Chapter 8:

A Sidequest From the Sassy Gynoid Receptionist

The Cat-Eared Historian Mage on the Crumbling Planet

Ashtin arrived at the mages' guild early the next morning to find the lobby empty, save for its gynoid receptionist, R. Soffy. On most days, Ashtin greeted her as he passed by her desk and into a restricted hallway, but whenever he needed something, he always came to her.Bookmark here

Soffy was the public face of the guild. If someone needed the services of a mage, and they didn’t have any contacts within the guild, they talked to Soffy. On paper, that’s where her job began and ended, but shortly after joining the guild as a young boy, Ashtin learned that she handled all the guild’s important decisions. Whenever he requested something big from one of the other gynoids, they all ran it past Soffy, or told him to do it. Because gynoids shared information freely on their network, they were usually interchangeable in any given situation, but the guild was so busy that the network often lagged behind Soffy’s ability to transfer information to it.Bookmark here

This was a problem for some mages because Soffy played favorites.Bookmark here

A very small minority of gynoids found value in adopting false personalities and acting like biological humans. Doing so caused their interactions with biological humans to change, allowing them to get perspectives that other gynoids could not. For Soffy’s part, she imitated the stereotype of a sassy secretary that often appeared in 20th century media. It was a strange choice. Completely divorced from its original context, the stereotype was no longer harmful to perpetuate, but aside from other gynoids, only historian mages knew what she was referencing.Bookmark here

“Heya Ash,” she said as Ashtin approached her desk. “You want some gum?” She held out a pack of chewing gum. Lucky for Ashtin, he was one of her favorites.Bookmark here

“No, thanks,” Ashtin said, causing Soffy to shrug and drop the pack on the table. “How do you even chew gum without saliva?”Bookmark here

“Let me tell ya, it’s real difficult,” Soffy said. “What can I do for ya, hon?”Bookmark here

“I’ve got a marriage petition I’d like you to approve,” Ashtin said, producing a sheet of paper and placing it on the desk.Bookmark here

“Oh yeah?” Soffy smiled. “I had no idea you’d found someone. Who’s the lucky—” her smile dropped into a scowl as she read the name on the paper. “Ash, this is your mom.”Bookmark here

“I know,” Ashtin admitted. “I figured if we got married, she wouldn’t have to leave me once I came of age.”Bookmark here

“And what did she say about this?” Soffy asked, squinting at him.Bookmark here

“I haven’t asked her yet. I figured I should get your blessing first.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, sorry, no can do,” Soffy said, slowly tearing the sheet of paper lengthwise and throwing the halves over her shoulders for dramatic effect.Bookmark here

Despite her reaction, stunts like this were why she liked Ashtin. He took creative steps to achieve his goals, and he got up to mischief, but he never went too far, and he never disobeyed direct orders. He wasn’t supposed to know his mother’s name, just in case she had to be secretly swapped out with another gynoid, and Soffy honestly had no idea how he had obtained that information, but with only a few months until he became an adult, there was little harm in his knowing.Bookmark here

“I figured as much,” Ashtin said, a sad smile on his face. “I don’t suppose you’d like to get married?”Bookmark here

“Careful,” Soffy warned him, “I know you’re just trying to butter me up, but some might take that as sexual harassment. What is it you really want?”Bookmark here

Ashtin leaned close so he could whisper his next request. “Could I have my dakimakura back? Please?”Bookmark here

“You had a daki?” Soffy shouted, loud enough so that if anyone else were in the lobby, they could have heard. “What character did you have printed on it?”Bookmark here

“There was nothing printed on it,” Ashtin hissed. “I know all my otaku goods have been confiscated, but this was just a sleeping aid.”Bookmark here

“Sure it was,” Soffy chuckled. “Why don’t you just conjure one up before bed? No one would have to know.”Bookmark here

“I would never go behind the council’s back like that,” Ashtin said, aghast.Bookmark here

“I know you wouldn’t,” Soffy assured him. “Luckily for you, a request came in for your services. I know you’re on assignment, but I can’t just reject it. Politics, ya know? So if you do me a favor and take care of it, I’ll convince the council to give you some of your stuff back. Sound good?”Bookmark here

“Depending on the request,” Ashtin answered.Bookmark here

“A counselor in Settlement 266, goes by the name R. Ginevra, has requested your assistance with a case she’s working,” Soffy said. It wasn’t unusual for counselors to enlist outside help, but Ashtin had never personally assisted in such efforts. “Guy apparently tried to mug you yesterday, and she wants you to have a conversation with him.”Bookmark here

“That sounds simple enough,” Ashtin said. “I’d be glad to help.”Bookmark here

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Having always been a morning person, it was typical for Basttias to arrive at the guild early, but on this day, he hadn’t arrived until close to noon, hours after Ashtin had left for Settlement 266. He had been on edge since learning of the dangerous mage, and the knowledge had kept him up late into the night. What little sleep he got hadn’t made him feel much better, and in his agitated state, he was feeling the pull of his magic more than usual.Bookmark here

The first thing all mages learned was to ignore the call of their magic. Without that training, it was possible for a mage to accidentally wander down the more dangerous corridors of their minds. It had been decades since this had been a concern for Basttias, but after arriving at his office, Basttias closed his eyes to rest, and the next thing he knew, he was contemplating his magic.Bookmark here

By the time he regained enough control of himself, he could already feel the flow of his magical energy increasing. It was a small change, and it didn’t feel dangerous. Maybe, he thought, a little more wouldn’t hurt. Then he felt a sudden surge in his magic.Bookmark here

Stop. A voice in his head warned him. Don’t think on that. It’s too soon. You’re not ready for it yet. Basttias felt his mind move to a different track of contemplation, and once again, his magical power grew slowly. This pattern repeated itself, but the second time the voice spoke in his head, something about it felt off.Bookmark here

That’s not my voice, Basttias thought to himself. Is someone else there? Am I being controlled? There was no answer. Basttias wanted to ignore what had happened, to pretend it was just his tiredness catching up to him, for he feared the answer to his next question. Are you… the dangerous mage?Bookmark here

So you’ve heard of me. I guess I don’t have to pretend anymore then. It’s nice to meet you, Basttias Daloro.Bookmark here

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