Another, Barkeep
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After my talk with Pops I went straight back to the temple. I expected Mother to still be sipping tea but neither her nor Mary were anywhere to be found.

Instead I saw a blue-haired young lady laying face-down on the floor. 

"Haaa...." She sighed in exhaustion. "I must say, Your Grace, that Queen Mother of yours is really something else."

"Intense, isn't she?" I gave her a hand.

Then, as she got up, I turned my head and sneezed. "Achoo!"

The heck. That was weird, I didn't even feel an itch.

"I felt like a piece of meat under that gaze." She nodded with a haunted look. "It's good this body is so young or I fear I'd have already become your concubine!" The girl gave me a cursory glance up and down, exactly the same way Mother had to herself not long ago. "Well. That wouldn't be a bad thing, I guess." She seemed dazed. "Though young, you really are unusually attractive." 

I nearly covered my chest, feeling as if I were the one with the right to feel like a piece of meat this time.

"I'm pretty interested in your future prospects." 

The Queen said something awfully similar if I remember right.

"There are worse things than being a woman of the Dragon race's Prince, after all. " 

Okay, yup, my first impression of the Goddess--Undine--were mistaken. Talking about things like that so easily, she really isn't a kid at all. 

She went on. "Though from your conversation I take it you don't have a desire for any concubines, Your Grace?"

And here I was thinking she wasn't paying attention. "I'm a one-girl kinda guy at the moment, so yeah."  I said. 

The woman nodded in understanding. "Monogamy isn't rare. Are you perhaps holding out for your Alium?"

"Excuse me?"

"It's nothing much, just something from Darcian culture. In your tongue it means Soul Mate? Or Other if you want a more direct translation."

"Oh. Then no, I don't believe in that stuff."

"Not surprising. Most don't. And I'm not sure you'd have one anyway. I've only ever known Darcians to have Alium."

That was a bit interesting, that statement. "Is it a real thing for you guys?"

"Pick up on things quick, don't you, Your Grace? Indeed, it's as you say. We--Darcians--all born with one, an Alium. But instead of soul mates, it's a bit different."

"Yeah?"

"Yup." She dusted off her clothes. "Just because one person's your Alium, doesn't mean you're their's. It's more of an Ideal Type kind of thing if you ask me. Darcians can even spend lifetimes and never find their Alium, for example. They'll always have one, it's just they may have died, not been born, or are many realms away. If the first they'd have to wait for them to be born again, and who knows when that'd be?"

"Huh."  I walked back to the side room to pour myself a cup. I spotted a note on the table in familiar handwriting. "So how do you recognize them, these Alium?" I asked while scanning the contents.

Another sneeze made it's way past my nose. 

Again!

No warning.

I wiped myself with a handkerchief.

The girl trailed behind me. She pointed to her heart. "This. Darcians' hearts don't beat. For some reason everyone born within that realm has no need for beating heats to live. And only after meeting their Alium do they start working."

"Does it serve a purpose?" I liked learning new things.

"There's a story I heard once about a Phoenix tribesman who was born a Darcian." She began in a rather roundabout way. "He found his Alium after many years a bachelor, some human girl born in another Realm who was sold as a slave after the death of her parents. Upon meeting he felt an irresistable attraction towards the girl and his heart beat wildly at her mere presence. After taking her away they were chased and eventually the girl was killed from a stray arrow. The next day he killed their enemies in a blind rage and went to bury her. As her laid her down she burst into flames and came back to life with wings of ash and fire at her back. She became a Phoenix herself."

I stopped. "Wait, you're saying...?"

"I don't know if it works both ways, but yes." She replied. "She was a regular human, after all. If she weren't, would he have gained something as well? And like I said, not every Alium feels the bond. Sometimes they will, other times not. I don't know if that girl did. Does it need to be present in both for this exchange to work? I've no idea at all. Few Darcians have ever actually met their Alium. And of those I know who have i'm not close to them enough to ask. If they did gain anything from the encounter then at the very least they sure aren't talking about it. If they even know they gained something at all." She took a seat. " Still, it's interesting to speculate isn't it?"

"I'd say. It's a total cheat." 

"Yeah. Sadly I'll never know the  experience of having an Alium myself." She sounded disappointed. "I wasn't born a Darcian in truth. But I still consider myself one."

"Bummer, that. Least you won't have to deal with the no heartbeat thing. And, really, that sounds like a shitty system anyway."

I mean what's the point if it's not felt by both parties? Least the woman wouldn't have to deal with finding her soul mate and risk the dude--or girl--not caring about her at all. Would be the worst case of unrequited love ever.

"I can see how it would be, yes. Anyway, we got off topic. So, is there a reason you're against the idea? Apart from morals?" Her grin was teasing. "Maybe Your Grace already has a girl in mind?"

" I do, actually."

"I knew it. I was sure I wasn't imagining it when you were talking about marriage and everything. I take it your Queen Mother didn't approve of the girl before?"

"Yeah, she didn't." I was indignant. "And guess what, it was over some stupid shit like her having a pair of cat ears. Can you imagine? Who wouldn't love a cute girl with cat ears? She's a very nice girl too. Hmph, that woman really doesn't know what's good."

I saw the other person's eyes grow wide is shock. "You want to marry a mutated beastkin?!"

I felt my eyes turn sharp. "So? What of it?" 

She shook herself. "No, sorry, Your Grace, it's just that I'm surprised a Dragon would accept a mutant as a love interest. I mean there's nothing wrong with them, really, but in the first place Dragons consider most races beneath them. I'd have thought you'd be especially disdainful of a race like their's given their history."

"What? What history?" 

"You don't know?" She asked in reply. "No, actually, I don't suppose many would. Okay, quick history lesson. First, the common races. They all seem to treat the beastkin mutants badly, right? That's not exclusive to this realm, in fact it can be traced back to the Turbulent Era when the realms of the Mortal Planes first discovered each other's existence due to the birth of the World Trees and how they made traveling the realms possible. As you can imagine, wars broke out easily.  Back then mutated beastkin didn't even exist, they only came into being later on. Like Ogres and their variants the sub-race within the beastkin, the ones with animal traits like ears or tails, they were created as weapons or war. They were beings of great strength, speed and affinity for Aura. This greatly increased their battle capabilities. Apart from enhancing the sharpness of their claws and toughness of their skin it also raised their healing abilities to the level of Regeneration magic." A pause for breath. "After the warring era they were still fresh in everyon's mind, becoming objects of fear. They later mated with their unmutated beastkin and spread their bloodlines.  But over time even their own shunned them. Though, really, what can you expect when their offspring carried berserker tendencies? What's more this only happened in the children who bore the same animal traits as their ancestors. So, of course, the beastkin began to think of them as cursed. Although the strengthened attributes and berserker trait did fade as generations passed there were still many instances where a beastkin would pop up with ears or a tail. And the fear, the hatred, of the artificals and their descendants were never forgotten despite the events of that period having been long faded from memory. That's why the common races hate them. It's been ingrained since centuries ago."

...Son of a bitch. So that's how it is.

After much carnage and death the survivors of the war had traumas regarding the new sub-race of beastkin. Years passed and the events were mostly forgotten by the general public but the fear still lingered. That fear led to hate, racism, even superstition.

Despite the mutants no longer being what they once were they still became discriminated against. Even though most wouldn't have even known why they hated them in the first place by that point. And with the berserk nature the early ancestors of the current mutated beastkin displayed even their own people couldn't accept them. 

Not that people need much of a reason to hate their fellow man to begin with. 

As for Mother and how she acted around Minnie..."Why do the Dragons dislike them?"

Blue looked up after blowing on her own cup. "Ah...that's much easier to explain. It's cuz of how they were created. Tainted magics birthed the mutated beastkin. As beings of pure, unblemished mana it's obvious why the Dragons would be disgusted at the mere idea of those poor people. In fact since the bloodlines of the artificial beastkin spread so much among the regular beastkin, albeit usually dormant, the Dragons dislike that race in particular even compared to others. Your Queen Mother must be unusually kind to allow you a mutant as your bride."

Or more likely my threats of disownment and stubborn refusal to return home spurred her supposed "soncon" instincts into action. 

If true then didn't that mean I could get her to agree to almost anything?! All I had to do was ignore her a bit and she'd probably cave.

Except the Repopulation Plan. I had a feeling she wouldn't be giving up on that one.

Blue appraised me yet again, this time more thoughtfully than pervasive. "Now that I mention it you must be broad-minded yourself to want a girl like her. And tolerant. Dragons don't just dislike them, they literally feel disgust from the mutants' presence. The tainted mana they bear must bring a repulsive feeling in races like Dragons, Fae Folk and Unicorns who're especially sensitive to worldly energies."

"Is that so." I spoke flatly.

Strange, I never felt that myself. Maybe it's because I'm only like half Dragon? Or...1/3rd? Father said he isn't fully human either so i'm not sure about the exact percentage. 

Or it could be I'm just cooler than the rest. The one truly enlightened as to the greatness of the Furry-Eared Ones.Yeah, probably that.

"Eh, whatever. I don't care much for senseless racism. Wars, superstition, tainted magics, all that can go to hell." I stated confidently. " All I know is that I've got myself a sexy cat-eared babe who likes consplaying and i'm gonna date her, marry her, bed her and raise a whole litter of adorable little kittens" I folded my arms as I calmly laid out my future plans.

The words "bed her" made Blue turn a little Red, judging by her cheeks. But she handled it smoothly, like a champ. 

"Lucky girl." She smiled a tad awkwardly. "You really seem to have your life figured out."

"I'm a simple man."

"Your mother, though, appears to have greater aspirations for you. Considering how many other girls are waiting for you to come get them."

Wonder how many of them actually want that for themselves instead of their families salivating at the thought of a connection to Dragon Royalty.

"Mother's not right in the head, don't pay her any mind. No way am I taking on any concubines. I see all kinds of problems in that situation. Just ain't cold enough to drop my baby's mama out on the streets, you feel me? She's crazy if she thinks I'd let someone else raise my kids, or treat their mothers like cattle."

I don't care who you are, you take care of your own. 

At least that's what I would say normally, but, "And come on the idea of me being able to treat them all as well as they should be is just too unrealistic. I know I can't, so I won't."

 "I see where you're coming from. Everything about her plan IS pretty callous and cruel. You'd want to treat the mothers of your children with love and respect but you can't possibly care for that many women equally. As you say, it's just not realistic."

"Right?!" I could feel my eyes shining in total agreement. "I'm not the one in the wrong! Not to mention how stressful a situation like that would be if I tried tackling it earnestly. Harems aren't all they're cracked up to be. Not if you give consideration to everyone's feelings. Which I ain't enough of a prick to ignore."

Really now. People think harems are so damn easy. Have they BEEN in a relationship before? It's not a well-oiled machine! It's not like the other person will always be a team player. 

They got their own thoughts and opinions too and it's not as if they'd always give way. You'd have to constantly make an effort to figure them out and, at times, make compromises. 

You basically have two different puzzle boxes and want to make all the pieces fit. But they won't all fit. And that's fine, nothings perfect. If you want it, if you think it's worth it, and most importantly if you love the other person, then you work on it.

...What? I was a NEET in my past life, but I had a time when I wasn't a NEET. I had girlfrends before. Like, one. Wait, two. Which were both short-lived. Still, they counted. 

But the point is... it's so fucking exhausting! Relationships are exhausting! Any relationship! Romantic ones even more so!

And you want that multiplied by, what, five? More? Mother's a whole lot more extreme, she wants to force a harem of hundreds of girls on poor little me! 

Ain't nobody got time for that.

Or in my case, since I'm apparently gonna live a good while, got not patience for that. 

I'm not against harems. Hell if harems were really as easy as that Godou dude made it look, being fawned over by priestesses, goddesses and blonde-haired bombshells, then yeah sign me up bro!

But this is reality and that shit only exists in dreams.

I wouldn't mind a harem myself (preferably comprised of girls with all manner of cute ears. Cat ears, dog ears, wolf ears, fox ears, bunny ears...! ect.) I mean any man would want one. The thought of having to put in all the hours to make it a reality, though...yeah. Tiring.

On one hand I COULD take on a buncha concubines but I don't wanna be that asshole who just treats women like toys. On the other I can't deal with the crap a compromise of having a smaller, more traditional harem would bring. I'm really too damn lazy to have a harem, essentially. Nope. One good woman is more than enough for me.

"By the way." I changed the topic. "What's your name? I never asked and I've been thinking of you as Blue for a while now."

"Blue? I kinda like that." She hummed cheerfully. " My name's Chelsea. I know, I know, pretty cliche for an Undine."

"Could be worse, you could've been named Aqua or Marina."

"I have cousins with those names."

"Give them my condolences."

"Pfft." She surpressed a giggle. "I'll be sure to pass that along. And I think I'd prefer you keep calling me Blue."  

"Calling people by their eye or hair color is also cliche, you know?"

"Just think of a new name for me then. I AM rockin' a new body, after all. And this IS a new realm."

"The Aeil don't have a name for you?"

"Grandpa gave me one but these days no one uses it. Always Goddess this and Goddess that." She puffed her cheeks.  "Besides."  A flightly continuation. " If I'm going to get a new name isn't it great to have it given by a Dragon Prince?"

"You're gonna regret it."

"Try me." 

"I dub thee, Bubbles."

She nearly choked. "That kinda name...What am I, a pet?!"  

 I rubbed my chin, appreciating her soft, if yet unripe, curves. "I was sorta planning on bringing you home, yeah. Cute thing like you? Decorate the place nicely."

"You want me as a decoration?!" Bubbles' voice went a few notes higher. "Please don't joke like that, I'm not a goldfish." She then went into a mild depression. "From concubine candidate to decorative pet...even his mom was nicer..." I heard her mutter.

"You aren't, but you're cute and I like cute things." I shrugged. 

"Your Grace, at least call me sexy. I'm not really a middle-schooler, you know? Being called cute is a little much."

"Women can be cute. And do you really think you can be called sexy in that body?"

"Middle-schoolers can be sexy." She snorted.

I downed my cup and got to work hoisting the girl over my shoulder. 

"What are you doing?"  A justified panic.

"Keeping predators off the streets."

"Who's a predator?!" 

I ignored her.

There was an actual reason for my actions, dont misunderstand.  Remember that note I mentioned? It was a map with a red circle on it.

The back read: 

I took your little friends.Go here if you want to see them again. Bring the fish.

Love, Mama. 

P.S I brought Dolly home, she's going to be late for school. 

And so I'm kidnapping a Goddess(Undine)

But not before I let out another sneeze. 

"Achoo!"

Alright. Who's talkin' shit?

Aside from Mother, that is. Seriously. Didn't like Dragons to be called  lizards but it's fine to call an Undine a fish? Tsk, tsk, tsk.  

Bubbles's voice demanded my attention."You...even if you're a Prince...you can't just...just abduct people!" The girl admonished. 

"Nah it's cool, I've done it before. Trust me."

"You've done this before?" She gasped. " To who?"

"You don't know him. Now quiet down." 

"Quiet down when I'm kidnapped? No way!" She struggled in my hands. "Guards! Someone! Hel--!"

I smacked the girl's rear forcefully, causing her to yelp in pain. It was a top-grade rear, nice and elastic. I became suddenly reminded of Charlotte.

But this girl...was she even wearing underwear beneath that robe? I was a little dubious.

"I said quiet down, criminal. "

"W-Who's a criminal?!"

Another smack. "Ah!"  And another scream. That one was a little weird though.

"We're going on an adventure. Call for help again and the next one's gonna hurt more."

The struggle only intensified. "I'll drown you, I'll definitely drown you!" She threatened. 

Smack.

"Ah~!"

"Then why haven't you already?" I challenged. "I can play along so you can keep your dignity but if you think I don't know your real intentions then you've got another thing comin' Missy."

The true power of the Devil's Left...after Vera I finally understood. 

"Oh, well, forget it then. I'm too old now to care about dignity anyway. Hit me." She requested, as if ordering a drink.

 "Far be it from me to deny a Lady her small pleasures in life."

Smack!

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