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Eventually, I had to release the door. Duty called, and while I could put off my rounds for a little while, I couldn’t allow dust to accumulate elsewhere forever. Actually, my routine would have to be altered. As much as my new capabilities allowed me to do my job better, they also expanded my domain. This great power came with many costs. One might even say responsibility. My expectations for myself only grew. I was slightly worried that I’d soon be able to cover more ground than I could effectively keep clean as frequently as I’d like. I shifted improving my own efficiency to a top priority. It moved above thoroughness for now.

Time had passed enough that, between vacuuming up the living dust bunny and my experimenting, such that I was almost a day behind schedule. There were a couple of options. I could start exploring now and bring everything I encountered up to an acceptable level of cleanliness. Otherwise, I could keep everything I had already mapped in tip-top shape and slowly expand my domain. Needing to meditate on this, I began pathing around the small cage room. As I passed through the cages, I noticed with some satisfaction that the thick coating of filth had reappeared at a much-reduced rate. According to my sensors, it was only 78% of the density it had been previously. Thanks to my arm, I could even close some of the small metal grates on nearby cages that had fallen open at some point.

By the time I finished this room, I had a plan. The revelation was that not all parts of my domain needed to be cleaned at the same rate. In fact, over the last couple of days, I had noted a pattern. Most of the area only needed cleaning maybe once a week. Three rooms needed cleaning more often. The room with the large cages and the room with the small ones needed cleaning every day. The room with tanks of water could be cleaned every two days. I would clean those areas and then explore, setting time aside every few days to ensure I didn’t neglect the rest of my territory. Tentatively I would try to do that each day, but who knew what I would find.

---

After Bee chose her perk, she went back to reading. While the book seemed to be for children based on the title, it wasn’t for people just learning how to read. Its stated goal was to “Introduce some basic terms and concepts for alchemy and magic.”

It took humor and straightforward explanations and mixed the two to achieve an easy-to-read beginner's book. It even had helpful, friendly pictures! There were many times that she almost laughed before remembering her situation. She had to start the containment chapter over again as she remembered very little from the previous night. It was informative and answered some of the questions she previously had asked mages, though they didn’t deign to answer. Turns out the chalk circles she had seen so frequently had many different uses. Some were barriers used for summoning. They didn’t last very long but were very popular. Some were for more long-term containment.

“Containment is best thought of in two levels when working with magical beasts. First, you need to contain the physical form. How to best do this often depends on what exactly you’re working with. Unless there is something exceptional about their physical qualities though, a simple cage is usually acceptable. We would suggest a bird-style cage for easy transport and ….”

It continued for a while. On the various types of cages and what they could be used for. Then it started on the magical containment.

“Second, you need to contain the magic of the creature. When summoning, you will want multiple levels. The stronger the thing you’re summoning is, the quicker your barrier will weaken (which is a problem if the thing you summoned coincidentally wants to eat you).….. For long-term storage, a power dampener is best. They take a while to take effect, but they are much safer and more efficient to boot. You can use ones like the one shown in figure 12. It will slowly drain the power of the magical being. This is great for a few reasons. First, a drained and weakened being won’t break your barriers nearly as quickly. Second, a weakened being is much easier to transport. Moving a salt circle on the ground is not always practical. However, if you weaken a creature, you will have lots of time to move it. This is because power returns at the same rate it was taken away. That means the stronger the creature, the longer it takes to wake up. Even the weakest beast takes a couple days to recharge from completely empty, and some of the most powerful records have taken months. So even if it takes ages to put things to sleep with power dampeners, it's worth the wait!”

The picture in figure 12 was a fancy diagram; in the center was the image of a horned demon flexing, but its muscles were drooping down instead of bulging. All her needs were met. It gave her the knowledge she had wanted in a clear and easy-to-understand method. Compare that to some of the other books she had looked at… Well, she would say that this was much better.

As time passed, Bee learned her ABCs of magic. In the next couple of hours, she picked up more than she had for two weeks at the mages' college.

----

I set out to explore. The first place I went was the door in the back of the room with the small cages - the first one I had opened. The first thing I did was open and shut that door a few more times. But the second thing I did was go through said door. I wasn’t superstitious or anything, but I just had a good feeling about it.

This room was unlike any that I had seen since I came here. The floor was not flat. Instead, it gently sloped downwards. It was also slick and looked made of a single piece of pure obsidian. The room was massive too. Not as large as the room I was first appeared in, it was 57 ft from the cage in the center of the room.

The slope was not steep enough to make it difficult to traverse. At its deepest point in the center of the room, it was maybe 5 ft lower than on the edges. This was a floor design that I had never seen before. Because of its uniqueness, appearance, and generally pleasant texture, I would not hesitate to say that I became lost in its beauty. I came to a halt, shaken from trying to understand how something like this was even constructed. The shine was perfect, and the polish was immaculate. Truly, I don’t think I had ever witnessed a more moving sight.

The only thing marring this work of art, holding it back from perfection, was the childlike scribbles of chalk and salt. They filled the chamber, circling the center in rings no more than six inches apart. At the center of the room was a large cage. Much like the previous cages, it looked like the cage that held my human's pet bird. The only difference was size. This was much taller. Maybe tall enough that a man standing on another man’s shoulders could be comfortable in it. The bars were thick around, about three inches in diameter, and they curved upwards to meet in the middle.

Oddly enough, I didn’t mind the cage, unlike the lines of debris surrounding it. The theme of the room worked with it. The least captivating part of the room was the thing inside the cage. It looked like a statue. Why would you put that in a cage?

Living flames danced along the arms and tops of the shoulders. Its hands were held out to the side, palms up, almost touching each side of the cage. Thrown back with a mouth wide open, saying something at the ceiling only a few feet from its nose. On top of the head, two enormous horns curved up into a point. It really wasn’t my style. Statues needed to be lower to the ground and matched with the floor.

I started to clean. I rolled to the center of the room first to improve my map and get a better picture of what I was dealing with. Strangely enough, though the flames danced on the arms of the statue, I felt no heat from them. Now that I saw the other side of the room, I noticed a door on each of the four walls. Recording it on my map, it appeared that two of the remaining three led to the larger cage room and the room with the tanks of water in them.

Feeling the need to wipe the graffiti off this floor, I began to clean. This room deserved to shine.

***

Once the whole thing was cleaned up, I checked the doors I had discovered led where my map had predicted. I was correct. When I tried the remaining unknown door, I couldn't open it. I tried both pulling and pushing. Neither worked. I assume this is what humans mean when they say a door is locked. That’s alright, it’s important to know my limitations, locks being one of them. Leaving that for later, I trundled out to the hall. Many doors I tried wouldn’t budge if I pushed or pulled. I assumed those were also locked. In fact, after returning to the hallway, about half of the doors I checked were locked. The ones that were not were the majority of bedrooms. I didn’t stay to clean them this time. I would on my next pass. I had a theory that it would be more efficient that way.

On the other side of the castle, from the room with the beautiful floors, I found the kitchen. I had mixed feelings about kitchens. The dichotomy of kitchens was that they got dirty frequently and with little effort. Therefore, they required a lot of cleaning. The other half was they were designed to be cleaned. The floor was made of tiles much more resistant to acid, unlike marble or granite. So, nasty things like tomato juice could be cleaned with little effort. Also, the damage to the floor was minimal. However, debris from kitchens was likely to be wet, gooey, or sticky. Now with my mop, it shouldn't be hard to clean, but that wasn’t always the case.

Honestly, I didn’t mind cleaning tough messes. It's just I wasn’t let loose in the kitchen enough, so when I did have a chance to do my job, it was much harder than if I had been allowed to work when I wanted.

I poked my sensors into the kitchen. These thoughts on kitchens were running around in my head. Soon they tripped and fell flat on their face. I saw it. It was an inconspicuous little thing with fur covered everything but its tail, and it had little beady eyes.

Oh, I wasn’t upset or anything. I never felt an immense amount of animus towards any individual for making a mess. But this creature was like the living dust bunny I had encountered earlier - an entity whose primary purpose seemed to be making a mess. While in some sense, its presence served to give me purpose. I had enough ground to cover and other messes to clean that it would be shortsighted of me to not nip this problem in the bud. Plus, my humans could make messes if they wanted. That same rule didn’t apply to interlopers. I watched as it chewed a hole in a bag of flour, coating itself in the white powder and spilling it everywhere. Its head came up, swiveling to find me. I remained motionless for a moment, observing the creature. Eventually, it broke the standoff and scampered off. As it scurried towards the wall, leaving a trail of white in its wake, I saw three little brown pellets appear on the floor right in front of me.

I made my decision. As I charged forward with all my might, it scampered away. Amazingly, I was actually catching up to it. Ordinarily, I felt like its speed would have far outpaced me.

Before I fully closed the distance, the wall hit me like a train. I bounced off as the ball of fluff scrambled through. Backing away revealed a low arch chewed in the wall. I was so close I could feel my suction ripping at its tail at the end there.

If it wanted to hide, let it. I knew it would be back. The food was here, and I could be patient. I went over to clean up the mess it made; before going back to the hole it disappeared into. I looked at it from all angles, trying to figure out what something from the inside could see. Figuring out how far I needed to be from the hole, I positioned myself as close as possible to the wall, then rotated to see the archway. Ready to charge forward.

We would see if it escaped this time. Soon it would cease to be a worry or a source of extra work for me. I was a professional, and leaving it alone would inhibit my efficiency in the long run. No hard feelings; it was just business. It wouldn’t get away with leaving droppings, wood shavings, and food everywhere.

I am patient. I could wait.

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