11 The first layer of the upper city

Beth swept the streets one by one until she had almost finished her work. Her hands and legs ached from all the physical exertion. But she kept doing the job until she couldn't find any living thing roaming the streets. Even the minor god who had walked around the place ringing the curfew bell was long asleep. Silence enveloped the lower town, exempting the rhythmic sound of the broom rubbing against the stone pavements.

Beth looked around for a final time, confirming that she was the only one left awake. The lights in the minor god's office had long been doused, and its doors locked from the outside. The night guards, who were mere servants, had left her alone after knowing that she was undergoing punishment. But for once, Beth was happy about things.

The situation had ensured her a free pass to roam around the lower town at night. And tonight, she was going to take advantage of it and procure what she needed to fulfill her task- the seeds. The bracelet was still unresponsive, hanging on her hand like an ordinary gold bracelet. The only way out was taking her chances with it. So Beth kept looking around anxiously, dragging her broom behind her as she made her way to the edge of the lower town.

The streets had been confusing for a while. But since Beth had been cleaning for hours at a stretch, she got the hang of it. This time, she walked straight out of a winding street to the edge of the lower town, where a large signboard stood displaying a warning. It read, 'slaves are not allowed past this point'.

A sewage canal ran between the two towns, its stink making her gag almost immediately. The bridge that connected the two banks, was quite wide enough to let at least ten people pass through it at a time. Gigantic walls covered the edge of the other bank, making it impossible for anyone to see what was there on the other side. Her curiosity peaked from all the suspense. Pinching her nose tightly, Beth placed the broom against the wall of the street and quickly walked over the bridge.

As soon as she reached the other side, Beth could feel a positive shift in the atmosphere. The air was cooler, and her steps felt lighter. She took in a breath of fresh, clean air, making the corners of her lips lift up in a smile. Soon she was able to hear noises coming from ahead. It sounded as if the town was in the midst of a fair of some sort.

Colorful decorations hung from the ceilings of every building that she passed. On either side of the street were shops and restaurants of some sort. Some particular buildings were peculiarly shaped so that the onlooker from the streets could see a glimmer of the entertainments going on inside the building, without giving them a full view of it. Beautiful people in the bodies of young adults between the age of twenty and twenty-five roamed the streets, coming in and out of buildings, laughing with each other. Beth stopped at the side of one of those peculiarly shaped buildings, peering inside.

She spotted for the first time what fifty-eight had described as free minor gods- the beautiful youth in white robes who were entertainers. Some of them were singing beautifully inside a peculiar building on a raised platform, while the others played instruments beside them and more of them danced to the tune. They were putting on a show for their audience, who were seated below the platform.

She could see many gods in purple sitting and drinking something from beautifully crafted porcelain cups and having a feast of a variety of meats and buns. While shouting encouragingly at the performers. There were a few in light blue robes among them as well. Their beauty was incomparable to that of those wearing white or purple. They shone like radiant pearls among a sea of ordinary stones. She wondered how high in the hierarchy they were and what luxuries they enjoyed.

If the outermost layer of the upper city was like this, she could only imagine how splendid each of the inner layers would be. She kept walking, not wanting to attract any attention by standing in a place for too long. Most people didn't notice her at all, drunk in their bliss and what smelled like alcohol. Unlike the lower town, here was a place of merrymaking and lavishness. The sound of music and laughter echoed across every street that she passed through.

Beth kept her head low, and her presence little from the view of the random stranger who passed her as she kept going up the streets of the upper town. But it was proving to be tricky because of the color of her hair. Even in the lower town, she was looked upon as an oddity because of it. More and more people started noticing her, their brows raising in question. Seeing that she was standing out like a sore thumb, Beth quickly ducked into a nearby alley, which looked deserted enough.

She sighed. "Where in the world is this greenhouse that fifty-eight mentioned?" She murmured under her breath in irritation as she kept going forward.

She had been looking for too long now. Her legs were hurting from all the walking, and her tummy was grumbling from hunger. She regretted passing her food onto the girl. Rubbing her stomach longingly, Beth walked through the alley where on her both sides were walled houses, small but pretty-looking. Adorned with a lawn in front of them and a single tree in the middle, a single residence had more greenery than the entire lower town combined. Beth couldn't help but sneak glances inside.

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If at least one of those trees were flowering, maybe she could find a seed somewhere near it, she thought to herself. But to her disappointment, none of the trees had neither fruits nor flowers on them. They were large shade-giving trees that spread out well over the roof of the house and growing away from its boundary walls. Beth sighed, dragging herself forward. It seemed that there was no short-cut to the task. She'd have to find the greenhouse no matter what.

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