Arthur's uncle laughed uproariously.
All Arthur could do was stare. His mind, scrambled in shock, wasn't sure if the man was laughing out of casual cruelty because Arthur had bungled his juggling, or if he recognized Arthur had decided this played a fine trick.
Then Arthur's mind snapped into action again. He realized the man was red-faced under his bearded cheeks. He was drunk.
One thick arm was slung around the shoulders of a boy who looked very much like his father. Perhaps eighteen years old, the boy was burly and broad with the same square chin and dark hair.
That boy must be his cousin, then. Arthur couldn't remember his name.
All these impressions came and went in a flash. Bob stomped over and glared down at the mess of spilled wine and broken glass. "What is this?"
"Nobles thought they'd have some fun."
Bob's lips turned down into a frown then he nodded. "Get a mop and bucket, then. Hurry up."
Not getting yelled at was likely the best Arthur could hope for. Knowing Bob, he had seen the situation brewing but had not been fast enough to stop it.
By the time Arthur returned, Bob had taken over his spot in the back of the bar, selling drinks to those who had been waiting.
The nobles who'd caused the problems had new mugs of beer in hand. The last thing Bob would want to do was to insult them. Of course it was Arthur's fault he had screwed up while juggling. Not theirs.
Burning resentment towards the nobles was not new, but Arthur wasn't used to feeling it so strongly since he had started living at the hive.
The rest of the night went by uneventfully. Arthur kept an eye on his uncle and cousin, but they only returned to the bar for new drinks. Neither paid special attention to him. It seemed that once they had their fun upsetting his juggling routine, they'd put him completely out of his mind.
Or it was some kind of a ruse, he thought. But try as he might, he couldn't figure out why they would bother.
Little by little, Arthur relaxed. The shock wore off and he reminded himself that he didn't take after his father in coloring or build, being tall and thin. He figured he would bulk out eventually, though that day hadn't yet come.
Was it possible for his uncle to link him to his brother's child? A boy he hadn't seen in a decade, and who didn't take after the male side of the family? A boy he probably thought was dead?
Maybe. But likely not as drunk as the man looked to be.
By the end of the night, the noble was boneless and leaning against his own son as they walked out of the tavern. Neither one glanced back.
No, they didn't act like they recognized Arthur.
But Arthur knew them, and he was determined to find out more.
The second night of the promenade had markedly fewer people.
Arthur figured most knew with so many nobles in attendance they would not get so much as a sniff at the Rare egg.
Arthur was not here for the egg.
Tonight, Arthur had dressed differently for the occasion in a white shirt and dull gray pants. On top of this, he wore a long dark cloak that would help obscure his shape.
His cousin hadn't been as drunk as his father had been, so Arthur had washed his hair in fresh lemon juice to lighten it a few degrees. Then he brushed it back away from his face with oil to keep it in place. It gave his face a severe, pointy look.
Looking in the mirror, he imagined he could have fit in with the nobles, had his life turned out differently.
Lastly, Arthur switched out his Performer Class card for his Scholar Card again, which effectively traded a boost in charisma for a boost in intelligence. Then he changed the focus of the nullify card to dampen his Gentleman’s Charm card, further reducing his Charisma.
The last thing he wanted was to stand out tonight.
Upon entering the chamber with the egg, Arthur stood against one of the walls. He wasn't alone. Many nobles took saw this opportunity less as a chance at a Rare egg and more to mingle with their peers on neutral ground. There was much laughter, flirting, and fine wine poured out by hive staff.
Arthur drifted to a forgotten corner, licked his fingers, and snuffed out some of the candles nearby. Then he Stealthed into the shadows, drawing up his cloak to further conceal himself.
His cousin was in the circling line for the egg. Like many others, he used this opportunity to make connections with other young ambitious nobles -- and to talk to a few ladies who batted their eyes in his direction, but he went quiet every time he came close to the egg.
His eyes were half closed as he concentrated on projecting his card towards the developing hatchling.
Arthur's eyes narrowed. He'd wracked his brain all day and the only memory he had of his cousin was at play -- running after a bounding puppy on a green field. But it was so old and forgotten that he might be imagining the entire scene, or it might be a different boy. Arthur caught the name 'Penn' in the bar, but it might not even be his full name.
Some two-thirds forgotten memory told him Penn was the oldest son. If that were the case, why lose him to the hive?
Had his uncle fallen out of favor thanks to Arthur's father?
It seemed reasonable. Except...
The fine-cut clothing Penn wore was simple in design. It was a deep green tunic with brown edging and emblazoned on the shoulder was a pin of silver: A broad-leafed oak tree stretched above with the bare roots sinking into the ground below.
Arthur knew that crest. It had been painted on his mother's plates.
Was that the crest of his house?
Beneath Arthur's cloak, his hands curled into fists.
When his cousin left for the night, Arthur followed.
He had long since become used to the twisty hive tunnel system. It was all new to the visiting nobles and they were much too important to waste time wandering around lost. So the higher class paid for and received attendants to escort them to the egg chamber, their quarters, and through important locations in the hive.
Hives in general were infamous as a place to collect new cards. So when an influx of nobles came in, the commissaries hiked up their prices accordingly. Arthur had checked in yesterday and found the prices for cards to be the same as in shops.
He hoped his cousin stopped by one now and was fleeced out his noble nose.
Instead, the attendant directed them up and up, all the way to level five. This was quite high for a non-dragon rider.
It meant that his uncle and cousin had wealth, rank, or both.
Arthur followed at a distance, staying a few tunnel bends back and only getting glimpses of his quarry. He tracked them mostly by sound.
He sped up only when they reached the level area for hive guest apartments. All of these were on the outer wall of the hive with windows looking out to the magnificent sight of the city below.
Arthur walked past the two as the attendant stopped to open the door for his cousin. He glanced to note the number over the door.
His cousin didn't look his way at all.
That night, Arthur found he couldn't sleep. He lay in bed, listening to Horatio snore on the other side of the room. His right hand rubbed over his heart.
It felt like there was a lump of coal, long banked, lodged in his chest. It had darkened over his years in the hive.
Now a blast of cold wind had stoked that dormant fire. The coal was glowing.
His noble cousin had come to his hive, finely dressed, wearing the insignia of his family. In all probability, he lived the life Arthur should have had.
One benefit of working in a tavern was that Arthur's off hours were in the late morning and early afternoon. Times that enabled him to get chores done.
Or sneak into places he should not be, counting on others to be out and about.
It had taken two days of discreet watching. When Arthur saw his uncle and cousin leave the hive entrance to explore the city, Arthur made his way in.
He weaved his way through the tunnels, doing his best to look purposeful and as if he belonged. No one stopped him.
No one was in the stretch of tunnels that led to the level five guest apartments, either. That could change at any moment. He had to be quick.
Arthur put his Lockpicking skill - level 11 to the test.
It took him less than a minute to gain access to his uncle’s apartment.