Chapter 15

Two Years Later

Before anyone noticed, time flew by at a seemingly break-neck pace. Kain was five years old, and it was finally the time to get his Affinities tested. For that purpose, he had to go to the neighboring city of Lafayette, a half day’s travel away on horseback.

Previously, the test was done with the supervision of one Mr. Ahres. No, that’s not right, he was the one administering it, not simply overlooking it.

But during the past two years, he had moved base, going back to Lafayette which contained a branch of the Society of Invocational Research. Since there were no one else qualified to run the test in Riverfield, Kain had to go to the city and meet the large Invoker personally. It was bothersome for sure, but at least he didn’t feel nervous or anything. Rather, he was looking forward to it.

He worked hard during the past two years. He kept casting one Earthen Wall after another, going so far as to actually modifying it even. At first, it was simply practicing it in order to increase his Aeterna Pool, but once he got comfortable casting the spell, he wanted to see if the effect could be manipulated.

And he succeeded after countless tries: now, when he cast an Earthen Wall it either remained standing, or collapsed back down depending on what Kain wanted. That was a big thing, as he did that all by himself with no one helping him out.

Truthfully, there were advanced spells in Earth Elemental Invocation system that allowed the very same effect as Kain had achieved, so regular Invokers could learn those instead. But not knowing this, he had gone down the difficult route and created something that was entirely his own.

The well-worn rutted road stretching between the endless fields of wheat and corn extended far into the horizon, towards the high walls of Lafayette. Other then harsh bumpiness hurting his butt, the trip itself was quite uneventful. The security on the roads were good, with no Fiends nor wild beasts threatening the travelers found here. Ditto for the genre-staple dirty and smelly bandits.

Sure, they were there, just not on this stretch of road, or for that matter, all the areas surrounding Lafayette. There were plenty of work to go around even for the most uneducated oafs so it naturally led to the situation of a good public security.

Of course, there was a small matter of the city possessing several regiments of highly-trained soldiers that patrolled the roads too, plus those Capital-hired so-called Highroad Knight Corps as well so, the security had to be good. If it weren’t than quite a few people’s heads would’ve rolled off their necks, figuratively speaking of course.

As for the aching bum, Kain was trying something for a bit now, without success: Body Enhancement Invocation.

Almost every Elements in Aeterna had a spell to increase a body’s sturdiness. For Earth Element, it was to increase one’s defence considerably, decreasing the amount of pain felt or the severity of wounds received. He saw Derrick using one a few weeks ago, and had been trying to copy it for quite some time, but to no avail.

Of course, doing it during the trip was difficult, what with all the eyes accompanying him: his dad Damien, Derrick, plus two of Riverfield’s finest guardsmen.

This trip was proving to be tiring on his little body, and fatigue was piling up rather quickly. But on Damien’s eyes, there was sense of urgency. He had lots of things to do on this trip. Finding Ahres and get his son tested was one of them, the other procuring some emergency funds and provisions for the village. The most unwelcome shortage came about when an unnamed disease threatened to destroy the vital crops. Didn’t happen, due to Damien’s quick thinking, but it also meant rapid depletion of the village’s coffers.

As they neared the city, Kain held his breath back at the sheer scale of the grandiose walls and ramparts running the length of the outer perimeter. He always held a sneaking suspicion they were indeed impressive piece of engineering since he could see them from his nursery window on a clear day but still, they were bigger and sturdier than his imagination prepared him for.

Without the aid of Invocation, there was no way such structures could see the light of day. Simply no way in hell, that’s how Kain decided.

And the walls surrounding the Southern Gate their traveling party planned to use were easily taller than the apartment building he used to live in his previous life. That place had eight floors, by the way, so yes, it was pretty tall building.

The gates themselves were enormous too, as big as a pair of airplane hangar doors. And since they were made out of steel, he could tell nothing would get through these once firmly closed. Absolutely nothing at all, not even a direct strike from a missile.

Dozens of soldiers in matching armor stood guard by the gates, their eyes glued to the train of people waiting to enter the city. A handful of them were performing inspections, asking questions and searching the luggage of everyone, regardless of how well dressed one was.

Beside Kain and his group, the waiting line of people were mixture of the fantasy genre tropes. Merchants pulling along horse drawn caravans and their guards; Adventurers equipped with weapons and armor, some bare handed while others, carrying sacks of…. stuff. Farmers, hunters, civilians of various job descriptions, all jostling in multiple lines leading up to the gate, giving him a somewhat nostalgic feeling.

He remembered standing in a queue similar to the one now, waiting to speak to a clerk at the DMV. He also remembered that thing robbed him of three hours of his life. Then one more unpleasant memory of that day came flooding in – the clerk, an overweight African-American lady named Leticia, giving him the why’d you bother to come today eye.

All in all, not a very good thing to remember. So he forgot about it as quickly as possible.

Overhead, another Sky Ark was entering Lafayette. Ever since the test flight ended up successful, the airship routes were officially opened by the Emperor. And now, there were departures three times a week from this city to the capital Argos. The Empire had commissioned further dozen of the Arks in a hurry and put them into service and so far, there hadn’t been any word of accidents other than sporadic attacks by flying Fiends here and there.

Even then, witnessing a Sky Ark in operation so close by, people waiting in line were letting out lots of excited oohs and aahs. It was the same for Kain too, someone from the modern world. He was also in awe at the sight of this laws of physics-defying machine floating about. The very thoughts of riding one in near future had him looking forward to that day, regardless of it happening or not.

If not, he had half a mind to make it happen.

The lines waiting to enter the city were divided into three. One of them was exclusively reserved for farmers carting in their produce into the market for immediate consumption. Another one was for the merchants with cargo, and the rest were herded into the last line.

Suffice to say, first two lines had priority over the last in being inspected and allowed in. Seeing this, Kain mused briefly whether a stuck-up noble – another genre trope – would raise a fuss over this sort of arrangement, not being given a preference. Probably palms had to be greased, or some such.

“Impressive sight, isn’t it?”

Damien tapped Kain on the shoulder and smiled once their eyes met. He brushed his son’s hair away from the forehead, his eyes showing how eager he was to explain this new and no doubt in his mind a foreign sight to his inquisitive boy.

“Can you guess how many live in Lafayette? It is incomparable to our home, Riverfield. Just look at the throng of people, waiting to enter the city. It’s even more eye-opening when you get inside. You’ll see what I mean soon.”

“Dad, you’ve been here before, haven’t you?” Kain asked rather innocently, fully knowing indeed, he had.

“Sure, I’ve come here on official business many times before. Oh hey, don’t look at me like that – don’t forget, I am the lord of Riverfield, and the village produces lots of fruit and crop the citizens of Lafayette eat, you know. So I have more than my fair share of business here.”

Damien spoke defensively as if to protect his pride after Kain gave him a doubtful stare.

It took half a day’s worth of travel time to come here so it stood to reason that, including the return trip, an official visit would’ve taken Damien more than a day to accomplish, depending on the nature of the visit. Kain was a bit hazy on this, but there weren’t too many days of Damien being absent from his home in the past, so it all seemed a bit fishy. Not that he’d criticize his father, without an evidence anyhow. Probably, he mistook visiting the city once or twice as “numerous times”.

“How big is the terriroty of Riverfield?”

To changed the subject, Kain asked Damien the question that was bugging him slightly. On his way, there were a number of farmsteads with people living in them. He thought that majority, if not all, of those folks were not considered villagers under Riverfield’s jurisdiction.

“Oh, it’s pretty big. You remember the Wilder Bridge, the one we crossed not too long ago? The stream running under it is the boundary. The land after that belong to Lafayette’s administration. The rest, well, they are my headaches.”

The Wilder Bridge was a stone bridge going across a branch of the Great River Anders. Built by a man called Wilder eons ago when the city of Lafayette was nothing but a fledgling frontier village, he had the audacity to name the bridge after himself. The history written about the man made him out to be a sort of person you wouldn’t really want to invite to your dinner party.

Anyways, the bridge was several leagues away from the village’s entrance so that meant Riverfield was actually quite large, disproportionately so compared to the number of its residents. Kain thought this was a strange occurrence, seeing that surely Lafayette would have better resources to look after a larger area than a small farming village with hardly a thousand soul living in it.

Unless there was some other unspecified reasons, it’d remain a mystery to the boy. Since he had no lasting interest on the subject matter, he stopped thinking about it right away. He did that with most subjects nowadays, actually. A bad habit, that.

Derrick was mostly silent during the trip, only occasionally speaking to the escorts and to his cousin. Only a couple of times did he initiate chatting with Kain, and they were for small, trivial stuff like when to hand over the waterskin.

As a matter of fact, in the last two years he’d been living with the Lucius Lomax family, the two of them never conversed in depth, nor did he try to care for the boy at all. It was not because he hated the idea but rather, his reluctance to do so for other reasons.

There were the usual greetings here and there, but that was just about it. Kain continued to eavesdrop whenever there were opportunities present, but other than that, somehow it became a game of avoidance played by the two of them. Something that was easier to do, ever since Derrick took on the extra role of trainer for the village’s guardsmen a year ago.

The members had this horrified expressions when the tall, muscular Derrick stood before them and declared that they lacked discipline and abilities to be recognized as a proper standing force, and he’d drill all that were lacking into their very souls. Kain silently offered a prayer for all affected back then.

But thanks to that, village’s guards became more professional. More reliable. Less like a barely organized rabble but something closer to a proper militia ready to tackle the dangers facing their homes.

Good example was the two men accompanying the traveling party. Rolf the Caniduskin, and a humanoid named Gabe. Rolf was a pretty solid soldier material before due to his racial traits, but now, he was polished enough to earn a good living as a mercenary if he ever chose to go down that road. As for Gabe, he too would be considered above regular grunt for the raw abilities alone. Only thing he lacked was experience.

Normally, when Damien came to the city, he’d be with Mathieu and one another, but due to circumstances he chose to come with these two, who had never actually set foot in Lafayette.

Rolf appeared fairly calm but Gabe was fidgeting like crazy. His freckled face was slightly pale, and somehow, he looked like a lost child. Kain sighed inwardly, wondering why did they have to bring someone so nervous in the first place.

“Because someday I wish to become an Adventurer, that is why this trip is important to me.”

Gabe declared so before they departed from the village.

There was a branch of the Adventurers’ Association in the city, according to Damien, that were large enough to handle new signings and training of rookies. The aspiring young man wanted to throw in his lot with the free-faring men and women calling themselves The Vanguards of the Unknown and The Collectors of Lost Knowledge.

Whatever the case may be, Kain thought that Gabe should learn to stand tall like a man before anything else. The way he presented himself, no one was going to take him seriously although his physique was not bad. Tempered by the environment befitting a first-born son of Riverfield’s most famed hunter, Gabe Senior, he had a good sense as an archer and as a keen tracker. He’d do well as an Adventurer, provided he becomes one.

Rolf on the other hand, crinkled his nose in disgust. “This place stinks. I shouldn’t have come….”

Unfortunately he had a very sensitive nose. As he grew up in Riverfield, the aroma of rural farmstead became ingrained in his mind so the big city like Lafayette with its farrago of foreign and unidentifiable smells were always going to trouble him – never mind the fact that he worked next to livestock that let loose feces all over the place…. He rather preferred that instead.

The group wasn’t even past the gates and he was already regretting his decision to travel. He did want to see the Sky Ark up close but now, he was blaming his curiosity at the moment.

Still, he stood straight, unlike the younger Gabe. Because of his tall, imposing posture, coupled with scowling facial expression, he ended up attracting the city guards’ attention. Standing next to Derrick also probably didn’t help, even though they had dismounted from their horses while waiting in the line.

But it turned out to be a good thing; the gruff, formerly-bored-looking but now alert soldiers asked for the travel papers cautiously, and as if on cue both Damien and Derrick did one better than requested by showing off their golden medallions, which signified their importance in the hierarchy within the Empire.

The guards did a quick double take, and bowed slightly. Immediately after, Kain’s group was treated with a lot more respect and courtesy, amusing him to no end at how effective the power of peerage was in humbling others. Still, he decided not to abuse this privilege like some ignorant and conceited fool from countless web novels he’d read in the past. That’d be too cliched for him to endure the ensuing embarrassment, actually.

The soldiers did their job and began the entry procedure. Stuff like the reasons for visiting, the plans for how long they’d stay and where, what was in the luggage, all the weapons on hand, as well as questions of anyone in the group suffering from an infectious illness, were asked. Kain thought the whole thing reminded him of security screening checkpoints in airports.

While the information was being written on a thick scroll, Damien asked a nearby guard. “Is Captain Giles off duty today? He’s usually the one commanding the guards at the Southern Gates.”

“Uh, yes sir. Captain’s on a paternity leave currently. He will return to his post in a week’s time.”

“Oh, I see. That’s a wonderful news. Convey my congratulations to Captain Giles when you see him next time. Is it boy or a girl?”

“I believe it’s a girl, sir.”

Damien nodded sagely, half closing his eyes and scratching his beardless chin slowly. “I have a daughter myself, beside this boy of mine. Captain’s in for some tough times ahead.”

He and the guard shared a polite laughter together. Meanwhile, the inspection was complete, and it was the turn of the follow up process – but it was not something Kain expected to go through. He literally was ready to write his name on an official-looking document and all that.

Instead, a wooden plank the size of a cutting board was brought out and the group were instructed to place the palms of their dominant hands on it, one person at a time.

It seemed that everyone who wasn’t the resident of Lafayette had to do this. Derrick went ahead first, placing his right hand on the surface. Soon a sliver of silver light shone, from beneath his palm. He remained still for a few seconds, until the light faded.

The guard then placed a clean sheet of paper over the plank once Derrick withdrew his hand. Another light, similar to the previous one, shone when an incantation was murmured to it.

Just like that, a whole bunch of information was recorded on the paper, all of them about Derrick.

Wow. Invocation, heh. How convenient it is. Xerox would’ve gone bankrupt in a heart beat in this world.

Kain chuckled inwardly after watching the procedure from the sidelines. Second paper was imprinted the same way, and this one was Derrick’s copy.

Next to get his document made was Gabe, then Rolf, and Damien after that. Kain was the last to try. Although he was just a kid, it still was the law to have a proper documentation issued, no matter the age.

The plank felt cold against his skin but the surface itself was really smooth after seeing constant usage. Indeed, thousands of hands had touched this piece of wood since its introduction here.

The design of the board was quite unremarkable, which Kain thought as a missed opportunity. There was a crest of Lafayette, an eagle spreading its wings, at the top but that was it, no other garnish on it at all. Objectively speaking none of that mattered in how it functioned but it was still nonetheless quite boring to look at.

Oh well, not every magical things should look like magical things anyway, as long as they work, right?

As disappointed at its plain appearance as he were, he didn’t show it and calmly went through with the procedure.

He felt his own Aeterna seep out from his Pool, activating the light he saw before. But he didn’t feel anything different – there were no warmth, no coldness, nothing uncomfortable, just a piece of wood and nothing much. He couldn’t help but feel silly at doing this for some reason, standing there with his palm pressed onto a piece of plywood.

The paper he received afterwards contained the identifying information of himself. There were his name in full, his current age, registered home town, current occupation, and lastly, his criminal record.

He found the last bit interesting. Obviously he hadn’t committed a crime in this life, not to mention in the previous life as well, so that part was left empty. But how would this wooden plank know whether a guy it was screening was a villain or not?

“Pretty amazing, isn’t it? That’s called The Truth Board. It can read a person’s soul and record it on a piece of parchment.” Damien helpfully informed his pondering son. “Every big towns and cities in the Empire have a muptiple sets of them. With it, the guards can find out when a person is lying to them or not and catch a wanted criminal when he tries to sneak in.”

“Dad, why don’t we have one of these in our village?” Kain asked, genuinely curious.

“….Uh, well. Son, that’s because we’ve no walls. That’s why.”

“Hmm, I wonder. Say, dad. Is The Truth Board expensive?”

“Where did you learn of such a thing? Damn, I swear, you somehow always manage to surprise me. Besides, that isn’t important. You see Kain, it requires highly trained people to correctly use it. Riverfield lacks such men.” Damien replied testily.

“Alright, sure.” Kain just shrugged his shoulders.

Damien smiled bitterly at this gesture, thinking, where the heck did he pick that up? That…. do I shrug my shoulders too? Oh man, Lizbeth will blame me for this too, won’t she?

It took a long time but finally, the entry procedure was complete for everyone and were allowed beyond the open gates. Almost immediately, Kain was struck dumb by the widths of the streets. They were ginormous, just like the walls of the city. Buildings lined up on both sides, and all sorts of races went about busily on their daily routine.

Architecture was as expected – an incongruous mixture of early European medieval to late Renaissance-era shapes doting the cityscape as far as eyes could see. From thatched roofs to colored tiles, from rough glass windows to wooden slats serving as privacy screens, brick-and-mortar structures to wooden houses, it was literally a Licorice All Sorts of buildings.

And the vibrancy Kain felt, it was truly refreshing. This sense of life, this sense of forward movement, this sense of things getting done, it was something missing from the idyllic tranquility of Riverfield.

And boy, did he miss this urgency of life or what, as it oozed from the every imaginary veins pulsating under the surface.

The group secured the horses by the city’s communal stables, located in each of its gates. Travelers weren’t allowed to keep their mounts in the city limits, only the guards and nobles with permits as well as transportation service providers were exempt from the restrictions.

“Right, this is where we temporarily split up,” said Damien, laying down the itinerary of the group.

“Derrick will accompany this smart alec son of mine to the city’s SOIR branch. Gabe, please go with them. Since you want to become an Adventurer, you should take some time to peruse the Association’s office next block. But, only when you’re free, understand? I’ll go with Rolf and attend to our business at hand. Barring any incidents, let us meet up at the front of SOIR branch before the nightfall.”

As it was already discussed before arriving in the city, no one raised objections. Kain wasn’t really fine with this arrangement, but he had no voice in the matter, so that was that.

Damien and Rolf grabbed a local taxi service and headed in toward the city’s administration district, located in the center and not easily reachable by foot.

Derrick’s group also found a vacant taxi, roofless carriage pulled by a pair of horses, and headed towards their destination.

Seeing the passing scenery, Kain was able to truly appreciate the size of Lafayette. The hustle and bustle tinged the air with palpable excitement. Everywhere he looked, there were people busy living their lives in full. It was hard not to get jealous.

Kain understood that living in a rural village was nice. In his previous life, many city dwellers dreamed of waking up to the grand scenery of open meadows and towering mountains as the backdrop. Not him though; he was a city slicker by nature. He missed this buzz of a big city. Already, he was thinking of moving here, as soon as he was physically and financially able to.

The roads were evenly paved with bricks and the ride was quite smooth. Occasionally hawkers came up to the carriage whenever it slowed down at a crossing to sell their wares, most of them things not needed by Kain.

Derrick’s stern countenance and scary eyes easily chased away those not committed to their sales tactic though, so the harassment was kept to a minimum. Plus, the ostensibly big claymore-like sword slung on his back proved to be an effective deterrent as well.

Kain was intimidated by this weapon. When he first laid his eyes on it, back on that rain-soaked night all wrapped in cloth, he had some inkling as to what kind of mad object it could be but once out in the open, it had this scary atmosphere that simply screamed don’t you dare mess with me.

Resembling the famed Buster Sword to a fault, there was just no way a normal person could lift this off the ground without slipping a disk, let alone take a swing with it. But Derrick had no problem with either of those activities.

He didn’t give the weapon any special names, which was typical of him. The way he saw it, this sword was simply a tool for getting the job done, which in most cases, to intimidate enemies with its impressive bulk. If that didn’t work, then the blades were imbued with Dark Element to boost its cutting potential.

In other words, it could slice through a foot thick metal like a knife through the proverbial hot butter in Derrick’s hands.

During the taxi ride, the weapon was on a prominent display. Now normally, Derrick left the wrapping on it as he didn’t have much reasons to show it off in the village. But since he had to show some amount of strength to ward off any unwanted gazes, even though he didn’t like it the sword remained on his back, uncovered.

Good thing Lafayette’s law didn’t restrict wearing of one’s arms in the open as long as they were registered with the city guards. And with Derrick being a noble and a Divine Knight, a special consideration was given.

One other thing with a convertible was that, smells tended to waft in from all over the place. The smell of food came in from all four corners, assaulting the group’s senses left and right. From the Southern Gates onward the streets were lined with food stalls and shops selling various dishes and cuisines.

Kain was getting hungry real fast, stimulated by the sweet aroma of the unknown.

Even Gabe was lost at the passing sights of all the delicious-looking items proudly on display. He had to suppress drooling like an idiot more than a few times.

“Uncle Derrick, can we stop for a bite before we enter the Society branch?” Kain asked as his hunger grew uncontrollably.

“….Very well. We still have provisions left. Might as well eat some of that.” Derrick answered, obviously not noticing the surroundings, certainly not as how a normal person should have.

“Uhm, no, uncle. I meant those.” Kain hurriedly pointed at one of the roadside stalls that were selling what looked like falafels wrapped in pita bread.

Derrick looked stunned. “But why? We have brought enough provisions for ourselves. There is no logical reason to buy extra sustenance.”

“Do you know what those are?” asked Kain.

“….No, I do not.”

“Don’t you want to find out what they taste like?”

“No, not particularly.”

“But, I do.”

“….Well, do you have any money? To purchase that?”


Derrick glanced over at Gabe, with a rare helpless expression. And the young Adventurer hopeful went with the flow and returned a I can’t help you on this one, sir-type look.

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After a short pause, Derrick sighed and gave permission. “Very well. I shall procure suitable portions for our immediate consumption. Driver, halt the carriage. Both of you, wait here for my return.”

“Oh wait, uncle Derrick. Lemme come with you.”

Kain quickly volunteered, as he had a sneaking suspicion that Derrick had never in his life bought a takeaway from a roadside vendor before. On his stiff face, a hint of nervousness was seen. A definite first for someone like him, probably.

They dismounted from the carriage and headed to the stall Kain pointed out earlier. There was a small queue in front but it was moving swiftly. Quietly he studied people buying this falafel-esque item and thought that it was most likely safe to eat, seeing that it weren’t just humanoids who bought the stuff.

And the smell from the food was heavenly. Kain was salivating pretty hard as his turn came closer. Then, he realized there was a small problem.

He had no idea what the value of this world’s currency was. Nor did he know of how the currency system in general worked around here. At this rate, he wouldn’t be able to tell whether he was getting ripped off or not.

“Do you know the ways of money, Kain? Have Damien taught you this yet?”

Derrick asked as they waited on the queue. Kain shook his head.

“Indeed, the need for monetary transaction in Riverfield is far and few in between, so it isn’t all that surprising your father has not educated you yet. This is a good opportunity.”

From under his leather chestplate, Derrick pulled out a small brown pouch. He unfastened its lip and fished out two coin-like metallic items.

“See these? There are the official Coins recognized within the Greater Empire of Argos. There are four accepted currency in use. Bronze is the most basic of all the coins. Then, its Silver Coins, followed by Guinea Coins. Some people call them Gold Coins but most merchants have ceased calling by that term. And finally, Adamant plates. Those are rarely used in common trade among citizens, but rather in trades between large scale merchants and state institutions.”

Kain nodded after hearing the explanation. The system sounded pretty logical. Simple, even. It must be, so even the illiterate could trade in relative safety, nominally shielded from potential fraud.

Derrick continued. “A hundred Bronze Coins make for a single Silver Coin. Likewise, a hundred Silver Coins beget a single Guinea Coin. Another hundred Guinea, then….”

“Then it’s one Adamant plate?”

“That’s correct. Very good, Kain. You understand well. But, as it is the case with Invocation, there are also other things to consider.”

Only allowed on

“Such as?”

“It would be inconvenient to carry dozens of coins around. So there are Big Coins to solve that quandary. Ten Bronze Coins beget one Big Bronze Coin. Ten Silver Coins, one Big Silver Coin. It’s the same with Guinea as well.”

“Thank you for telling me, uncle Derrick. That was interesting!” Kain cheerfully smiled. “Now I can buy things, right? Oh, hey. Uncle, does other countries accept these coins? You know, other countries that are not affiliated with the Empire.”

“Some do, but not all. Those who have a trade pact with the Empire will accept our coins but they will still have their own monetary systems.”

While talking like this, they arrived at the front of the stall. Kain stepped up and asked what the stall owner was selling.

“It’s bison meatballs. I’m selling ’em wrapped in thin bread. If you want, I can get you skewers instead, young man.” The stall owner replied with a friendly smile.

“Oh no, we’ll take them with bread. Please give us enough for three people, please.”

After ordering, he tried to look at the process of making the food but then, a new problem arose. Kain was too short to reach up past the stall itself. Realizing this, he briefly felt like killing himself. With tears wetting the eyes, he turned to Derrick and gave him plenty of hint until, the older man went “….Oh, right.”

Derrick promptly picked him up by the waist, hoisting the boy in the air. Finally, the beautiful sight of evenly-shaped meatballs sizzling in a large wok with oil and herbs entered his brain. What an appetizingly seductive thing it was.

The layout behind the stall reminded Kain of those taco trucks he used to see lining up outside his old college. Nostalgia ran thick and strong, although the smell was different – the greasy aroma of oil that were reused far past its prime, for instance. There was a bit more sweeter scent of herb mixed in there somewhere, wafting into his nose and further fueling his ravenous desire to consume.

Derrick paid for the food, costing him the grand total of twelve Bronze Coins. He received his share rather awkwardly, having never eaten with his bare hands or sitting down. But both Kain and Gabe wolfed theirs down in double time. The meat tasted great, not too salty, nor oily, and the balance of flavor was excellent.

Kain was so pleased with this snack, he felt like eating this everyday, even though it was on the plain side overall. Of course Lizbeth and Delilah would throw a fit, so that was the end of that dream.

The brief stop now complete, the group continued on their journey. The carriage driver didn’t complain about the wait for his passengers. Kain figured it must be not uncommon an arrangement around these parts, which was actually true – there was an unspoken agreement between the stall owners and the carriage drivers to use the main streets where food were sold.

Before long, the next distraction entered the group’s view and made most of them speechless. In the distance, towards north-western side of the city, a scene of a massive construction project – a structure so tall and wide its design easily discernible no matter how far away an observer was. It had that overall look of a lone baobab tree sprouting out of a rocky desert plain.

The purpose of this half-built structure with all sorts of wooden support beams poking out from its side, was quite apparent to all. The Sky Ark Kain witnessed earlier was moored onto one of the completed platforms. It was a Sky Ark port, in other words.

By his estimation, this Sky Ark Station – Kain’s own name, of course – was getting ready to welcome at least three more flying ships at once when it goes into full service later on.

Derrick caught him looking at the distant platform. Understanding the curiosity of his young nephew, he placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder to get his attention.

“Looks like the plan to get as many Sky Arks in operation as possible before the end of the decade is proceeding along smoothly.”

End of the decade, eh? Kain mused silently. The current date was in the middle of the Fourth Month of the Year of the Rabbit, 2855 C. W., so there were just about four and a half years left to achieve whatever the number was deemed satisfactory.

“How many Arks are going into service, uncle?”

“The talks back then was to build two fleets, each having a dozen, servicing the routes between the Capital and all the major Provincial cities. Lafayette were to receive four Arks from the Northern, Eastern and the Western territories as well as from Argos. However, depending on how successful the initiative was, the final target number would have changed.”

He didn’t know whether that target was too rushed for their own good or not, but one thing’s for sure, this flying transportation system was too convenient to be underutilized. Great distances between cities, plus no easy means of transport and quick sharing of information meant governing the length and breadth of the Empire was no piece of cake. Having such a fast moving as well as inherently safe method of travel would definitely make ruling the subjects a lot simpler. And then, there’s that one important thing of advertising the power of the regime to all who witness them.

Another thought bubbled up from the current train Kain was on, so he promptly asked Derrick about it. “Uncle, will there really be no militarized versions of the Sky Ark, as my dad said before? It seems hard to believe.”

Derrick glanced at the boy for a second before answering, his expression complicated. “There certainly were no plans back then. The Sky Arks are meant for civilian usage, Kain. The Empire isn’t engaged in conflict with any other nations, so it isn’t likely a Sky Ark will see the light of day as a war machine. It isn’t really designed for such purpose.”

Kain wasn’t convinced. “But that could change, right? I can’t imagine people who came up with the Ark haven’t entertained such ideas.”

Derrick frowned, but recovered quickly enough to assert his opinion. “That is indeed true. But for now, Sky Arks lack any offensive or defensive capabilities. And since they are so large, it would be a sure fodder for sustained cannon fire. That is why it is guarded by the dedicated squadron of Griffon Riders throughout its travels.”

Hearing this, Kain could only nod. Certainly, Derrick might possess more information regarding the Arks. And his belief that there weren’t going to be any military versions of them could be correct. But if he knew one thing, it was the so-called rule of never say never. Anything was possible, especially more so, in the land of fantasy like the one he was in.

“Looks like we’ve arrived,” said Derrick.

Kain stopped pondering about things that didn’t involve him and turned his attention to those that did.

And before the carriage that was slowing down, he saw the huge building of SOIR’s Lafayette branch looming large right next to them.

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