A/N: First, of course, the usual disclaimers. I don't own Kingdom Hearts or the Magic: The Gathering trading card game. I've played the card game though, and that's more than enough for what I have planned for this.
If you've no idea what Magic is (you're missing out) don't panic too much. I've tried to explain it as Roxas learns about it himself.
For those who have played it - yes, every card used here really does exist in one set or another.
Finally, bear with me. While this first chapter may not appear to be much, it lays the foundations for the rest of the story.
And with that - read and enjoy!
Roxas sat alone in one corner of the bar, watching the other patrons while he warmed himself by one of the several roaring fires. This was an unfamiliar town in an unfamiliar region. To his knowledge, there was no one here he knew. Instincts told him not to trust anyone, to observe, learn and above all, stay alive.
Outside, the storm rumbled louder. It was the reason he'd taken shelter here. Thunderstorms had not been friendly to him of late, bringing torrential downpours with them. Tonight at least, he'd sleep warm and dry, if not comfortably.
Another rumble, louder this time, caused glasses around the bar to rattle, ice in the drinks to chink. Some glasses in precarious places fell to the floor and smashed.
It didn't seem fair to visit this upon the residents, but being rained on for three days straight because a passing wind stole his tent had left him with a distasteful attitude, and a general lack of anything resembling pity for the folk here.
The main door was opened a ways before the wind caught it and threw it wide. A robed stranger entered the bar, struggling against the howling wind to close the door again. A few patrons helped him close it.
The stranger's hood had been blown back in the effort, showing a lean, weather-beaten face dripping with water and framed with soaked black hair. His eyes were shrewd and dark, putting Roxas in mind of a sharp-eyed eagle that was aware of everything it saw.
This stranger evidently wasn't a regular either, as the patrons regarded him with the same wary looks they had given Roxas. They were kind and kept polite, but were also stand-offish, and didn't intrude themselves.
There was a brief conversation at the bar. The barman nodded toward Roxas, or at least toward the fire beside him.
"You're not from here," he rasped as he approached. "Would you mind if I joined you?" Roxas nodded, just as wary of him as the others. "Foul weather," he remarked, parting his robe to warm his hands at the fire. Underneath it was a red shirt, as soaked as the rest of him was. The hilt of a sword peeked into view at his hip. "You don't trust me, do you?"
"It's nothing personal," Roxas murmured. "I don't trust anyone here."
"Good idea. Drink? On me, of course."
"Not for me. I've had my fill of water for the day."
The stranger chuckled knowingly, mopping the water from his own face.
"Would you mind awfully getting me a drink then? Only you're dry, and I'm still drying off..." Roxas nodded, and the stranger handed over some coins. "Ale for me. Doesn't matter what kind." He nodded again, getting to his feet and passing the order along to the barman.
"Here," he told the stranger when he returned, handing it over with the change.
"Perfect. Nothing like a good glass of ale to warm you up after a storm."
"I'm not partial to it."
"Not everyone is. I'm known as Darik." He extended one hand, now dry.
"Roxas," he answered, shaking proffered hand.
"Feel up to a game of cards?"
"I don't play cards."
"It doesn't take long to learn, and I have some with me. Not a normal card game, but it's simple."
"Won't your cards be wet?"
"No," he laughed. "I take care of my cards better than that. I might be soaked clean through, but my possessions are safe." He rummaged about in the robe for a moment, then pulled out six small metal boxes. One of each in blue, green, black and red, and two in white. From one of the white ones, he took out two crystals, each with '20' marked on it. One was blood red with black numbers on it, the other jet black with white numbers on.
"The game's simple," Darik explained. "You have 20 life, as indicated by the crystal. The first one to reduce their opponent to 0... is toast. Not literally, of course," he added with a grin. "In each of these five boxes, there are 30 cards for that colour. We each take two, leaving the last out of the game entirely."
"What's the difference between them?"
"I'm getting to that. There's three main kinds of cards. Land cards provide your energy, but you can only play one per turn. Creatures are like your soldiers. Spells are magic to support your creatures, harm your opponent or heal yourself – or more, depending on the spell. You can play as many of either as you like, provided you have enough land cards to pay for it, of course."
"Sounds simple enough, but you still haven't explained the colours."
"Of course. White for the Plains, often associated with healing magic. Blue for the oceans, known for it's reserves of counter-magic. Green of the forests, with it's many creatures capable of regeneration. Red from the mountains, where the powerful creatures often reside. And then the Black Swamps, with their command over death and other dark secrets."
"And we just pick two of these each?"
"That's right. Neither of us can have the same colour, or two of the same colour, obviously. I'll give you first choice of the colours."
He considered it, then took the Blue and Green boxes. Darik claimed Red and Black as his own, stowing the White one away again.
"Just take the cards from each, and shuffle them together to form the deck, then draw the first seven cards. You can't have more than seven in your hand at the end of the turn, unless a card changes that rule. There's also the Graveyard, which is where used spells and destroyed creatures go, but obviously there's nothing in it right now."
"What happens if a card contests the rules?"
"Then the card wins. Just as I mentioned with the number of cards in your hand. The rules say no more than seven at the end of the turn, but there are a number of cards that change this." He paused, frowning and examining his hand. "Oh, I should let you know. If you don't like your starting hand, you can shuffle it back into the deck and draw a new one of one less card. Having at least one land is generally good."
Roxas examined his own hand, noting no reason to shuffle it in. He had one Island, two Forests, one Grizzly Bears green creature, a Monstrous Growth green Sorcery spell, a Reminisce blue spell and a Merfolk of the Pearl Trident blue creature.
Darik told him there were three main kinds of spells – Sorcery, Instant and Enchantment. A Sorcery could only be played on his turn, while an Instant could be played on either player's turn. Enchantments were a special kind of Sorcery that stayed in play or attached to a creature.
In the top corner of each card that wasn't a land were symbols that he guessed matched the cost, and corresponded to the same symbols on the lands. Some had grey circles with a number in them, which Darik explained meant any kind of land could be used to pay for those.
He also explained the way the turns went. First, one took a card from the deck. Then a land could be played, followed by any creatures and spells to be played. Then came the combat phase, where any creatures that were going to attack were 'tapped', which just meant turned sideways to show it. Creatures played on that turn couldn't attack unless they had the Haste ability on them. Creatures also had a pair of numbers on the bottom right corner which signified their power and toughness – how much damage they could deal out and take.
He then explained that attackers don't get to decide where the damage goes, but the defender can use their own creatures to block the attacking creatures.
Finally, after the combat phase was a second chance to play creatures and spells, then play handed over to the other player again.
Darik went first, not drawing a card from the deck because of this. He put into play a Mountain, which he then tapped to show he was using it's one red mana to pay for a Raging Goblin – a 1 power, one toughness creature that had Haste. Naturally, he attacked with it, making Roxas' life crystal to change from 20 to 19. He was down one life before he'd even had the chance to do anything.
"Sorry," Darik smiled. "Luck of the draw, and I know these cards well."
"I'll get you for this," Roxas threatened, drawing another Island. It went straight into play, and was used to pay for his Merfolk creature. It too was a 1 power, 1 toughness creature, but lacked Haste.
Play continued, each of them playing creature and spell. Roxas was unskilled, having never played before, but picked it up quickly. Darik seemed to have extraordinary luck when it came to what he drew, but as play progressed, his luck was countered out by several Counterspell Instants Roxas played, stopping him from playing several bigger creatures with considerable power.
In the end Roxas lost, but he had managed to leave Darik with almost no creatures, and only 2 life showing on his crystal. He also found that having played it had left him in a better mood than before.
He made to hand the cards back, but Darik stopped him.
"Keep them for now. I expect you'll be after a rematch once you've learned the cards a bit better."
"Are you sure trust me to keep them safe?"
"I wouldn't ask you to keep hold of them otherwise, wouldn't I? Besides... I might challenge you for a rematch myself if you take too long."
"I'll be ready for you."
"I look forward to it. Do excuse me though... my glass seems to have run dry, and I think I'm going to find a room for the night."
Roxas watched him leave, then began flicking through the cards that made up his Blue and Green deck, noting some interesting and powerful cards among them.
Thorn Elemental, an expensive but powerful green creature had an interesting ability. If he understood it correctly, he could have it deal damage to his opponent even if it was being blocked. With seven power and toughness, it could deal out a fair amount of damage, and soak up damage just as easily.
He also found an Artifact card. Artifacts were like enchantments, except they had no colour. Some were Artifact Creatures, making them two types of cards at once. One such Creature was the Tangle Golem. While not as powerful as Thorn Elemental, it packed a fair punch. It still costed a fair few mana, but it's ability was what made it interesting. For each Forest he had in play, it's cost was one mana less.
His blue aligned cards held many more interesting cards than the collected green cards he had. The Raven Guild Master had two abilities – First was Morph, which allowed it to be played face-down, preventing the other player from knowing what it was at the cost of it being limited to being a 2 power, 2 toughness creature. It could be turned face-up after a second cost was paid, turning it back into the normal creature again.
It's other ability forced the opponent to remove the top ten cards of his deck from the game whenever it dealt damage to them.
Temporal Fissure was a Sorcery which returned one card in play to it's owners hand. This in itself wasn't remarkable, but it's Storm ability meant for every spell played before it that turn, it's returning effect could be used one more time at no extra cost.
Darik had explained that when you couldn't draw a card from the deck, you automatically lost the game. Reminisce offered him a chance to stave that off, shuffling all the cards in the Graveyard back into the deck.
This, coupled with another blue spell he'd found made it very powerful. Beacon of Tomorrows, a sorcery that gave him an extra turn after the end of the one he played it on. Between that and Reminisce, he'd never run out of cards or opportunities to wreak havoc with his opponent.
Oraxid was a creature that had almost won him his game against Darik because of it's simple ability – it had Protection from red – any red spells and creatures had no effect on it.
Finally, the Graceful Adept, while not very good in combat, was useful in a supporting role. As long as it was in play, he could have as many cards as he wanted in his hand. Of course, this came with the down-side that when it left play, by the end of his turn he'd have to discard cards from his hand until it was back down to seven again.
He flicked through the remaining cards, then split them back into their separate colours, putting them back into their boxes and then putting those in his pockets with the life crystal.
Roxas thought about Darik's offer of a rematch, but decided to wait until after he'd found his way back to a more familiar place before he made the challenge. If he could find him again, that was.
He was completely unaware of the crystal emitting a brief pulse in his pocket, simultaneously binding itself to him, and banishing the bad weather and bad luck that had plagued him on his journey.