Chapter Four: Surface

A loud buzzing sound jolted me awake and dying out only a few moments later. The numbers on the top of the wall displayed zero, eight, four and five. Gosh, how long was I asleep for? I thought. The room door suddenly opened and Cortana flew in – like she always does – looking all excited.

“What fungus did you eat this morning?” I started, all groggy as I quickly wash up and got ready for the task about to be handed to me today.

“That’s not nice. Speaking of fungus, the dungeon – or should I say ‘I’ have harvested edible mushrooms from the twenty-seventh floor. You should be proud of me,” she said with her chest puffed up, as one of the sections of the wall close to me opened and a white porcelain bowl popped out from the protruding section resembling a table. The scent of mushroom soup wafted in the air, followed by a loud grumble.

Since the command room was reactivated, the number of floors that are accessible has increased to five: Entrance floor (1st floor), Infirmary(11th floor), Fungus(27th floor), Dormitory(45th floor) and Command(87th floor).

Whilst heading up towards the dungeon entrance on the first floor, Cortana talked me through the first mission – to fix all usable panels on the outlying surface of the forest and salvage the remains of broken artifacts to be remolded once the required floors are accessible. At the entrance, Cortana gave me a small cone-shaped stone.

“Since I am currently unable to leave the dungeon, I’ll be your eyes from the command room and guide you through the mission,” frowning as she said that.” This will allow you to hear me once you reach the surface. Be careful, the forest has changed.” She wished me luck and disappeared into the elevator walls.

I could hear my own heart beating, but, whether in excitement or fear I could not decide. As the elevator announced my arrival on the surface, I realized how massive the gates were. It was a three and a half meter semi oval-shaped door made out of the old metals of the Old Age, shut so tightly, not a single speck of dust could seep through. How has the forest changed since I last walked upon its earth three months ago? Will I regain my memories?

The ground trembled as the creaking gates sunk beneath it, and the lights dimmed. Warm breeze fills the entrance followed by an intense flow of blue wisps welcoming me- mana. I took a deep breath – smelling the distinct whiff of ash and soot – bracing myself as I clasped tightly onto the straps of my satchel and climbed out of the hole underneath a massive tree and into this nostalgic world.

“Huh?”

What is this? The ground was completely charred black, dyed in ashes and dust like the burnt desert of Sahara in the southern continent. All traces of life was gone as if snuffed out by the fire, leaving remnants of its devastation as proof of its wrath. Carefully treading across the remnants of a once great forest, my heart broke looking at the residual embers of a burnt tree and blackened carcasses of the forest inhabitants littering the ground – charcoal-ed to stone.

“When you fell into the hole, I managed to save you before his flames spread further,” Cortana explained. “The forest, however – “

“We can change this. We have to,” increasing my pace, I moved as quickly as I could across the sweltering grounds to the marked destination.

“Yes. We can. The location of the remains is just two miles northeast of your position. Head upwards from here, you will need to cross a stream to get there.”

While trekking, I had to frequently maneuver around or over the original path due to fallen trees or haze obstructing my vision. By the time I arrived at the stream, the sun was almost above me. Rummaging through my satchel, I took out a small canteen and filled it up with the running water. I do not know how, but I remember coming to this stream almost every day since I was young to collect drinkable water for my -.

Nothing. My memory of this place stops here as if the smog from before was preventing me from recalling anything else. The stream seemed to stretch out for miles long, but since this forest is quite deeper inland, there must have been a water source somewhere. A spring or groundwater perhaps, maybe even from the Vignemale Mountain if it remains untouched by the poisoned earth surrounding it.

As I gently hopped across the stream, a sudden burst of noise broke in the distance followed by billowing clouds of smoke. The fire must have just spread across, I thought, rushing hurriedly towards the scene. Fortunately, this side of the stream is mostly greener than the other as a healthy amount of trees and sprouts could be seen here and there on the scorched earth. A sudden wave of heat swept across the land, taking my breath away.


 

It is cold.

I try to move, but my limbs refuse to listen. I am alone.

I can hear voices, but they sound muffled as if from underwater.

Am I underwater?

I strain my eyes open, but everything was obscure.

There are lights above and below me, but it is dark outside.

A mask is attached to my face and a tube stretches out and up into the light. I can breathe.

My eyes grew heavy and I disappear.

….

Initializing A.I. Cortana..

I am awoken. How long was I asleep? Run diagnostics.

Diagnostics complete: Core A.I Cortana’s approximate deep sleep time is 190,895 days. Re-activated due to emergency protocol.

I have been asleep for 523 years it seems. My creators should be long gone by now. What was that about an emergency? Assess damage.

When the assessment was finally completed, a long list of damages was displayed, most of them critical. However, there is an accident currently occurring at the entrance to Dungeon Delta-173. The mouth of the dungeon was covered in flames, flaring out from a man’s palms a few meters above the passage. He was looking down into the dungeon while surrounded by a group of what seems to be the locals of the forest above. At the bottom of the dungeon, sprawled right at the gates was an unconscious young woman; she was covered in blood – her own. The flames burst into the passage, barely touching the skin yet already searing the young woman.

Survivor found. Condition: Multiple bone fractures and lacerations, excessive loss of blood, second-degree burns detected, infection imminent. Emergency recovery procedures recommended.

The man’s palms were now turned toward the locals around him, instantly setting them alight. Screams and cries could be heard through the dungeon’s external auditory system but I turned it off. The forest was now set ablaze. Strange, why were the burning men not identified by the dungeon?

Save the girl! My instincts screamed at me. I forced the dungeon’s internal command systems awake and retrieved the young woman. Immediately, her attire was removed and surgical operations began.

I remained awake to observe her. Already, her condition was improving thanks to the advanced medical facilities installed by the creators. As the last shard of metal was removed from her flesh, her condition stabilized.

I must protect her.

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