Jesse shut his bedroom door behind him and tossed his bag onto the bed. With a shiver, he took off his coat and hat, hanging them on the Command hook by the door. When everything was in order, he sat on the bed and surveyed his find.
Jesse was a frequent patron of garage sales, always interested in finding old games at reasonable prices. He often came up empty, but a gem surfaced every so often. Today was of particular interest, as he found a game he had never heard of: Legend of the Silver Knight for the Super Nintendo. He couldn’t find any information about it online—even a forum post he whipped up received no response on his way home—and he figured that it might be some hobbyist’s homebrew project of ages past. Either way, three bucks was a small price to pay for some unknown role-playing game, and he eagerly inserted the cartridge into the system.
The image of a knight in silver armor appeared on-screen, accompanied by cheery chiptune music and an expansive background. The knight—who wore no helmet—was sleeping at the base of a tree. A few seconds passed as Jesse took in the music, and the knight opened his eyes and looked around. Jesse started as a voice came through the speakers.
“Oh, finally,” it said. “How long has it been?”
Through his shock, Jesse connected the voice with the knight on-screen, who looked directly at him.
“Hey, what’s today’s date? Day, month, and year, if you please.”
“U-uh,” Jesse stammered. “Why are you talking? How are you talking? What’s going on? Aren’t you a game? Are you going to kill my family?”
The knight sighed and shook his head, “No, I’m not going to kill your family. Why does everyone ask that? I’ll answer your other questions after you tell me the day. Please close your mouth, you’ll choke on a fly.”
Jesse closed his mouth and swallowed hard. Finally, when he found the words, he said, “It’s October 19th, 2019.”
“2019,” the knight repeated softly. “Twenty-two years, it’s been. Six or seven since the last time I talked to anyone,” he was silent for a while, the music betraying his somber tone. “Alright. I guess I should introduce myself. My name’s Grayson. I was sealed in a video game back in ‘97, when I was nineteen. I’ve talked to a number of people in the last two decades, but nobody’s stuck around for long. I’ve spent most of my time in limbo while the game is powered off.”
Jesse fell back onto his bed, “That’s… a lot to take in.”
“Tell me about it. So, are you going to put me in storage and try to forget this ever happened, or are you going to set me free?”
He looked up again, “How would I do that?”
“It’s remarkably simple, really. All you have to do is get me through to the end of the game. Take out the final boss, roll the credits, and I’m home free.”
“Hold up,” Jesse cut in, eyes narrowing. “Why were you sealed in the game to begin with? I don’t want to let some serial killer out of his retro prison.”
“Come on, do I really seem that bad? I told you I wasn’t going to kill your family, didn’t I?”
“Look, kid, how much did you spend on me?”
“Three bucks?” Grayson looked down, aghast. “Is that all I’m worth nowadays? Gah. Anyway, you want to get your money’s worth, don’t you?”
“Not if it means working with a serial killer.”
“Fine,” Grayson huffed, armor clanking as he crossed his arms. “One of my buddies was working on this game and I told him that nobody would want to play it through. I guess he was pissed, because he learned dark magic in a week to trap me inside. Honestly, the fact that I’ve been here for twenty-plus years is a point in my favor. Who’s laughing now, Chett?” Jesse stared at him. After a moment, he added, “Well, I guess you’re still laughing, ‘cause I’m stuck here. When I get out of here, I oughta-”
“There’s no way you could finish that sentence that would help your case,” Jesse cut him off.
“You try staying entirely composed when you’ve been locked in a plastic box for twenty years,” Grayson sighed. “I recognize that you have the power here. Listen. If you’ll work with me for now, you can always change your mind later. Until we reach the end, I can’t get out. You’ve got nothing to lose. Please, I don’t want to be stuck anymore.”
Jesse sighed, “I don’t have any proof one way or another. I’d rather assume the best until proven otherwise. I’ll play your game.”
“Alright!” Grayson cheered, “Let’s get going!”
In spite of himself, Jesse couldn’t help feeling a bit excited. He was about to begin a game nobody had ever played—it was uncharted territory. Smiling widely, he pressed start.
– – – – – – – – – –
Grayson stood in a village watching townspeople mill about the well. Ugh, he thought, Non-player characters never get anything done. He looked around. The village stretched all around him, save one side looming nearby. To his right, the world seemed to fade into a dark void, through which he could see the face of a boy around his age, controller in hand. If he focused, he could see the rest of the village stretching beyond the abyss, but it took more effort than he was willing to take. Chett really thought this curse through. Stuck in a video game for more than half of my life and I can’t even properly enjoy it. Massaging his temples, he looked out to the expanse.
“Alright, uh,” he hesitated. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Jesse,” the kid replied. “Stop calling me kid. If you’ve stopped aging, that makes me older than you.”
“Whatever. Listen, Jesse. Since nobody’s ever finished this game, I don’t know anything past a certain point. I can guide you pretty well through the first section—I’ve been through it more than a few times—but past that, we’ll both be blind,” Grayson explained.
“Sounds good. What’s our first move?” Jesse stared intently at the village through the void.
“Not even gonna try? Alright, fine. I’ve gotta talk to those villagers, then a dragon’s gonna show up and burn the place to the ground,” Grayson shook his head.
“Cool,” Jesse nodded. There was a brief pause, then he cleared his throat, “So, uh…”
“You’ve got the controller, dingbat. I can’t move on my own,” Grayson retorted.
“Oh,” his face flushed, “that makes sense.”
By no will of his own, Grayson walked over to the villagers, who momentarily paused their meandering to look at him. After a moment of awkward staring, Grayson spoke again.
“I can’t talk to anyone but you unless you press the button, kid.”
Jesse made a face, “Really?”
“No, I’m just standing here convincing these people of my insanity for my own amusement. Yes, really. Trust me, being a game protagonist is way less fun than you’ve probably dreamed it would be,” he rose a hand to his head. “Just press the damn button.”
Grayson turned to look at the villagers, but before he had spoken a word, one of them looked suddenly to the sky and screamed. His scream quickly faded beneath another cacophony: the dragon had arrived. With a guttural growl, it swallowed up the villagers and let out a burst of flame.
“Hey, kid! Have you considered moving me out of the way?” Grayson yelled above the din, helplessly watching the fire creep closer.
“Fine,” Jesse replied, moving Grayson aside. “For a protagonist, you sure complain a lot.”
“I didn’t ask to be a protagonist.”
“Name one who did.”
Grayson chose not to give the kid the satisfaction of a struggle. He watched the dragon tear the village to the ground, stomping and generally decimating everything in its path. Finally, it gave a distasteful snort in his direction and flew away.
“That’s it?” Jesse asked. “No boss fight, not even a quest?”
“I did have my reasons for saying nobody would play this stupid game. I’m pretty sure Chett threw this whole scene in for the sake of forcing the protagonist out of his comfort zone and onto some grand adventure or something. One way to do it, I guess, but I’ve seen enough that it’s just tacky.”
“So what’s next?”
In the time that followed, Grayson walked Jesse through the first several events the game had to offer. The dragon, as it turned out, was riled up and sent after the village to undermine the lord of the province courtesy of a competing neighbor. As the resident hero, Grayson paid him a visit—which consisted mostly of slashing and bludgeoning underlings until the lord gave in. The sun sank lower, and it was midnight before Jesse realized it.
“Oh, geez, I’ve got an exam tomorrow,” he did a double take when his eyes passed over the clock. “We’ll have to keep going later. How do I save?”
“It’s in the menu. Please do, I don’t want to do all that for the umpteen-plus-one-th time.”
“Got it. Sit tight for a while, I should have time to pick this back up in the next couple of days.”
“Not like I’m going anywhere. I can live with a few more days of purgatory.”
Jesse saved the game and shut down the console, falling asleep without checking his phone first. If he had, he might have seen the notification for a reply to his post from several hours prior, which read;
“DO NOT under any circumstances play that game. The argent knight cannot be trusted. Whatever he tells you, I put him there for a reason.”