The Capital of Sistina, Faulkner, was home to many things – sights to see, good food, and entertainment the likes that few other places could hope to match. But if a local were to be asked about the one thing that stood out about living there, many would think of one word.
This city was the center of vast change, even before the Queen resided within its boundaries. The fact that the Queen herself chose this location for the new heart of Sistina spoke volumes, as she was known by many as the ‘Inventor Queen’.
With flocks of artisans crowding the marketplaces and the largest trading company at the helm, the stalls and shelves were bursting with the latest consumer goods. One didn’t have to be a noble to enjoy such pleasures, as the kingdom’s commerce found ways for even the budget of a commoner to incorporate such lifestyle improvements.
Just half a year ago, the feel of fine dining and craftsmanship still eluded the reach of the poorest of laborers. They thought nothing of it, steeped in the traditions of social hierarchy that had long been established in this world. But soon, eateries and stores sprang up, boasting fine products at a fraction of the cost it once was. People couldn’t believe that they could enjoy the lavish lifestyle they had admired, thinking that such options were far beyond their reach.
But a pair of leaders declared otherwise, boldly stating that this world would change.
“So fast that you will have to prepare yourself for an Age of Miracles.”
That was what they claimed, the King and Queen of Sistina, upon the balcony of their castle. Their voices projected far and wide, a live recording of their speech broadcasted in every city and town on the maps. Such a feat would have been deemed impossible not long ago.
The face of their once Chancellor greeted everyone, now having taken up a new role. The crown upon his head rested somewhat uncomfortably over his brown hair. The royal attire looked more like it wore him instead as he patted the creases he made every so often. Nonetheless, there was a fire in his eyes, not just figuratively. White flames spewed from its corner, the mark of the Electi of Critical.
Claude Evers de la Sistina was the hero who defeated the ‘Demon Lord’ and her army. And now, he stood before them as their king. For many, this ascension struck a bell with King Reginald’s rise, who unified the various regions as its leader decades prior.
Many others felt a sense of familiarity with their new ruler, as they had known him before the lofty roles, going so far back as when he was the humble servant of the region’s previous lord. In fact, becoming king didn’t seem to deter the man from gliding through the streets like normal. A title such as that didn’t change how he was as a person – open-hearted, eager to help, and down to earth. The fact that their rulers embodied the hearts of nobility and commoners alike was what connected the entire kingdom.
Progress – not just for those at the top, but for everyone. This new age was certainly a belly full of sweets and jolly for all. One that no one would ever want to give up. Even if the Gods commanded it.
“Hey, wait up! Just let me fasten these last boards, and I’ll come join you!” a voice called out from atop a half-finished roof.
“Taking all day up there, June! I’m starving down here!”
The sound of intermittent mechanical whirling was the only response, the telltale noise of a magic-powered driver sending screws into wood. Moments later, a man leapt from the roof and landed upon an elastic tarp that softened his landing. He bounced up once before rolling off the side, landing upon the ground feet first.
“Jeez, Rory. I was going at a good pace with this special magic tool, you know. Hard to believe that a single person can cover half the roof in one day and have it be this sturdy, but the times are changing.”
“You get to play with that fancy whirly thing while I’m still stuck with cutting tons and tons of boards out of magic still. When’s a guy like me going to get a break when I get so ‘Winded’?” Rory ended with a laugh at his own bad joke.
“What do you mean?! Haven’t you stopped complaining about sore backs as of late? That thing that they call a ‘pallet jack’, it turns even normal men into hardy oxen, right?”
June pointed at a magic tool resting next to a big batch of lumber. Using the same technology as hover boards, an anti-gravity spell was inscribed upon it. Though people still had to push it, the heavy load could glide across the area with relative ease, compared to loading them onto wheeled carts.
“Jack smack. Speaking of ‘palate’, I’m getting a hankering for a thick cut of steak. Let’s hit up the churrascaria!”
“Meat paradise again, Rory? I get that meat being cheap is all the craze lately, but shouldn’t you watch your wallet? Accessible it may be… the bills do add up, you know. Not to mention your waistline there, Bud. That’s no longer in style with the ladies.”
June pointed to his long-time friend’s gut, which protruded a bit as of late. People once thought that a full belly was a sign of wealth and health… but that was a time when food options were sparse. Now, the only people who had to deal with hunger were the lazy bums that refused to work.
“Ouch! At least, you don’t have to worry about yours, being tied down already. Then, how about it? What’s your pick then?”
“Hmm… something that I could get take-out for Serara afterwards. Sushi, maybe?”
Rory snickered, patting June on the shoulder.
“Always looking out for your girl, how nice. Sanshiro, huh? Haven’t been there in a few weeks. Sure, let’s get going!”
Their conversation would have been rather strange mere months ago, as the very thought of being able to zip over to the adjacent nation for an evening meal would have been unthinkable. However, the two woodworkers casually strolled over to a gate, situated near the town entrance. A guard standing by perked up as the two men approached.
“Where to, Gents?”
“That will be 5 coppers each.”
“Sure, put it on our tab.”
The gatekeeper nodded, bringing out a holographic dashboard. Entering some numbers next to June and Rory’s names, he then held out a pad for the men to sign. That was another new invention, using one’s mana signature to confirm transactions.
Giving a quick swirl of their names, the two marched into the awaiting portal and were instantly met with the scenery of rustic wood, bamboo, and paper buildings, architecture that Sanshiro was known for. The first time that they traveled via portals, a sense of disorientation swept over them, like they had entered a world different than their own. But after several months of it, their feet no longer gingerly took that first step in. They could laugh off the fear of their previous selves like children wary of simple archways. Only, those archways of old didn’t bring one halfway across the world.
The advent of transport via portal had been a major factor in cutting costs throughout the land and opening up the world to what each place had to offer. There was no longer any need for long, arduous trips when one could pay a cheap toll to instantly get there. In the span of a few months, the leaders of Sistina, Sanshiro, and Macali established a network of gateways across the regions. It was a pact of good relations that had started when they united against a common evil.
But… commoners like June and Rory hardly bothered about such thoughts. They were simply glad for the conveniences before them.
Finding a place that looked cozy and inviting, June tugged on the sliding door, which let out a squeak and rattle as it gave way. Immediately, the two friends were welcomed by an enchanting waitress wearing long robes with a floral pattern.
June’s eyes lingered upon the woman for a while, even as they were seated and orders taken. That wasn’t lost on Rory, who gave him a quick pinch while smiling.
“Them’s cheating eyes, I see.”
“What! No! I was just-,” June covered his face in embarrassment at his actions, “wondering if something like that would be nice on Serara. That’s all.”
Rory chuckled before putting on his best impersonation of his friend head over heels in love. “Anything would look absolutely stunning on me, my dear!” he chirped in a falsetto voice.
The two of them continued their comedy routine until the waitress came by with their food. Her nose briefly crinkled from their lack of dining etiquette, but regardless, that was to be expected when borders suddenly disappeared as they had. Business had been booming, so that made some nuisances forgivable.
After devouring their food, June ordered another set of sushi to take home, paying their bills right after. Pleasantly full of fresh fish and rice, the two left the restaurant and stared up at the darkening sky. Rory stretched his arms up, an aura of enthusiasm still within him. June knew exactly what he was going to say next.
“Alright, the weekend begins! Time to hit up the bars while I’m there… Would ask you to come but… yeah… go spend time with the wife.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t go overboard on the booze. You’ll never find yourself a girl at this rate.”
“Saké over babes, mind you. But now that I think about it, I should keep a keen eye on the ladies here while I’m at it. Some of them probably have killer bodies underneath all those stuffy robes. I can just tell, like that Kaguya ruler chick. Her charm certainly hits all the right tastes.”
“And what makes you think that you have a better chance here?” June scoffed. “Remember what you said last time before chick hunting in Macali?”
Rory pulled back like he was shot in the heart. The scantily clad girls of the Southern Isles were so inviting that he felt like he had some chance at scoring with one. But that had been all a farce, a marketing scheme to draw in more customers. And Rory had fallen right into the trap – hook, line and sinker.
Fortunately, June was still hanging around him at the time, as Rory had swooned so hard that his wallet no longer had any spare change to pay the toll for home.
“You know what. One drink, that’s all! Then we head home, got it?” June stared into his friend’s eyes, making his point clear. “And after the kid is born, then we can all go out for a night of drinks together. Serara would want to come here also.”
June pointed to a bar nearby as he walked, beckoning Rory to follow along. Snapping out of his trauma, Rory quickly caught up with another bright idea.
“Hey, I heard that the people here don’t really cast spells and are all about physical prowess instead. Do you think any of them would be impressed with my Wind magic cutting technique?”
“Not any more than any other foreigner around for a visit. Better incorporate some martial arts as well. The exercise would do you some good,” June replied, pointing to his friend’s protruding belly.
Suddenly, Rory felt rather self-conscious of his weight. He had seen nothing but sturdy, muscular men on the streets since arriving in Sanshiro. His ‘soft curves’ were the farthest thing from desirable.
“Dammit, fine! I’ll go join a dojo or something! But you’re coming with me to keep my eyes on the prize! Next goal – develop a rippling body that can bust a move while ‘blowing away’ the competition!”
June sighed at that declaration. But nonetheless, he went along with his friend’s whims. Such things were temporary. Knowing exactly what would happen, he only had to humor him until his motivation changed to something else new and shiny.
And there was plenty of that going on in this world. Enough to make him feel like he was living multiple lifetimes.