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A note from HonourRae

Two things real quick:

1. I’m literally posting this from my iPhone tonight and can’t check how the formatting looks. Let me know if it’s unreadable. 

2. Some quick back and forth scenes here. I tried modeling the tone after some heist movies during the planning scenes, but want to make sure it all makes sense foremost. Let me know if you're confused!

The next day, Arthur went to visit Kenzie.

He, Horatio, and Sams had stayed up until the night’s bell discussing logistics for the plan. Sams could only be at Wolf Moon for a few days, which put a hard time limit on their schedule.

All agreed they would need Kenzie's help to pull it off.

Thankfully, Kenzie had always been morally flexible.

The next day, Arthur visited her alone.

Kenzie gave him a searching look as she let him into her and Marteen's apartment. "I've heard you've been at the egg promenade several nights in a row. Think you got a chance with the Rare?" She couldn't hide the hope in her voice, which made Arthur feel bad.

Kenzie had long hinted she knew Arthur was more than what he seemed, but she had never pried. He hoped he wasn’t taking too much advantage of that, and that he would be able to repay a little of her trust soon.

He shook his head. "It's something else. But first, Kenzie, what's going on with all the new hatchlings? I went by the nesting grounds the other day, and there are more than I've ever seen before."

Her face fell. "Truthfully? A combination of things. There have been some nasty scourge eruptions near some of the bigger farming communities. That’s resulted in a lot of deaths, so families... just don't have the kids to spare."

"What? Why haven't I heard of this?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Do you often help out with the eruptions?"

Arthur flushed. Many people in and around the hives whose jobs didn't directly involve fighting scourgelings volunteered, instead. Over the last few years, Arthur's main drive had been to work on his skills and gain more card shards. Plus, helping during eruptions carried the risk of running into more Silvers or even one of the mind-reading White dragons.

There was almost zero chance of that happening while working the lower levels of the hive.

Kenzie let him stew for a moment before she added. "To be fair, the worst of the eruptions haven’t been in our territory. Wolf Moon helps out as always, but we weren't the primary hive. So news hasn’t spread far."

"Oh." That helped, but he still felt guilty.

"On top of that, all the females seem to be on a clutching-spree. I think Marteen's even due for her first clutch, soon. That's why she's out tonight -- she's spending time with her admirers."

"Oh." Now Arthur blushed even harder. "Uh, congratulations?"

Kenzie grinned at him. "Yeah, I'm looking forward to recruiting for her future eggs. Anyway, that can't be the only reason why you're here."

He shook his head. "It isn't." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small, wrapped package. "I need to send this."

"Then... give it to the correspondence desk?"

This was it. "It needs to go to a border town. And it needs to be quick. And…" he swallowed. "That dragon will need to pick up something on the return."

For a long moment, she stared at him. He stared levelly back.

She was the one who finally blinked.

“Arthur, you know I’m always willing to stick my neck out for you, but—“

“What if I told you I have a solution to get the hive admin off your back over new recruits?”

That stopped Kenzie short. Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I can’t tell you specifics—right now,” he added. “Kenzie, once I pull this off, you’ll understand. But until then, I need you to trust me.” He hesitated. “Can you do that?”

She made a show of sucking her teeth and shook her head. Then she said, “What I was going to say was I’m willing to stick my neck out for you but what you’re asking will cost. Even if it does magically help me in the long run.”

He grinned. Then he pulled out his card anchor bag and shook out every single card shard, Uncommon and Rare, out into his cupped palm.

“I need the coins, but you can have everything else. We got a deal?”

“Damn.” Kenzie snatched the shards so fast it would have been easy to mistake her for a starving farmer rather than a dragon rider. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

So did Arthur.

 


 

“I can’t sell the cards directly, mind you,” Penn had told Arthur and a few other interested nobles, later that night. Behind them, the line to see the Rare egg circled the room. Penn used the murmurs of conversation and gossip as a shield to conduct his own business. “We’re going to be running a friendly little auction. These things must be kept discrete.”

Which was a way of saying that it needed to be kept out of view of anyone closely connected to the King. His Majesty’s agents kept an eye on the sale of cards — especially the higher-powered cards in case someone got the idea to form a powerful set.

Or in case they stumbled across a card that could rival the power of the throne.

Arthur noticed those around Penn who introduced themselves were all lower to minor nobility. Barons, baronets, esquires, and even a few offspring of magistrates in charge of a single small town.

“When is the auction to occur?” one boy asked eagerly.

Penn’s smile was pure indulgence, like a man who was giving away presents of candied fruit to his poor neighbors. “Three days from now. We must wait for the cards to arrive.”

“Wait, you don’t have them with you?” Arthur blurted.

A girl laughed. “You expect to pull them out of his heart or something?”

Arthur knew he had misstepped somewhere. He looked to Penn. “Well… I assumed they’d be in a high-level card anchor bag…”

Penn’s indulgent smile broadened. “You must forgive Ernest Kane,” he said with emphasis on Arthur’s supposed last name. “No doubt transporting cards in safe carts has… gone out of fashion around his family.”

There were chuffs of laughter all around. Apparently, word of Baron Kane’s misfortune of losing a high-leveled card was well known.

Arthur looked down as if embarrassed.

Inside, he planned.

 


 

“The cards are coming by cart?” Horatio threw his hands up in the air in frustration. “That’s just great. It’s not like there are dozens of carts coming and going to this huge hive all hours of the day…”

Sams, however, didn’t seem bothered. “The noble whelp said by ‘safe cart’?”

“Yes, in three days,” Arthur told him. He paced over the flat spur of rock where they’d agreed to meet, still in his itchy fine clothing. “We don’t have to monitor every cart that comes into the hive’s city. Just the ones that Noble Rowantree and his son visit. Between Horatio and me, we should be able to follow them. We know the city better than visiting nobles.”

“What?” Horatio grumped. “You want to follow them all day and all night? You think they won’t notice?”

“Well, you might be able to pose as a servant. I’m sure they’ll need to hire someone—“

“No need,” Sams said.

Both boys looked at him.

“You must never have seen a safe cart from the air,” the dragon continued. “They are distinctive from merchant carts. What direction does Rowantree’s duchy lay?”

“To the south and east, toward the center of the kingdom.”

Sams bobbed his head. “If you fetch me a map, I will determine their most likely route. We will watch that.”

Arthur grinned. He had first-hand knowledge that guarded carts were still susceptible to a dragon's attack.

Horatio looked more disturbed than he had before. “Won’t they get a clue if a big Rare yellow dragon attacks a Duke’s cart?”

“How would they pin it on Sams?” Arthur asked. “He’s not officially a part of this hive. Plus,” he added when Horatio looked like he was about to argue, “How deep can the duke investigate when he’s selling cards illegally?”

Horatio shut his mouth, thought for a moment, and then reopened it again. “Someone will notice if you disappear for a few days.”

“Penn Rowantree thinks I’m someone who doesn’t exist,” Arthur said. “And I have a plan for myself…”

 


 

“One more thing,” Arthur had told Kenzie after she had counted out all his extra shards and declared ‘It would do’.

Judging by the way she was holding back a smile, she planned to take a large cut from whomever she roped into this. “As my Silver recruiter, I need you to sign off on a Leave of Absence form.”

“You’re taking time off from Bob’s tavern?” she asked, eyebrows raised.

He shrugged, unwilling to say more.

As a recruit for a Rare dragon, it was his option to take time off work whenever there was an egg available to spend time around it and increase his chances. The hive would compensate his employer.

Arthur needed a paper trail.

“Fine,” she said with a sigh. “Anything else?”

He thought about it and shook his head. “Wish me luck?”

Kenzie did more than that, swooping over to plant a sisterly kiss on the side of his cheek.

Stunned, Arthur stood there until she drew back.

“Good luck,” she said, his card shards in her hands and a wide smile on her face.

 

 

New skill level: Dragon Riding (Animal Husbandry/ Dragon Rider Class)

Level 5

 

 

It had been a while since he had leveled that skill up.

It was also easier to focus on that rather than the fact that Arthur was currently so high up that the land was nearly unrecognizable. The flashes he saw through the scant breaks in cloud cover looked like multi-colored squares.

The only exception was the top of the hive cone which broke through the bottom layer of clouds. It made it look like a tiny mountain peak of his own.

"This is amazing!" Horatio cried. Sitting in front, he stretched his arms out as he whooped.

It was by far the most exuberant Arthur had ever seen his friend. He was happy for him. He really was.

Mostly, though, he was trying not to think about falling.

He clutched Sams warm hide. At least the dragon flew at a steady pace -- none of the uneven bobbling in the air like that time he'd flown on Marteen, or none of Tess's crazy acrobatic buzzing in different directions. Sams’ wing beats were even and measured and he didn't seem to be bothered at all by air pressure changes.

The dragon had been on patrol for most of the last day before he said he found something they should see.

"Do you see it yet?" Arthur called.

"You just asked five minutes ago," Horatio called back. "Give him some time. Enjoy yourself."

"Who are you?" Arthur demanded.

His friend laughed and spread his arms wide again as if he wanted to embrace the clouds.

A bypassing red dragon swooped near enough for its rider to wave to them. Horatio waved back, grinning.

"Will you knock it off?" Arthur demanded. "Don't bring attention to us!"

"It would be weird if we didn't wave," was Horatio's easy response.

Once again Arthur felt like they had switched personalities. But he was tense.

They'd only get one shot, and although Sams would help... This had to go right.

Sure enough, the red dragon and its rider flew off. Sams continued scanning the pass leading up to the hive.

"I see it," Sams announced.

Arthur looked down, saw the tops of the clouds which looked like unforgiving snowdrifts, and swallowed hard. "Where?"

Sams pumped his wings and brought them to a tiny break in the clouds where the land could be seen… Far, far below.

It all looked the same to Arthur. Multicolored fields cut by rivers, streams, and dark bands of green that must be forests. He couldn't identify a road much less any carts on it.

"You're sure?" he called.

Horatio scoffed. "Sams is a light-based dragon. He can see better than us during the day. If he says he found them, then he found them."

Arthur nodded. At least he would soon be on the ground again. "Then it’s time to drop me off, Sams."

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HonourRae

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