Erubetie was genuinely surprised at how delicious the steak was. Normally on the occasions when she did consume meat it was in a rather raw state, causing her to forego the creation of taste receptors. However Betrand insisted that she do such and eventually she gave in to his request. He referred to it as a New Yamatai Strip, named after one of the districts in the city whose ancestors had ties to the remote village. A more primal part of her was pleased to find it still retained a rather pink center despite the somewhat charred outside. According to Betrand it is supposed to be that way though he said some liked it a bit more 'bloody'. One thing still really bugged her about the restaurant however.
"Why would a minotauros serve steak in her own restaurant?" she asked.
Betrand leaned back with a soft smile that had been on his face since they left the Purification Pool. It seemed always accompany him. At first she thought it would annoy her after a while but she found it rather appealing instead. Maybe because it was on someone attractive and not a blue haired midget of a man.
Betrand replied "Who else would you trust to serve the best beef? Besides it's not like she's serving up her own kind...though there was this one time I did find an earring on my plate."
It took her a moment realize he was joking, another habit Betrand seemed to have. Something jumped up through Erubetie's body and she made a sound she did not instantly recognize. It then dawned on her that she just laughed. This seemed to bring out a wider smile on Betrand as he continued to look into her eyes. For some reason Erubetie got the sense she was not the only the one he was seeing.
Trying to shake the somewhat uncomfortable feeling coming over her she shifted her gaze to the rest of the patrons of the room. At first it felt incredibly bizarre to her that she attracted no major attention from the humans. In fact they seemed to be going about their own business, dining with other humans and monsters in a completely relaxed manner. The only attention she did get were some looks from those up at the bar who seemed to be looking her over with appreciative smiles before turning back to the bartender when they realized she caught them looking. Of course there were other women up there as well, both monster and human who seemed to be checking out the men as well. Their poses caused Erubetie to recall some of the more seductive stances she has seen Alma and Alice make. She could even swear some of them were looking at her in the same way though by the time she looked them in the eye their attention was convincingly diverted elsewhere.
Another table nearby appeared to have two couples sharing a meal. The monster and human woman were engaged in seemingly endless chatter while their male companions looked like they would do anything to escape. Every so often one of them would let his eyes wander to either another monster or woman in the room with a slight smile forming on his lips. However it was quickly destroyed when he turned back to the two females at the table who temporarily halted their conversation to drive spears into him from their eyes, causing either him to noticably swallow or wear a sheepish grin.
The Slime Queen eventually let her own attention come back to Betrand stood up, offering his hand to her. "Come with me, I believe I owe you a tour of the city." he requested.
Erubetie extended her own hand and the two began to leave the restaurant. Erubetie then stated, "I know I don't live among others very often but is not customary to pay before you leave."
"The owner knows I'm good for it," was his reply.
Leaving it at that they head outside where the day's light had begun to wane, giving way to the evening's comforting darkness. A thought popped into Erubetie's mind. "If we're in a different plane of existence why are we experiencing the normal day and night cycle?"
He looked at her and began to explain, "It's actually an artificial scene projected along the barrier as the dimension we're in doesn't have any such thing. Since we are all creatures of the real world we strived to create an ideal environment our bodies were accustomed to." He then waved his hand over the area. "There's lots of clever tricks using a combination of machines and plants to keep this place in the rather agreeable state it's in, though every once in a while someone screws something up or plays a prank and we end up with some kind of storm or another. In its natural state this place is filled with a directionless gray light, which tends to be disorienting as the lack of shadows really messes with one's depth perception. Temperature wise it really isn't too bad, a bit on the cooler side but more than habitable."
Continuing to hold her hand Betrand lead Erubetie down the street, a gentle breeze swept through her as they took their time. Her first reaction knowing it was artifically created was to dismiss its quality for not being a natural breeze. But after letting herself really feel it she could feel the artistry and love the designers put into it to make it appear authentic. She could even detect the nice balance of salty brine coming from the nearby water.
Betrand seemed content to let her take in the sights around her. Again like the restaurant humans and monsters went about their business together, neither one trying to harm or subjugate the other. Her attention then fixated on a particular monster, one who seemed to have wings of a succubus but with the lower half of an ant. Erubetie’s nerves began firing off as she prepared to bring her wrath down upon the chimera, which stood there oblivious to the danger coming her way. But before she could unleash her fury upon the detestable creature a small boy ran up to her and a gut wrenching feeling took over.
"Mommy, mommy! I got it!" the small boy exclaimed triumphantly.
The chimera opened her arms to embrace her son. "Oh thank you my darling little boy. I can't believe I forgot the locket your father left me."
Erubetie's eyes just followed them as they walked past her and Betrand. She could still feel the echoes of uneasiness caused by her realization at what she was about to do. She turned towards Betrand with a look of bewilderment. He seemed to know what she was thinking. "This city originally started out as a settlement for chimera, at least the original ones. Not the seemingly lifeless ones that have been popping up in the world recently. The ones here stand as a legacy to the suffering brought on by war."
Betrand motioned for the two of them to resume their walk and continued his explanation. "Two doctors spent several years trying to find ways to repair the damage inflicted upon the populace by the Great Monster Wars. Eventually they managed to develop the means of allowing organ transplants between species with less likelihood for rejection, this included humans as well who also suffered traumatic injuries by monsters during the war." He then looked straight ahead, his face absent the usual smile. "But neither society would accept them back into their folds. They were usually greeted with scorn. Even if the being was still purely monster they would not acknowledge them as citizens."
"What about the boy I saw? He's human, did she adopt him or something?" she inquired.
"Possibly,” Betrand said. "But it's more likely that's her natural son." He took a deep breath before further explaining. "Chimeran births are always tricky, especially now with all the interspecies breeding here. There's a one in three chance the child will be chimeran, monster or human. If the child's chimeran it’s anyone's guess as to which creature traits will be dominant. However in both chimeran and human births the gender is about fifty-fifty male and female, while monster still tends to heavily favor female. The human and monster children however will not give birth to chimeran children so their population really hasn't changed as much over the years."
While she reflected on his words about the chimera, Erubetie caught sight of him looking up at the now nearly night sky. Taking a closer look at the stars becoming visible on the overhead mural she noted the accuracy the various constellations spread across its landscape. In her more agreeable moods she would picture herself swimming among them with her friend Undine. Then something that took her breath away happened, shimmering waves of blue light cascaded across the sky as the last vestiges of the sun disappeared for the day. Her imagination took advantage of the sight to add her being carried by those waves as she traveled amongst those true heavenly bodies. A wistful feeling passed over her as the display of subtle colors faded from existence. Glancing over at Betrand she was not the only one to experience that feeling.
"Does that happen every night?" she asked with a hint of a hopeful tone.
He turned to her with his smile still echoing the sadness from having the display end. "It only happens when she feels like it, " was his answer. Before Erubetie could press for clarification Betrand said, "We have quite a bit to see, though I couldn't show you the whole city in one evening given its rather massive size." The Slime Queen let the thought go and their tour resumed. She then realized hand had not left his since the restaurant. Her first impulse was to pull away however she refused to obey, thinking it would be rude to her gracious host. At least that is what she told herself.
While heading down the street something struck her about most of the buildings she had seen so far. "Are there no stone structures? Everything seems to be made of wood...or something looking like plants."
"Most of the non-critical buildings in the city are made from what we can grow," He stated. "This place used to be a swamp, though the desert has long claimed the area in the world after we left. So stone and metal, even today, are relatively scarce and importing such materials in bulk would draw attention to us from the outside world. However we've spent centuries perfecting other means of constructing durable buildings with various resins and even though we have consistently pleasant weather they would more than up to the task of enduring rather harsh environments. Some buildings are literally grown in place, hence the non-traditional looks you'll see every now and then."
Taking into account of what he said she then noticed it was not just the buildings, but the streets, lights and various other constructions all seemed to have an organic quality about them, making the city feel truly alive. It was conundrum for someone who was used associating humans with tearing apart nature and leaving lifeless, uninspired structures behind. Then she thought about the Monster Lord's castle and its rather cold and daunting visage and her own prejudices were shown to her in stark relief, An incredibly unsettling feeling emanated through her, however even that did not compare to the shock that greeted her as she noticed one particular building. Everything she had heard and seen contradicted what stood before her.
"Is that a Church of Ilias? With monsters praying to her?" she almost gasped.
With utter disbelief Erubetie turned to Betrand who nodded. "I'm told they pray that one day she'll break free of the madness that plagues her. Even some of them have come to doubt that day, but they continue anyways, secure in the belief that they keep the single ray of hope left in her polluted heart. I truly wish them the best in their endeavor, the world certainly needs it." Whatever ills the Light Goddess has brought upon it cannot be said those tied to her have a lack of conviction in their beliefs. With that in mind she could not help but think about her battle with Luka the previous day and how powerful such people truly are. She silently wished them luck as well.
Still holding hands while walking Erubetie let the sights and sounds of the Sharanyan evening wash over her. Even in the darkening environment the place was far from quiet as other groups of monsters, humans and the occasional chimera went about various activities from simply walking as they were to selling wares and doing street performances. While the monsters certainly had the more exotic shows the humans displayed equal aptitude and skill in their own presentations. One such show featured an array of scylla catching a twirling human woman in the air, wrapping the dancer in their tendrils before deftly passing her off to the next in line while the woman let out a precise flourish at the apex of each hand off. The final scylla flung the woman straight up into the air and fell back, letting her fall to the ground. But the airborne female remained calm as she made one final grand gesture at the top, before being caught by a succubus appearing out of nowhere who gracefully floated her to the ground. The entire ensemble took a bow as crowd let out their applause and whistles, one of which was Betrand's.
"Fancy the soft and slimey tentacles of a squid do you, or was it the well-endowed succubus that caught your eye? Then again the woman certainly has her own charms," she teasingly asked him. Making such comments began to feel a bit more natural to her, like some dormant part of her had reawakened.
He smiled at her, "Not everything has to be about sex with males." He then turned away from the performance. "But if you must know it was the succubus' tail, they always seem to have that playfully sexy 'innocence' as they wave about."
"You do realize some succubi have a habit of devouring men with their tails," she stated.
"Only the ones who don't know what a waste that would be of a long term meal ticket," was his answer. "But then again, we have to go sometimes and there are certainly worse ways." Erubetie could only roll her eyes at that last part; men are so weak to pleasure. But at least he was being honest about it.
As they walked on the streets became less populated and the sounds of the crowd became almost inaudible. She let Betrand steer her into a rather secluded park adorned with rather impressively tall trees and intricate flower gardens. Eventually they came to an elaborate fountain of a stone lamia, her tail intricately woven around smaller figures of humans and monsters. Resting on her shoulders were two non-descript angels with the one on her left shoulder having a less feminine look. The lamia's face seemed to pull her in, while she did not recognize the person there was something familiar, it vaguely reminded her of Alice, but only in a modest way. Looking in front she saw a bronze inscription plate, 'Remembering where we started and those who made what we have achieved possible'. Looking up at Betrand she inquired, "Who is she?"
"She's not anyone in particular though the original form of Sharanya was used as a starting point," he answered. Betrand sat down on the edge of fountain and began to run one of his fingers over the top of the water. "You know I envy you slime girls, you get to let yourself go and have fun swirling around these fountains, letting yourself explore every intricate curve, discovering every hidden gem contained within."
Hearing him describe playing in the fountain almost caused Erubetie to indulge but the sense that someone was approaching caused her to whirl around instead, finding a harpy and a man wielding weapons pointed at them. "Speaking of gems, why don't you hand over that nice little thing you got in your forehead little slime girl," demanded the man.
His clothes appeared torn in several places and the unshaven face framed a rather gruesome set of teeth. His harpy companion was not in much better condition, her feathers were completely disheveled and the smell coming from her could offend in the most bile-filled carnivorous monster. Anger started to overcome Erubetie as her body started to shift form to deal with the thieves. But before she could act Betrand had his arm in front of her and a gun, similar to the ones she saw when she woke up though with the echoes of an old world vibe, pointed at the pair.
He then said, "I've had a really pleasant evening and would hate to end it with two people dead." The harpy then looked at him in disgust as she flew up into the air, grabbing her partner's shoulders, carrying them away.
Still angered she turned towards Betrand and almost screamed, "Do you think I need your protection?"
For the first time she saw a completely serious look on his face. "I wasn't talking to them," he stated flatly, and then began to walk away from the fountain. Not for the first her emotions suddenly did a full turn as she realized she actually had intended to kill them. While she did feel more than justified at harming the would be attackers, killing them may have been going too far. She then realized Betrand had gotten quite a bit ahead of her and hurried after him.
Catching up to him it was still several moments before she spoke. "I'm sorry, it's just when he demanded this...” placing a hand over the clear blue sphere with the red center in her head.
Turning back to her he once again had his customary smile, “No worries, no one's blood has been spilled, though I'm not sure those two don't know how lucky they really are. It's a shame that even with all our advances some still find themselves heading down darkened paths."
Erubetie let out a sigh as she offered her hand back to Betrand who took it into his own, giving it a slight squeeze as they moved on. "May I ask, do you normally carry a gun on you in the city?"
She could see his eyes looking up at the sky and his smile twisted slightly as he replied, "Actually the gun was for protecting me from you. When you identified yourself as Erubetie of the Heavenly Knights there were concerns about my safety so I took it along as a precaution when I changed out of my diving suit."
Remembering an earlier discussion she countered his claim, "You didn't seem worried about me in the pool after your guards left."
His smile took on a mischievous quality, "That was more of a bluff; we were being monitored the whole time. If you did go attempt anything you would probably be in a cell right now.”
A certain satisfaction came over Erubetie knowing even here with all their advanced technology they still considered her rather dangerous. She then had to ask something else, "If those guards weren't there protecting you the whole time would you still have talked to me in such a manner?"
"Absolutely, you were being rather rude,” he stated. The boldness of his claim actually convinced the Slime Queen he was not joking.
The rest of the evening passed without incident, Betrand answered Erubetie's questions about various things they saw passing through the park, from various public displays of art like the fountain to some of the more exotic trees she had never encountered. However despite moving on from the attempted mugging the subject of death found its way to them one last time as they came upon a group of monsters and humans dressed in black surrounding an old man laying down on the ground. The old man appeared to have trouble breathing, harshly coughing every so often. Those around him were either standing still trying to remain stoic while children openly wept over the man. For his part the old man placed comforting arms over his mourners.
A low gong was struck and a venus trap monster dressed in an exquisitely fine robe approached the gathering. The people parted away from the old man as she came to stop at his side. After a moment she bowed to the person in front of her and opened her arms in a grand gesture. "Uyleness Baines, your time in this world is coming to its end. The disease that plagues your body has ravaged your body and by this time tomorrow will claim have claimed your life. By your own will you have consented to free yourself of the pain that racks your very being, are there any here object to this man's choice?"
Some of the children not wishing to have their grandfather die begged him to reconsider, however when his body started to spasm, causing him to cough up blood they relented. The priestess continued, "Today is not a day to be sad, for you shall return to the world which created you, bringing new life, connecting yourself to future generations who will reside here. Are you ready to move on?"
An exhausted Uyleness mustered the strength to speak one last time, "Yes I am Madame."
Like a mother carrying her newborn the priestess guides the frail man into her trap lying at the base of her feet. The mouth gently closes as the venus monster begins to sing a song, filling the hearts around her, even Erubetie's, with a mixture of sadness, joy and relief. Still carrying the body of the now dissolving man she led a solemn procession deeper into a more wooded area of the park. Neither Erubetie nor Betrand felt much like talking the rest of the evening.