“Six boar livers. Unmarked ones,” Nevin repeated cautiously. Jess ground her teeth as she counted silently backwards from ten in her head. She’d instructed her students to do the same thing to calm themselves and so it made sense to at least try to rebalance her thoughts this way. After counting backwards twice, Jess wholeheartedly decided never to give any students this advice again. She exhaled heavily, teeth firmly clenched and realised that Nevin was watching her like a child might watch a wolf advance. What big teeth you have, Grandma, she thought to herself wryly.
“None of this makes any sense,” she finally admitted out loud, “none of it. I just…”
She sighed, her shoulders drooping, as she glanced around at the room that remained empty except for the two of them. There were no markers, no indicators of any sort to explain where she was. How can a door just… poof? Gone, she wondered absently.
“Miss… Who are you?” Nevin asked. There was a touch of wonder in his voice.
“Jessica. Jessica Harper,” she replied, then added off-handedly, “Miss, not Mrs.”
“You’re not like the others… at all… are you?” Nevin asked tentatively. Jess noticed that his voice had lost its note of fear and she raised her eyes to meet his.
“Yeah… I’m beginning to realise that myself…” she replied with a wan smile.
“You’re the only one I’ve known that has actually… you know… said something,” Nevin continued. He seemed both apologetic and curious at the same time.
“You mean about how odd this is?”
“No. Just…” he shrugged, “Just in general.”
Jess smirked. “You make it sound like they’re fully mute.”
“What?” Jess’ attention jerked towards Nevin once more, “What do you mean, ‘yeah’. That’s a joke, right?”
Nevin shook his head, bemused by this reaction. “No Miss. That’s just how they are? The adventurers never actually talk to us.”
Jess’ face screwed up in confusion. “Wait… what?” she asked, baffled by his statement. The sudden appearance of the honorific hadn’t escaped her notice either. Before she could question this, a sudden realisation came to mind. “Is that why you were so surprised when I started asking you questions earlier?”
Nevin flushed a little and nodded meekly. “Yes Miss.”
Intrigued by this admission and still unsure of what it meant for her current situation, she decided to probe further.
“Can I meet one of the other… adventurers?” she asked cautiously. Nevin’s brow creased as he pondered this and for a moment, Jess wondered if he might reject her idea outright.
“That should be alright,” he said slowly before looking over his shoulder at the doorway behind him. “There are usually some around here. You are an adventurer too… even if a strange one.”
She gave him a tight-lipped smile. Sure kiddo, I’m the strange one here, she thought to herself. Out loud she said, “Lead the way then,” as she gestured towards the door.
Nevin’s reaction surprised Jess once more. He looked at her with a mix of shock and disgust. “I can’t just… leave here,” he said, frowning at Jess.
Jess looked around the empty room; there were no shelves, no desks, not even any bookshelves to suggest what his role might be. The only contents in the room were two large tapestries that splayed grandly across the wooden panelled walls. Even those were largely unhelpful, one displaying trees and a lone deer whilst the other depicted a large snow-capped mountain.
“Right… What are you supposed to be doing in here?” she questioned.
“I have to welcome all adventurers,” he explained in a confused tone, as though his purpose should have been obvious. In hindsight, Jess realised that she should have expected this answer. What other reason could he have, especially after the greetings and speech he seemed to have memorised to share.
“Can’t you just take a break?” she asked.
“Just take a quick break. I’m the only one here.”
After looking pensive for a short while, Nevin reluctantly agreed. “I suppose it is my role to guide adventurers to their first quest.” He began to lead Jess but paused as he pushed open the heavy oak door. “You’ll do the quest afterwards, right?”
“If I can’t figure out how to get back to where I was, then sure, I’ll figure out how to get the livers,” she promised, following close behind him. That or I’ll wake up in the hospital with a fantastic headache, she thought grimly.
The area outside the room was light woodland, contrary to Jess’s expectations. There were a few small huts that seemed to be empty of life. As she was taking her time examining the area, she noticed that Nevin was hurriedly taking a note from out of an envelope and tacking it to the inside of the door. She sidled up beside him, trying to get a glimpse of what was written but he closed the door too quickly. She mentally filed away the information to ask him about it later. Her priority remained squarely on seeking an exit to this ridiculous scenario.
“Follow me then, Miss” said Nevin once his task was completed. He started heading towards the trees using a small footpath. The track wasn’t paved but seemed to be so well used that the greenery had been worn away. Jess followed without argument, though she wasn’t pleased about the idea of trekking through the wilds in her heels. Although they were comfortable, they were certainly not an ideal choice for this walk. Thankfully, the walk was relatively short, and the track remained smooth throughout. It took little time for them to set eyes on their quarry.
The so-called adventurer stood in the clearing. He was wearing rather ostentatious, yet battered armour. Large, spiked shoulder plates covered most of his upper arms and he wore a Viking style helmet with horns that curved up towards the sky.
There was something a little off about him, as though he was moving and reacting to his environment in a deep sleep and not consciously aware of it. He turned back and forth aimlessly, his tattered red cape flapping limping against him. Something about him reminded Jess of zombies in straight-to-video horror films. The fact that he looked like he could cave in her skull with his bare hands wasn’t helping either.
Jess ducked behind a crumbling stone wall, peering out from behind it to avoid the adventurer’s immediate attention. Enraptured, she watched the adventurer suddenly sit down on the floor, setting the ungainly war-axe he had been holding on the ground beside him.
“What’s he doing?” whispered Jess with concern.
“What?” replied Nevin, considerably louder than she had expected. She flinched at the noise and was shocked when she turned to see that Nevin was still standing in full view. He had not made any effort to conceal his presence and was, instead, raised on his tiptoes to better observe the figure. His lip was curled up slightly as he openly stared with a puzzled expression on his face.
“What are you doing?” she hissed testily, flabbergasted by the young apprentice’s nonchalant behaviour.
“Huh?” was Nevin’s confused reply. He broke off from staring at the seated adventurer to flash Jess a quizzical look, “Why are you down there?”.
“What if he sees you?” Jess questioned, continuing to keep her voice low enough not to be overheard.
“He’s probably seen me already, Miss” Nevin answered, still mystified. Jess’s eyes flared wide with fear.
“I give adventurers a quest to fulfil. Remember?” He further explained.
Jess’s cheeks felt hot with embarrassment. Of course that’s what he meant.
“Just get down here, alright? I don’t want him to see me”, she said, beckoning him closer.
Together they watched silently, mostly hidden by the crumbling stones. Something was tickling at the back of Jess’s memory, like DeJa’Vu but she was unable to make sense of the feeling.
The adventurer jumped up to his feet, seemingly restored by his brief rest. He jabbed at the air in front of him, with certainty as though making selections from an invisible board. A sense of dread began to descend on Jess as she slowly realised why the scene felt familiar.
“Wait. This is like the game my brother plays…” Jess whispered, “Ohhh… What’s it called now?”
“Hide and seek?” ventured Nevin helpfully. He was trying his best to awkwardly crouch beside Jess without making any physical contact in the limited space.
“What?” Jess turned to him confused, “Oh. No. Erm… Never mind actually”.
I can’t really turn around and say he’s in a computer game, can I? she thought to herself, chewing her lip as the watched the Adventurer turning around on the spot before hurtling headlong into the woods.
“Where’s he going?” asked Jess with a note of alarm. She had risen slightly in her crouch and by avoiding her, Nevin had toppled away onto his rear. He pulled his unruly hood back to its original position to display an unimpressed expression.
“Probably going to complete the quest that you should be doing,” he answered churlishly.