Dungeon Floor 1.
Time to Level Collapse: Five days.

An ornate staircase led down into the light. Each step appeared to be made of wrought iron, and the whole thing was wide enough to accommodate twenty people walking side-by-side. Glowing warmth radiated from the hole. I took a step, falling down a little further than I anticipated. My footfalls echoed into the brightness.

This was a city of almost a million people, and I was the only one here.

Donut, who had stopped fighting, clutched onto my shoulder and started growling as we descended toward the bright light. Welcome, glorious warmth beckoned me deeper. My legs and feet, which I hadn’t been able to feel, were now starting to burn. I hadn’t been out in the cold long enough to sustain any real damage, but I was frostbitten to hell.

The stairs seemed to go on forever. The iron steps were carved in an odd pattern depicting what could’ve been fish. Or maybe demons. The almost Asian-looking carvings gave me an uneasy feeling. These stairs weren’t here just a few minutes ago. This whole thing is made of the buildings and cars and people of the world. Who did this? How did they do it?

By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, the temperature had risen to a humid, balmy 80 degrees Fahrenheit or so. The metal stairs ended at marble floor and a hulking door that stood about thirty feet tall and was just as wide. The wooden, arched door was carved in the shape of a massive fish demon, like the stairs.

I looked up at the double doors.

“What the hell is this thing?” I muttered.

As I stared at the door, an information box popped up over the door. The box appeared so suddenly and unexpectedly that I stepped back. It was like I was in a game, or maybe wearing special contact lenses that popped up informational tool tips. It even had a little X in the corner to close it out.

This is a rendition of a Kua-Tin. The dominant species of the Borant System and principal owners of the Borant Corporation. Make sure you recognize these guys. There’ll be a test later.

Was that last part supposed to be a joke? I focused on the X in the corner and mentally closed the box.

Huh, I thought. I looked up at the carving and again, I felt something, almost like a slight, haptic tingling in my brain. The information box popped up again. I closed it.

Weird. I could control the information with my mind. I could open information boxes on certain items by focusing on them. I could close the boxes by mentally clicking the X with my mind.

That means they’re in your head. Maybe this isn’t really happening. Maybe you’re asleep, and this is all some sort of high-tech simulation. Like in the Matrix movies.

The pain in my warming-up legs and feet reminded me that simulation or not, it didn’t matter. Not when I could hurt.

With my one free hand, I pushed at the door. It opened easily inward, revealing a long hallway lit by multiple torches. The wide and tall hallway was just as wide as the door, more like a tunnel for a double-lane roadway than for someone to walk through. In the distance I could see several branches leading off the main hall. A blinking light appeared the first branch. It seemed to be a sign of some sort, but I couldn’t read it from here.

Oww,” I cried as Donut chomped down on my hand. I dropped the cat, and she bounded forward into the hallway. She stopped about ten paces in, looking around, a confused, startled look on the cat’s face.

I stepped toward the cat, and the doors slammed behind me. The light from the entrance room cut off, and was replaced with a dusk-like dimness.

Welcome, Crawler. Welcome to Level One.

This was a new voice. It was male, sounding overly enthusiastic, almost like a game show host. It wasn’t the same person or speaker from the original announcement. The words appeared floating before me and were simultaneously spoken in my mind. Unlike the tool-tip like box, I wasn’t able to close it out. This was more like subtitles.

A timer appeared in the upper right of my vision. It was at 4 days, 23 hours, and 48 minutes and counting down. I, again, swiped at the characters. They didn’t go away. I closed my eyes, and the information disappeared. It was unsettling and it gave me a slightly queasy feeling to my stomach.

Donut remained in her spot several paces in front of me, but the chunky cat was swiping at the air in front of herself. She sees it too, I thought. Holy crap. Whatever this was, it was happening to the cat just like it was to me.

“Donut,” I said, calling to the cat. “Stay with me.”

The cat, being a cat, ignored me. But as I looked at her, I felt that same almost imperceptible tingle I felt when I’d looked at the door. I focused more tightly, and an information box popped up over the cat.

Crawler #4,119. “Princess Donut.”
Level 1.
Race: Cat.
Class: Not yet assigned.

I took a step forward, painfully aware that I was wearing Crocs that didn’t fit.

More text assaulted me.

You have been designated Crawler Number 4,122. You have been assigned the Crawler Name “Carl.”
You are assigned the race of Human. You are currently level 1. You may choose a new race and class as soon as you descend to the third floor. Your stat points have been assigned based on your current physical and mental profile. See the stat menu for more details.

Menu? I wondered how to pull a menu up. But before I could even try to figure it out, I was bowled over by a wall of text.

Congratulations! You’ve earned your first achievement: Crazy Cat Lady.
You have entered the World Dungeon accompanied by a cat. Ahh, isn’t that sweet?
Reward: You’ve received a Bronze Pet Box!

New achievement! Trailblazing Crazy Cat Lady.
You are the first crawler to have entered to the World Dungeon accompanied by a cat. You must really love that thing. Too bad you’re both probably going to die a horrible death at any moment. Or maybe not. Look at the prize you just received!
Reward: You’ve received a Legendary Pet Box!

New achievement! Early Adopter.
You are one of the first 5,000 Crawlers to enter a new World Dungeon. Sucker.
Reward: You’ve received a Silver Adventurer Box!

New achievement! Empty pockets.
You didn’t bring any supplies. None. You know you still gotta eat, right?
Reward: You’ve received a Bronze Adventurer Box!

New achievement! Why aren’t you wearing pants?
You entered the dungeon wearing no pants. Dude. Seriously?
Reward: You’ve received a Gold Apparel Box!

New achievement! Unarmed combat.
So. You just gonna waltz right into something called a “World Dungeon” and you’re not even going to bring a weapon? You’re either braver than you look, or you’re just an idiot. Good luck with that, Van Damme.
Reward: You’ve received a Bronze Weapon Box!

New achievement! Loner.
You entered the dungeon without any human companions. Didn’t anyone teach you there was safety in numbers?
Reward: None! Haha. You are so dead.

I stared at those last words as they faded away.

You are so dead.

Donut was, again, swiping at the air.

“Menu,” I said out loud. Nothing happened.

“Stats.” Nothing.

How the hell was I supposed to look at my information? It said I’d “received” multiple… what? Loot boxes? That’s sure as hell what it sounded like. Which meant I had some sort of inventory. I remembered something from the initial announcement, something about finding a tutorial guild. I looked up at the neon sign about a hundred meters down the dark tunnel. Would that be it?

I started to jog down the tunnel toward the blazing sign. I passed Donut who sat the ground, licking her paw and rubbing it against her forehead. After a moment, the cat seemed to sigh and decide to follow.

The neon sign read “Da Tutorial Guild” with an arrow pointing down a thin, dark alleyway. I jogged to a stop. My footfalls echoed in the large, empty tunnel. I peered into the darkness. It was pitch black in there.

Behind me, Donut meowed with concern.

I stepped into the alley.

New achievement! Fall into an obvious trap.
Reward: Well, if there’s a heaven, and if you haven’t been too much of an asshole, maybe they’ll let you in. Because you about to meet your maker.



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About the author


Bio: Doctor Hepa is person who likes angels, demons, pugs, and cats.

He's also known as Matt Dinniman, the author of Dominion of Blades and Kaiju: Battlefield Surgeon. He's here to read stuff and to post stuff.

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