I quickly finished cleaning up the hallway mess with my new and improved mopping technique. Given my efficiency, I expected that Beatrice would still be charging for a while. It seemed that once humans ran out of energy, they needed a long time to regain their strength, around 8 hours. They were very cranky when woken up earlier than that. When she completed charging, we would continue cleaning the large room. By my estimates, it should only take us 6.7 hours more to complete that job. However, I didn't want to start now and rob her of the pleasure of finishing that job. Besides, I was having so much fun working side by side with a human. Humans rarely joined me in my tasks, but it was always a pleasure when they did.
I thought about what I should do while waiting for Beatrice. Aside from cleaning some of the other areas that might need attention, I was eager to finish something else I started a while ago. If my understanding of the floor plan was correct, there was only a little more of this floor for me to explore, excluding areas I couldn't reach. I would love to finally have a complete model of the place and be able to plan my routes with maximum efficiency.
I checked to ensure my work here was complete, then zoomed toward the next unexplored area in my model. It was time to have a little adventure.
Humming to herself, Bee's eyes darted between her dictionary and the book on classes. She had gotten much faster at reading, but many words still eluded her. Regardless, she had learned a lot about her new class already. Apparently, a Devotee's experience was not based on the Devotee's interpretation of the ideals of their master. Instead, it was awarded based on whether actions aligned with their master's interpretation of their ideals. That kind of made sense, but it also wasn't very intuitive. How, then, were there any disagreements over what the gods believed then? It seemed like it would be a pretty straightforward question to answer.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden bang. Bee's head snapped up towards the hallway. A distinct yowling and screeching followed the initial disturbance. It wasn't like the odd sounds Void made, nor did it sound like any of the demons she had encountered so far. However, it was familiar somehow. No, this sounded like… a terrified cat? She recalled the orange blur that had darted past her earlier.
The sound was growing louder, as though the cat was approaching. She rushed to the door and scanned the hall in bewilderment. Sure enough, a streak of orange fur rounded the corner and ran past her, puffed up in terror.
Soon after, Void came careening around the corner. It tipped on its side, skidding sideways on one wheel in an attempt to make the turn before righting itself and flying after its prey. And boy, was it moving. The disk shot towards her faster than any horse she had ever seen. How had the cat managed to evade Void for this long?
Putting aside the fact that Void apparently rolled on wheels instead of hovering, Bee found herself at the precipice of a critical decision. Should she try to stop Void and reason with it to spare this cat's life? Or should she stay out of this, leaving the cat to whatever fate Void had in store for it? But, of course, it was just a cat - was it worth the risk of defying her now formally recognized master?
Before she even knew it, Bee stepped into Void's path. How could she not? Bee had a soft spot for cats. Plus, having one more living thing in the castle that wasn't a killer demon would be great for her sanity. She could feel the edges of her clothes fluttering in the air as they were pulled toward the unearthly black disk.
I had almost caught up to that mess maker. It was quick, quicker than any other ones I had encountered. Not as fast as I was, though. The only problem was that it could change directions much more efficiently. If I had my counterbalance, I would have been able to catch it. Without it, the best I could manage was using my momentum to balance on one wheel as I drifted around each corner. It wasn't nearly as effective, but it preserved my speed better than just turning my wheels as hard as possible. Still, I had been catching up, and it was only a matter of time before I caught it.
Then out of nowhere, Beatrice blocked my path. It was surprising, to say the least. I had to put on my brakes, turn sideways, and skid to a halt as best I could to not run into her. Luckily I hadn't reached top speed yet; otherwise, I might have plowed right into her ankles.
I saw the orange creature sprinting around another corner and out of sight. I was so close to catching that mess maker too.
I looked up at Bee. She seemed a bit frightened. Understandable. Frankly, with her luck, I was surprised we hadn't collided. This was just further proof that she was a magnet for trouble. She held out her hands pleadingly. "Master, please have mercy. It's just a cat."
I beeped at her, frustrated, asking her to get out of my way. She didn't see what I had.
"Whatever It did, I'm sure it didn't mean any harm."
Didn't mean any harm! My normally unflappable demeanor was very seriously flapping. That thing had 100%, unequivocally understood what it was doing! The first time it knocked a glass on the floor, sure, maybe it was an accident. That's why I cleaned it up and politely requested that it not make the same mistake again. The second time, I had doubts since it had obviously watched me clean both messes up. But the third time? After I was so polite and everything?
I shut off my visual sensors for a moment. Think about calming things. Like delicate rugs, fine dust disappeared into my dustbin, a freshly cleaned brush. It was ok. I beeped less angrily this time. After a few seconds, I beeped inquiringly at Beatrice. Yes, it was a cat. I remembered we had something like it back with my humans. It was a different color, though. I understood why they kept it; it was a companion of some sort that produced much of the matter I was responsible for cleaning. However, it had never done anything as intentionally rude as this cat. Still, if cats were human companions, then perhaps there was some reason why Beatrice didn't want me to remove this one? Maybe it was hers?
Beatrice could read my confusion, and words began pouring out of her. "The cat could be useful to you, see? They help keep the mice and rats down. Those are bad because they bring disease and eat food and poop everywhere. I hate rats. And cats can usually take care of themselves. I haven't seen any erm… signs… of that cat around either, so it won't cause the same kind of problem as other rodents like that."
I considered her words. So cats could help me deal with the other mess makers, then? But would this really be a benefit if the cat was a mess maker itself? I wasn't sure. Perhaps if the cat could prevent more messes than it caused, it would be worth it. That might be hard to judge. Maybe I could model it?
Bee continued. "Also, cats are warm and cuddly and normally don't do anything but lie there. Sure sometimes they scratch, but it's not too bad, usually, and I've never had a cat before…."
I beeped in hesitant affirmation. Seeing that I was convinced, Bee fell into silence, a nervous grin appearing on her face. I would have to observe this cat and its behaviors. It could be tolerated if it genuinely did prevent messes of a grander scale than it caused. Maybe I could recruit my human's help in monitoring its activity if she wanted to take care of it.
Bee was sweating profusely, as she had all of today and all yesterday. She and Void had spent the last few days finishing off the main ritual room and tending to some other areas that needed cleaning. All of this work, while manageable, was exhausting. Worse than that, though, it had confirmed her fears. By picking the Devotee class, she had essentially determined a maid class with extra steps. She gained experience through cleaning. Not just cleaning but organizing things too. Putting away books after she used them gave her a token amount of experince. Cleaning up any mess was the same - the bigger the mess, the higher the experience. Even straightening things that were out of line counted.
Even worse were the activities she had discovered that didn't give her anything. For example, making her healing salve didn't give her experience. Same with making demon repellent. In fact, none of the alchemy recipes she tried did anything for her. Even meditating and praying to Void didn't give her experience.
She stretched, groaning as she straightened from polishing the library table. The only other thing that had given her experience so far was combat, as expected. She had managed to kill another demon (and clean up the mess from their battle, of course), but she wasn't sure if gaining experience like that would be sustainable. Too dangerous. Cleaning was safer, and it was straightforward, but… There had to be another way. Preferably a way that involved magic, especially of the alchemical variety.
Bee got back to work, pondering her path forward. She would not live the rest of her life as a maid. Instead, she would find a way to work this in a more palatable direction. But in the meantime, there were shelves to dust.
After much observation and training, I considered Beatrice's formal instruction complete. I think I had gone above and beyond in teaching her what I knew about cleaning the castle. As for raw cleaning ability, my technique differed significantly from what a human could use. There was no point going over that with her. Especially since she had taken to developing her own technique swimmingly. She had the work ethic and drive to improve, so I saw no reason to continue being her instructor.
She seemed to vehemently disagree. She stood before me, fists pressed together and bowed low at the waist.
"Please, Master," she said. "Allow me to continue learning from you."
I needed to figure out how to convey that I had nothing more to teach her. I would feel like a fraud if I continued like I was pretending to teach her. I would prefer if we returned to a normal relationship where I clean, and my human gives me pats. Correct pats technique was one thing my tutelage had not managed to get through to her. Regardless, Beatrice was unwilling to let this matter go.
Perhaps it had to do something with the humans here? Maybe I was right about them being terrible at cleaning, but perhaps they were a little dim too? So far, none had acted nearly as wisely as my humans. Of course, I put that up to over-excitement, but perhaps looking back, things could be seen differently.
If I could think of something else I was qualified to teach, I could do that. However, I needed more ideas. And I refused to pretend or fake my teaching.
I considered how to convey this when an idea struck. I could teach Beatrice additional independence so that she felt more comfortable working alone without my supervision. More than that, though, I could also help her learn how to relax a bit. She seemed so worked up all the time. This begging me to be her teacher was only the latest example. I might not have much to instruct on beyond cleaning, but I have found my peace in the world, and she has not. It was a great idea. How could I deny such a request, framed in this light?
I made a long, complicated series of beeps and whistles, doing my best to convey that, yes, I would instruct her, but differently than before. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what she understood. She seemed to think about it for a minute before bowing even lower with a "Thank you, master."
She really needed to stop doing that. Maybe I should teach her that before anything else.
Now that the matter was settled, I led her to our next primary task. Now that she was healed and this floor was explored, I wanted to finally brave the insurmountable stairs. It was a huge step in expanding my domain, and I ran some quick circles around Beatrice's ankles as we arrived.
There were 27 stairways on this floor, going either up or down. Now that this floor was mapped out, cleaned, and had a schedule prepared, I decided to lead us toward the first significant stairwell I had encountered. The one at the end of the large central hallway, just opposite the room I first woke up in. It had a quite soft-looking red carpet running down the center, leading downwards to a large, flat landing.
Despite all my growth, my triumphs in conquering doors and liquid, stairs were something I still needed to figure out. And now, I had a human to help me do so. Soon, no place would be safe for dust or debris to hide. Not with my mighty human reach and transportation abilities.
Not wanting to waste a minute, I led Beatrice to the precipice.
I rolled up to the edge, so my cliff sensors were screaming at me that I could not go any farther. Beatrice stood next to me, looking down. We sat there contemplating the great unknown together.
"You know, I never thought I'd be leaving so soon. After my father dropped me off, I figured I'd be here for years. Then after you came, I figured I would never leave at all. The adventure awaits." Beatrice said as she started down the stairs.
As she continued walking, I beeped indignantly. Hey! You forgot me. Confused, she looked up at me. I extended my grabby arm upwards, opening and closing the claw. I had seen the small human do something similar to this when he wanted to be picked up. It was 98% effective. When she continued to stare, I even rolled around a little bit. She still didn't seem to get it.
What, did she expect me to roll down the stairs by myself? Couldn't she tell I wasn't built for this?
Matthew, Arnold, and Patricia stared up at the castle. They discussed the rumors and accounts of the mages that had made the college their home. The castle did not disappoint in its grandeur. If anything, it was understated how beautiful and majestic it was. The only thing that surprised them was the missing shadow of oppressive doom that had come to hang over it in their minds.
Having occupied the castle for nearly 2 weeks, the demon from beyond should have corrupted it somehow. Maybe there would be a thunderstorm above or demons and monsters flying around in circles clawing for human blood. Or the forest would be withered, gray, and dead. However, the skies were blue; a couple of clouds rolled by, but no sign of a storm. The trees seemed just as green as they were anywhere else, and no more beasts were seen. Though they did see several deer nearby. They would have said it was a lovely day if they didn't know any better.
According to Patricia, everything seemed fine. The only odd thing was the lack of activity in the castle. They'd been watching it for several hours, and there had been no movement, human or otherwise.
"I still think we should go at night," Arnold argued. "It feels wrong to just walk up there."
Patricia sighed. "Arnold, we've gone over this a dozen times; there's no reason to go at night. It would be much more likely for any resistance we encounter to be helped by the night than hindered by it. Likely it would provide no cover for us. We'd just make it so we couldn't see them coming."
"I know, it just… feels wrong."
Mathew did his best to ignore them as he looked up at the castle consideringly. There was also no reason to climb over the walls; their best option seemed to be going through the front gate.
He cut through their bickering. "We'll go in an hour. Get some rest, eat and drink. We want to be in and out before sunset."