Bee frantically scrambled backward, putting as much distance as she could between herself and the newly-appeared black demon. It advanced on her slowly, as if it didn’t have a care in the world. The Imp was not to be ignored, however. It continued to claw and scratch at her, its face twisted with rage and frustration. Her hands were burning from the efforts of defending herself. Desperately, Bee racked her brain for a way to get out of this situation. She needed an out and fast.
The Imp reared back to strike once more and lunged toward her face. Time seemed to slow down as her eyes shot between the immediate and approaching threats. There was only so much she could do, but she couldn’t die like this. She was too young, and besides, she couldn’t die as a maid.
As the Imp lunged, Bee pulled it towards her, gripping it tightly and adjusting its angle to bring it above her head. She heard her palms sizzle as the semi-corporeal body of the demon rejected her touch. But she felt its grip on her hair loosen, possibly in surprise. Then, with every bit of strength she could muster, she hurled the Imp toward the black void.
It was not a very strong throw. The Imp howled as it landed and tumbled a foot or so in front of the approaching black demon. She saw bits of its form break off, but not nearly as much as when she had struck it earlier. With a growl, the Imp scrambled to its feet and turned to face her. However, it was too late.
The Imp failed to notice the approaching threat. As it tried to chase her, the Imp’s face seemed to suddenly register a look of surprise. It was frozen in place. The edges of its form already trailing behind it into the powerful suction of the void. Its eyes only widened as it looked behind it, the suction increasing as the dark disk approached. It screamed and clawed at the ground as its body was slowly, then more quickly, sucked into the underbelly of the disk.
Bee didn’t stay to watch the Imp’s demise. As soon as it was off her, she pulled herself frantically towards the door to the library. With difficulty, she hauled herself through. She slammed the door shut, locked it, and rose to her one good foot. With an immense effort, she was able to topple the bookshelf next to the door; to serve as a temporary barricade. Bee had no illusions that this could last, but it might give her some warning. Being that close to it, she thought she could feel the power it radiated. Bee looked for a weapon, anything to use to defend herself. Finding nothing, she stared at the door, praying it would stay shut. Nothing happened for several breaths. After releasing a large lungful of air, Bee leaned against the wall and took stock of her situation. She still had the wineskin over one arm. So she took another swig, trying to get the liquid to soothe her parched throat.
As her heartbeat slowly returned to normal, Bee had a moment to process what had just happened. The demon had consumed that ash Imp like it was nothing, without even touching it. The Imp was powerless to stop it. True, it was a small creature, but it was by no means harmless. Whatever the mages had summoned looked and acted like an inescapable void. And it could cloak its magical energies enough that the Imp clearly didn’t sense it coming up from behind, judging by its reactions.
But that begged the question, why had it let her go? If it could do that, catching her should be a breeze. She had even directly attacked it by trying to throw the Imp at it. Had the Imp instead placated the black demon’s hunger for the moment? Did it have other plans for her?
The demon hadn’t needed to catch up to her; it could draw a lesser being to it without even touching it. She doubted she would fare any better. So why had it let her go?
Bee pushed that question to the back of her mind. It wasn’t worth thinking of. She would only come up with such awful scenarios that would send her into a spiral of terror. No, the only way out was to think about her immediate situation. There was nothing she could do as she was, so she began to make a plan. First, she would need to recover.
Hobbling to the nearest table, Bee sat down. She knew that the mages often snuck snacks into the library against the rules, so there was likely some food and drink to be found here. Bee rummaged around, and as she started to recover by taking small sips of wine, she thought about what to do next.
When I first arrived in this home, I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of how much mess the humans made to celebrate my arrival. Still, it was their home. They could do what they wanted, even if I disagreed with it. That’s part of the reason I was so excited to see this human in front of me, battling a particularly nasty pile of ash. This was only the second time I had encountered any human here and the first that any had actually seemed to share my value of a clean living space.
Her opponent was like a dust bunny, but it actually moved. From the looks of it, it was trying to avoid being cleaned. I tisked. We couldn’t have that. This only gave my theory that I was here for training more weight. I had never attempted to vacuum up a moving target before. Things that moved were always to be avoided or lightly bumped into with a soft beep. Well, I have learned plenty of new skills already so far. Why not try to overcome this challenge as well?
I hurried forward, eager to assist the young one in her battle with filth.
The living dust bunny seemed like a tough nut to crack. Based on how the human had acted, she viewed it similarly to how I would have a particularly damp spot on the carpet. Unwanted but not necessarily something I was ready to deal with. Not to worry, though. As if we had coordinated it, she tossed the thing toward me. Dust was my specialty, and if it meant helping a comrade in arms, I would gladly help. While I wouldn’t have minded testing my abilities by chasing the living dust bunny around for a bit, I appreciated the assistance. To my surprise, I didn't have to do anything. The little monster broke apart and started to get sucked up by my improved vacuum.
LEVEL UP, LVL 10 REACHED, THIRD MUTATION REACHED.
CHOOSE A MUTATION: BLADED BRISTLES, GRABBY ARM, WATER AFFINITY
For the moment, I ignored the voice and looked around for my friend. Before I could give her a grateful beep of thanks, she had already rushed away and disappeared through another door. I felt a twinge of disappointment. Still, now I knew that there was at least one human here. Someone who might even appreciate my efforts if first impressions were to be trusted. I decided that I liked this human.
I was still analyzing the composition of the creature I had just consumed. It felt strangely warm inside my dustbin in an almost comforting way. It reminded me of clearing a hearth, but that couldn't be correct. It clearly was a living being, and living beings are not made of ash. Oh well, nothing I could do with the information now, so I filed it away for later.
Only then I turned my attention to the voice once again. After receiving my mop and seeing how amazing it was, I took these choices a little more seriously. The bladed bristles were out of the question - that sounded like it would scratch up the floors. I shuddered at the thought of what such a thing could do to the beautiful rug I had seen earlier. Considering my options, the thing I lacked the most was options when manipulating my environment. As much as I had become more comfortable with liquid, it was a working relationship. Not one that I wanted to develop more than I had to.
Coming out of my deliberations, I heard a loud crash and noticed the door had shut behind the human. That was too bad. I wasn't sure how to communicate it, but I needed her to take me down the stairs of the south hall. While I could keep the available section clean, it didn't need my constant attention. Now that I knew I was here to improve, I needed new challenges to overcome.
I hope she was not making a mess back there. Mentally I shrugged. She could if she wanted to.
It looked like she had here. There was ash everywhere and a burning stick! That was unfair. It wasn’t her fault if she couldn't combat the living dust bunnies. Still, the results of their epic struggle were everywhere. The hardwood floor was covered in a fine layer of ash mixed with dust.
I think it's time to try out my grabby arm. I found I had a set of new functions, just like the mop. I triggered the first one. Just like the mop, the hatch opened, and a stick extended. This one was a black pole, but it was slightly thicker than the mop had been. On the end of it, there was a claw with what appeared to be rubber ridges. Even more interesting, I found that it could lengthen and shorten depending on how long I kept that function active. It extended about four feet at its longest. Another function opened and closed the claw.
Besides the extension and the claw control, there was a third option. This seems to raise the angle of the pole. I considered that. Was it a boon to interact with things that were not on the floor? That was not my domain. I mean, it was nice to have, but would I need to use it? I had never paid much mind to anything above my sensor level, so I wasn't sure what kinds of tools I could find there. I bet the humans kept their cleaning supplies out of my reach. Maybe when I was moving a blanket around the floor, I would instead be able to put it back on the bed. Yes, I guess this could be useful. Where I was hoping it would just help me move things that were hard to push, it might be able to clear obstacles entirely.
Something that this might be immediately useful for made itself known. The burning stick on the ground popped as the fire moved up its end. It was in danger of damaging the floor. I extended the arm to max length, grabbed the non-burning end of the stick, and dragged it out to the granite hallway. That floor was much more durable.
When using the claw, I felt that it doesn’t have a lot of strength right now. It was barely able to lift the stick. I hoped with some training, I might be able to improve that.
Well, now that this emergency mess was taken care of, I took a second to properly survey the room. A habit I was trying to build for each new room. If I planned out my path a little ahead of time, it was much more efficient. After experimenting with some free-form cleaning, I was starting to develop my own style. First, I tried just moving at random. That wasn't a good solution. While it sometimes helped me get a better angle on navigating furniture legs, it was horribly inefficient. There was this one spot I kept missing. After 30 minutes, I almost gave up and drove directly over to it.
I learned much from that experience. I started planning my entry angles and thus began the development of my own style. After I finished analyzing the room, I began to execute my plan using my new style.
The room wasn’t that large, so despite almost every bit of the floor being covered in ash, it didn’t take long to finish cleaning up the mess. Part of this was because once I covered every bit of the space, I looked back, and to my delight, I didn’t have a single spot that I needed to spend extra time on. Even the places where the human had ground the ash into the floor were fine. I would have expected to need to give the whole room at least a second pass. But no, the hardwood and the rug were spotless.
I went out to the now extinguished stick and vacuumed up its remains.
Satisfied with my new capabilities, I started to return to my duties before I came to investigate this disturbance. I would keep my eyes out for this human.
Bee sat in the chair, sipping wine slowly as she listened to the demon prowl around the office. It lost interest rather quickly and wandered away. She started to consider what to do. She began to build a plan in the back of her mind. Now that she was in the library, she could possibly start learning a bit of magic. Surely there would be something in here that would maybe not be able to fight the demon but allow her to run away. Sure, she would have to teach herself, and she could barely read, but she had some food.
She took stock of what she knew about Void. She had taken to calling it Void in her head. Based on what she had seen with the imp, the name fit. Void had clearly seen her. Any doubts she had about it knowing of her were obviously put to rest. It was also confirmed the demon was hungry. The way it consumed everything in its vicinity left no doubt. Her only remaining question was, why didn’t it come after her?
She had a couple ideas, but none of them added up. Maybe it wanted magical food sources. Well, she considered, why did it consume even the dust from the floor? That might have been an involuntary or unconscious action. So that theory was possible. She could check out other rooms to see if they still held magical creatures.
Her other thought was that it fed on fear. That seemed more likely before she had seen it up close. It clearly consumed matter. That didn’t eliminate the possibility, but it didn’t seem to fit right. Void looked less gleefully malevolent, more nihilistic end-of-days. It likely didn’t care about the life on the planet; it would just consume it, for that was its purpose. At least, that was the impression she got when looking at it. The other thing working against this theory was that it left her alone. After it removed the puddle, it only came by for a minute or two each day as it patrolled. And even this time, it didn’t break in and come after her. It could have stayed around to keep her more afraid.
There was only one other thing she knew about it. That was, the mages were terrified of it. Rather than banish it or destroy it, they chose to run. She had to assume they tried many things. Obsessed as they were with preparations, Bee doubted there was anything they didn’t have ready to fight demons with when they were summoning. That was a daunting prospect. People who had studied their whole life for this very situation couldn't do anything with their resources and time to prepare. What could she hope to accomplish?
Bee pressed those thoughts down. They wouldn’t help her. Having drunk maybe a quarter of the wineskin, she felt more hydrated. Still parched, she forced herself to stop. She didn’t know how long it would last. Missing her walking stick, she got up. Unable to walk properly, she pushed a chair in front of her as she shuffled around the library.