“The Narrator?” Bastian asks.
“Yeah,” I say uncertainly.
There is a long pause and I rub at my arm nervously. I’ve never had a conversation before, I’ve only sat above the characters and explained their actions.
“The Narrator of what?” Bastian finally asks. This catches me off guard and I stand there for several seconds with my mouth hanging open. What am I supposed to say? Hey, yeah, I’m the narrator of a story and you’re a fictional character within it? Your entire known reality is the fictitious product of a man who calls himself a writer though he’s never finished a single story.
“Uhh,” I vocalize and it trails on for another few seconds. “Your story?” Nailed it. Perfect delivery. Surprisingly, his eyes brighten and he nods enthusiastically.
“I see! So, you are a Bard then?” He says with a wide smile.
“Yeah,” I mumble. “Something like that.”
“Wonderful! And you are here to learn my story and share it across Andalucia! I had always dreamed of the day this would happen. I always told my mother I would acquire a Bard someday and she always told me it was a one in a million chance. So many people come out to the City of Angels to find their glory and most of them fail. But I knew!”
I stand there, listening to him speak. He speaks a lot, but his voice is soft and pleasant to listen to. I’m quite certain I could never tire of his voice. Despite talking about himself a lot he doesn’t come off as conceited or narcissistic at all… he is, after all, perfect. A Mary-Sue character, as I mentioned before.
“Are you alright?” Bastian asks, and I suddenly realize that I am standing here, staring at him with a silly, dreamy expression on my face. I’ve been conscious for 728 words and I’m already making a fool of myself. I switch to a more neutral expression and shake my head; then I nod because I’m not sure what I’m disagreeing with, but then I shake it again because if there’s nothing to disagree with then there also isn’t anything to agree with. I stop moving altogether, then I shrug and lift my chin at him.
“Yeah, I’m good,” I say in a tone too deep to be my natural voice.
Existing is so very confusing.
He is still smiling at me, and nothing in his expression portrays any sense of judgment. He seems to just be appreciating my presence.
“Good,” he says. “Do you have any dungeoneering experience?”
I shake my head, no, and he nods in response as though he expected that.
“That is quite alright. I have explored dozens. Admittedly, I am a bit rusty on trap-finding, as you may be well aware. It may be beneficial to us if we return to town and hire a trap-smith, but-“ he takes a deep breath and releases a heavy sigh. “We are two days from the nearest town that would have one that is league-approved.”
Several seconds of silence pass in silence before I realize he seems to be looking at me for some recognition of what he’s said. I nod emphatically to confirm that I have heard him, and add an “Mhmm” for emphasis. He acknowledges my acknowledgment by continuing to speak.
“So, I propose that we continue on, but we do so cautiously. As much as I would like a professional, it’s not as if one is going to simply pass by, and I don’t want to waste four days on a side quest to find one.”
I feel compelled to be snarky at this time, and so I try on a sarcastic, teasing tone as I say; “Just then, a passing rogue walks by and asks to join the party.”
Bastian chuckles at this and I smile pridefully at this accomplishment.
“Yes, wouldn’t that just be convenient,” he says.
“Oh, is this dungeon already claimed?” A soft voice chimes in from behind us. We both spin on our heels toward the open door at the dungeon’s entrance to find a short, red-skinned humanoid with unusually large, green eyes. “I was hoping to get some extra trap-practice in before the test.”