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Four years later

 

Arthur’s fingers trembled as he picked up the last corner piece. As it was a Rare, it shimmered metallic in the early sunlight. Assembled on the table in front of him was the rest of the card. Nearly four years of work represented in just under a hundred pieces.

Yes, he could have gotten it done sooner — especially with his workaholic tendencies and extra deals he ran on the side — but there had been… complications.

This wasn’t the time to think about that. He let out a breath, tried to steady his hand and moved to fit the final piece.

“Remember to clear your mind of extra thoughts,” Horatio said. The other teen was leaning over the table, just short of being too close to comfort. “Only think about the type of card you want. Make it a simple thought. You can handle that, right?”

Arthur glared at him and for probably the thousandth time, wondered why they were friends. Bad luck on his part, he supposed.

“That didn’t work for the last two cards,” he snapped. “They just did whatever they wanted.”

Horatio shrugged. “Those were Uncommons. This is a Rare.”

“How is that different?”

“Rares have more magic,” Horatio said as if Arthur was being a complete idiot. “They’re more connected with the world.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “Give me some space, would you? Stop breathing all over my card.” He pushed his friend back with a light shove.

Horatio flopped down into his chair and raised his hand as if silently signaling Arthur to get on with it already.

Final corner piece in hand, Arthur again looked down at his card. Bickering with Horatio had set him right. His fingers weren’t trembling anymore.

And while he didn’t exactly get the result he wanted the last two times… he supposed silently wishing wouldn’t hurt.

I need a combat skill, he silently chanted, picturing a sharp knife or a sword. Or maybe the ability to throw a punch. Anything would help. Combat skill. Combat skill. Combat skill!

The final piece clicked into place.

The Rare pieces flashed a brilliant white and Arthur felt phantom heat as if the pieces of the card were melting together. Then it was over, and he looked down at his brand new Rare card.

 

Personal Space

Rare

Utility

The wielder of this card is granted an extra dimensional space, 30 x 30 x 30 sq. ft in which to store objects. As this space exists outside of time, the stored contents will experience no aging once placed inside. Contents will resume to age normally when removed. This dimensional space is only accessible by the card wielder and objects inside cannot be sensed by lower than a Legendary Rank Seeker.

 

Arthur stared.

“Well? What is it?” Horatio asked when Arthur remained quiet.

“Not a combat card,” Arthur said faintly.

“That bad?” Despite the fact it was incredibly rude, Horatio hopped up and leaned over the table to read the description. He let out a low whistle. “I’ve seen Uncommon versions of this one before, but they’re not so big — damn Arthur, your new space is bigger than our apartment.”

That was an exaggeration, but just barely. Arthur and Horatio had been out of the orphanage for over a year, but both wanted to live frugally as their main focus was collecting card shards.

“And they usually require mana to pull objects in and out,” Horatio added. “Yours is mana free.”

“Yeah.” That was a good thing. Really. But if he couldn’t get a combat oriented card, he had at least hoped for something to finally unlock his mana. Arthur had been fascinated by magic his entire life and had been around spell casters on a regular basis since he left his old village… but personal magic had so far been out of reach.

Skills were great and all, but he still held onto the boyhood dream of throwing fireballs around.

“So?” Horatio asked. “You going to keep it or sell it?”

Arthur shook himself. This was a great card. By all rights he should be dancing a happy jig. His problem was that he set his hopes too high.

In answer, he grabbed the Personal Space card, pulled down his collar, and added it straight into his heart deck.

His new card fit nicely against his other four cards.

“Let’s see how it works.” Arthur snatched a bright red apple up from the table. He half expected a prompt to come up, asking if he wanted to store it. Nothing happened.

That was for the best. Life would become tedious if his card asked if he wanted to store something every time he touched it.

He focused inward. It only took a few moments to find what he was looking for. It was as if his brand new card were a lock which opened the door to the new storage space. He sort of twisted it with his mind — a nudge that opened the card inward to reveal the cavernous space beyond.

Arthur stuck the apple in, even though his arm didn’t move at all.

“If I didn’t know any better,” Horatio said, “I would think that you just transported that apple. It just vanished.”

With a grin, Arthur repeated the process to ‘grab’ the apple out of the storage space with his mind. It reappeared back in his palm, unchanged. His grin widened and he took a bite. “I’m going to shove so much produce in this thing,” he said between chews. “Then take it out and sell it when it’s out of season.”

Horatio rolled his eyes. “Of course that’s where your mind goes first. Some people would consider how to use it to disappear their enemies, or transport rare and exotic items for the highest bidder. You want to sell out of season oranges.”

Arthur didn’t bother to deny it. Horatio had never been without rare, fresh fruit on demand. He had no idea what a luxury it was.

Taking another bite, Arthur gestured to the table. “So? You gonna go or what?”

“I will if you stop spitting apple juice all over the table. Don’t you have a card for charm?” Horatio grumbled but stood and dumped out his own card anchor bag. A pile of rare shards tumbled out and he quickly arranged them into a card shape.

Arthur stood back and watched his friend work, smiling slightly. Horatio didn’t work nearly as many shifts as Arthur had — he preferred getting a full night of sleep and actually relaxing every once in a while instead of hustling for shards. As a result, it had taken him this long to finally assemble one Rare card.

His father’s dragon, Sams, was still without a rider. Horatio tried to hide it, but this moment meant a lot to him. If his card was in any way compatible… Sams would agree to link up. He’d be a dragon rider.

Arthur took Horatio’s abandoned seat and watched his friend work. He didn’t offer to help: Assembling your own card was a rite of passage. Besides, Horatio was probably busy thinking about Light spells in an effort to force his card to become what he wanted.

Turning his attention inward, Arthur examined his small deck. It wasn’t bad. Especially for a kid from the border.

 

Master of Skills (Legendary)

Return to Start (Rare)

Personal Space (Rare)

Charming Gentle-person (Uncommon)

Nullify Card (Common)

 

The Nullify Card had been an interesting find. Knowing that Kenzie would be on his case to put him in front of the next Rare egg that hatched, Arthur had decided to try assembling an Uncommon card first. He blamed a fit of early teenage rebellion.

Anyway, he had hoped for a combat or offensive magic skill and had received a Utility Skill to accurately predict the weather up to a week out within a fifty mile radius.

This had some interesting applications. If Arthur was a farmer, knowing when to harvest and when to cover the crops would have been invaluable. Since Arthur wasn’t a farmer — and never intended to be — he didn’t want to add that card to his heart.

He brought it to Kenzie who hooked him up with a private card dealer. Arthur’s gambling instincts told him to take a chance and tell the dealer about his Trap card problem.

The dealer proposed a trade: He had an unusual Common card with a very specific skill: The ability to nullify or reactivate a single card within someone’s heart at will.

Since it would only work for one of the wielder’s own heart cards, it had no combat value. Common cards could be like that. But it was invaluable for someone with a problematic card like Arthur’s.

Arthur haggled and traded his Weather card for the Common plus some extra Uncommon shards.

Then he was able to add the Return to Start Card back in his heart. The bruised ache that he had finally learned to ignore had healed at last.

His second attempt at assembling an Uncommon had given him his Charming Gentle-person card.

For up to 8 hours within a 24 hour period, his Charisma was increased by a full 10 points.

Apparently, certain body enhancement cards were able to quantify traits, strengths, and weaknesses using numbers.

Did Arthur know his own Charisma stat? No, he did not. His card was only an Uncommon and adding ten points was the beginning and end of its powers.

Did men seem to trust him, and women smile at him when he used it? Yes, they did.

Arthur liked to use it when he was on shift at Bob’s tavern. His tips went through the roof.

“Okay,” Horatio said. “I’m ready.”

Arthur stood and looked over the mostly assembled Rare card. Horatio had taken his cue from Arthur and set everything up except for a single corner piece.

He bit back the urge to rib his friend and tell him to think ‘light thoughts’. Instead Arthur just said, “You’ll be fine.”

Horatio’s jaw firmed. “Of course I will.” Then, almost defiantly, he clicked the last piece together.

There was a flash of light. Arthur craned his neck to look at the new card. The description was deceptively simple, but he knew it wasn’t remotely what Horatio had wanted.

 

Second Helpings

Rare

Charm

Using mana, the wielder may create an exact material duplicate of any object. Size, rarity of material, personal stamina, and magical power are dependent on mana cost and experience level.

 

Horatio swore and turned away.

“By all rights,” Arthur said, “That’s an excellent power.”

“That’s what makes it worse,” Horatio snarled. “I can’t use this.”

“You can trade it for something that will work with Sams.”

But Horatio was too upset to listen. Turning, he headed for the door. “I need a drink.” Then he stopped, winced, and went back to reluctantly snatch his new Rare card off the table.

He turned away before Arthur could see if Horatio put it in his heart or shoved it in his card anchor bag.

Arthur didn’t offer to go along with him. He had long since become used to Horatio’s moodiness. His friend wanted to be alone.

With a sigh, Arthur sat back at the table and pulled out a fresh piece of paper. Then he started drawing up a chart by memory of the months expensive produce was in season. He hadn’t been kidding about his storage space. If he did this right, he could make a killing.

Too bad it was off-season on truffles.

He was so engrossed he didn’t hear the bells at first. Not until the large one down on the corner of the block started to toll again and again. Within moments it was taken up by more down the street. Then a lighter tone as the common folk took up their own bells and started ringing for good luck.

Arthur had heard those bells twice before in his time here.

A new Rare egg had been laid.

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HonourRae

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