It had been easy getting into the castle. Matthew had made it without any real issues.

However, now that he was here, he wasn't having a good time. When he first made it in, everything seemed quiet. Now he was running for his life. A man-sized chunk of stone and earth was barrelling down the hallway toward him. A hulking earth demon, lumbering after him, moving deceptively quick with its long strides. He could have probably taken it alone, but it wasn't alone. There was a pack of four behind him.

It had started innocently enough. Matthew had run into one when it was just walking down the hall. He had spotted it before it spotted him and ducked around the corner. He managed to stay out of sight and carefully checked on it every half minute or so, waiting for it to pass. As it moved on, he slipped back into the hall, thinking he'd avoided the danger. It was good information to know that earth demons were serving the devourer demon. He wondered if it was an affinity thing. Maybe the devourer was weak to water as well, then?

However, as he was creeping away, he reached a T junction. Carefully Matthew poked his head around the corner. There were two more, each coming from either side toward the intersection he was at. Looking behind him, he saw that hallway still wasn't clear. And he didn't trust the alcove to hide him again. Yeah, that wasn't good. He was now trapped.

He attempted to follow quietly behind the demon that had passed him until he had a chance to escape. But, unfortunately, the other earth demons had rounded the corner on him before he could get out of sight. Then, of course, one of them saw him, let out a roar, alerted the others, and voila.

Well, it had caused a large ruckus, and now he was dashing through corridors trying to avoid getting cornered again.

Matthew spared a look over his shoulder. There were too many behind him now, and he could no longer count them all. If he didn't find the exit soon, he was toast. Even then, he was still determining how he'd be able to climb up the rope with them at his heels. With all the noise he was causing, Patricia would have heard him by now. He desperately hoped that she hadn't followed.

Rounding another corner, Matthew spotted a door standing slightly ajar. Diving at it, he tumbled into the room and slammed the door shut behind him. He latched it. Panting heavily, his head swiveled about frantically for an exit or help. The room was filled with large tanks of water. Figures appeared to be moving inside them. Dark figures that he couldn't quite make out. Looking down, the ground was covered in damp puddles and complex patterns of circular grooves. Grooves where various powders should have been placed in protective rings to keep these demons in check if the mages were to be believed. But they were gone. The only thing that kept the demons still in the tanks was that they couldn't live without water. But that didn't mean they were harmless.

Jets of water erupted from the tops of the tanks aimed at him. Matthew dove to the side as the water impacted the door, just behind where he had been standing a moment earlier. Splintered wood and foamy spray flew everywhere before the water demons paused to recharge. The damaged door shuddered. Matthew rolled to his feet and spotted a second door across the room. He sprinted towards it, dodging water sprays and using the tanks as cover wherever he could. Not all of them were pressurized to the point they would cut him. But he wasn't willing to take any chances. Plus, even the weakest jet looked like it would hurt. Unsuppressed demons were no joke. He found a door at the end of the room. He quickly escaped as the door leading to the hall broke open.

Matthew reached the second door and wrenched it open just as the first one broke loose. Stumbling through to the sound of roars and watery burbling, he tried to close the door behind him but slipped on the slick floor. From the ground, he reached back and pushed on the corner of the wood, flinging the door closed. He sprang to his feet, on alert for the next threat.

However, as reality dawned on him, he froze. Taking in the room, Matthew fell back to the ground on his knees. He despaired.

I watched Beatrice open the door. For some reason, she had added an enormous lump on her back. It made her look very much like a turtle. I had seen those on the nature channel before; they had large rounded backs. If she was on all fours, she would look just like one.

For some reason, opening the door required damaging some metal attached to where the handle should be. Beatrice smashed a lump of metal against that part of the door before pulling it open. Revealing…. Darn, more stairs.

Beatrice bent down and slid her hand underneath me from behind. She held me, palm up and close to her chest, facing outward. It was almost like she was holding a serving tray or a pizza box. Carefully we walked down the stairs into the darkness.

She placed me carefully on the floor at the bottom of the stairs. I examined the ground around us and found that I was mostly correct in my conjecture that this would be antique. The stone was like the door. It was rough and full of dirt. The joins were much looser than they were upstairs. It was clearly made with precision. However, the stone quality seemed much lower than the decorative stuff upstairs. Instead of marble or granite, it was mostly made of something like limestone. Maybe there were better foundations for a castle, but it didn't seem to be the foundation, just lining the bedrock in which the tunnel was carved. This meant that even the tightest joins had flaked away after what must have been millennia. I'm no stonemason, but I consider myself somewhat of a flooring expert. So I would say it's pretty likely that this was built around the same time as the rest of the castle. Maybe even a little before.

I activated my suction and felt sheets of dirt swell into my dustbin. This would be quite a project to clean. However, our primary goal here was to explore first. I would vacuum as we went, of course, and reduce this mess as much as possible during this first round. However, it just wouldn't be a good use of time to make this area spotless right now. This might be a mess we would have to put off until we could find the time. First, however, we should explore the whole thing. That way, I could add the floor map and cleaning model to my library. Then I could make my deep cleaning even more efficient. Though it was out of the way and seemed like a not very often used part of the castle, I mentally assigned a lower priority to this area. I liked ensuring my humans' favorite areas were at the top of the list.

I expanded my sensors to see where the floor met the walls. It was just stark stone on stone, with no trim or anything fancy. They must have put all their effort into the castle rather than here. That was not to say that there was no decoration. Looking up at the walls, I saw some carvings adorning the walls. Unfortunately, they weren't particularly nice to look at. Much less intricate and well-made than the trim in the library. The difference in effort here could have made more sense to me. The carvings appeared to show a bunch of figures doing… something, so I just moved on. None of them looked like they were cleaning at all.

Beatrice seemed distracted. She had been staring at the carvings like I would stare at a fascinating tile arrangement. I let her have a second. Just because I didn't understand it didn't mean that she couldn't enjoy it. We did have different tastes in art, after all. She seemed to realize I was waiting on her after only a handful of seconds. She seemed to shake herself before turning to me and asking, "Shall we continue, master?"

I answered with an affirmative beep. Where her voice had been soft and pitched low, my vocalization echoed harshly throughout the tunnels. I winced internally. That came out a lot louder than I intended. It made me jealous of humans' ability to communicate non-verbally. I would have to see if there was a way to learn that. Then I wouldn't have to make such noises. Oh well, nothing I could change now. I suppose I could work out some system with Beatrice with turns and stuff, but that seemed a lot more complicated than was necessary.

Beatrice had also cringed at the volume. And after we listened to the sound echo for a couple seconds, she sat still, listening. I did the same. I was curious about what she was trying to hear.

However, nothing happened for a full minute, and she relaxed a little. I led the way because Beatrice required training but was not in top condition. I trundled down the hallway, our path illuminated slightly by the light in Beatrice's hand. Unlike the rest of the castle, this hall was not lit. There were no orbs of light lining the walls. So the only way Beatrice could see was from the light she carried in her hand. I didn't need the light per se since my proximity sensors gave me a good map of the surrounding landscape. However, humans seemed to rely more on their visual sensors than others. I decided to turn on my sanitation lamp to help brighten the hall a bit more and experiment with it as we went. It didn't produce much light. However, I noticed a 4.7% increase in brightness since I started using it to kill germs. Perhaps if I continued to use it, it would improve more.

I noted that there were indeed lots of claw marks on the floor. I wonder what size of mess maker could have left that. Something much larger than I thought would have been possible to fit in these tunnels. Either that or they would have had to have had really funky-looking feet. I internally bemoaned the damage. Even though these floors were not nearly as impressive as the ones upstairs, they still didn't deserve to be damaged. An intact floor was much prettier than a rough and cracked one.

We traveled down the long hallway, taking in the sights around us and sucking up surface dirt along the way. Beatrice seemed nervous for some reason and was constantly glancing around. I kept watching for any exciting architecture as I generated an internal map. I also sifted through my advanced sensor data to confirm my earlier hypotheses about the construction and materials of this area.

Since I was paying close attention to my advanced sensors, I could pick up the sound slightly before I usually would. I froze and perked up a little. Beatrice went a couple steps without noticing I had stopped moving. But then she heard the scraping of metal being dragged across the floor. She started to shake a little. It was just ahead but didn't sound like it was in this tunnel. There must have been branching tunnels. This must be a pretty big place, after all.

The sound came once again, louder this time. Beatrice and I winced, imagining the damage that this metal, in careless action, would do to the floor. That's not something I could just clean up. I didn't have stone repair skills or the tools or materials. Maybe the voice would offer me an option for a mutation that could repair floors.


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About the author


Bio: After reading pretty much everything I could I figured I would try making some of the stories that I wanted to read.

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