The capital city of Morenhurst shimmered in the midday sun, not from heat, but from magical exhaust. It streamed out of the jittering automobiles that lined the streets, from the towering chimney stacks of the factory district, and from behind closed doors where magicians tinkered with their latest inventions, all adding to the haze that perpetually covered the city. Morenhurst was a technological marvel, the height of the modern world, where everything from the city's great steam trains to the lights in every home were fueled by the world's most powerful resource: magic. Some of the country's lesser cities still relied on coal or electrical generators, but not Morenhurst; here magic was available on every bustling street corner, from every store or market vendor. It could be bought for a hefty price in its pure liquid form, the favourite of magicians to use in their experiments, spells, and inventions, or in more affordable canisters of gas, which most household machines ran off of.
But no matter what a machine may run off of or how technologically advanced it is, everything eventually breaks, and the machines of Morenhurst are no exception. And when something breaks in Morenhurst, it always, some way or another, ends up at Mr. Mao's Second-hand Magical Machine Emporium. It was the type of store you would spend hours trying to find even though you had the exact directions written down on a scrap of paper in front of you. It was located far from the city's main roads, at the very heart of a maze of narrow and twisted cobblestone streets, and from the outside, it looked like nothing special, just another narrow faded brick building squished in-between a row of townhouses. The only thing that separated it from the other buildings in the block was a large sign on the front, once impressive but now old and weathered, that declared the name of the store in flaking gold letters.
The inside was another story. When you stepped through the door, it was as if you had stepped inside one of Morenhurst's machines itself; every dusty surface, tables, shelves, even the floor, was covered in cogs, valves, pipes, dials, tubes, wheels, and gaskets. The store had every kind of machine in every size, from enormous automobile engines to wind-up music boxes no bigger than your finger. They all sat in various states, some spiffed up and shining, others broken and in pieces, filling the store to the brim. It was almost impossible to walk through the store without everything coming crashing down.
And among all the chaos, sitting calmly behind the counter, was a twelve-year-old girl with short black hair named Ruth.