to not having my Flaw hinder me, plus I'm going to put the last 5 into succeeding at not being pulled into the pit too.

Which leaves me a ton but almost all failures to put into reserve.

I look over his shoulder at the woman in blue. "He doesn't even remember her name," I say, and she looks appraisingly at me, and then her eyes narrow.

Octavius laughs. "Remember who?" he asks, and the sword flicks out, opening a second line on my cheek above the first. I bring the blade up to block the next strike and his riposte slices open the back of my hand. I almost drop the sword. He's toying with me.

And he's getting bored with it, I can see it in his eyes. When we were children, he would have the same look just before he made me eat dirt, and it was in his eyes the time he broke my arm.

He draws the sword back, and I raise my own, and then I dive out of the way as a wall of black fire smashes into him from behind. Caelia grabs my wrist as I stumble, my feet going out from under me as I'm caught in the edge of it, and pulls hard, and together we fall backwards to the floor.

Octavius twists, caught for an instant, his eyes disbelieving, and then he's gone, plummeting into the pit. The woman in blue shouts a name after him, her sister's, I think, and then she gives us a long look, and then she runs.

I can feel the castle underneath us tilting as it begins its descent.


"How do we restart it?" I ask Caelia, and she shakes her head.

"I don't know. Octavius must have, to have told her, but I don't know," she says, and her face is white at the thought of those beneath us who, asleep in their beds, are unaware of their impending doom.

"Help me," I ask, both of us knowing that if she says yes we must succeed or die, and she nods, and puts her hands in mine.

I feel the silver eddying around us, and I will the gold into being with it, and together they are beautiful, full of color and light, and I follow the blood that's running from me with it and I will the castle to obey, just like I willed the shield to exist.

Roll, restart the castle and tame it like a horse, complication: the magic is unfamiliar and might go out of control, complication: do you hurt them? if not, they hurt you.

I have nothing left to augment this roll, though.

Rolling 3d6 1 times.
[ 4 2 6 ] 12

... and for the first time in a long time, I've rolled very well.

I could swap the 2 for a success, but I'm not going to; this is the last roll of the game. So 6 goes to success at goal, and 4 goes to keep the magic in control, and 2, well, he's hurt, and that's all there is to it.

And the castle obeys. Reluctantly, at first, as if it's not sure it should, and then, as the silver and gold flows through it, with a sudden burst of what feels like joy the cogs spring to life, their new rhythm in time to my heartbeat.

I feel the castle settle, and I direct it up, and away from the city, just in case, back to over Skymount, where it belongs, and it fairly hums as it sets a course. The magic runs out of me like water and I drop to my knees, suddenly aware that I'm bleeding and my legs feel weak.

Caelia is in my arms and I hold her tightly, fiercely, and I try not to think of the future.

Ok, time to allocate dice. First, the final tally looked like this:

Me: 6 6 3 3 5 1 6 5 5 3 3 6 4 2 1 2 6 2 2
Rival: 4 1 6 2 5

And the woman in blue gets one more for moving toward her goal, which was revenge all along.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 5 ] 5

So I need to knock each of her dice out, then use what I have left to buy results.

Which leaves me with...

6 6 3 3 5 1 6 3 3 6 2 2 2

Which is five successes.

I survive. If not, I die.
My goal is achieved. If not, it fails.
The Rival fails. If not, he succeeds.
The Lover survives. If not, she dies.
The Lover's goal is met. If not, she fails.
The Lover's lot is improved. If not, she is ruined.
The Lover chooses you. If not, she chooses the Rival.

I survive. The Lover survives. The Lover's lot is improved.

Her goal was to keep her honor, and I think she's earned that.

Just like the woman in blue has earned her victory, even though it means I technically lose. Which means it comes down to, do I pick "avoid scandal" or "get the girl". Because she could easily go off after the Prince's killer as a matter of duty.

I survive. The Lover survives. The Lover's lot is improved. The Lover's goal is met. The Lover chooses you.

after midnight

The gossips spread tales of my heroics against the wicked assassin who almost brought the sky-castle down -- and rumors of my escapades, for which I no doubt have her to thank -- far and wide.

My father, the Duke, now Regent and soon to be King, is furious, both with my new infamy and with my sudden refusal to cower in his presence. I am one of the heroes who saved the city, however, and he can't punish me as he'd like to.

Octavius is buried with full honors as a martyr. No one says to my face that he should have been the one to survive, not me.

I parlay my new fame and my father's public support into a private estate near the border where I can paint and sculpt as much as I please, and I spend much of my time trying to capture on canvas the colors of magic. And I paint just one portrait, and it takes months before I am happy with it.

The light is low when I finish one night, set my brush down, and rub a hand over my eyes.

"Is that what I look like to you?" A steely female voice, soft now, asks from the door, and I turn to see Caelia standing there.

She is not wearing the black and gold of a Kingsguard, though I know she was promoted for her bravery that night. She studies the painting, silently, and I realize I'm holding my breath and force myself to breathe, hoping she hasn't noticed.

At last, she nods. "You were right, you are a very good painter." It's not a compliment, but a statement of fact.

"You shouldn't be here," I say, turning away. We haven't spoken since that night, and I know I'm bad for her prospects. To associate with me would mean the certain end of her career. "The Regent would not approve of a Kingsguard--"

"Then it's a good thing I am not a Kingsguard any longer," she says, interrupting, laughter curling the corners of her mouth and lighting up her eyes.

She seems lighter, as if a weight has been lifted. As if maybe she's forgiven herself for past mistakes. I can't help but feel my own hopes lift, just a little.

"I do find myself at loose ends, however," she says, hesitating a little when I don't say anything. I know what I want to say, but the words are stuck in my throat.

"I don't suppose you know any dashingly scarred painters who might need a bodyguard?" she asks, and gently touches my cheek. No one will ever mistake me for him again unless I am foolish enough to wear a mask -- and I am done with that.

I catch her hand and kiss each fingertip, then her palm, and her laughter is relieved. It occurs to me that she did not know if I would say yes, and that it mattered to her that I did. "I've also been told you're a superior rider," she says archly, and I almost respond as flippantly.

"I love you," I say bluntly instead. "Do you think you might possibly, someday--"

She steps into my arms, heedless of the paint, and throws her arms around me, and her kiss is answer enough.