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A note from HonourRae

Tuesday chapter! Just because I like this one. :)

I’ve created a monster, Arthur thought fondly as he walked down the streets of the hive city. For once, he was not heading back to the orphanage after work… and he was alone.

Horatio had passed Chef’s test/orientation with flying colors. It turned out he had a real flair for working with breads and pastries. Arthur didn’t get it. Bread was good to eat and all, but it was a pain and a half to make, even with his Baking Skills to help him.

He much preferred making entrees full of meats and vegetables in new ways. It allowed him to experiment on the go, whereas baked goods had to follow a recipe practically to the letter or else something would go wrong on the other side.

Horatio felt the exact opposite. He enjoyed having the recipes laid out for him — a structure that, if he followed, he could depend on something tasty for his hard work. He could experiment with decoration and arrangement.

Arthur was happy to leave him to it.

In any case, now that Horatio had stepped into a position as a Baker, with a generous pay in Uncommon shards, he was much happier — though he still kept his cynical sense of humor. And he still had almost zero respect for what he thought of as an inferior hive.

He had volunteered to stay late tonight to try out a new pastry idea, certain that Chef would reward him if he came up with something spectacular. Possibly even a shard. That wasn’t a bad plan, and Arthur might take a page out of his book… but today, he needed to think.

He had to decide if he was going to become a thief.

It had started innocently.

Arthur had been finding himself hungry more and more often. Hopefully, it was his long awaited growth spurt about to kick in. However, being surrounded by food while his stomach was growling was pure torture.

So, he started to sneak bites that weren’t necessarily for tasting.

He didn’t think much of it since the restaurant threw away more food in a night than could probably feed his entire village. Then he had gotten a new skill.

New skill gained: Embezzlement (Thief/Merchant Class)

Due to your previous experience and your card’s bonus traits, you automatically start this skill at level 7.


That was plain unfair.

Though… he admitted to himself he did have experience thieving. It had been the only way not to starve in the borderland village.

Technically, every time he and his father planted secret gardens where they shouldn’t be, they were stealing the baron’s land. He had also snuck out knives and common garden equipment when dragon soil shipments came. It’s not like those tools were given to them, seeing as they weren’t supposed to grow their own food. And yes, he had skimmed off the top of harvests for the same reason.

Arthur he didn’t regret any of it and he resented the fact that his card gave him thief experience.

But the worst, and most discouraging of his new skills so far had been his Sleight of Hand skill.

He had gotten it just this morning, and he still wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

It started when, as a thank you present for helping him get the baking job, Horatio had bought Arthur a used deck of playing guards.

“How did you know I’d wanted one?” Arthur asked.

Horatio shrugged. “You’re always complaining that kids aren’t allowed it the gambling halls. So I figure this will tide you over until you grow another foot or two.”

He had to duck as Arthur mimed a punch in his direction.

Horatio had to do a lot of ducking… and Arthur had to punch up.

Anyway, the paying cards were a good replacement for the ones he had left behind in the caravan. They were old with some marks on the back to give away what would be on the other side of the card if someone was observant enough.

But they provided an excellent way to practice his Card Shuffling skills.

Arthur had grown used to waking up around the time of the morning bell. So when he woke a few minutes early this morning, he spent them quietly practicing the shuffling tricks he knew.

Remembering the tricky man with the cups, he started playing around with the idea of hiding a card in the curve of his palm and then sliding that same card into the deck at a later point.

He wasn’t very good at it, and nearly bent the card he was trying to hide several times before he figured out the method. He didn’t plan on cheating anyone with this trick. Honest. It was just something to do to pass the time.

But his own card did not agree.

 

New skill gained: Sleight-of-hand (Thief/Gambler Class)

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


 

You have earned five skills which contain unusual synergy.

You may combine these five skills:

Lock-Picking

Apprentice Stealth

Acting

Embezzlement

Sleight-of-Hand

into one basic class. This class will be the average of all added skill levels. Newly learned compatible skills may be added to the Thief class. However, an added lower skill level contributes to the overall average, possibly lowering the overall skill level.

Thief Class (Basic: Level 6) 5.7 average with one time rounded bonus.

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

+3 to Dexterity

+ 3 Perception

Do you wish to combine these skills now?


 

He froze. This wasn’t what he wanted.

“Can I erase a skill?” he hissed.

Horatio shifted around on his own cot, on the verge of waking. Arthur pinched his lips shut.

His card, of course, did not give an answer.

Now he was faced with a choice. Well, three choices, and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.

He could always move his new sleight-of-hand skill into his Gambler Class. But only if he intended to cheat people.

Yes, he intended to make money with his Gambler Class — as soon as he looked old enough to be let in — but there was a stark difference between outwitting someone by skill or paying attention to the numbers than… sliding a card into the deck to give himself an advantage.

No, he didn’t want his Sleight-of-hand going into the Gambler Class.

His second option was to consolidate it into a new Thief Class.

That was even worse, wasn’t it? Arthur did not want to be a thief. Yes, he stole to live, but that had been out of necessity. If he was uncomfortable with cheating people, he didn’t want to steal from them.

Plus, his Master of Skills card was in his heart. Did that mean adding a Thief Class might change his nature?

But… the Thief Class would have his stealth skills, too. What if something bad happened and he needed the combined skills of a thief to get out? Stealth had saved his life by allowing him to hide from the scourgelings. And he couldn’t forget that Second would likely kill him if they ever crossed paths. Not to mention, if anyone discovered he had a Legendary Rank card… he’d have to get away, by any means necessary.

His Gambling Glass had given him a bonus to his luck status. Arthur was certain that had saved his life already.

What would a Thief Class give him?

Glancing at his class stats, he noticed that Thief was another basic class. He could equip three basic classes at one time. That meant there would be room for another active one after thief. He hoped it would be cooking.

The last option was to do nothing at all. To keep sleight-of-hand as a regular skill and not add it to Gambling or create the Thief class at all.

That last option felt like the worst out of the three. Arthur didn’t like the idea of not using any advantage he could get.

His wandering path took him, at last, to the edge of one of the canals that ran through the city. This wasn’t a large one. He could cross it with a running jump. But it was deep enough that he didn’t want to risk falling in.

Standing at the edge, he looked down into the water. His reflection looked back at himself. Maybe it was how the water rippled, but he thought he looked a little bit like his dad: Stern, but responsible. Even though inside, he was troubled.

What would his dad do?

His father had been the man everyone in the village could trust. He went out of his way to help families who couldn’t get enough food scrape up a meal from somewhere — even if that meant dipping into the harvest storehouses that the Baron’s men were meant to guard.

Arthur wasn’t supposed to know about that. But his father had sometimes disappeared at night. Then within a few days the Barons men complained about losses or harvests coming in under what they thought they should be. Some of it had been them skimming off the top themselves, no doubt. But some… Arthur knew that some of those “losses” had ended up in the bellies of hungry borderland families.

So his father had technically stolen from the baron. But everyone did and it had been a little fun because the Baron would rather let families with children starve than give them a scrap. The choice had been easy. Not like now.

What would his father tell him to do?

He had told Arthur to find another card. To steal it if he had to.

Arthur was working on getting another card but doing it the legit way was a slow process.

If he had his thief class, could he get one sooner?

He had a feeling that, no matter what, his father wouldn’t want him to sit on any opportunity. And just because he had it didn’t want that he had to be a bad person.

Arthur nodded at his own reflection and then brought up the card dashboard again.

Inhaling a breath to steady his nerves, he accepted the thief class.

Thief Class

(Basic: Level 6)

Skills:

Lock-Picking

Apprentice Stealth

Acting

Embezzlement

Sleight-of-Hand

Bonus

Perception +3

Dexterity + 3

Would you like to equip the class now?


 

“Yes,” he muttered, bracing himself.

Immediately… the world felt different. As if it had become just a bit more real. The wind that blew off the canal felt a little colder against his skin. It carried with it an acidic tang that reminded him of home. It was dragon soil.

He heard there were dragon soil fields, though he had yet to see them. They weren’t the type of place people went for fun.

He looked up to see dragons wheeling and darting in the sky and noticed for the first time that not all of them had riders on their backs. Were they riderless, like Sams? Or were their riders just busy and they were having a nice flight by themselves?

It didn’t matter. His new perception seemed to sharpen his hunger, as well.

It might be too late to get dinner at the orphanage, though he would have to check in with Freyja before he went to bed. That was one of the rules. He would just buy something on his way back.

Turning, Arthur retraced his path through the streets. His steps felt more fluid, as if he were more aware of how his body was constructed, how his joints moved with each other. He rolled his shoulders and realized that he had been slouching. That was normal in the borderland village where he didn’t want to bring attention to himself. It made him look even smaller than he had been before.

He had no reason to hide here.

Arthur straightened up and made the effort to square his shoulders. Though he didn’t stride down the road, he walked with more confidence.

His enhanced perception caught the scent of cooking food not far away. One of his favorite vendors manned a booth here where he sold mince meat pies.

Arthur made a line towards him. As he did, he passed by a fruit stall. A bushel of apples sat on the edge of the table. One apple was so precariously balanced it was in danger of tipping off.

Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur saw the vender was busy talking with a customer.

Neither were paying attention to him.

Concentrating on his slight-of-hand skill, he reached out and plucked the apple from the edge of the table. Then he smoothly shifted it to his other hand, using his body to block the motion.

The vendor didn’t even glance his way.

New skill gained: Shoplifting (Thief Class)

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

Do you wish to add this to your existing Thief Class?

“I was going to put it back,” he muttered.

Pausing, he pretended to examine some lush orange fruits he had recently learned were just called oranges. As he did, he replaced the apple exactly where it had been, with no one the wiser.

New skill level: Sleight-of-hand (Thief Class)

Level 4


Too bad he couldn’t get rid of the stain of his shoplifting skill.

With a sigh, he added shoplifting to his Thief class.

Then he headed to the pie shop.

 


 

He had just purchased a mince-meat pie — though the cooking snob in him noticed that the vendor never mentioned what kind of meat went into the pie. Whatever it was, it was pretty tasty. The price was right, too. He was able to get two hand-sized pies for a half copper.

With his new perception, he heard a burble in the crowd. Arthur was too hungry to care. The vendor had already taken his coin and was about to hand the pies over. The vendor looked up just passed Arthur’s shoulder, his eyes wide.

A hot gust of breath blew across the back of his neck.

“You’re the one,” said a feminine, but very loud voice behind him.

Arthur whipped around.

Marteen the young silver dragon stood right behind him.

He’d always thought of her as a smallish dragon, but she loomed large from only a few inches away. So did her teeth.

In the sunlight, her silver scales glittered like polished metal.

“I… I…” He backed up a step, but his butt hit against the pie stall’s counter, and he couldn’t go any further.

“You’re coming with me,” Marteen said cheerfully.

Arthur turned to run. He didn’t get the chance to start.

With shocking delicacy, the dragon reached to his collar with her teeth and yanked him up off his feet. Arthur heard something in his shirt tear, a few seams popping. As he was lifted off the ground. The front of the collar cut against his neck, half choking him.

The world spun wildly around, giving Arthur a few of the people gathered around to watch. Some were curious and a few were outwardly amused.

Then, as the dragon twisted her neck, he found himself hovering just over her silver back.

Marteen dropped him, and he hit hard, feet missing completely and breath whooshing out as his chest hit her back. Her scales were exactly as hard as they looked; like rivets of metal dovetailed over one another.

“Sit up straight and hold on.” With that, Marteen spread her wings, making the gathered crowd quickly back up.

Arthur thought about dropping down and running, but he figured the crowd wouldn’t let him.

“I’ll hold onto your pies for you!” he pie vendor called, not so helpfully. “Come see me if you make it back.”

Marteen shifted under him so Arthur had only seconds to find a seat, straddling her back like he would a horse. She only had two wings to Tess’s four, so at least there was more room.

But there was no saddle and no ridges along her spine like he’d seen with other dragons. There was nothing to hold onto.

Marteen pumped her wings. They were long enough to almost touch either side of the building.

“Wait!“ Arthur said. “No, what are you doing—“

Marteen jumped into the air… and immediately started to fall down again. But her wings caught her before her claws scraped the stone road. In a heavy, bobbing rhythm, she wallowed up into the sky.

Arthur clenched his legs on either side of her shoulders. He clenched his hands uselessly over the hard spread of her scales. Crouching, he pressed his arms to either side of her neck. He even clenched his jaw and his butt cheeks for good luck.

Marteen was already above the rooftops and didn’t seem ready to stop soon.

He held on and tried not to fall.

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HonourRae

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