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Over the next few weeks, Arthur settled into a routine. Rising from a bed roll with the fading dawn stars overhead became normal. The pain when he thought of the village slowly lost its jagged edge.

Once or twice he caught himself using the word 'home' referencing Red's cart.

Meanwhile, the caravan traveled steadily west where they continued to stop at one town after another. Some were smaller than the first Arthur had seen. Some were marginally larger. None had an extraordinary encounter with dragons.

He found himself looking up at the sky, unable to get Doshi’s question out of his head: Did he want to be a dragon rider?

He wasn't sure. What he wanted to know was what kind of dragon would choose him? What card would link with his own?

Something where he would learn skills even faster? Was it worth becoming a dragon rider for that? And would that help or hurt his goal of helping his father and the rest of the village? What if it was a card that could give him combat abilities? Or magic? There were too many unknowns.

Skill-wise, he seemed to be doing pretty well -- especially his Meal Preparation skills. Second hadn't complained about the stew in days, which was a new record.

In addition, he had picked up a flurry of new skills over the last few days. One of which was Cartography. He had earned it a few days ago when Red had rolled out a map of the kingdom.

At first... Arthur wasn't sure what he had been looking at. No one used maps in the border village where everyone knew every turn, practically every bush.

Red had predicted this and started pointing out features including the wavy line that represented the road they were currently on.

Once that clicked, Arthur received the cartography skill. It was as if something snapped into place and Arthur understood.

The kingdom was one general mass separated into dozens of different colored sections that represented duchies. These duchies were further separated into individual baronies, but this map wasn't detailed enough to show those.

Outside the main borders of the kingdom were the gray-colored scourge-lands. Most of the dead lands sat to the west, though there were thick patches of it surrounding the kingdom in all directions.

"Where is my village?" Arthur had asked eagerly.

Red silently pointed a gnarled finger not far from the road they were on. All this traveling and they hadn't even moved a knuckle-length on the map.

Most of Arthur's entire life had been lived on black dot marked #49.

Homesick ache made him look away. His attention turned back to the kingdom at large.

It was a sort of blobby circle sitting off center in the middle of the continent. The core of the kingdom was thick with markings for cities. Yet Red kept the caravan on a road close to the border.

"Are we going to ever travel inward? Wouldn't there be better trading in the cities?" he asked.

Red shook his head. "I'll let you in on a secret: This area here between the border and the settled land is the best part of the kingdom."

"Why?"

He'd heard the other men in the caravan grumbling about all the 'stick shot' towns being stingy and how no one wanted to pay a fair price. Considering they all had enough to stay at the fanciest inns and drink their profits, Arthur wasn't sure how much was just bellyaching.

"Of course we want to stay away from the dead lands. But the settled inner cities have their own problems." Red pointed to little triangles scattered all through the map. "These are scourge eruptions. Tell me what you see about them."

"Uh..." He took a moment then frowned. "There's hardly any near the border. There's a couple here and here." He pointed. One had been scarily close by their current location. "But most are near the cities..." He whistled under his breath. The marked cities were a jumble of information of name, dutchy, and border lines. Now he was looking, he recognized that there were quite a few triangles for eruptions, too. "Does the scourge like cities?"

"They eat life," Red corrected. "And you'll find more life bunched together in the cities than you will out here. Even if I were a carded man, I wouldn't live in one of those charnel houses for a whole Mythic set. Now, what do you think when I tell you that this map has only the last five years of eruptions?"

Arthur took that in. He had never thought much about scourgling eruptions. They never erupted near already dead land. There was nothing for them to feed on. "That it's a lot. Have you seen an eruption?"

"Yes. Luckily, we have these." Red pointed to a funny little marking on the map.

Arthur glanced at the legend and saw that it was to indicate a dragon hive. Whoever had drawn this map had made it look like a bee hive.

He started counting the hives and found there were twelve in total, arranged in a ring around the middle of the kingdom.

Unfortunately, none were remotely near their road. They would have to travel far inward to ever see one.

Well, maybe it was for the best. He couldn't avoid more silvers if he went to their home. But once he got another card... maybe.

 


 

One good thing about moving from town to town was the different things to learn. On his off time each night, he made sure to explore the darkened streets while trying to remain unseen.

He had gotten his Stealth up to level 9 but seemed to be stuck there. It was as if the skill was waiting for something before it moved from Basic to Apprentice, though he wasn't sure what it could be.

Frustrated, Arthur turned to other skills. He soon learned the inns in different towns had different card games. He watched the men play enough that he earned a Card-Counting skill. Occasionally (usually when the men were in their cups) they allowed him to play.

One night, Arthur lost almost his entire supply of pennies but earned up to a level five in Blackjack. He considered that a fair trade.

At the very next town, he won several pennies by joining another kid's dice game of circles and squares. This time, once the other kids started looking at him side-long, he made sure to lose several times in a row. He still left richer than when he'd arrived, and no one followed him back to the inn to beat him up.

Slowly but surely, he was getting a handle on this new life.

When his breakthrough came, it wasn’t to Stealth.

The traders had such a profitable day at their newest stop that they decided to stay an extra day. That was fine by Arthur. This town was the largest he had seen so far with much more to explore. Also, as long as the men were staying at the Inn, his duties were minimal.

He still had three pennies burning a hole in his pocket from his salary and eight more that he had squirreled away from previous stops.

Ten pennies were equal to a copper and that was enough to buy himself a new simple shirt.

But when he stopped in the local Mercantile, a shirt wasn’t what caught his eye.

It was a deck of playing cards.

Not a new deck — those went from 5 whole coppers all the way up to silvers if the faces were fancy enough. No, it was used but well kept with no creasing on the edges or wear on the back to give the card underneath away.

Arthur walked out of the store with it for the princely price of 9 pennies, talked down from a copper. He had the feeling he might have gained a haggling skill if he kept going… or the shopkeeper might have just thrown him out on his ear. He hadn’t been willing to miss out on the prize.

He remembered the ref — Bert — from the first town. How he had organized the dice game. He’d gotten a small cut from the pot.

If Arthur could manage something like that as he moved from town to town, he might earn himself a nice source of income. Maybe enough to buy himself a low-ranked spell card.

Ah, but he would have to know what he was doing with the playing cards, first. No one would trust a dealer who fumbled his cards. Arthur found a good sitting rock on the edge of town and carefully started to shuffle his deck. It was not as easy as people made it look. Cards flew everywhere. He winced every time, hating to accidentally bend one.

If he worked slow enough, he picked up the knack. Soon, the cards were fanning together more or less reliably.

 

New skill gained: Card Shuffling (Gambler Class)

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

 

That was standard. The message that came next surprised him.

You have earned five synergistic skills.

You may combine these five skills into the basic Gambler class:

  • Card Shuffling (Level 3)
  • Card Counting (Level 3)
  • Blackjack (Level 5)
  • Poker – Five Card Draw (Level 3)
  • Circles and Squares (Level 5)

This class will be the average of all added skill levels. Newly learned compatible skills may be added to the Gambler class. However, adding a lower skill level contributes to the overall average, possibly lowering the overall skill level.

Gambler Class (Basic: Level 4) 3.8 average with initial rounded bonus.

When equipped, card wielder will learn all Gambler Class levels at a 1.25 times rate in addition to existing skill bonuses.

  • + 3 to Luck
  • + 5 to non-class skills associated with an arithmetic foundation.

Do you wish to combine these skills now?

 

Arthur gaped, then quickly shut his mouth, realizing he was gaping to mid-air.

He reread the alert. As far as he could tell, the only downside was if he learned a new card game and added it to the class, he might lower the average of all his class skills.

That was no burden. He could always wait to level up the skill before adding to the rest. All it took was patience.

What was the gain to luck? Did he have a luck skill?

No, he had raked over everything about his card over and over. There was no mention of luck. There hadn’t been any mention of classes, either.

It didn’t matter. He was doing this.

Arthur nodded to himself. The moment he made his decision the message disappeared.

In his mind’s eye, a new card-shaped object swam up. It was more basic than even a common-class card: Simple card stock with bold letters.

Gambler Class

(Basic: Level 4)

Skills:

  • Card Shuffling (Level 3)
  • Card Counting (Level 3)
  • Blackjack (Level 5)
  • Poker – Five Card Draw (Level 3)
  • Circles and Squares (Level 5)

 

Do you wish to equip Gambler Class now?

 

Again, there could be only one answer.

Yes.

In his mind’s eye, the Gambler Class card slotted into a new space.

Equipped Classes

Tier 1:

01/03

Tier 2

0/2

Tier 3:

0/1

Non-Equipped Classes: 0

“Wow,” he whispered.

His Gambler Class wasn’t a real card. It was a figment of his Master of Skills. He instinctively felt that if he were to lose or give away his Master of Skills card, his classes would disappear as well.

Arthur heard a burst of laughter nearby. A group of teenagers walked down the street. They were joking and several pushed each other playfully, but one had the shifty-eyed look of someone searching for a good time.

Playing cards in hand, Arthur stood. He was a Gambler, and if he was lucky, these teens might be interested in a friendly game of poker.

 

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HonourRae

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