Bee stepped into sunlight for the first time in almost a week. Just like last time she stood there for a moment, feeling the sun on her face and the wind in her hair. She closed her eyes. It was amazing how much she missed the outside after being in the deep catacombs for so long. Sighing contentedly, she made sure to check her surroundings before setting out. There were no humans that would bother her this time. She hoped, for the most part, that the demons were contained within the castle. She wasn't about to count on it though.

She knew there were other areas used to contain demons, some of which Void probably hadn’t gotten to yet. However, even if it hadn’t destroyed those circles, the natural power of those containments would be fading soon. She would need to replace the containment circles if she wanted to keep the demons in check. However, she wasn't too certain about whether she should. If she did it this one time, she'd be committed to doing it in the future. It might be better to just let them out, kill them and reap their levels.

Besides, if there was any real need for demons, she could probably summon more herself. All her research into demons had led her to some interesting areas of summoning. Also, the mages kept the demons around for convenience so they could study them and their behavior or exposure to the world. She assumed there was more than just that, but those were the obvious reasons. But Bee wasn't studying demons; she was just trying to survive, and having to worry about replacing their magic circles with limited supplies seemed a bit wasteful. Especially considering that she was so inexperienced around magic.

But still, it would be good to know what she would face soon. And maybe even get an estimate for how much time she had to prepare. In the upper levels of the castle, she was pretty sure that she had seen some air demons through cracked doors. It would make sense that there would also be fire demons somewhere, but she had never seen them herself. They were also all the other kinds of magical beasts captive amongst the castle upper levels that she needed to take care of, if the other apprentices’ complaints were to be believed. Most of them were self-sufficient but were a source of fresh ingredients that might actually be worthwhile to keep around. Assuming she still wanted to study magic, which she did.

She had never really explored the area outside the castle herself. She had a rough idea of what was there from passing conversations with other apprentices and overhearing the mages speak. It was not in her duties to clean outside, yet she knew there were some gardens and some livestock, and maybe a few horses. However, none of this had been tended to since Void first appeared. She assumed that the animals may have died or run off by now, but the gardens might be okay. She finished enjoying the fresh air and made her way onto the grass to the right. She'd make a loop around the castle grounds and see what she could find.

It only took her a few steps into the grass before she realized her master wasn't with her. Turning around, she saw its black shape sitting still by the entrance of the castle. Concerned, she hurried back over the short distance. "Master, do you want to come with me?"

It let out a noise. For the first time in a long time, Bee wasn't able to figure out what it meant. Normally Void’s intonations were expressive enough that she was able to understand them with almost the same level of certainty as if it was speaking to her. However, this was a flat emotionless note. There was no comfort, positivity, or negativity at all in the tone.

Bee waited for Void to elaborate or add to its response. It stayed silent, though. It twisted back and forth as if uncertain. She had an idea. "Can you not travel on grass very well? I can carry you if you would prefer?"


I had to think about Beatrice's offer. Would being carried above this desolate landscape of pure dirt be better than rolling amongst it? I had gotten used to being carried, but I still wasn't a huge fan of it. But rolling in the dirt sounded awful. I wasn't sure what grass was, but if it was this green stuff, I don't think I would enjoy rolling in it either. It seems like it would get caught up in my wheels and brushes. Kind of like long hair but thicker and dirtier. But the real question was whether I wanted to go outside at all.

Beatrice could carry me, but I didn't know if it would offer me any more comfort. With my confidence in human infallibility shaken, I couldn’t trust anyone besides my humans. While Beatrice was certainly nice, and I would consider her one of my humans, she wasn't perfect. The more I traveled with her and saw how she interacted with the world, the more I realized that humans in this place were just flawed. They couldn't compare to my humans back home. Well, even so, that just meant I had more responsibility to care for Beatrice and ensure she had a livable home. Though she could never take the place of my humans.

So I guess the question wasn't about whether I could keep myself well-maintained outside, or whether I was ready to clean something on this scale. It was more like: could I keep her safe? Actually, that still wasn't quite the question. Could she keep herself safe wandering around without me? That wasn't a very hard question. The answer was definitely no. She may have managed on her own a few times inside the castle, but there was much less threat there than there was out here in the unknown. I don't think there was any way I could trust her by herself.

I flipped my attention back to her. She was still standing there waiting for an answer. There was no way around it. I knew what needed to be done. I rolled over and bumped her foot. She blessed me with a smile before bending down to pick me up. I could get a better view of the outside from a higher angle. The castle seemed completely surrounded by an outer wall set 100 or so feet away from the building. This little plateau we were on was set into a gently sloping hill that extended from the castle to the wall. At the front of this plateau was a set of stairs and a path to a gate in the wall.

To either side of this platform lay a strip of “grass” that then turned into a gentle hill down further way from the castle as it sloped towards the wall. After 50 feet it leveled off, leaving a large flat area between the wall and the hill. Beatrice began moving along the top of the hill. It was a long walk around the castle, but it allowed me to really take in the scale of the problem.

Just off to the side of the path towards the gate, there were a couple sets of buildings. I couldn't tell what their purpose was, but there was a large area of packed earth off to the side of one. I had to shut off my visual sensors briefly, at that. Loose dirt was enough of a scourge, but something like that? It would be magnitudes harder to clean than muddy boot prints on a hardwood floor. Cleaning endless numbers of earth demons was the closest approximation I had here, and it still couldn’t compare in the slightest. Calming myself, I reopened my sensor data stream, focusing instead on the large red building with white stripes. We skipped the area, and continued around the castle. Around the bend, we saw a set of large dirt fields with green plants growing in them. Beatrice walked down the hill towards that area.

I couldn't make out her purpose. Did we need to clean these dirt fields? That was a lot of dirt. It wasn’t as dense as the other area, but it was still… Well, more than I thought I would ever face in one area. I was starting to regret my choice to come outside with her. I'm sure she would have been fine. There was no danger out here. Not that we’d seen. In fact, maybe I could head back right now. She wouldn’t mind, right? She’d be safe.

Before I started trembling again, I cleared my mind and tried to focus on happier things. On clean linens and freshly polished floors. On my favorite rug and pats. Those thoughts soothed me and helped to organize my thoughts. I could do this. I would stay with Beatrice, just in case. She needed me. Even if we did need to clean, one thing at a time. Focus on what you can do, not what you cannot.

She started talking to me. Maybe just to fill the silence, maybe because she realized I didn't know what was going on, but she started explaining that this was a garden. Apparently, this was indeed our destination. She reached down with her free hand and started investigating the ground. Amongst the dirt, she grabbed a clump of green plant and began pulling at its base. There was a small orange knoblike item at the end. She muttered, almost to herself, "These carrots look very small. I don't think this is ready to be eaten yet."

Despite her words, she brushed off the dirt on her pants and took a bite of the orange part. I cringed slightly at her dirtying herself. She made a face and tossed the rest down. "Definitely not ready. I wish I knew more about farming, but I don't think I'm able to get enough food this way."

We moved on to check a few more different types of plants. I stored away the names of turnips, beets, cucumbers, squashes, pumpkins, and a few others in my memory banks to remember what humans could eat. It definitely seemed that a lot of these things required cooking. Unfortunately, I didn't see her bring any of her glassware out, so I imagined she couldn't try them now.

But after checking every field we could find around the castle, Beatrice was quite discouraged. "These gardens are not ready yet. I think with some care, they could feed me for a very long time, but I don't know how to care for them. But that still won’t change the fact that I need food soonish.” She sighed. “I suppose the only thing we can do is check on the animals. I have less hope for them than the crops, though."

I didn't have much hope of checking on animals either. In my experience, they were mostly useless or actively detrimental to a place's cleanliness. The only slightly beneficial thing was the cat that I briefly chased before. The way she had explained a cat’s function made it sound useful, but I hadn't seen it since. I wondered if it was hiding?

So we made our way towards something called a "coop." approaching it, my sensors alerted me to a higher concentration of new particulates in the air. Analysis indicated that they were made up of almost entirely filth and some sort of animal excrement.

This did not give me any sort of confidence. I would not like to meet these "chickens." Still, I did hear some sound coming from the small outbuilding. Beatrice seemed to hear it, too, because she gave a small sigh of relief. We opened the door, and I was aghast. The area was filthy. Not only was there straw and debris everywhere, but there were feathers and poop along with bits of grain and everything strewn about. Whereas the rest of the outside shocked me with the quantity of dirt, this was a kind of variety that I had never encountered. Even craft day wasn’t as bad at this. At least the stuff I cleaned up on craft day had some other purpose than just being filth.

Some very thin angry birds swarmed at Beatrice's feet, clucking something fierce. She seemed just about as uncomfortable as I did. She mostly managed to ignore them even as they tried pecking at her feet. She did a little hop dance to dodge but actually made her way farther into the building. Eventually, she started talking to them. I wasn't sure of the purpose of that. They clearly couldn't understand her, but maybe it made them feel calm. "You poor things. Where's your food? How have you survived? You must have been pecking up the ground and eating everything. Where is your feed kept?"

I wasn't sure of the purpose of these questions. They certainly weren't getting answered. But regardless, she made her way over to what looked like some bags in a cupboard that she had unlatched. In a fit of clumsiness, she spilled the contents of said bags all over the ground. What was she doing? They were just full of the same grain debris that was already scattered all over the place. I knew this whole thing was horrifying, but she didn't have to make it worse.

Against all odds, these disgusting little birds managed to redeem themselves a little bit. They gathered around and began freshly cleaning up the mess Beatrice had just made. Perhaps she had done that on purpose? Did these birds need training, and they, too, would help keep the castle clean? Maybe they were specialized cleaners? After looking at their living conditions... I'd say no. But humans did have some weird partnerships with animals. Perhaps this was just one of them?


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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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