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One of the girls let out a short, sharp scream.

The nobles near the hatchling drew back in horror. One scuttled to the side so fast he toppled off the edge of the stage and fell with a crash.

This created a cascade effect where everyone else hurriedly backed away. Within a few seconds, some outright ran for the door -- Valentina’s threats forgotten.

Even Cressida gasped and did a half-shuffle-step to the side before she regained control of herself.

Arthur stood stock still. Stunned.

Valentina and Whitaker stood on either side of the sickness seeker and either seemed to be berating him for his lack of tact... or questioning how in the world this was possible while berating him.

The little pink dragon lay limply on the stage, forgotten. It didn't have the strength to hold up its head. Arthur didn't like how its mouth lay open as if gasping for air.

He couldn't let this stand.

He strode forward, having to sidestep to avoid people who'd taken the leaders distraction to run away.

"What are you doing?" Cressida demanded. She followed behind him against the current of people.

"The scourge can't get to us. We're carded," he snapped, frustrated not by her but by the actions of those around them. Had everyone lost their minds?

Within moments nearly the entire room had emptied except for him, Cressida, the leaders, and the seeker.

"I know that," Cressida said, though she seemed heartened by his words and increased the length of her stride to walk along beside him. "I asked what are you doing?"

"The dragon’s dying. I'm giving it some time."

Arthur remembered the black veins that had crawled through Ernie's body. He vividly recalled how it had felt to stand next to his bedside, personally protected from scourge-sickness thanks to his own card while he'd been helpless to help his friend.

Arthur only received his Master of Skills card because of the actions of a dragon. The very least he could do was to help another one.

The little pink dragon stirred uncomfortably as he approached. It looked like it wanted to shake its head at them – it sensed they didn't have the right cards -- but had already become so weakened it couldn't make the effort.

"I know," Arthur said. "I'm not here to link with you. I'm here to help you."

The dragon wheezed in a breath, ribs inflating like a bellows. “It hurts…”

The scourge-sickness, its own weakness, or the fact it hadn’t found someone to link with yet. Arthur suspected all three.

How to explain this to a child? “I’m going to work magic over you, to give you more time. It won’t hurt, but you shouldn’t fight the magic.”

The hatchling let out another wheezing gasp. He thought he caught permission in there.

Reaching out, Arthur pressed gentle fingers on its vivid pink scales. In the next moment, the hatchling dragon disappeared into his storage space.

That got everyone's attention.

Cressida gasped. The healer cried out in horror. A violent gust of wind whipped Arthur around. Suddenly, he was face to face with a very angry Valentina and Whitaker.

"What did you just do?" Whitaker demanded.

His tone was flat but only a fool would discount the dangerous glint in his eye.

Arthur held up his empty hands in front of him. "The dragon is fine. I have a storage utility card. Nothing ages while it’s stored in there, so I thought—to give it more time--"

"Show me," Valentina said, voice cut with ice.

Arthur winced. It was impolite to ask someone to reveal the details of a card, but he had thrown courtesy out the window. Thankfully, he had the choice to display one of the cards in his heart deck, not all of them.

Concentrating on his heart deck as his father had once taught him to do, Arthur gestured outward. With the flick of his hand came the ghostly outline of his Personal Space card, complete with details.

 

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.

 

"It's a Rare power," Whitaker said. "You just got damn lucky, kid. Unlinked, newly hatched dragons are fragile. You could have poisoned it by storing it with a lesser card."

Valentina was not so forgiving. "What gives you the right to touch a dragon which already rejected you?"

Arthur drew himself up, even though a part of him wondered the same thing. "Forgive me, but I've seen scourge sickness before. It acts fast and the dragon seemed to be fading. If you have someone with another storage power or a healing card, I can pull the dragon out in a moment. You can see the card's description. No time will have passed for it."

Valentina narrowed her eyes. "That's twice in one day I find you in the middle of hive trouble. I don't like this pattern that's emerging or your arrogance in thinking you know what's best. You," she pointed a finger at him, and it was as if a spear of air hit his chest, knocking him back a step, "are involving yourself in too high-level dragon rider business when you're a nobody."

Arthur wanted to argue... but he couldn't. He knew it had been a risky move, but it hadn't stopped him. Now the pink dragon was safe until they could find a solution.

Cressida seemed to be thinking along the same lines.

"Will this give us time to find a healer for the dragon?"

Valentina and Whitaker looked back to the sickness seeker. The man winced. "Not in this hive, I'm afraid."

"What do you mean?" Arthur demanded.

"Surely, you have veterinary staff on call?" Cressida said on the heels of his words.

"It's not a cold or a scrape, it's the scourge. It's the antithesis of worldly life." The sickness seeker's tone had taken on a cadence as if this was something he'd said many times before, either in a lecture or a sermon. "No low tiered sickness seeker or sickness destroyer can handle it. This takes true healing on a higher level. It will need a Legendary healer or better."

Whitaker muttered a curse under his breath, turning away to run a hand down his face. “That means Snow Moon hive.”

"No!" Valentina said before the healer had time to nod. "Snow Moon hive will lend us a healer and take the Rare as payment, if not the--" She stopped short and scowled. Though Arthur could guess what she was about to say 'If not the Legendary egg, as well’.

Valentina’s ire turned to Cressida. "Why are you here, Lady Icehouse? I understand Ernest feels the need to stick his nose in business, but your friends have already fled." She gestured toward the door in disgust.

Cressida lifted her chin. "I’m staying because I intend to link with this dragon."

Whitaker barked a laugh. Valentina’s scowl deepened. "Don't you have some sort of a flame summon card, child? Do you think that would be attractive to a pink dragon?"

"Then I'll buy a card that’s acceptable," Cressida insisted. "An intelligence enhancer or a tactic card..." she trailed off at the looks of doubt on the leaders faces.

Reluctantly, Arthur agreed. The chances of the perfect card that just so happened to be on sale were slim. And once Cressida put it in her heart, she would have a hard time taking it out again. He knew that by painful experience.

"Enough of this nonsense." Whitaker turned back to regard Arthur critically. "Your little stunt got my attention. But do you think we'll let you walk around the hive freely with an unlinked Rare hatchling in your storage?"

Arthur knew he couldn't allow himself a moment of doubt. "Yes."

The leader’s eyes narrowed and Arthur was very aware that he could strip the meat off his bones with the strength of his telekinesis. That was, if Valentina didn't get to him first. But the elderly woman remained silent, watching this play out.

After what seemed to be an age, Whitaker said, "Why?"

"If you had someone with a better storage space you could trust, you would have sent for them by now," Arthur said. "You read my card. As long as the dragon is stored, it's safe. Only a Legendary seeker or better could find it there. Furthermore, this gives you time to quietly pay a healer to arrive, or make other arrangements." He glanced at Cressida who smiled thinly back.

"All of which we could do with you locked up," Whitaker said easily.

"But you won't want to draw attention to where the dragon's gone." Arthur's heart was pounding in his chest, but he didn't allow the panic he felt at making this up as he went along to show on his face. Besides, he still had one winning card up his sleeve. "You're the only ones who saw me store the dragon. And there's one other thing."

Whitaker's eyes narrowed another degree. He looked like a snake about to strike. "What would that be?"

"You know I'll be loyal to you. I... I won't take off with the pink because I don't want it." He took a breath. "I want a chance at the Legendary egg. And I know I have to keep in your good graces to get it."

Valentina spoke up, voice droll. "Am I to believe the most honorable Baron Kane had an extra Legendary he just happened never to tell anyone about? Especially after what happened after he lost the first?"

"I wouldn't ever disclose family secrets, ma'am."

He half expected one or perhaps both of the leaders to strike him down for insolence. Instead, Whitaker turned to Valentina. Arthur didn't see what expression passed over his face, but the old woman raised her eyebrows.

“It’s a cheap price for the cooperation, Val,” Whitaker said.

The old woman scowled but then turned back to Arthur. "I can't guarantee you the first try at that egg. Once we open those floodgates, every high noble son and daughter will try their luck. The competition will make these Rare Prominades look like a puff of breeze in the face of a hurricane. Do you understand?"

He nodded.

Valentina turned to Cressida. "And you, girl. Do you want a shot at the pink? You keep your mouth shut about what you've seen."

Cressida nodded, though her eyes were sparkling. Arthur had the feeling she was itching to run down to every card shop in the city and start throwing coins around.

"Then, Ernest Kane," Valentina emphasized the name. “I charge you to keep our little pink dragon safe."

 


 

Arthur's knees kept him steady right up until the moment he walked out of the room. He leaned against the stone wall, breathing hard.

Also, he had a notification.

He'd gained another level in Acting.

 

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A note from HonourRae

Want to go back and read book 1, only edited for typos? Would you rather hear it narrated by the talented Luke Daniels? (Iron Prince, Completionist Chronicles, Red Mage)

Well starting December 20th, you can do just that!

https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B0BM51RQR8


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