Turns out Beatrice wasn't in as much trouble as I first thought. Truly I envied the versatility of human bodies. After waving hello to me, she carefully dropped something down onto her pack below. Then she grasped the ledge, swung her feet, and carefully lowered herself. Finally, she dropped the remaining distance and landed in a crouch. I cheered her graceful show of acrobatics.
"Hello, master." There was a cheery grin on her face. She seemed to be in a good mood. I had to say I was too. It was quite pleasant to see she had made it out all right. In fact, looking at her, she seemed entirely undamaged. Considering her state every other time she went off on her own, this might have been a first. "It's good to see that you're alright. I assumed that the mighty explosion was your doing. But without any other sign of you catching up, I have to admit I started to get a little worried. But how could I expect otherwise?" Beatrice's face brightened suddenly. "Oh, I reached level 15!"
I let out another cheer of congratulations. 15 was good! It was even further behind than she had previously been, of course. Still, she had yet to destroy nearly as many skeletons as I had. It seemed a little unfair, given how much harder she worked, but I supposed the only thing I could do was continue to help her the best I could.
Bee shifted her gaze to the side." I already chose my skill. I picked up something called Improved Pathing. I wasn't sure exactly what it did as it wasn't a skill I was familiar with from any of the books I'd read, but it seems to have worked pretty well." Beatrice elaborated. Improved Pathing, huh? That sounded like a promising skill. It was one I was almost envious of. I was pretty good at planning paths, but I had to work hard and clean countless rooms before becoming good at them. But for her, such a helpful skill so easily was excellent. We would be so much more effective. And maybe if her skills improved with use as my mutations did, she could also avoid danger and gain other functionality.
At first, I was a little caught up with her new skill, but the other important part of her statement registered soon after. She had read about skills in a "book." This further confirmed my suspicions. These books seemed like my built-in protocols but were understandable and transferable between humans. They contained knowledge about more than just floor plans as well. This only increased my desire for Beatrice to teach me about squiggles.
Ever since I had figured out the numerical digits 0 through 9, I had noticed them cropping up everywhere. Humans sure liked to use numbers more than I had given them credit for. For example, the large squiggles that floated in the corner of my vision when I cleaned something or defeated a mess maker were numbers. I wasn't sure what they were for, but it seemed to be calculating a total of something. I also noticed numbers in many places when I went through my memories, looking for matching squiggles. Unfortunately, I needed more time and energy to do a full scan of everything. Still, prominent everyday things like the TV or the ticking clock turned out to be heavily reliant on numbers.
My musings were interrupted by Beatrice holding an item out to me. It seemed she still needed to finish filling me in on her adventure. "I also found a few things in this chamber, master. Like this book."
She held aloft a heavy book that was of a pale tan color. It was precisely 4.56 in thick, an entire standard deviation above the average library book I had encountered. There were not-squiggly squiggles on the front but blocky representations of squiggles. I recognized all characters from the deepest arch but needed to figure out the meaning. There were no numbers, though. Urging her to explain more, I let out an inquisitive chime.
"Well, I don't understand this language yet. I'm not even familiar with the alphabet. Still, I hope the library will have something on it, and maybe I can work on translating the title at least. The whole catacombs were constructed as a security measure for the lieutenant. I feel like this book might have some answers to my questions about it."
This bit of information gave me quite a few things to think about. First, the concept of an alphabet was foreign but sounded relevant to understanding these representations of ideas. Also, the notion that more than one existed might not occur to me. And the fact that Beatrice didn't know how to read this one was a bit disappointing. However, she could use the library to learn to read another one of them, which made that all the more critical.
That could all be taken care of once we got back to the library. I began to roll towards the ramp at a comfortable place; Beatrice fell into step beside me. We began to work our way up to the castle proper. It was about time we returned. We needed to catch up on our cleaning.
Harold steeled himself as he stepped into the outer chamber. This room was accessible only through secret passages deep beneath the King's Castle. These passages were so ancient and well-hidden that even the King was likely unaware of them. But Harold was, and he had business down here.
His meeting with the King hadn't gone very well. He winced at the still-fresh memories of his dressing down. He didn't expect this next one with the Warden to go much better, but it had to be done. Outside the Warden's study door, there were two guards with metal faceplates that concealed their identities. They made no move as he opened the door between them.
The door opened smoothly on well-oiled hinges. Inside was a simple room; A desk and two chairs were the sole furnishings within. Calling it a desk might have been a bit generous, though. It looked more like a farmer's dining room table and a couple of chairs that might have matched his neighbor's table. The chairs weren't facing each other over the table; they were positioned sideways, facing a small fire crackling in the hearth. The far chair in the room was already occupied by a man dressed in dark robes with a hood hiding his face.
Harold shut the door behind him. As he made to sit down, the hooded figure removed his cowl. So much of this was a ceremony. The Warden's identity was meant to be a secret from all but the inner circle. However, Harold had known his identity long before he joined that circle as the dean of demonology. However, it was still best to keep up appearances. But now that the door was fully shut and they were alone, the pretense was exhausting.
The Warden was not a young man. In fact, based on the number of wrinkles that decorated his brow, he looked to be in his eighth decade. Harold knew that couldn't be right, though. The man had aged much since taking on this position - too much. But despite the aged and sagging face, his eyes still blazed with intelligence and intensity. An intensity that Harold did not look forward to being the focus of. He felt sweat begin to bead on his brow as he started his report.
The Warden sighed. He had a headache. Again. At this rate, they might as well be chronic. But no, he still had occasional blissful moments where things went right. Where someone else showed just enough competence that he didn't have to personally come in and clean up their messes.
Usually, his meetings with Harold were just a formality; a simple letter would have done fine. Harold typically never needed permission that wouldn't be granted to him automatically. He never asked for extra funding and had yet to come to him with a true disaster. From what he had heard, though, that was likely to change.
Of all of his inner circle, Harold had been one of his favorites. But he was starting to regret his judgment. As he looked at the man sitting next to him, he leaned onto the table with one hand to rest his chin in his palm. "So let me get this straight."
As the Warden spoke, he stared into the fire. But his words were pitched perfectly so Harold would have no problem hearing them. "You, the head of demonology, messed up summoning an arch-demon so badly that you let loose an unclassified, more powerful demon."
When he sensed Harold opening his mouth to defend himself, he gestured his other hand sharply, cutting him off. "And your response to such a blunder was that you and all your staff fled the castle. Leaving the demon unchecked by probably the only people capable of dealing with it within weeks of travel. So not only was the demon released, but you also left the lieutenant completely unguarded with a creature that would have every possible motivation to free it."
With every word, the weight pressing against the Warden's temples seemed to increase. "I'm going to ask you a straightforward yes-or-no question. Don't want to hear any explanations or excuses first. Is this what happened?"
Harold made an audible gulping sound. "Yes, sir."
The Warden turned to take a look at Harold's face. The blood had drained away, leaving the other man deathly pale. He wasn't looking the Warden in the eyes; instead, his gaze was distant as he stared into the fire.
The Warden sighed and leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling. "Okay, now that we have the basics, I'd like to hear your rationale. And it better be bloody good."
He heard Harold take a deep breath. "In hindsight, there might have been more we could have done, but the decision seemed sound at the time. I still stand by it. We ran because there didn't appear to be anything we could do. We had already flung our most potent demon repellents. We tried all sorts of various magic items on the summoned being. Nothing had an effect. It didn't even slow down when it broke through our strongest circles, as if it didn't register that they were there. Whatever it was is so far beyond us that even if we had stayed and fought, surely we would have all died."
By the end, Harold's voice had taken on the edge of desperation and fear.
Hearing this did not please the Warden. As much as he liked Harold, he would have preferred his subordinate to be completely incompetent. At least then, there would be a chance that the situation was being overblown and that the threat wasn't really so severe. Harold being wrong would be much preferable to a threat so dire that the demonology department couldn't even think to contain it.
The Warden closed his eyes. But, unfortunately, that headache wasn't going away anytime soon. "And the lieutenant?"
"Its protections had been refreshed recently. Even if the first thing it did was remove those protections, it would still take months for the lieutenant to awaken. So we still have some time. But if we weren't able to repel this new foe, there's no way we would have been able to do anything to further contain the lieutenant. We couldn't match the original restraints that held him in place. So there's nothing we could have set up that it can't break through just as easily as everything else. Nothing that would have lasted longer than the month anyways." Harold took a deep breath before continuing. "If we have a force powerful enough to subdue the new threat, we should be able to regain control of the lieutenant before it wakes."
Well, at least there was a chance. The Warden considered. It would be difficult to convince the King that they needed to deploy the army so far away from the capital when they were threatened by their neighbors. But everything that Harold had said pointed to this as the best solution. They would need a lot of manpower to take this thing down, and with the current state of the war, their best and strongest were too far away to make it in time. Sheer numbers might be their only chance to take down a demon of this power. But to convince the King, the Warden might need to let him in on the secret of the lieutenant's presence. That was something he didn't relish doing, but that might convince him, whereas some vague threats of an unknown foe from the demonology oddballs would not.
So many regrets played through the Warden's mind as he and Harold watched the fire for a bit longer.
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Bio: After reading pretty much everything I could I figured I would try making some of the stories that I wanted to read.