I woke up to find what must have been a foot-wide hand shaking me. The air smelled a bit musty, but it wasn’t really unpleasant. It reminded me a bit of the upstairs attic actually. I forced my eyes open and nearly entered cardiac arrest. This was no attic.
A green, almost classically orc-ish face popped into my swimming vision. “Hey there, Newcomer! You panicked there for a bit. You must be from really far away!” Another two heads popped into view, tripling my fear. Before today, I would’ve assumed that fear had a peak beyond which it could not grow, and the max was your brain literally shutting down. Today, I learned some fears could persist long after you woke up.
I suddenly remembered a really loud green three-headed monster that had tried to bludgeon me to death with mere shouts. “Grah! It’s you!”
The green thing hoisted himself up, displaying his full nine-feet, three-headed frame. “What? Have you seen me, the Great Orc Krugrar, before?”
I avoided staring at its extra heads; while I still suspected Krugrar’s face would give me nightmares, once you got past the sharp fangs and oddly disproportional nose and forehead, his visage was… somewhat human. Well, he had two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth brimming with lethal incisors that could rip through my flesh in seconds, so about as human-looking as he could get.
Looking back I should have already realized this, but I still blankly asked, “You can talk?” In my defense, I was still gathering my wits about myself.
Krugrar looked mildly offended. It was disconcerting seeing three frowning faces, each a literally demonic green and having teeth that could rip through a man’s throat. “Of course I can talk! Whatever gave you the idea that we orcs couldn’t speak common. What do they even teach you silly humans nowadays? Pah!”
Common. A universal language, spoken by man and monster alike in a thousand terrible fantasy novels, and it turns out it was literally just idiomatic Earth English. I allocated one more point to the “I am hallucinating as I bleed out in a ditch somewhere” hypothesis. After all, what were the odds that the one time I crossed dimensions I’d end up in a world where I could actually speak the language? It seemed too coincidental.
I apologized to hopefully avoid having my head crushed like a ripe grape. “Sorry! It’s just where I’m from, there aren’t really any of your kind, Mr. Krugrar.”
A bit mollified, Krugrar’s right head spoke out of sync with the others, “Well, silly human. Welcome to the Dungeon Bob! What’s your name?” The other two green heads glared at it but didn’t reprimand it for creating the odd echoing effect where three voices had spoken in close succession.
I stuck out a hand. “My name’s Clayton.”
Krugrar’s three pairs of eyes seriously looked at my frail hand. “What are you doing… Clayton?” The left head rolled the name over its tongue as if appraising how it would taste.
I inspected his giant green hands and decided against explaining how shaking hands worked. Putting my hand into my pocket and adopting a slouch, I suddenly had a desperate urge to take a morphine tablet; I deserved one after all this. “Oh uh. I dunno.”
Krugrar’s heads guffawed. “I think we’ll get along just fine, silly human.”
I meekly followed him as he hoisted me onto my feet and told me to follow him. I took long steps, almost lunging each stride in order to keep up with his pace, which was probably considerately slow for the nine-foot giant. I asked a bit curiously, “So how does the three head thing work?”
Krugrar patiently explained. “Silly human, Claire, Clay’s son, eh, whatever. Stupid human names.” Okay, maybe not so patiently.
He continued, thumping his chest. “I’m a great Tri-Orc! I’m not the common fodder you hear about that dies by the heap in battle! I have three times the brain mass! My kind makes great mages!” His face fell.
Sighing, he glanced toward something I couldn’t see. His voice forlorn, he complained, “If only the Dungeon Bob would recognize my talents! I could serve so well.”
My steps faltered as my mind fully came to terms with what he’d just said. Magic? “I’m sure your talents will be discovered. Where I come from, magic’s quite rare. I’ve never had the opportunity to see it in action. Could you demonstrate your mystical magical abilities?”
For a second, Krugrar’s three heads seemed to all turn red in rage and growl with a guttural accent clouding his voice, “Stupid human! You make fun of the Great Krugrar?”
Waving my hands, I stumbled back, deeply regretting my momentary curiosity. “Sorry, sorry! I promise you that I was just wondering.”
Krugrar hissed, “Of course, I get stuck with an idiot human! Don’t you know that to better serve Bob, we all give our souls to the dungeon?”
Horrified, I asked, “Wait, what? Why? Does Bob threaten you or something? Don’t you want to keep your powers?”
Krugrar grunted. “Unlike you, stupid human. I, the Great Krugrar, know how to place the needs of others above my own. Once you’ve been in a dungeon long enough, you start to realize that us mortals are pointless! Born to die. Here we have the opportunity to serve something greater than ourselves.”
Don’t tell me I ended up in some communist society. I cautiously hedged, “Doesn’t that make you angry? What about your freedom?”
Krugrar looked at me in confusion before slapping his middle forehead. The left and right ones both seemed to gently sway before falling asleep and leaning on the main one. Now with only one active head, Krugrar exhaled a deep breath. “Ah, yes. Non-dungeon dwellers wouldn’t understand. Don’t worry. In a week or two, you’ll see what I mean.”
My eyes darted out of here. I had to get out of here! This place was worse than a deathtrap. What did Krugrar mean by I would see? Would it be some sort of Big Brother society where I was tortured into saying whatever the Dungeon wanted me to?
I shrieked, “What do you mean by ‘I’ll see’?”
Krugrar grabbed me. “Calm down, stupid human! I can hardly believe that I too was once nearly as stupid as you.”
Sighing, Krugrar forced me to sit down. “You see, over time, I realized the Dungeon’s goals aligned with my own. By making the dungeon strong, I too could become strong, yes? The dungeon will reward me for my efforts. It is fair. Even if Bob did originally use magic to convince me, I am still me.”
The three-headed orc paused, staring off into the distance before murmuring, “Actually, sometimes outsiders beg to be let in. Bob provides comfort and health. A Dungeon trains, heals, improves its soldiers.” His voice grew in strength. “We fight for the glory of the Dungeon!”
I nodded, stoically blank-faced. Internally, I was scared out of my mind. If I understood things correctly, staying here wouldn’t just pose a significant threat to my life but would also end up with the Dungeon scooping out my goals, editing them, and shoving them back in.
There’s nothing more terrifying than losing your mind. With shaking hands, I opened the morphine tablet container and swallowed one, already imagining the relaxing aura that would soon spread through my body. The urges immediately stopped, and I felt more centered. Still, there was nothing worse than becoming another’s willing slave through mind control.
Back when things had made sense, I’d quit books and stopped watching movies whenever it had become a plot point. It was just too easy; a villain with power over your mind controlled everything about you. People just didn’t realize how viscerally terrifying that prospect was – someone could come up to you while you engaged your average day-to-day life, working toward your own purpose, and suddenly tear your very sense of self in half, putting the pieces back together to form a willing slave. After making sure that the Dungeon’s tendrils had yet to grasp my mind by confirming that I still hated the place and all its monsters, I started cataloging ways to kill myself in the event I couldn’t escape its control in time. I would not become anyone or thing’s slave; my mind was my own and would remain free from the influence of others.
Krugrar smiled. “You don’t understand, silly human, but you will. It doesn’t do well to dwell on it, so let’s talk about something else.”
Since I didn’t really know what to say after that stunning revelation, I silently followed along. Might as well make light conversation to figure out my plans. “Uh, so is there like a main head or something? Sorry, don’t answer if it offends you or anything of course.” Smooth, Clayton. Real smooth.
Krugrar’s middle head turned toward me before saying, “Oh, the two side heads are subservient, but we’re all independent. Technically, I can survive so long as only one exists even if I’ve never tested that out.” He paused. “Like now, I usually keep the other two heads in patrol mode or planning stuff out. I’ve found stupider creatures tend to get disconcerted when they discover how much brainier I am.” He smirked; I wasn’t sure whether that was meant to be some type of pun.
Nodding while making sure to remain unthreatening, I glanced around to figure out where I was. Although I’d tried to memorize our path, I’d given up after the first few minutes because we’d winded through so many different side alleys. “So where are we going?”
Krugrar opened a wooden door. “Why, here, the pub, of course! At Cespes, it’s always the pub. You wanted to meet Bob, didn’t you?”
I gulped. “Bob, the mind-controlling dungeon?”
Krugrar grinned. “The one and only!”
Krugrar half-dragged me into a dimly lit but semi-modern pub. A few other green shapes shifted in the shadows, surrounding a rather large grinning orc who brandished a sword. At least this one only had one head.