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A note from zaifyr

50k words, almost all the way to winning the Writathon! Also climbing that RS list, so close... 

I watched the human stuff her bag and face with food from the pantry. She seemed she was enjoying herself immensely, but this appeared a much less relaxed way to consume food than I was used to seeing. Usually, humans sat and immobilized themselves during this process. Maybe she didn’t know how to properly take a break?

That gave me an idea. I waited until she had finished filling her bag, then gave a few short excited beeps to get her attention. I wanted to share something with her. Something that I thought was very special. She turned and looked at me with an unreadable expression on her face. I started moving, hoping that she would follow. Luckily, she understood. After stuffing a last bit of food in her mouth, she began to follow.

I could think of one great place for a break where we could rest and recover. Also, it was one of my favorite rooms in the whole place. It wasn't too far from the kitchens.

---

Bee wrinkled her brow in confusion as she stood in the doorway. There were many things Void did that were beyond her comprehension. Honestly, this shouldn’t rank too high on the list. Nevertheless, it still got her. It was less confusing and more baffling, as in… why?

She stood in the entryway of dean Harold's office. Void had opened the door for her, as it seemed too impatient for her to get there. Then it moved out of the way with its extendable arm flung wide as if it was displaying something. She even thought its screeches sounded like a proud “ta-dah.” Looking in, it was definitely the dean’s office. Yep. But there wasn't much to see here; she'd only been inside once. Never had she felt any need to come back. When she first “enrolled,” her father had dropped her off here before leaving without a goodbye.

There was a dark mahogany desk with fancy scrollwork on the legs. A pair of relatively plain unpadded leather chairs sat before it. Behind was a comparably elaborate and very comfortable-looking chair for the dean. The walls were lined with bookcases filled with various trinkets and dusty old tomes. A hatstand in the corner and a fluffy red rug topped it off. Overall it was a neat yet basic room compared to others in the castle. Clearly not getting the reaction it wanted, Void gave a short wail of frustration. Bee wasn’t sure how she recognized the sound, but the meaning was loud and clear.

Void trundled forward. It quickly came to rest right on the large rug. It spun around in a circle a few times before seemingly settling down, almost like a dog would. Unsure of what else to do, Bee entered the room and looked around. It was how she remembered it, but seeing it in this light was different. No longer was she an excited yet intimidated little girl, thinking she was about to learn magic. This place seems so much smaller and less mysterious now.

She glanced over at the pitch-black disk still resting on the carpet. Void showed no signs of moving. In fact, she could hear a new, unfamiliar sound from it. It almost sounded like a brush softly whisking back and forth. Still unsure why Void had brought her here, she took advantage of the apparent downtime to rest and eat. Bee hefted her newly filled sack of snacks and looked at the two uncomfortable chairs in front of the desk. She quickly decided against sitting there. If she was going to eat, she might as well do it in style. She walked around the desk and sat in the cushy high-back executive chair.

Void was still making that strange sound. It didn't sound that intimidating, so she wasn't too worried. Putting her feet up on the desk, she grabbed some preserved fish from the bag and began to dig in. Really, she was starving.

****

Bee's eyes snapped open. It took her a second to remember where she was; she had dreamt that she'd been back in the broom closet, huddling in fear in pain. She was shivering violently, her face pressed against the hardwood of the desk. Collecting herself and looking around, she got her bearings. She was still in the dean's office. Void still sat on the red rug making its soft sound. At her sudden movement, her master moved a little to face her. It did something else that she had never seen it do before - it extended its arm up in the air toward her. Then it wiggled it back and forth. What was it doing? Was that… waving? Maybe she hadn’t woken up after all. Maybe she was dreaming that she had made it out of the broom closet.

She pinched herself. Nope, she was definitely awake. Unsure of what else to do, she awkwardly raised her hand and waved back. Void’s arm retracted. Void then rolled up to her, gently bumping into the chair leg. It almost reminded her of a cat asking to be let up. She obviously couldn't ignore it. How was she to respond? Would it get offended if she tried to touch it?

She reached down and gently reached her fingers out to it. Leaving the fingers a few inches from its front, Bee held her breath, waiting for its response. When she didn’t feel any smiting happening, she continued reaching out. She touched Void’s surface, surprised at how it felt. It was smooth as any polished glass she had ever felt. However, it was not cold like metal. In fact, it felt no different than the air around her, neither warm nor cool. As she brushed her fingers against Void’s front, it shrieked (in joy?) and spun a few times. She jerked back in surprise at the reaction, but it didn’t seem aggressive. Perhaps it was just excitement for some reason?

Bee just shook her head. Maybe one day she'd understand Void. But for now, she was nowhere close.

As Void returned to its rug, she noticed how the light in the room had changed. She figured that she still had some time before their next task, whatever it was. Her stomach had shrunk quite a bit over her unintentional fast, but all the food she stuffed into it last night had returned it to something that felt more normal. Though now it was empty again. She quickly sought to rectify that. Bee broke her fast on a jar of apple preserves.

Perhaps her fear was lessening, and she spent less energy being afraid than she used to. But she started to feel a little awkward; something was missing. As if two people who didn't know each other well ran out of things to talk about. Especially since Void seemed to understand her.

So to fill the silence, she started to talk. She led with inane things.

“This fish is really too salty... Salted fish is supposed to be dried and ... salty. This has salt falling off it…. It’s getting everywhere. Gross.” Void let out a small chirp of agreement.

In the beginning, she often felt like she was complaining and then cut herself off. Not wanting Void to feel like she was ungrateful, she quickly and repeatedly thanked it for its help. Both for obtaining food and protection from the demons.

It was awkward at first. Halting. But as Bee found her pace, she felt a little more comfortable. Void never interrupted her once nor showed any indication that it was becoming bored. Though sometimes it chimed in agreement or encouragement with a light and brief noise.

Even as she talked, she felt more open. Bee started telling Void what she was doing when it arrived. How she had hoped she would get a glimpse of magic. She even told it about the events leading up to her being stuck in the broom closet. When she started rambling about how afraid she had been, she bit her tongue. Worried that she might have offended it, Bee glanced at Void, who hadn’t reacted.

Feeling relieved, she continued. She started telling Void about her past. Nothing too detailed, since she was sure demons or whatever Void was could probably do something with her family’s names. More about the highs and lows. How excited she had first been when she was going to be a magic apprentice. How disappointed she was that she had ended up functionally a maid. As she talked, the sentences became smoother and connected properly. It was easier to speak about personal things. She talked about her father and how, after her mother died, she had been shipped off here as soon as she was of age. Her father was a wealthy merchant. However, he and Bee never got along.

“He insisted on calling me Beatrice, ‘as it is my proper name’,” Bee grumbled.

Things went on, and she started to vent her frustrations. About how she didn't know what she was going to do with her life. How her relationship with Void would change things. If it would change things. About how all her “colleagues” had left her behind out of fear. They didn't even bother coming back for her.

Bee continued speaking for quite some time.

- -

I sat on the very nice rug. It was still a very impressive piece. Beatrice, as I learned that was her name, told me stories. This was a much better day.

Not only had I got a nice long rest, but strangely I felt quite refreshed like I just finished charging. I hadn't even transmuted any materials to top myself off. But just sitting on this very nice rug and thinking about all the cleaning we would do together refreshed me. I let my brush slowly spin, touching the carpet. It made a comforting sound, and I just loved feeling the rug.

Beatrice appeared to go into sleep mode at some point. So I just kept watching while I enjoyed my rug. Much time passed, but I didn’t mind very much. I was content. After a solid charging session, Beatrice jumped and looked around before her eyes settled on me. As she stared, I felt a bit of joy bubble up. It was nice to have some human attention again.

Then I tried something new, something I'd seen the humans do when they greeted each other or said goodbye. I believe it was called “waving.” And to my absolute delight, it worked. Beatrice waved back. This was good. I was so excited that I felt motivated to get off my rug. I rolled up to her, hoping for a head pat. She eventually gave me a head touch, more like a gentle poke, than what I was used to. I didn't quite get a head pat, but it was progress. She's learning! Even that slight brush against my bumper made me quite happy. I spun around a few times and returned to my rug. Someone watching might have noticed my path wasn't as straight as it could have been.

Then I got to listen to stories for over an hour. My humans back home had never spent this much time to tell me things. This was quite a treat. I wasn't sure what was going on with all this magic stuff. I didn’t think it was relevant to cleaning unless there's some cleaning magic? That might be worth learning. Once I had some free time, I would look into it.

But Beatrice seemed really into this whole magic thing, so I didn't burst her bubble. I listened about her family, which was fascinating, but mostly I just sat there and enjoyed the sound of her voice. Eventually, she trailed off.

“Thank you for keeping watch while I slept,” Beatrice told me. “I don't know if you need to rest as well. But if you do, I can keep watch. There might not be much I can do to protect you, but maybe I can wake you up. Just so you know, the offers out there, it's okay if you don't want to or anything…”

Unlike her speech earlier, Beatrice's voice sounded much softer to me. I'm not sure why she would speak so humbly. But of course, she didn't really know much about my kind. I did not need sleep.

Still, the offer was kind. However, I didn't think I'd ever need to take her up on it. I was struggling to figure out how to communicate this to her but couldn't figure out a good way to do it. So I just beeped in the affirmative, then rolled up to her again. She stretched and stood up from the chair, ready to follow.

You know, I've never really taken much notice of the chairs, but looking at it from the perspective of a human, that seemed like a very nice chair. It was deeply cushioned and tall. How nice it must be to lean back, and it looked like a human could easily slouch in it, as Beatrice even slept there. It also helped that she was much smaller than a large human, so everything looked big around her. But I could imagine even a large human sleeping in that chair.

It was time to go. I headed for the door while Beatrice fell in behind me. She seemed much more relaxed. There was a bounce in her step, and her face appeared to be a little less scrunched up between her eyebrows. I took it to mean that she was happy, or happier than she had been at least. It made sense, though. She was damaged when I found her. I doubted that it was any fun. Now she was better, thankfully.

I set off to our next instruction site. We only really had one other thing that I wanted to show Beatrice. That one I had saved it for last because it was my favorite. We made our way back to the small cages. Beatrice seemed a little confused as we came in, but when I went to the back door, it seemed to clear something up. Still, I swung open the door, hoping she would be able to appreciate how beautiful this floor was. How incredibly unique and inspired the creator of it was when they made this. It still baffled me how such a solid chunk of obsidian was moved here. Then polished into such a smooth floor with the depression in the center perfectly proportional... I could go on about this room forever.

I made my way inside a little bit. Then I turned back to look at Beatrice. She was standing in the doorway stock still. Her mouth was open as far as I had ever seen a human's mouth be open. Nothing twitched, not even her eyelids. I was glad she was in awe of the floor, but she stayed that way for a worrying amount of time. Eventually, I became quite concerned and beeped at her questioningly.

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A note from zaifyr

Chapter 22 is...

Yeah well you know about patreon, right?

I'm going to take a vacation form work in a week or two and spend some time writing on the beach. I'll still be posting though. I hope to build a bigger backlog to put up on Patreon when I'm there. And just for my sanity. But I want to let you know that the value will increase soon. If you feel you want to wait until I prove that, I understand. If you donate anyways, I appreciate you!


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