Escape, escape, escape, Dylan screamed in his mind, his stomach twisting into a tight knot as the princess wailed before him. The holographic text box floating in front of his eyes informed him that getting out was not an option for him.
“You cannot quit the game between save points.”
His hands were shaking as he gripped the hilt of his sword with both, trying to anchor himself to the one constant in the game, his trusted weapon, now dripping with dark scarlet.
Am I having a panic attack? I think I’m having a panic attack.
“What have you done?!”
Dylan staggered back a few steps, the girl’s scream echoing in his ears, her red face and crocodile tears burning into his retina as she dropped onto her knees.
What have I done?!
Pressing his trembling lips together, Dylan took a few deep breaths, trying to hold himself together. He wished his mum would go into his room and just unplug the VR like she had done the other day when she wanted to force him to tidy his room. Only, he shouted at her and told her to never do it again. He’d won that fight. “Fine, if you want to live in a pig sty!” Please, change your mind, mum! I swear I’ll tidy my room, just get me out of here..!
How did this even happen to him? He did everything the game led him to do, and it was easy: he completed the first quest of finding the castle and vanquished the dragon within a couple hours of gameplay. He thought it was too easy, but he never would have thought it was all a trap and he was set up for failure. Just like in the movies, the princess was supposed to be falling in love with him.
‘I was trying to save you.’ His voice quavered and his breath caught in his lungs as the girl flung one of her slippers into his direction.
His health bar dropped ten percent as the slipper slapped the side of his face. That was not what Dylan expected from the story. The cover image pictured the beautiful princess beaming at the prince in shining armour, just like in the movies. He so wanted to be that prince: tall, strong, handsome and free of acne, somebody who wasn’t afraid of talking to pretty girls. Unlike Tilly in his class, the princess would adore him. He was pretty confident she would be swept off her feet by him, until he reached her room in the tower. The walls were postered with drawings of the princess and the dragon having a good time; the dragon blowing out birthday candles with fire, and the two of them playing cards and having a picnic in the garden. The dragon was family.
But was there another way..? Did he have other options he missed? Dylan couldn’t recall. I didn’t mean it! I wish I could turn back time..! Please, let me turn back time!
‘I didn’t ask to be saved.’ The princess glared at him. ‘I don’t even know who you are.’
Dylan felt small in his suit of armour.
‘I’m Dyl– Erm, Prince Cuthbert Winkwilliam,’ Dylan said, with his face suddenly burning as he used the name of the hero. It sounded so much better when he came up with it. The princess rolled her eyes, muttering something that sounded much like “pretentious blueblood.”
‘I’m sorry,’ Dylan said in a voice so small it barely was a whisper.
‘A sorry won’t bring her back,’ the princess snapped.
The telegraphic text box appeared in front of him again, giving him the instruction to “comfort the princess” and three choices to choose from:
⚔ It was only a dragon. You are free to find love now.
⚔ I know you don’t want to see me and that I can’t make this right, but is there anything I can do for you?
⚔ I’m sorry for your loss. Every end is a new beginning. We could go on an adventure.
Dylan picked the third option and the other half of the slippers slammed into his chest. He lost some health again.
‘An adventure?’ The princess’ voice was dripping with mockery.
‘Yes,’ he squeaked. ‘To… fall in love.’ Which was what the game originally promised.
‘To fall in love..?’
‘It would be with me,’ Dylan said sheepishly.
The princess bursted out in laughter for a moment, before she was, unsettlingly, all serious again.
‘Winky.’ Dylan cringed at the shortening of his name as she looked into his eyes without any warmth in hers. ‘You just killed my dragon.’
‘You murdered her in her sleep.’
‘I didn’t know–’
‘Well why not bother and ask? Seriously! And you think you can suggest I should now fall in love with you? Get a grip! You are the most revolting person I’ve ever met.’
Dylan wanted to cry. Escape? Please, he pleaded on the brink of tears, but the system had a heart made of stone. “You cannot quit the game between save points.”
‘This is just a game… I’m not like this.’
The princess’ jaw dropped.
‘Is this a game to you?’
‘N-no! Sorry! No… Please, what can I do?’ Dylan desperately tried to remember option two. Option two would have been the right choice. ‘I know I messed up, please, let me help you!’
The princess stood and wiped her tears with her sleeve.
‘Get digging. We’ve got to bury her.’
Dylan hated the game and hated himself in it. It was after all, all his fault that he was having to dig a grave large enough for a fully fledged dragon, and that the love of his online life despised him. Just digging the hole took him three days. Three days without a save point, in silence, whilst he worked the ground and the princess made flower crowns and bouquets for the dragon.
Then, the grave was finally done and she didn’t thank him for it.
‘I want you to know I didn’t want it to end like this… It was a misunderstanding, I believed you were held captive and I… I like you, so…’
‘What is my name?’ The princess interrupted.
‘My name, Winky. You don’t know the first thing about me.’
‘What is your name?’
‘It’s Tatiana,’ she said, as she tucked a rose behind the dragon’s ear.
‘Tatiana… And what was her name?’
‘I’m sorry, Sparks…’ Dylan laid his sword down by the dragon. ‘I’m sorry, Tatiana. I wanted to be a hero but–’ I turned out to be the villain. ‘...I will leave as soon as I can.’
Tatiana stayed silent for a long time, and Dylan thought of walking away, or just seeing whether he could hit “escape” finally.
‘Winky? You don’t need to be a hero. Not like that. You could have just asked if I wanted to play cards or walk with you in the garden. I can’t forgive what you did, and I hope you can’t forgive yourself either. But I want you to know that there is another way. There is always another way.’
The save point finally appeared, and Dylan left the game straight away. There was another way. She said, there was another way! He must have missed it. He reinstalled the game and logged in to start again.
User ID: @pcwinkwilly
He found the castle and the dragon, and he held his breath as he waited to pick his new choice. To win without a fight. His heart skipped a beat when the holographic text box appeared.
But there was only one choice.
And he could not quit between save points.