The day after Arthur was paid his first Uncommon card shard was a break day.
These came once every six days, with the seventh being a day of rest. However, for those with lower positions — such as Arthur – he was usually required to work them anyway, even though he got a break from classes.
But Horatio had surprised him and had offered to take his usual shift to help bake bread loaves. He had assisted Arthur throughout the last week and now knew just as much as he did. When they ran it by Chef, the man seemed pleased and even offered to teach Horatio how to make a different kind of savory pastry.
Privately, Arthur thought that Chef might be testing Horatio for advancement into a baker position. He hoped his friend took advantage of it. Meanwhile, Arthur had copper coins in his pocket, an Uncommon shard, and the rare luxury of free time.
He knew exactly how he was going to spend it.
After some careful questioning, he learned that there were three card shops within the city. One was on the opposite and of the hive completely and was too far away for walking distance. Out of the other two, he got recommendations for them both.
He decided to aim for the one furthest away… Just in case the shopkeeper recognized him later.
It never hurt to be too cautious, and he had grown used to secrecy.
It was a clear sky day. Above, dragons flew back and forth, the tiny purples fastest of all. Arthur tilted his head up and watched them dart across the sky.
The shop itself was located near one of the canals which shunted water from the glittering river. The whole area had a swampy smell to it, and he wondered if the humidity was bad for cards.
The card shop itself had no windows, and the outside walls were reinforced with thick metal bars with some kind of weird runic script on them. It seemed the shopkeeper was very concerned with keeping thieves out.
As soon as Arthur stepped in, he saw why.
The shelves were tucked tight against the wall. Lining them and sandwiched between thick panes of glass were cards. Hundreds of cards.
There was a taste in the air, metallic, yet flowery and sweet at the same time. It wasn't unpleasant, but it was powerful. He thought it might be the taste of magic leaking out from the cards.
Eyes wide, Arthur stepped to the nearest shelf.
These were Common rank cards with scholarly attributes. One allowed its user to read at a quicker pace with slight bonuses to comprehension. Another one gave benefits to learning a language Arthur had never heard of. Come to think of it, he never encountered anybody who spoke another language. As far as he knew, all the other kingdoms had long ago fallen to the scourge. That likely meant this card wasn't valuable for its magical skill, but for the health benefits it gave its user.
He stepped to a different shelf and saw that these Common cards contained aspects of water magic. There were minor charms to seek out deep wells within the earth, another card to change fresh water to salt water and back again at need. There was even one that reminded him of the card Hivey had: The ability to conjure drinkable water from the air, though this one used a lot of mana.
Arthur glanced to the front of the store and saw there were more shelves where only the employees stood. These had flashier-looking cards — the Uncommons.
If the shop had rares, they were probably locked safely within trapped cases.
One of the shopkeeper assistants saw Arthur looking and snapped his fingers at him. "What are you looking for, kid? Do you need a test?"
Reluctantly, Arthur peeled himself from the shelves and walked up to him. "A test?"
"To see if you're ready for a card." The man reached under his counter and pulled out a glowing white stone — just like the one Freyja had used on him.
"No, I know already. I'm looking for a card anchor."
The man looked Arthur up and down as if judging if he were wasting his time or not. "There are tattoo places that'll do that for you."
"I don't want that." He didn't want a mark that anybody could see. His imagination had been caught by the Master of Multiplication who had seemed to pull cards out of his jacket. "Do you have a bag or clothing with an anchor on it?"
The shopkeeper's eyebrows raised. "Yes, but it's not cheap."
Arthur didn't flinch. "Show me what you have."
Maybe it was his calm certainty, or maybe the shopkeeper was just curious by now, but he waved Arthur to follow him past the counters to a room in the back. This was clearly where they kept their higher rank cards. There was yet another room beyond, barred by a thick metal door with a ringed lock on it. Two burly men stood on either side of that door and glared at Arthur with hostile expressions.
The shopkeeper ignored them and the door. Instead, he walked to another set of shelves that had several items.
A few of them were lady's purses, with delicate straps and gems crusted on the tops and sides. There were more masculine bags, too, made of dyed canvas fabric.
Arthur looked them over for a moment then pointed at the simplest of them all. A small drawstring bag that looked barely big enough to fit a card.
The man took it out for Arthur to examine. It didn't look much different than his own coin pouch, except for the rectangular mark sewn into the fabric.
"How much?" Arthur asked.
Arthur dithered for a moment, but he needed something like this. With a regretful sigh, he pulled out his Uncommon shard. "And how much for this?"
The man looked at it, seeming faintly surprised. "That's a middle piece of the card, so I can give you two silvers for it."
That price felt a little low. The man reached for the piece as if this was a done deal, but Arthur drew his hand away. "How about a straight trade between this card shard and that anchor?"
The man didn’t hesitate. "That card shard, and either a half-silver more or five coppers, and I will throw in the charm to link you and the anchor for free."
Arthur hadn't realized that would be an extra cost. He considered for a moment, but either he took the deal now or he waited until another free day to visit another shop.
"Deal," Arthur said.
New skill gained: Haggling (Merchant Class)
Due to your card’s bonus traits, you automatically start this skill at level 3.
Reluctantly, he pulled out five additional coppers in addition to the shard. That was the entirety of his pay, gone in a moment. Hopefully, it would be worth it.
After taking his money and writing up a quick receipt, the man led him into another side room where he directed Arthur to sit in a chair.
A moment later, a woman in her twenties entered from another side room. She took a look at the draw bag anchor and nodded. "That is a good purchase a good starter purchase for a young card wielder."
“Who are you?” Arthur asked.
She smiled. "I'm the one who sowed the anchor in, so I have to be the one to activate it. Now, you may feel funny for a moment, but it will be brief and there should be no pain. Are you ready?"
Arthur nodded, sitting up in his seat and trying to look brave. “I’m ready.”
“Pull down your collar for me.”
The woman reached two fingers to touch the anchor mark on the pouch. With her other hand, she touched right over Arthur's heart.
He felt a sharp snap that seemed to echo inside his head.
She lowered her hands and smiled. “See? That didn’t hurt, did it?”
“That’s it,” she confirmed. “This bag is keyed into your heart deck. When you wish to upgrade it, come back here and I will move the anchor to the new container.”
She left soon after, drawing a curtain across the small space to give him privacy. Arthur knew why. The moment she was gone, he reached for the Rare Trap card which was tucked under the bandages against his waist.
He slipped it into the draw bag and pulled it shut. As he did, a message appeared in front of his eyes.
Secondary Deck 1/3
Do you wish to activate Return To Start (Trap) now?
“Yes,” Arthur said.
The card immediately prompted him to key in a location point and he declined.
Then, as an experiment, he mentally reached for the secondary deck option again.
|Do you wish to deactivate Return To Start (Trap) now?|
“Yes,” he said with a grin.
Now, if he found himself in a bind, he could activate and deactivate the trap card at a moment’s notice. Much easier than shoving it in his heart. The only catch was he had to have the bag with him. He felt that instinctively. After all, it was now connected with his heart.
And there were two more slots available.