“One silver?” Arthur replied with a tinge of fake outrage. “Surely you mean per case.”
“Don’t pull that on me. One silver per box, and there are four boxes to a case.” The vegetable vendor he was haggling with crossed his arms over his chest. Arthur suspected the man ate solely off of what didn’t sell at his booth because the man was as thin as a rail. Though Arthur had seen him lift cases that would make him pause.
“Those prices are near criminal,” Arthur said.
The vendor rolled his eyes. It was coming on to the end of the day and it seemed that Arthur was coming up against the limit of his patience. “Avocados are a delicate fruit.”
Shouldn’t they be a vegetable? Arthur thought but did not say.
The vendor continued. “They grow in the southern climates — my buyers trade down to Strawberry moon hive. They gotta be picked green and ripen on the way, which means we have fruit loss to pay for.”
None of which was Arthur’s problem, but his Merchant skills told him to let the man talk himself out.
The vegetable vendor was on a roll by now and kicked lightly kicked the box with the side of his foot. “These will be ripe within the week, and they’ll only stay ripe for a few days after that. Most chefs buy them now for their restaurant and make them into meals as they ripen for the next few days.”
Arthur frowned. “These are all the boxes you have?”
“All the boxes worth selling.”
He pretended to think about it even though he had already made his game plan while the man had been speaking. “What about your loss boxes? Got any that are a little too ripe?”
The man stared at him. “Might be I got a few boxes of those,” he said. “I know you’re a cook, boy. Used to work for Barlow, yeah?”
“I did. I’m working full time in Bob’s tavern now.” Barlow hadn’t been happy to let him go, but he understood. Besides, the orphanage always had willing boys and girls to learn the trade — and who were willing to work for a lesser cost than Arthur was worth.
“Avocados grow brown and taste nutty when they’re too ripe,” the vendor warned.
“Good thing I plan to use them tonight,” Arthur lied.
The vendor shrugged as if to say, Your funeral. Then he led Arthur to the back of the booth.
This was where the spoiled product was kept. Arthur had to wave away a small cloud of fruit flies that buzzed over a pallet of over-ripened tomatoes. Thankfully, none hovered over the avocados.
He bent to check a few by feel. The vendor was right. Most were perfectly ripe — meaning they would have to be used this very evening, which was annoying when you were buying in bulk — or just on the wrong side of overripe.
There were three boxes in total.
“I’ll take them all off your hands for one silver,” Arthur said. "That's a better price you'd get than tossing them out as garbage."
In the end, he arranged to have the boxes transported to Bob’s storage which was attached to the back of his kitchen.
He had a long-standing agreement with the man that he’d look the other way from Arthur’s side products in exchange for a small fee.
If he understood his new card right, the items would keep fresh in his storage. Then it would be only a matter of waiting for the right time — for the avocados to go off-season.
No one would care if they were slightly overripe if there were none to be had.
Lastly, Arthur went a few blocks north, across the next canal bridge to the much smellier animal yards.
It was time to experiment.
The piglet he'd purchased was criminally adorable. Only a few weeks old and small enough to be easily carried under one arm, he tried not to feel guilty.
He sincerely hoped he understood the card’s conditions correctly. One thing he had learned about cards was that one misunderstood word could severely alter a card’s effects.
Take his Return To Start trap card for example. When activated, it required someone to attack them with their powers to trigger.
But what qualified as an attack? An attempt to kill? A violation of his personal space? A scan that Arthur might consider intrusive?
There were reasons why he hadn’t put it back in his heart until he had another card to nullify the effects.
So he didn’t entirely trust the description of his newest ‘Personal Space’ card. Time didn’t pass for the objects inside, but what would it do to something living? Would the creature still need air? Would they notice any time difference at all?
Unfortunately, there was only one way to find out.
Arthur ducked in between two smelly tents and glanced around to make sure no one was looking. It was a habit to keep his abilities secret.
“Good luck,” he said as he mentally reached for the card. The piglet disappeared.
Arthur counted to thirty in his mind and reached for the piglet.
It reappeared back in his hands with a snort of surprise and then a high squeal — at least proving it was alive.
Arthur shoved it back into the storage space, waited another minute, and pulled it out.
It was in the middle of the same squeal.
Alive and well.
Shoving the very confused piglet back in, Arthur turned to the chicken vendors. Late-season chicks were cheap this time of the year. If he was smart, he could sell these same chicks at peak spring prices after winter.
A few minutes, and a box of egg layers and meat chicks later, he realized his new card came with another perk. An inventory list.
1 Suckling Piglet
21 Rockburry Chicks (f)
20 Dappled Chicks (f)
1 Dappled Chick (m)
Arthur’s jaw dropped. “That son of a bitch sold me a rooster in place of a hen!” He reached and pulled it out, the little chick a dappled peeping ball of fluff in his palm. In truth, at this age it looked no different than its sisters. Its rooster nature would only show later on, and by then the vendor would be well away.
Arthur thought about returning the thing for another hen-chick, then sighed. Well, maybe someone would want a rooster in spring. He put it back with its sisters.
Arthur considered what else he should buy. The storage space was bigger than the apartment he shared with Horatio. He could fit horses in there if he wanted.
No, better to see how the chickens and piglet held out.
With that decided, he turned back for his apartment. Unfortunately, his boots were caked in dark animal muck mixed with mud from tromping around in animal pens. And he had a long way to walk back home, stinking like manure.
Time for a shortcut.
He toggled the Nullify option off his Trap Card and walked down the next street where he knew some buskers performed for tips.
Sure enough, one man showed off with a temporary enchantment on bits of grass which were knotted into the shape of animals. The little figures were empowered with enough magic to dance for hours on command. Cheaply made and sold, they were a delight to all children under the age of eight.
As Arthur came up, the man was finishing his sale of a horse to a young father and his child. The tiny horse galloped up and down the girl’s outstretched arm. She watched with wide, delighted eyes.
As soon as the busker was done he turned to Arthur. “How can I help you, good sir? Present for your son or daughter?”
Arthur slapped a half-copper on the man’s table. “Have one of your straw birds there fly full force at me. Ramming speed, if you please.”
“You heard me. Oh, wait a moment.” He bent and unlaced his mucky boot, holding them gingerly. “Okay, I’m ready now.”
The man looked at Arthur like he was insane, but money was money. He took the half-copper and gestured to a grass-made seagull that was flapping in circles overhead.
The two-inch creature turned and made a beeline for Arthur’s forehead — right between the eyes.
Arthur didn’t feel the tap of impact. There was a flash of light.
|(Conditions met: (Trap Card) Return To Start activated)|
And in the next moment, he found himself laying on top of his own bed, boots safely in hand to keep the mud off his blanket.
Yes, he liked to keep his magic to himself but that stunt had just saved him an hour’s smelly walk. Sometimes, he let himself indulge.
“Well, I was hoping to run into you, but this will work too.”
The voice started him so badly that he nearly dropped the gross boots on his own chest.
Sitting up, he saw Kenzie standing in his own bedroom, hip cocked and looking unimpressed.
His jaw dropped. “What are you doing here?”
She ignored the question. “Tell me you’re not going to see the Rare egg tonight dressed like that.”
“Of course not, but how did you get in…” His words trailed off as he looked past her to see a half-open window.
A moment later, the view was dominated by a silver head and one big eye which gazed in. “Hello, Arthur,” Marteen said pleasantly. She had grown into a graceful dragon. One which was tall enough to look into his second-story window. “Why do you smell like pig droppings?”
“Because I was stomping around in a pigsty to catch a piglet.”
“Ah, that makes sense,” the dragon said airily and dropped her head, no doubt to sniff around some passersby.
“Do I even want to know?” Kenzie asked, and rolled her eyes when Arthur grinned at her. “Anyway, I came by to remind you to show up tonight and because neither of my recruits bothered to tell me what Rares cards they got.” She leveled a look. “I know you two were finally putting together your shards. So, spill. Did Sourpuss get his light card?”
Arthur winced. “No.”
“Good enough to trade for one?”
He hesitated and shook his head. “I think it’s too good to trade, so he’s in a bind.”
Her eyebrows rose, but Arthur refused to say more. A man’s card was his own business.
Yes, he’d wanted a combat card and he was more than happy with his new storage space, but he would have been equally happy with Horatio’s new ability. The things he could double…
“So he’s in a snit.” Kenzie crossed her arms. “That boy has got to get over his moodiness. It’s not like life suddenly gets fair when you’re a dragon rider.”
Arthur started to nod, then a bit of common sense kicked in. The corner of Kenzie’s mouth was turned down. She was upset.
“Did something happen?” he asked.
“What? You get an empathy card, too?”
“No, it’s just obvious.”
Kenzie let out a sigh and sat down next to him, apparently not caring he smelled like a farm. “I haven’t had a recruit link with a dragon over Common Rank in over six months. And you and Mr. Dark And Gloomy are still my only Rare recruits. I need a good showing for this egg, but…” She bit her lip.
“But?” Arthur asked.
She sighed. “They’re saying that on top of being a rare, this egg is probably a high shimmer. Every noble brat in the kingdom’s going to want a crack at it.”
Which meant that Arthur and Horatio would be at the bottom of the totem pole. Again.
Not that Arthur cared. No Rare would pick him with a Legendary card in his heart. And Horatio had his own sights set on Sams, his father’s old dragon.
“If something doesn’t change soon, I’ll get kicked down to level 7,” Kenzie continued. “Marteen’s too large to fit in one of those apartments which means she sleeps outside. Or I can start flying the Scourge-eruptions.”
“Really?” he asked. “But you don’t have combat cards.”
She waved a hand. “I can buy a Common spell card on the cheap. But no, we’d probably be Lobos — on the rescue team. You know, calming people out of hysterics. I do some of that for the bad ones when they’re brought in, but to be surrounded by all that emotion…” She winced.
A scourge-eruption would be an ugly place to be for a pair that dealt with emotion and auras.
Old guilt pricked at Arthur’s heart. Kenzie might not be looking at a demotion if people knew she had recruited a boy with a Legendary card.
Then again, those eggs were laid so rarely… maybe it wouldn’t be any use to her at all.
And as bad as he felt for her losing a level, it wasn't worth his life.
Kenzie must have seen or sensed his guilt and misunderstood it because she added briskly. “Don’t worry about it, Arthur. We’ll just have to fly out further to baronies the other silvers haven’t recruited from on awhile.”
“Are there any left?” Arthur asked.
Wolf Moon was a small hive yet had a disproportionate amount of Silvers. Kenzie and Marteen were the youngest pair which meant they had the last choice for territories.
“I might be gone for a bit,” Kenzie admitted. “But not until that Rare’s hatched. Which means you and Horatio have to do your best to get that hatchling’s attention.”
That was a mandatory waste of time in his case, but Arthur was distracted.
Deep inside his mind, the outer casing of a long-dormant seed of an idea cracked — just enough to show a hint of green within.