Chapter 1: The Most Terrifyingest Thing I’ve ever Seen

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As all journeys do, mine too has a beginning, events that shaped my life along the way, some meaningful, others resulting in regrets that would haunt my dreams for years to follow. However, the one thing I will never regret is the journey itself and the people I met along the way. Each of them shaped the person who I now am, causing me to lead a life many would envy. Though, if they knew the full truth of the matter, this likely wouldn’t be the case…

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It all started when I arrived in a foreign place, another world far removed from my own, Cespes. In truth, I have no idea how I even ended up in this place, as my recollection of the events at that time is rather hazy,  shrouded by layers of confusion and fear. Looking back, I suppose the only thing that kept me from going stark-raving mad was the Dungeon’s calming effect on inhabitants. Without this small mercy, I may not have been able to reach the apex that I have achieved through my many adventures, each a chapter in my own personal legend, a journey that, as any meaningful journey is ought to do, all began with a single step…

As my foot fell forward, expecting to land upon a grass-covered step that I had tread hundreds of times, I instead found hard black dirt meeting the sole of my shoe. Looking down, I noticed that, instead of the dirt roads I had come to know on my college campus, I was now in a location seemingly bereft of the vibrancy one normally found within an institute of higher learning. I had been on my way to Chemistry class, on time for what seemed like the first time in weeks, when I had suddenly experienced a strange lapse in my thought processes.

Suddenly, in the back of my mind, I felt a part of myself lament the fact that I had made so much effort to set my clock a little earlier than normal. Sure, I had slept through it and awoke at the normal time anyway, but my desire to reach class and avoid another reprimanding had ensured that I had still been on pace to arrive on time.

Now, however, it was starting to seem as though I might never arrive at my destination as unlike the pristine college campus I had come to know over the last two years, I was now surrounded by towering metallic structures that were far removed from anything I had ever seen before. All around me, there was a pungent haze that threatened to overwhelm my nostrils, causing the disorientation I was feeling to compound as I struggled to get my bearings. Surely, this was all a hallucination. I shook my head, trying to cast off this mirage. Pop! I gasped as I was assaulted by noise. Everything seemed so clangy, so obnoxious. It was like I had been on an airplane and descended 5000 feet in a second. This was no city sound, but a harsh clang like metal on metal. It was like a million hammers simultaneously striking hard metallic surfaces, each strike like an impact upon my very mind…

Looking around, I noticed there were holes interspaced through the strange metallic structures. The only light sources through the haze were several streetlamps situated with around a hundred meters distance between each. They glowed with an eerie yellow light, seeming pale against the strange backdrop of my unknown surroundings. It was almost as though the entire world were filled with muted colors as if all the life had been drained from the world and replaced by a stagnant and threatening atmosphere that caused a primal part of my mind to remark that I was no longer in the world I had known for my entire life. This place, filled with loud sounds, pungent smoke, and distorted colors…could not be the Earth I had known…could it…?

Now, the panic set in. Where was I!? I’d never even seen architecture like this before. I flicked on my phone and tried to call Mom. No reception. Okay, I called Dad. No reception. I called Bill. No reception. Then, I tried 911. No reception. Maybe, I had just fallen into a deep dark hole; that’s right. This was just an underground subway no one had ever mentioned to me that the school had been planning to announce today, and I had somehow landed here. I looked up. In the dark grey haze, I didn’t see any ball of light suggesting the sacred grounds of learning were just above me.

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I remembered reading that when you read something in dreams, the words would change every time you read them. I opened my phone and read the last text Mom had sent.

“Have a great day!”

I felt lost for a second. The message didn’t seem to fit in this world. It grated on the eyes. I wiped my eyes; the haze must’ve made my allergies act up.

Afraid to look, I glanced again. It seemed the same, which meant this might or might not be a dream. I finally concluded that I might as well assume that this was reality and figure out what to do. Realizing that it might be best to conserve my phone’s battery because I probably would not find somewhere to charge it for a very long time, I shut the screen down, watching as the small cycling wheel of white dashes turned black. Based on my past experiences, it would do for a week or two. I shook myself; instincts from my Boy Scout days flaring. Snap out of it, Clayton! Safety first. Figure out where you are! I worried about my sanity, then that some savior would never come, then that something else would. I didn’t feel anxious: my elevated heart rate was a coincidence, but I was wary of what dangers this place might hold.

I’d either gone insane, been kidnapped, or been sent to Hell after a run-in with a moving vehicle. Regardless, I was beginning to doubt if I could ever go back to the life I had planned out. Goddamnit, it had been going so well too! As I scooted off beneath one of the holes, hidden in the shadow between two buildings, all I could think about was the fact that trying in high-school seemed like it would not end up mattering. I was potentially more bitter about this than I had any right to be. Hey, APs were strenuous.

Pulling off my backpack, I took inventory. I had typical clothes on: a shirt, a pair of jeans with a belt, socks, and shoes. In my pockets were my now-off phone and my keys with their pocket knife keychain.

I focused on my backpack, ignoring the red Nalgene filled with water hanging on the side. Starting with the main section, I found my textbook, two notebooks, one gridded the other lined, and some pencils. Well, at least I can do homework wherever I am. Unzipping the front pocket, I found some wipes, three crushed protein bars, a pair of earphones which I used to listen to podcasts and music, one pack of gum, allergy tablets, and them, 25 morphine tablets.

I can explain the last one. To be clear, I was not addicted—not really: the pills removed the pain I felt from breaking my leg two years ago. They had been expensive. I’d gone to the college drug dealer, some white bloke with a future in the business, and handed him a wad of cash for the small bottle.

I’d last bought a bottle a month ago; it had contained around fifty tablets back then. I still remember the first time I’d bought some illegally around a year and a half ago. The doctor had removed my cast, and I’d asked for one more container of the pills, for chronic aches, I’d said. He had looked at me with wide eyes, some flicker of patronizing sympathy, and said, “Son, you’re a grown man. You don’t need those things anymore.” I hadn’t really known what he meant back then, but I think I do now. He got it wrong though.

Then, he’d asked to speak to my mother. In private.

She had come out after five minutes, white in the face, and whispered to me, “Clay, you be careful now, alright? We can try Tylenol if the pain gets bad.” I tried back then. I really had, but after a few weeks, the pain had kept on building, and I hadn’t even slept during nights. One day, after suffering another sweaty, hazy nightmare, I had gone to him, the drug dealer. After that, I stopped taking Tylenol, and Mom had been happy, proud. I never did tell her where half of my wages went from working as a cashier. I regretted that bit now. Without me there to conceal it, she would quickly discover my transgressions. If I never returned, I would at least like to know if she still loved me despite all that.

Life. Right, life first. I wore my backpack, brandishing my flicked out pocket knife in one hand and a filled Nalgene in the other. One kilogram of water could do serious damage when wrapped in a nearly indestructible container. I snuck between the two buildings and ended up on what seemed to be a bigger street.

I saw a gigantic green, three-headed, ogre thing lifting a block of shimmering metal the size of a couch into a wooden chassis. The thing grunted, hefting the stone onto its shoulders and hoisting it nine feet into the air, just barely level with its head. I gulped and stepped back, knocking my Nalgene against the fortress walls. Never had I brushed against something so loudly.

The three-headed ogre glanced at me before waving. It roared, “YOU MUST BE NEW HERE! HOW DO YOU DO, HUMAN!”

The words cut through even the beating cacophony of this place, almost like a gust of wind trying to blow me over. The thing examined me before coughing. “Sorry about that; I forgot I was using my Big Voice.”

I swayed. The last thing I remembered was: what’s a Big Voice? Perhaps, a tiny piece also asked, “And how can I get one?”

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