“Ugh..”, I groaned. My limbs felt like lead and I had to force my tired eyes open. My vision was blurry, and the pain – ouch! – I gently raised my hand and touched the massive bump on the back of my head. I must have lost consciousness when one of the villagers-
Huh? What villagers?
I remember falling into a hole inside a forest, but what happened? I tried to think but a wave of nauseous pain throbbed inside my head, threatening last dinner’s meal. When I pushed my body up to sit, a sharp sting shocked through my left arm and back, causing me to convulse and yelp in annoyance. I gave up moving about quickly and assessed the injuries on my body. The wound on my left arm was bandaged skilfully and a steel needle poked into my skin. A transparent tube was attached to the needle and clear fluid was flowing through it and into me.
“I see you’re awake now,” a woman’s voice reverberated. I looked around the room, but there was no one there, I was surrounded by white walls.“Calm down now. Take deep breaths, relax and deep breaths. Good! You’re getting so much better now.”
“Umm, w-where am I? And what happened to me?”
“Oh, my bad. It’s been a very long time since a human entered my dungeon. Give me just a second so I can turn on the hologram.” As soon as she said that, small cubes flowed down from the ceiling in an endless mass and glowing bright blue. The cubes meshed itself together at a rapid pace, forming larger blocks in one part and smaller in others until the smooth shape of a young woman was produced.
“Ah, it’s good to be back in this form,” the woman smiled, delighted.” Hello! I am Cortana, the core artificial intelligence – or A.I. for short – of Dungeon Delta-173. “
It took me a good minute before I realised I forgot to close my mouth. The so-called artificial intelligence was just standing there, smiling at me. Quickly, I cleared my throat and gave it, or her, an awkward grin.
” How long was I unconscious?” I inquired.
“I found you severely wounded at the dungeon entrance. You had lacerations on your arm, your feet was blistered and had cuts all over, most probably from all the running you did; you were covered in burn marks and you had arrow shafts inside of you. I had no reason to let you bleed or burn to death so I took you into my dungeon. As of just now, you have been asleep for 68 hours 5 minutes and 36 seconds.”
Noticing the gravity of my wounds, I laid back and sighed in relief and gratitude. “Thank you, truly,” I said as tears roll down my cheeks, prickling the skin and staining the patch of white cloth on my chin. The A.I. gently approached me, placing its hands on my good arm. It felt warm.
“Now, now. We can leave the tears for later once you’re up and about albeit it will take approximately 3 months for full recovery. What’s your name?”
“Oh, yes! My name is – ”
“My name is..”
The sudden question struck hard. WHAT IS MY NAME? The red glass sphere above me started blinking rapidly.
“Shh, it’s okay. Everything will be alright. You will remember everything in time, I promise. It is most probably a trauma, causing temporal memory loss due to injury to your head from the incident.”
“But..what’s my name?”
“If you really need one, how about I give you a name for now? At least until you can remember again.”
Cortana paced around the room, placing a hand on her chin and humming a song I have never heard of before. A good minute passed before she excitedly screams,”Natra!”
Two weeks later, I was moving again – or shuffling rather – after Cortana deemed me recovered enough to stretch my muscles and was assisted by one the moving metal chairs she calls machine-guided wheelchair to a large room with pools of water structured near the centre. One of the larger pools was spacious enough to fit at least 500 people. It was known as therapy, whatever that means. The exercise was done in a body of water to reduce the strain on my limbs, and throughout all this, Cortana was constantly present to encourage me.
“You’re doing really well, Natra. Results are showing me that your bones are healing smoothly and muscles are mending rather perfectly. I’m surprised, I must say.”
In the beginning, it took all I had just to stand upright for a few seconds in the smaller pool with support railings against the side. However, after the first night, I started having strange dreams of meeting a woman who was the perfect image of me. She kept saying,
Mother earth, heal my wounds and mend my soul – Feronia
When I woke up, I felt strangely invigorated albeit slightly. This dream repeated itself almost every single night for a month until the day I wake up and found myself able to walk again without wincing in pain or needing assistance.
On that day, Cortana finally brought me out of the white-walled infirmary sector of the dungeon and guided me out into the hallway and into a moving box known as an elevator and descended deeper into the crust of the earth.
“So, where are we going exactly?And where are you?”
“We’re going to get your leather satchel first in the equipment room, and then I have something wonderful to show you!”
Cortana did not appear in her hologram form today, only her voice accompanied me into the elevator. There were metal-plated buttons with numbers indented on the side of the wall along the elevator doors, totalling 87 floors of the dungeon. As we descended to the lowest level, another voice announced the floor number and the doors open up showing a long, brightly-lit hallway in front of me with splitting corridors and rooms aligned at a set distance.
“Here we are, Natra! Your satchel is on the first shelf of the last room adjacent to the main corridor at the end of that hallway..or you can just follow the arrow signs. I’ll wait for you in the main room, okay?”
“O-Okay, I’ll try to,” I grunted – daunted by the task. The hallway was large enough to allow three adults to walk comfortably side by side, and there were three differently-coloured lines marking the floor, branching out and combining again at different intersections. I quickly toured through the equipment room, finding my satchel in one of the boxes labelled ‘Natra’, and made way towards the main room with the blinking arrow leading me on.
It was strangely eerie, probably because it has been centuries since anyone has been in here coupled with the fact that this entire dungeon – or the parts of the dungeon which I have seen – was completely spotless.
I gently knocked on the door with the display name glued on a small glass panel. A short while later, the door slid into the side of the wall. Cautiously, I stepped into the room.
“Cortana?” My voice echoed, it was pitch black inside the room – save for a small green sphere glowing softly far ahead. “Cortana, are you there? What do you need me to do?”
Silence. I could feel a presence inside the room somewhere, but if it was still alive after all these years, it did not give away its whereabouts. Slowly, I approached the green sphere far ahead. It seemed small at first, about the size of a firefly, an ancient and rare insect in today’s fauna. However, it slowly grew bigger and glowed brighter the closer I got to it until it was the size of my palm. The sphere gave off a warm feeling – almost alive – inside a square-cut glass, tempting me to touch it.
“I’m gonna touch it okay, Cortana?”
So, I took a deep breath and placed my hand on the glass.
All of a sudden, a loud noise of gears shifting reverberated inside the room and within its walls.