Chapter 9: the Woman in the Maze

Ignoring the curses, Bob pointed toward a table near the back where a woman was calmly reading a book. While the room was dim, she seemed to be reading perfectly fine, turning a page every couple dozen seconds. She glanced up when we sat down, revealing that she had a nearly perfectly symmetrical face. I did a double-take since she was the first person I’d seen in the Dungeon who could have been called beautiful, even by modern Earth standards. Most of the other humans I’d seen along the way had looked a bit gruff, wearing ruffled medieval tunics, but I supposed that most of them had also given off a working peasant type of vibe and that a Dungeon avatar wouldn’t have to do that type of work, providing it the time necessary to focus on its appearance. Then again, perhaps it was all just a solid hologram and could change its clothes at will? 

Bob the Dungeon Orc grinned at me. “Clayton, I’d like you to meet me, Bob the Human.”

The woman in a blue gown gently smiled at me. She laughed, and it sounded a bit like the chime of Christmas bells. “Why, hello Clayton. Don’t worry, I know all about you. Bob already shared a bit about you on the Dungeon Mind Link.” She winked at me, and I realized a few seconds later that I had embarrassingly blushed.

“Between you and me, I really prefer to be called Bobette, unlike my rather useless brothers…”

Bob frowned and snapped, “Bob the Human, you don’t have the qualifications to call yourself by a different name yet.”

Bobette frowned. “Would you like to test that, Bob?” She hissed her own or her brother’s name. I was a bit confused by all this. Why did the difference between Bob and Bobette matter so much?

They glared at each other for what seemed like a whole minute before the orc blinked. Bob coughed, glancing away. Like that, the invisible tension that had filled the space between them dissipated as quickly as it had come. “Well actually, I was just going to introduce you to this new denizen. He has a bit of an interest in magic, and he’s one of yours anyway.”

With a slight grimace, Bob trailed off, awkwardly glancing at the stone-faced humans trying their best to eavesdrop on our conversation while pretending to be completely focused on their drinks. Turning quickly, Bob edged out of the room. Bobette frowned, about to call him back. For what reason, I hesitated to guess because their relationship seemed rather antagonistic.

She hummed, watching me squirm as her gaze lingered on my frame beyond a few seconds. In my experience, being stared at for over a few seconds quickly approached a spectrum that ranged from uncomfortable to downright creepy. Finally, she nodded. Twirling a wand that she seemed to have pulled from behind her ear, she muttered, “So you’re interested in magic, ay?”

I gulped, shifting my feet and digging my nails into my palms. How much interest was safe to show? “Yes… I guess. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, would you please show me? Obviously, if you need to conserve mana or something, you don’t have to. It’s just I’ve never seen-”

She interrupted, “Woah, woah! Slow down. I already know a bit about where you come from. I just wanted to know what type of magic you wanted to see.”

I thought for a moment before requesting, “I think I’d like to see something flame-like.” Surely, I would be able to prove this wasn’t all some elaborate hoax if I saw actual pyrokinesis right in front of me.

Bobette looked a bit disappointed before sighing and putting away her wand. She gently breathed out, only for her exhale to transform into a blast of fire. I yelped and jumped back at the sudden heat. She smirked, “That’s just the beginning.”

Flicking her fingers, she pointed toward me, and the flames coalesced into a ball that zoomed around me. At first, I could warily watch the ball’s path, but quickly, the dancing flame accelerated until I was surrounded by rings of flames. A drop of sweat rolled down my neck, although I couldn’t say for certain whether it was due to the rolling waves of heat or my fear. Too afraid to step out, I pleadingly looked toward Bobbette. She chuckled, and the lethal balls of light winked out. She asked, “Impressed?”

I nodded frantically. Best to always keep the lady with magical fireballs happy. “How did you do it?”

She stared at me closely. “You’re interesting, unlike the meek human commoners or arrogant nobles. You remind me of that one human mage before he tried to escape and committed suicide before we could recapture him.” She pouted. “You wouldn’t leave me alone like that, would you?”

It seemed that that guy had valued his freedom over his life. Well, at least he had had the power to escape this place, however briefly. I shook my head even as my stomach soured. “No, Ma’am.”

She smiled. “I think we’ll get along great! It seems like the Dungeon has already granted you the ability to speak Common Avish when you came here. Good, good. I’m curious though. If you don’t mind, can I hear your original language?”

Concentrating, I carefully listened to what I was saying and realized it wasn’t English. A bit surprised, I asked, “Wait, I didn’t even realize I wasn’t speaking English. How do I switch languages?”

She giggled. “Ha! You know, some humans don’t notice for months. The trick is you just focus on your original language. It helps if you imagine the characters as you say them.”

“Wait, you mean you aren’t talking in English?”

“Oh. No, one of the many functions provided to Dungeon denizens is automatic language translation. A very useful perk. Another is that creatures not native to the dungeon will emit a red aura to your eyes. Anyway, back to the point, speak your language!”

Envisioning English letters, I said, “Hi, my name’s Clayton. I’m not really sure how I came here, but it is nice to meet you.”

Clapping her hands, she announced, “Delightful. Analytic with little inflection. SVO word order. It sounds almost like some High Goblin tongue.”

“Uh, what were all those things you just said?”

“Oh, one of my hobbies is learning more about the world, unlike my brothers who just study how to kill or build things for the most part. I think that’s why I’m the furthest ahead in being Individual, although there have been one or two other Individuals before me.”

“What is being Individual? Bob, the other Bob, the Orc one, mentioned it as well.”

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Bobette said, “Please, call me Bobbette, remember? I’m different from them. Anyway, Dungeons populate themselves by mitosis. However, to become distinct and evolve, every Dungeon produces mini-dungeon entities or Avatars. While these are originally identical copies, these Avatars are kept in safe areas until they evolve to become unique Individuals who think for themselves and can then become a Dungeon on their own.”

“You mean Bob can’t think?”
Bobette replied, “Not quite. Did you have mechanical clocks in your world? Big sets of gears that tell the time? Judging by your nodding, you definitely had those. Anyway, you’re too smart for your world to be that far behind. Basically, all of us Bob avatars function on the same principle, but on a much more complex scale. Imaginary countless gears working in tandem to produce a myriad of outputs depending on the situation. Eventually, if they can handle enough situations successfully, they almost seem to be thinking. That’s all we are. Automatons designed to learn.” Trailing off wistfully, Bobette turned toward the center of the Dungeon, which I could almost instinctively identify, not to mention that I knew the human quarters were more inward compared to the orc ones.

I nodded, before summarizing, “So almost like a machine learning algorithm.”

She looked at me in surprise. “Hmm… you actually understood all that. I think you might enjoy visiting our library! Humans from advanced worlds are so much more interesting to talk to… too bad they’re so rare.” She pouted before grinning once more, “I’ll take you there after we get you a bite to eat. You must be famished with all this strange business going on about you.”

And like magic, my stomach gurgled to prove her words true.

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