Void was making Bee a little uncomfortable. She had just started getting used to her master and his eccentricities too. She still found it considerate and kind-hearted, of course, but it was hard to remember when it waved a human skull in the air like a trophy. Maybe it was a case of an unknowable being simply not considering or caring about mere mortals' feelings. Still, it didn't exactly encourage her. Even cheering her on as she fought up the pathway took on a more bloodthirsty tone. Indeed that was just in her head, in any case.
Still, she didn't say anything. Who knew what its goals were? She certainly couldn't claim to speak for it.
Going uphill was undoubtedly much more difficult than going down; however, she had leveled enough since the beginning of the climb. The trip was slower, but she wasn't nearly as tired as she could have been. It took her a similar effort as the descent had, which was excellent considering that there were somehow even more skeletons waiting for them on the path up.
She was starting to think that these weren't related to the trap she had triggered. They still weren't as strong as the ones in the large tomb. Plus, she realized that the skeletons were very inconsistent in dress and equipment. It was hard to tell because anything they wore was extraordinarily rusted and faded. However, when she could make things out, it seemed like their clothes and weapons were in different states of disrepair. Even one skeleton was dressed in some bright quilted cloak. Well, once bright, at least. A scan identified it as "Skully" with an "entertainer" type class. It was bizarre.
Bee was still wondering where these other skeletons were coming from when she saw a bony arm poke out from a stone wall. She jumped a bit. The arm was about 10 feet in front of her, but it still surprised her. Quickly a single skeleton emerged. It stopped and turned its head side to side, looking up and down the tunnel. As soon as it saw them (or sensed her life force, she wasn't entirely clear on that part), it let out a chattering cackle.
Another skeleton stepped out of the wall to join the first. These were just skeletons; no armor or weapons were visible. Bee was almost grateful for the easy match. Grabbing her broom with both hands, she set the light down. A strip of cloth wrapped around the base ensured it didn't roll away. She had done this enough times that she could confidently fight multiple skeletons at the same time now. Well, maybe not multiple, but at least two. Two skeletons that sometimes knew how to fight together.
Bee rushed forward. They would have come at her from multiple angles if she had waited. So it was best to keep them off balance, take the fight to one, and knock it out as quickly as possible. Even though her broom could guard against multiple angles, keeping her attention split like that was hard. She was always on the defensive if she got pinned.
So keeping with tradition, she charged with her broom bristle end first. The skeleton took charge and tried to back against the wall to stay upright, but she twisted the broom and swept it off to the side. The skeleton went flying to the ground with a hollow clatter. Keeping her momentum, Bee turned and swung the wood of her broom into the second skeleton. It was knocked off balance, but she had lost too much force to do more than that.
Still, it gave her an opening. She darted forward to crush the feet of the downed skeleton, but it had already skittered away. The second one regained its balance quickly and stepped in her path to prevent pursuit. Unfortunately, her rush-down tactic hadn't worked, so she'd be in for a bit more of a fight. It still wouldn't be a problem, however.
Smacking herself, she realized she had forgotten to scan these. It wasn't the end of the world, but she could roughly correlate the skeletons' teamwork with their level. Above level 10, they could start doing basic tactics, but they were utterly incapable below it. Often would even get into each other's way. Around level 12, they stopped getting in each other's way and actively helped each other. That, combined with their likelihood to wear armor or carry weapons, made them a real threat to her. Still, the weakness of skeleton monsters, in general, was evident. The fact that she, as a level 11 13-year-old girl, could take on two fully armored and coordinating skeletons was evidence enough.
She brought her broom up to block the hands of the second skeleton. She struck out with the end of the broom, trying to catch it in the ribs and knock it back. However, the handle missed every bone and went right through. This lack of resistance caught her by surprise. By any right, it shouldn't have, but she'd only been working with the broom as a weapon for a day or so, and skeletons had a uniquely large number of holes in them. Off balance from the force of her thrust, she went stumbling forward.
Bee managed to regain her footing before the skeleton grabbed her. As she stumbled, the broom still stuck between bony ribs, she bent over and lifted. Feeling the skeleton's lack of mass, she quickly doubled down and put more into the motion. Finally, the skeleton was lifted off its feet. She spun, throwing the enemy off her broom and into the wall. She could see a few of its ribs chip and crack as it fell. With one enemy taken care of for the moment, she returned her attention to the first one. It had just regained its feet. She used the momentum of her spin to smash the bristled end of her broom into its chest again. This time it slammed into the wall without time to react. It collapsed again, and she quickly stepped forward to smash its feet, scattering its little toe bones everywhere. It could still crawl towards her, but it was effectively out of the fight. The other skeleton soon met the same fate.
Bee grinned in triumph; that was quite an easy victory. Then, she looked around for Void. Usually, it cheered her on as she fought, and it sucked up the remains when she was done. However, as she scanned the area, Void was nowhere to be seen.
I watched Beatrice engage the two opponents in combat. I had confidence in her abilities, and my model predicted she had a 99.69% chance of success. That was as close to safe as I could ask for. She would have to handle this on her own, though, because I had something I wanted to test. I was pretty confused when the skeletons emerged from a solid wall. Walls didn't work like that. Things didn't go through them unless they were a curtain. Or a door. Or maybe they were retractable. Okay, well, perhaps somethings could go through walls. But not like this.
The fact that one of these walls was not solid was a cause for an investigation. I ran outside the curved stone around where we had spotted them. As I moved, I kept my bristles slightly thwacking against the surface, cleaning up any dust along the way. But here, cleaning was only the secondary objective. A few feet from where the skeletons had emerged, my bristles started to pass through the wall. Carefully I continued along the false wall, and only 3.56 ft later, my bristles hit solid matter again.
It seemed like there was a hidden doorway here. I ran my advanced sensors over it. It appeared utterly normal visually, but my other sensors picked up no dirt or germs along the hidden door. Now that I knew what to look for, I had noticed the strangely clean areas before, but I hadn't thought much of it. I expected them to be less interesting. I have to watch out for such anomalies in the future.
Carefully I rolled forward, poking the front half of my body through. Once my sensor made it through, I could see what was inside the hidden area. It was a small corridor that quickly turned off to the right.
It seemed that the path Beatrice and I had been taking was not the only route throughout these catacombs. That would make sense. I remembered one of my large humans watching a documentary about catacombs under a place called Pear iss. Supposedly it was a maze of tunnels, and people would get lost there. I wasn't worried about getting lost. My mapping feature and excellent memory storage made pathing trivial. But with illusions like this light wall, things were a bit more worrying. Now that I could detect them, I was less concerned, but what if other things could mess with my sensors like this?
It might be a good idea to explore these areas. For my map, of course, but also there could be other exciting things to find around. I also hoped we would find some way around the large noises that had appeared above us earlier.
Excitedly I poked my front back out of the illusionary wall. Oh, good, Beatrice had taken care of the two skeletons. Without any armor and weapons, there had never been a doubt. She was looking around, confused. I assumed she was looking for me. I let out a chime of congratulations to let her know where I was.
She turned and spotted me. She let go of the broom with one hand and gave me a small wave. Shaking the skeleton head I held, I waved back. I was still sticking halfway out of the wall, which might have surprised her, but she took it in stride. I quickly zoomed out and scooped up the mess of shattered skeleton bits before returning to the false wall. I motioned for Beatrice to follow, then went back into the side passage.
I had been less excited about the journey upward because we would be retracing our steps. Maybe we'd find an entirely new way with new challenges. And further information for my pathing algorithm, of course.
Bee followed Void through the hidden passage. She was a little hesitant. This passage was less than half the width of the main corridor, and she was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic. Her other concern was that it appeared the skeletons were patrolling the area, and she was not looking forward to meeting one with so little room to maneuver. Still, Bee followed. She didn't have much choice. If she were right about what was waiting in the upper level of these catacombs, there would be no way for her to get out by herself. Even if she weren't so tied to her master.
Bee bent down to inspect the illusion. Looking closely at the edges from this side, she could see that it was made from runes drawn into the stone and inlaid with the same silvery material that lined the coffins above. So whoever set up this secret passage had also laid that army of skeletons to rest.
The passage was a straight hallway like the curving paths of the previous ones. It only went back about 10 feet before turning to the right. They rounded the corner and saw a straight hall stretched well past her light range. Perhaps Void had a way of telling the distance, but it didn't communicate that to her. So they began walking.
As they moved, Bee noticed some doorways spaced occasionally on either side. Peeking inside revealed modestly sized rooms. There were some fragments of pottery and rusted scraps, but it seemed like anything recognizable had deteriorated long ago. Void didn't seem too interested in exploring these rooms. After looking into a few and seeing the same story, Bee wasn't either.
It didn't take them very long to reach the first intersection. The makers of this place cut the hallways oddly, so they couldn't see a crossroad until they were almost right on top of it. Bee stuck her head out and looked left and right; both sides looked like similarly long hallways. She looked down at Void for guidance. "Which way should we go? Left, right, or straight? I can't see a difference."
It let out an indecisive screech and then just continued straight. It didn't take long before they came across the next hallway, maybe another 50 feet ahead. Void kept going straight, and Bee did her best to keep up. Whenever they would pass a conjoining hallway, Bee would look at both sides and see the same corridor again, stretching out forever. Finally, in the 5th regularly spaced intersection, she held out her hand to stop Void from continuing.
There was a patrol of two skeletons coming from the right. Bee relayed the information to Void, and it gave a soft beep of understanding. It was pitched a little bit lower than its usual beeps. However, the harshness of the sounds it made always echoed, especially in these tight corridors. Still, Bee appreciated it making an effort for her. Void was just kind of a safety net for her this whole trip. But she appreciated that it wasn't making it harder than it had to be. Just because it could get away with making noise and drawing attention didn't mean she could.
Bee readied her broom. There wasn't much space in the hall to place her ash imp lamp, which was a problem. Bending down, she hesitantly placed the light on Void's back. This action might be disrespectful and get her smited; however, she had a hunch that it wouldn't mind. Even though the ball wouldn't roll away on the floor here, they were still corners, and she wanted to be able to see fully.
Broom held high; Bee charged around the corner to engage the skeletons. Void followed quickly behind and bathed the area in a yellow-orange glow. It just sat at the center of the intersection with the lamp radiating light. The fight didn't last long. With a few swipes of her broom and an occasional stamp, all that remained were shattered bones. As Void came in quickly to clean up, she bent down and retrieved the lamp.
After they finished, they continued on their path straight down the hall. Running into enemies was a relatively rare sight. Over the 15 minutes it took them to reach the end of the corridor, they ran into only three other pairs of skeletons. None of them were particularly difficult to deal with. They were level 12, but most had no weapons or armor. Bee started to wonder about the names associated with these skeletons as she trained her scan ability on them. Were they randomly assigned, or were these the names of the humans that these skeletons had once been? Well, that wouldn't make any sense. The names "Skully" and "Skelly" sounded quintessentially skeletal. She couldn't imagine any person being named that. Some other names, like "Leon" or "Mina," were more plausibly human, in any case. Just another mystery to add on.
Bee and Void eventually reached the end of the corridor. Instead of one of the now familiar 4-way junctions, they were met with a narrow flight of stairs winding upward. Bee considered the stairs and looked to her master for guidance. "So what do you think? Should we see what's up there or continue exploring down here? I don't see any reason to stay here. I'm still getting a decent amount of experience, but not nearly as much as I used to."
We eventually reached the end of the corridor. Beatrice posed a question that I didn't quite have an answer to. I didn't think there was any reason to stay on this level. I was just as eager to get back to the castle, and this seemed like it could be a quicker path up. But on the other hand, I liked exploring these side quarters because we were not retracing our steps, and I could clean as we went. The more we explored the area, the more concerned I became. It was massive. It would be a huge chore to clean this area, much less keep it that way. Even if I could do that, I wasn't sure I'd have time to clean this and the castle above on a regular schedule. At least, not unless I became orders of magnitude more efficient. I wasn't ruling that out - some incredible things had happened recently - but as I was now, I might have to put this project on hold to keep the castle livable.
After coming to terms with the mess that would remain here, I rolled towards the stairs, indicating my choice. I would come back to fully explore the area once I was more confident in my abilities. Beatrice graciously lifted me and carried me up the stairs. It was a short spiral staircase which I was grateful for. I only had to be held for a short time when we got to the top of the stairs. This floor was almost identical to the one below, except for the additional stairs spiraling up from the landing we stood on.
She set me down so I could indicate our next course of action. Should we continue going up this way or go back onto the ramp? As much as I hated stairs, they did seem pretty efficient here. Considering the length and depth of the spiral ramp, it would only take about a dozen of these stairwells leading upward before we reached the large room with the trap. The time savings would be… ****about 67%, at our current pace.****. Though walking upstairs might be less pleasant for Beatrice. And for me. Don't get me wrong. I was happy that we found a much more efficient way of going up than following the ramp-up. However, I wasn't super happy about going up this many flights of stairs.
Nevertheless, in no time, we'd make it to the level of the second chamber. With that analysis done, I indicated that we should continue up the stairs further. As we made our way up, we luckily didn't run into any skeletons. Beatrice was so gentle when she carried me, and I didn't want that ruined by her being stressed and swinging around a broom. However, they sometimes showed up near the landings or nearby halls. Beatrice took the initiative to get rid of them when possible before we continued our journey. I hoped that these stairs might lead up to the entrance. If that were the case, we might avoid the source of that loud noise we had heard. If not, that might be an issue. But I was optimistic.
I was curious to see what we would find above.
Support "All the Dust that Falls: A Roomba Isekai Adventure"
Bio: After reading pretty much everything I could I figured I would try making some of the stories that I wanted to read.