“Welcome home, Master.”
As soon as the white light cleared, I nearly jumped at the voice that came right in front of me. A young woman was on her knees, her head bowed, and her hands delicately placed in front of her in a complete bow. Unable to see her face, it took me a moment to register the voice.
The girl looked up, and although she didn’t smile, there was a strange eagerness in her eyes. If she had been a dog, I sort of thought that her tail would be wagging. It was that kind of feeling. At that point, I noticed that the entire room had changed. I was still in the closet, at least I think I was, but the shelving units had all been removed. The floor had been tidied up and all the debris and dirt were removed. It left an old broken floor that didn’t look much better than the filth, but it did look slightly neater.
The mirror was the only thing in the room, and the way it was set up directly in front of the door with nothing else in the room, it had a strangely altar-like feel, like the mirror was a place of worship.
“Kiera obeys, Master.” She said bowing her head again.
“Um… stand up. You don’t need to bow to me. Where’s Katarina?”
Her actions were making me feel just a bit awkward. Thankfully, she stood as soon as I said the words. Her eyes were still on me and her hands were crossed in front of her with a straight back. It was completely counter to the beaten woman from before. The slave collar on her neck still showed the typical green light.
“Mistress is currently in the kitchen waiting for you, Master.”
“Katarina? In a kitchen?” I asked suspiciously, walking passed her and looking out into the hall.
This hallway had similarly been tidied up. The debris was all removed, and there had been at least some attempt to remove the chipped paint from the walls and the broken tiles from the floor. A head poked out from a room only three doors away from the closet that contained the mirror.
“About time you showed up.” Katarina glared at me. “We’ve been up for hours waiting for your lazy ass.”
I let out a breath of relief. Katarina was unchanged. For a moment, I thought I had slipped into some kind of alternative world out of some 50s television show.
“Kiera will take your bags, Master!” The girl declared breathily. “Please, just put them down!”
I put all the bags down. I supposed she had the same strength as I did, but she was also shorter than me. Hmm… had she always been that much shorter? I swear she came up to my nose originally, but now I was a head taller. A young girl trying to pick up all the bags, it did look as silly as I feared. In the end, I convinced her to give me at least two of my bags. I then joined Katarina.
This appeared to be a former break room. It included a table and chair and had similarly been picked up. On the way, I also checked the room with the decayed couch on it, which had similarly been cleaned. At some point, blankets had been laid over the couch, and some of Katarina’s backpack contents had started to spread out over the space. It looked like she was living out of that room now. She was sleeping on a decayed, broken couch though. Maybe, I should send her a mattress from my world or something. Even a cheap futon mattress would be better than what she had.
“You’ve been busy” I said as I sat down across from Katarina.
She had a hotplate and appeared to be heating a bowl of corn. She looked at it with wide eyes, and even licked her lips in anticipation before shooting me a look.
“The tidying up? Such a waste of time.” She waved her hand. “It’ll just get messy again. However, I told Kiera she could do whatever she wanted, and that’s what she chose to do.”
“Kiera would like Master to feel at home even when not in his colony.”
“You’re talking a lot more now,” I responded awkwardly.
It seemed that the idea I was heading back and forth with a colony was something Kiera had picked up on as well. Maybe Katarina had told her personally.
“Yes, Master. I wish to show my appreciation for taking care of me and offering me such delicious food.”
A week to recover wasn’t an insignificant amount of time. After Kiera had come to realize she wasn’t going to be abused anymore, she had started to resume her duties as a slave. Perhaps, she was still afraid I’d sell her and was thus trying to prove her worth to me. Katarina had mentioned selling and killing her numerous times, so I guessed that Kiera had picked up on that.
“I reinforced the bottom floor.” Katarina snorted. “This place is airtight now. Those croaches won’t be able to get in this time.”
“A massive insect the size of a cat, Master. They look like a roach.”
“Kiera!’ Katarina glowered at her.
Kiera lowered her head shamefully. “I apologize, mistress. I spoke without permission. I will begin penance immediately.”
“I already said you can speak your mind,” Katarina replied with a sigh.
“Even so, I must be properly punished and kept in my place,” Kiera responded.
I watched in confusion as she pulled up her sleeve, and then pulled out what looked to be a sharp piece of debris she had taken while picking up. She held it to her arm, and just as she started to apply pressure, I finally realized what she was doing. I jumped out and grabbed her arm. It was only then that I realized there were countless scars and cuts along her arm. Some of them were fresh as if done in the last week.
“What are you doing?” I demanded angrily.
Her body shook at hearing me yell and she broke into tears unexpectedly. “I’m sorry, Master! I’m sorry. I won’t make Master angry again. I’ll do this out of sight. I’ll do harsher penance!”
I pulled the debris from her hand and tossed it away. I felt a bit sick looking at her frantic state. I felt tears about to form in my own eyes.
“You’re forbidden from punishing yourself!” I said, trying to calm down, but seemingly only causing her to panic more.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She said tearfully until I finally let go of her arm and she bowed. “Master! Kiera listens to Master.”
“Do not decide to punish yourself on your own. That’s an order.” I declared. “Only I can punish you, okay?”
“Yes, Master… Yes… I will go now.” She turned and fled the room, I could only stare after her in stunned silence.
Saying she was better now was a relative thing.
“You should have just let her do it. Nothing wrong with cutting yourself.” Katarina’s voice came from behind me. “Now, she’s going to find ways to punish herself that you won’t see. Starvation, blunt damage, poison… things that might kill her if she’s not careful.”
I spun to her, the fury returning to my face. “Did you know?”
Katarina frowned, cocking her head. “It’s not my problem?”
“It’s your problem now!” I snapped, dropping the food on the table. “It’s paid for, although that’s all you care about, right?”
She had a stunned expression on her face, although it quickly darkened into anger. I spun away and started heading out the door. Just as I reached the exit, Katarina stood up and slammed her hands on the table.
“Hey!” I stopped but only turned my head to look back without saying a word. “The wasteland is a horrible place full of horrible things. It’s about time you come to accept that. You should be happy she’s cutting herself. It means she still feels something. It means she still has emotions. She’s… not a complete loss. I was wrong.”
I turned the rest of the way back, my eyes widening. Admitting she was wrong was not something I had expected from Katarina. She blushed slightly before she pulled up her sleeve and held her arm toward me. I looked to see scars on her arm, although they were all older and most of them were nearly faded.
“Sometimes, it’s the only way you can handle… this life.” Katarina looked away as she covered her arm back up. “Although, since she has a Master like you, she might have a chance…”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I would be leaving this world soon. This was my last visit.
“We’ll be going soon,” I responded, “Finish eating and then get ready.”
“Right…” She looked down at her hotplate. “Ah! It’s burning!”
I turned away and left the room as she tried to save her smoking corn. In the hallway, I reached into my backpack and pulled out a certain box with holes in it. I opened it up. After staring for a moment, I reached in and pulled it out by the tail. It was a mouse hanging there, but he wasn’t moving at all. He was dead. He hadn’t been when I bought him last night. For whatever reason, I couldn’t bring someone with me.