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Holding his breath, Arthur pushed the card to his chest. He had doubts this would work. A man’s heart was supposed to be the size of a fist. This card was longer than his hand from the heel of his palm to his fingertips.

It didn’t matter because the card stopped dead at his shirt. Even magic cards couldn’t pass through fabric.

Arthur yanked down his collar, wincing as a few bad seams popped. He tried again.

This time the card seemed to sink straight through his skin. There was no blood, only a sensation of growing pressure. It seemed like it should have hurt… only it didn’t.

Closing his eyes, Arthur shoved the card the rest of the way. Straight into his heart.

The card vanished under his skin.

Suddenly, in his mind’s eye, he saw the card, blazing bright. His mind was flooded with information.

 

You have activated your heart deck dashboard.

 

Master of Skills (Legendary) has been added to your heart deck.

 

As Master of Skills is a utility based card, it has automatically been slotted into your Spirit slot.

 

Master of Skills

Rank: Legendary

Description: This card grants the wielder the ability to immediately gain proficiency in any skill. Skills are automatically organized into categories and broken down into assigned values.

The wielder of this card learns skills at a base 25% accelerated rate.

Newly learned skills automatically start at base level 3.

Previous experience and/or learning a skill taught by a master may increase the initial starting level and further accelerate proficiency.

This is a utility only card. Seek additional cards in this set to include combative, magical, body, and special abilities.

 

Congratulations! You have accessed your heart deck dashboard.

Total cards: 1

Total completed sets: 0

Paired cards: 0

Linked cards: 0

Mind: 0

Body: 0

Spirit: 1

 

Arthur sat down hard. He was certain he’d never heard half of those words before, and yet while reading them with his mind’s eye, he now knew them intimately.

Though he still wasn’t certain what Body, Mind, and Spirit slots were for.

It didn’t matter. Dad was going to love this card.

He looked down at his hands in wonder, curious if he could see any change. But all he saw was his own hands, dirty with dragon soil. He wiped them on his pants.

Now the card was hidden in his heart, he realized he would have to move quickly. It would be suspicious if he was not seen helping the village tonight. When dragon soil was delivered, everyone not on their death bed was expected to pitch in. Sometimes the baron’s men dragged the ailing out of their homes to work the fields.

Standing from the graves, Arthur bade his mother and sister goodbye. He ducked into the cottage long enough to grab a few small apples from a kitchen basket. Then he headed out.

 


 

The men and women of border village #49 worked hard, as a rule. However, on dragon soil delivery days, that went extra.

Dragon soil had to be tilled into scourge-ridden fields, and it had to be done before the soil lost its life-giving strength.

It also had to be done carefully. Working scourge-ridden land was dangerous. Any cut, no matter how minor, could go bad. Most everyone had some pockmarks and deep scars from a rotted infection. The majority of the adults were missing fingers or toes.

So for this occasion, the baron’s men handed out thick leather gloves to all adults. The gloves would be counted by the time they left to ensure no one stole from their noble lord.

Meanwhile, children and younger teens were sent as runners back and forth on different tasks. They retrieved cold water from the stream, fetched tools to the adults in the field, and helped ladle out boiled oats from the steaming kitchen kettles. Whatever it took to keep the workers going.

If the sun was setting and the work was not done then torches would be lit to keep people tilling through the night.

Everyone was so busy that Arthur slipped into the chaos without notice. Though his friend, Ernie, gave him an odd look.

Before Ernie could do more than open his mouth, he was handed a pail of water and a dipping spoon to take to the field hands. Arthur moved to join his friend but old Martha caught him by the elbow.

“Not you, Arthur. You have a bucket of carrots to chop with your name on it.”

He gave the old woman a disgusted look. “Chopping carrots? What for?”

“For the stew, brat. The baron’s men want everyone to work until they drop tonight. That means we serve dinner. Hurry up, now.”

She pushed him to the kitchen tent and added a swat to his backside when he wasn’t fast enough.

Grumbling, Arthur headed over there. Kitchen duty was women’s work… though he wouldn’t complain about being close to the cooking fires. The early spring air had already taken on a night chill. Arthur couldn’t handle the cold as well as he used to before the flu swept through the village.

Except… he felt the sting of the chilly air, but it didn’t seem to instantly sink into his bones the way it usually did. It was as if he wore an invisible sweater that kept him just a bit warmer.

Was it the card?

He glanced down to his chest, half expecting to see a glow to show off his guilt to the world.

There was nothing. He looked normal. He just felt a little warmer than usual.

It was said that carded men and women grew taller, stronger, and faster than normal folk. Maybe just having the card for a few hours would kick start a growth spurt?

That pleasant thought was cut short when he entered the kitchen tent. To his dismay, Old Martha hadn’t been exaggerating. There was indeed a full bucket of carrots set out just for him.

Arthur groaned, though quietly so the kitchen women didn’t hear. Last dragon soil delivery he’d been set to peeling a bucket of potatoes, he’d made the mistake of complaining. That had only gotten him two more buckets to join the rest.

By the time he was done, Arthur hadn’t been able to look at a potato without a shudder.

One of the kitchen workers was a woman named Yuma. She had lost both feet to a scourge infection before Arthur had been born, so she couldn’t work in the fields. Spotting Arthur from her customary place sat on a stool by a fire, she waved a wooden spoon in a threateningly.

“Mind you peel those carrots before you chop them. And don’t you dare throw the peels to the pigs afterward.”

“Why not?” he grumped. “Some of the sows gave birth last week. Peels will do ‘em good.”

“The peels go into the broth to thicken it up. It’s going to be a cold night tonight and the workers will need all the thickening they can get.”

Arthur opened his mouth to shoot back that half the bucket ought to go in the pig sty anyway— many of the carrots were rubbery and even the best of them had the beginning of rot spots on them.

But Yuma had turned away and Arthur thought better of giving her lip. It would only earn him more work.

He set to the task, using the peeler to try to cut the dark spots from the rest, though he didn’t know why he bothered. It was all going in the same pot anyway.

He was on his third carrot when something odd happened.

Words popped up in front of his face. Just like when he had hidden the card in his chest. He understood what the words said even though he was certain he hadn’t read any of these in his life.

 

New skill gained: Basic Meal Preparation. (Cooking Class)

Due to your card’s bonus traits, you automatically start this skill at level 3.

 

With a jolt of fear, Arthur looked around to see who else saw the alert. Not everyone in the village could read, but they’d certainly notice this.

The message moved smoothly along with his field of vision.

Sitting on her stool with a bucket of onions in front of her, Yuma scowled in Arthur’s direction.

“Stop daydreaming. The sooner those go in the pot, the sooner we all get to eat.”

She said nothing about the words floating in the air only a few feet from Arthur’s nose. None of the other kids working in the tent mentioned it either.

He was the only one who could see them.

Letting out a long breath, Arthur nodded and bent back to his work. As he did, he dismissed the message with a mental flick so automatic that he didn’t have to think much about it.

He grabbed up a fourth carrot and frowned. Something about his grip didn’t feel right.

Now he was paying more attention, he saw his fingers were much too close to the scraping tool. One slip and he’d skin himself rather than the carrot.

He adjusted his grip until it felt right, switching the angle of the peeler so he was shoving away rather than peeling towards himself. There. That felt right.

He peeled that carrot and the ones after it faster than he had before. He was also able to shave down the brown bits with much more ease.

Done with the bucket, he received another message.

 

New skill level:

Basic Meal Preparation (Cooking Class)

Level 4

 

“Now cut the carrots,” said Yuma, who never wasted an opportunity to tell someone what to do when they were in her tent. Arthur’s father called it ‘micromanaging’. “Use that knife on the table, and be sure you replace it afterward. I’ll be counting all the knives come night’s end.”

Arthur rolled his eyes. As if anyone would take one of the kitchen tent knives. They were village property and dangerously dull anyway.

The dullness also made the knives particularly dangerous. He usually hated this part the most whenever he helped in the kitchen.

Now he approached the task with a sense of anticipation.

He placed the entire bucket of peeled carrots on the table and started chopping.

Once again, he got a few carrots in when he received another message.

 

You have gained a skill: Knife-Work (Cooking Class)

Due to your card’s bonus traits, you automatically start this skill at level 3.

 

A grin spread across Arthur’s face. He quickly pulled a new carrot.

Again… the way he usually chopped carrots felt off, like he was doing it wrong. He adjusted his grip, curling in the first joint of his fingers to keep the tips out of the way of the dull knife.

The motion of the knife, too, felt subtly wrong. He’d always used a basic up and down chopping motion. Like one would with an ax to a stubborn block of wood. Now, he felt like he needed to sort of roll the knife in his hand as he pressed down.

The old carrot, as rubbery as it was, yielded to the knife. He was left with a perfectly edged chunk. Not ragged like the others.

Huh.

Arthur repeated the process, slowly gaining speed as he grew confident.

“That’s a fine looking pile, Arthur.”

He glanced up in surprise to see Yuma had stumped over on her peg legs. She was looking at the pile in satisfaction. The carrot chunks were all in a neat golden pile. And except for the first few carrots, they were mostly uniform in size and consistency.

“Yes, very nicely done,” Yuma murmured to herself.

Arthur had never heard so much as an approving grunt from the woman. He was pleased… but also a little wary. There was every chance that properly done work would be rewarded with more work. That was a lesson the adults drove into the village children — to prepare them for the time that they, too, would be under the Baron’s eye.

Nobles would work a man to death just because they could, and not give a sniff for the wife and children he left behind.

Yuma cast a glance at him and then snorted as if she’d read his mind.

“Well, there’s not much more to do here. Toss the carrots into that pot, and the skins into the broth over there. Then get out to the field. We’ll be working to sunup, more like than not.”

Arthur nodded and did as he was told, scooting out of the tent as quickly as possible.

Once free of Yuma’s gaze, he let himself grin in wonder.

Chopping carrots was a small thing, but suddenly he was excited to see what other skills this card would grant him.

That thought came with a prickle of shame. This wasn’t his card to use and explore. He was going to give it to his father.

Would Arthur keep the skills he gained? Or would they be lost the moment it left his heart deck?

“Arthur!” called a voice.

He looked up to see one of the men on the edge of the field waving him over.

The time for daydreaming was over. Now he had work to do.

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A note from HonourRae

It took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out how to work those text boxes. Let me know if it looks wonky on your end!


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