Bastian and I stand back as Luda investigates the large metal door that blocks the way forward. His fingers feel around the edges of the frame, he peaks into the cracks and crevices around the door, then he turns and looks at us.
“Can I get some help?” Luda asks.
Before I can even consider a response, Bastian has stepped forward.
“Anything,” Bastian declares as he crosses the space and kneels before Luda. They exchange a few quiet words before Bastian nods, stands, then sticks his hands under Luda’s arms and lifts him onto his own shoulders. This baffles me for a moment as it seems completely out of place for two adventurers in a dungeon setting. I am about to ask what they’re doing when Bastian steps toward the door and Luda’s fingers begin to trace the upper section of the door frame that had previously been out of his reach.
“Huh,” I mutter, then shake my head and shrug my shoulders.
A moment later Bastian hefts Luda off his shoulders and sets him down.
“It’s safe!” Luda declares. He turns, grasps the handle of the door, and with a mighty heave he pulls it open. I can only see a few yards beyond the door before my vision is swallowed by a deep, inky darkness… and my stomach sinks.
I have no idea what lurks in the darkness beyond.
I, the narrator of hundreds of the Author’s stories, have always known everything. I knew where every monster was down every hall, what the character’s were thinking, where the traps were; through my entire existence I have been an omniscient being hovering over the action and parsing out the interesting details so that I may tell an intriguing story to you, the reader. I knew all, I saw all… but I didn’t always share all.
But now… now I am no more aware of these things than you are. No more aware than the characters whose stories I tell.
The stories I used to tell.
Am I now an Unreliable Narrator?!
I’m sorry, reader… No, I want to be sorry that I am no longer a reliable source of knowledge, but honestly, I’m scared. Without my knowledge of everything… what do I have?
A hand rests on my shoulder and I finally look away from the darkness beyond the door. My focus had tunneled into the void and I had lost awareness of my surroundings, I had forgotten that Bastian and Luda were even there. I, the narrator, forgot that the main characters were in my presence.
I look to the hand on my shoulder and follow the arm to find Bastian with a warm, comforting smile.
“Friend,” he says, “Is this your first dungeon?”
I shake my head; I have narrated hundreds of dungeons across thousands of words and pages. But then I pause as I consider his question and my situation. Briefly, my head moves in a circle as I shift from shaking my head to nodding it.
“Sort of,” I answer. “I’ve told a lot of stories about dungeons but I’ve never been down one myself.”
Bastian chuckles and squeezes my shoulder reassuringly.
“Don’t worry,” Bastian says. “I have been down more dungeons than I can count. I have never lost a companion and I do not intend to start doing so today. You have nothing to fear. We will move forward, slowly and methodically. Our new friend, Luda, will search ahead and liberate our path from secretive mechanical menaces, while I tend to whatever living creatures seek to harm us. You-“ He pauses and looks me over. “Well, I am afraid I do not yet know your strengths. As such, you will participate in whatever way feels comfortable to you; be that up front with me, or cheering us on from the rear.”
Bastian’s eyes settle on my waist and for the briefest of moments I see what appears to be confusion… or, disappointment?
“I see that you are unarmed,” Bastian continues, “in a dungeon.” I hear him take a deep breath and let it out, but when he lifts his face back to me he is smiling again and he offers me a firm nod. “No worries, dungeons tend to be crawling with creatures that carry a variety of arms, one of which you may claim when we cross them. So, as I was saying, do not worry; you are in good hands.”
The dread of not knowing what lies ahead lifts just a little. I stand straight and with a new resolve I step forward and follow Luda through the threshold and into the dungeon’s first room.