iSync

Trapped in an online world called iSync, Issa meets a thousand other players from every corner of the world, who all go by their online ID names. Struggling to survive and fighting for a way out, he meets Flower, a mysteriously smart girl. How will a human mind survive in conditions evolution hasn't prepared it for?

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10. Chapter 10

Chapter 10

 

For about half an hour, we went on in silence. We all focused on getting as far as we could. Messages from Safire and Sven kept us updated on what was happening in Queenstown. News broke out that we conducted a ‘terrorist’ attack on May Day, and that Irady ordered his guild members to hunt us. Safire has also let other players know that Irady had killed Fefe, now everyone in May Day was in an awkward position.

 

May Day was attacked, but they have also held two players hostage and killed one of them.

 

Sven wrote to us that Fefe is now standing together with Ireland and Thirteen at the fountain plaza. Seeing three people standing, completely motionless, was a chilling image just to think of.

 

Fefe was dead. Brain dead.

 

As I was walking, I couldn’t look up from the ground. In many ways, this was my fault. Why did I let Fefe and Flower go there in the first place? Why didn’t I simply corporate with Irady and avoid all conflict? Why didn’t I push everyone to run faster? Why didn’t I practice the HEAL spell so I could cast one the moment Fefe was hit?

 

I tightly gripped Fefe’s supply bag, and swallowed.

 

This was on me.

 

I wanted to say “guys, I’m sorry,” yet I couldn’t bring myself to say these words. I was so afraid. What I had done, would a simple apology come anywhere close for making up for it?  Right now, Fefe was most likely brain dead. I couldn’t bring myself to say “I’m sorry”, yet there was nothing else I could do. The more I thought about it, the deeper I sank into my own guilt. If only...if only...if only I had not refused to join Irady, if only...

 

Finally, after an hour, we got another message from Sven. He said that May Day members have decided to wait until the sun rises to exit Queenstown and chase after us. Reportedly, they have defeated the Gate Guardians at the other two gates, so now they know for sure that we went through the Northern Gate, despite the false intel Safire had been trying to spread.

 

Exhausted, the three of us dropped to the ground.

 

Flower sat there, still in a state of shock. Her shoulders were shaking, her eyes devoid of any expression. Even though those two girls didn’t seem to be so close, in that little time that they had together, they seem to have grown quite close.

 

I sat next to her, completely useless, not sure of what to say. To say that everything was alright would be a lie.

 

Words in such a case could not help anymore. Yet I was afraid to go close to her. What if she pushed me away? What if she told me she hated me? What if she just wanted to be alone? The only thing I could possibly do was give her a hug, yet I was so afraid. Afraid of being rejected, afraid of not knowing how to handle such a emotional situation.

 

I saw Quaker try to unpack the supply bags. At first he tried to reach into it like a real bag, but then the AirMenu popped up, giving him a list of times. As Quaker scrolled through the list, his eyes widened in surprise. He selected several times. A sleeping bag, a book, and a pile of firewood.

 

With some awkward fidgeting in the air, Quaker managed to cast the default low level FIRE spell to light the logs up.

 

Sitting on our soft sleeping bags, we sat around the fire in silence. Fefe’s death was still fresh on our minds, but in only a few hours May Day members would start chasing us. We had to think of what to do.

 

“When the run rises, we should immediately make our way to Intos,” I said. “Once we get there, we have a few hours to figure out how to hide ourselves from May Day.”

 

Quaker nodded. His head was hanging low, his expression exhausted, but I could sense that the wheels in his brain were still turning.

 

I turned to Flower. Before we went to sleep, there was one more thing to be said.

 

“Flower...I’m sorry,” I said and let out a profound breath. “If I didn’t...Fefe...”

 

Flower raised her hand, signaling for me to shut up. Without another word, she crawled into her sleeping bag, her back turned to us.

 

I felt my stomach churn inside. So this is what it felt like to be given the silence treatment of death by a girl.

 

I opened my mouth to say some more, but stopped at the last moment. I felt that if I said anything more, I would only make things worse.

 

A woman’s weapons were truly frightening.

 

“I’ll take the first watch,” I said to Quaker.

 

He nodded. “Wake me up in four hours.”

 

I opened the AirMenu. It was eleven pm. iSync time.

 

*  *  *

 

The next morning, Quaker woke me up as soon as the sun peeked at the horizon. Summoning every bit of effort I could muster, I unwrapped myself from the sleeping bag. No matter if in real life or in iSync, waking up early had always been the biggest pain in the world. Any world.

 

Initially, Quaker and I were both afraid to wake Flower. Luckily, a few minutes after I packed up, she naturally woke up. It seems as if she has a good internal clock.

 

“Good morning,” I tried to smile at her.

 

“...morning,” she mumbled.

 

From the supply bags, Quaker found some leather skins filled with water. I couldn’t help but let out a dry laugh when he handed it to me. The developers could develop fancy spells and AirMenus, but they couldn’t replace medieval water skins with more practical bottles?

 

We had a simple breakfast of cold water and bread. I’m guessing in such a short time, Safire’s team couldn’t exactly come up with more variety. Maybe in Intos there would be a bakery and a good inn.

 

I couldn’t believe I was fantasizing about good virtual food in iSync.

 

Minutes later, still chewing, we put our supply bags away and started walking again. We couldn’t afford to lose another minute.

 

Now that we had daylight, for the first time, we could see the surroundings clearly.

 

I was absolutely awed by the beauty of iSync countryside. Whoever designed the area between Queenstown and Intos deserved a gold medal for creativity and artistic vision. We were walking on a broad dirt pathway. Left and right, there were miles and miles of endless, lush green grasslands with daisy flowers sprinkled here and there. The gentle, warm wind blew across fields, and in the distance we could see the high peaks of mountains. What lay behind those mountains? More towns and cities the developers couldn’t be bothered to name properly? If we didn’t have all of May Day chasing us, I would have sat down, enjoyed the view and maybe, just maybe, come up with a poem.

 

“Beautiful,” Flower said emotionlessly, and took a deep breath of this wonderful morning.

 

This was the first time, I think, all three of us thought that  - if only for a sliver of a moment - that iSync was more beautiful than the real world.

 

*  *  *

 

We wandered and wandered. We went up a small hill, and from there we got a better view of our surroundings.

 

“There!” I pointed. Straight ahead, about twenty minutes away, was a small town. It had roughly twenty houses, with some farmland on its outskirts, stretching into the grassy landscape.

 

It was like a fairy tale.

 

We quickly put the distance behind us, and walked into town. We found an inn, and completely exhausted, dropped ourselves in the guest hall. Surprisingly, instead of the inn keeper bringing us refreshment, we had to go get them ourselves.

 

I went up to the bar counter. They had all sorts of alcoholic beverages, but we couldn’t afford to be tipsy when the May Day would arrive here. Would drinking alcohol in iSync make you drunk? Now wasn’t the time to find out.

 

I bought three large glasses of apple cider.

 

Fefe’s death was still fresh on our minds, yet we had to think objectively and ignore our shock and grief. Perhaps the emotional challenge of Fefe's death and May Day was even greater than the stress of being trapped inside iSync.

 

And guilt. Looking at Flower now, I couldn’t tell if she blamed me for Fefe’s death. Deep down inside, I knew it was my fault. Yet, something had to be done about Irady.

 

“What do we do now?” asked Quaker.

 

Nursing my apple cider, I thought as hard as I could. I honestly didn’t know. We could either wait here and wait for Irady to arrive, or we could keep running. Yet we couldn’t run forever. Was it better to face Irady here in Intos?

 

I looked at Flower and saw that she had the AirMenu open.

 

“What are you doing?” I asked after some hesitation.

 

“Sending a message to Sven, Safire and Faith to ask them what is happening in Queenstown.”

 

While her demeanor was still distant, and her voice emotionless, at least she would still answer.

 

I was almost worried about Irady. If he faced Flower now, he would be killed for sure.

 

About five minutes later, we received a reply from Safire; May Day was thrown into utter chaos. There was an anti-Issa faction, and then there was a faction that opposed Irady’s handling of the situation, both the kidnapping and ordering for us to be shot at. The anti-Issa group of roughly eight people wanted to move out immediately, but the Irady-opposing group would not let them.

 

I let out a sigh in relief. At least now I could be sure that the majority of players in May Day were not crazy radicals like Irady.

 

Which left only one question. How long would the anti-Me faction be delayed for? Minutes later, Safire wrote another message. She said that things were getting closer to being resolved, so we shouldn’t walk too far in case we could safely return to Queenstown.

 

Flower closed the AirMenu and leaned back. She closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. She was starting to relax.

 

“So I guess for now, we are going to stay here,” Quaker let out a deep breath.

 

“Yup,” I nodded.

 

Mumbling, Flower excused herself, and went to get a room from the innkeeper. We couldn’t hear her clearly, but I think she said she wanted some alone time to think about everything that had happened. Without saying anything, Quaker and I watched her go upstairs.

 

“Say...” I started as soon as I heard Flower close the door. “Do you and Flower blame for me Fefe’s...”

 

For a moment, Quaker stared at me. He blinked a few times. He let out a breath, and laughed lightly.

 

“Man...you were thinking about that the whole time?”

 

I nodded. I felt that it was my fault that Fefe died. If I had decided to corporate with Irady, none of this would have happened.

 

“Issa! Of course we don’t blame you!” Quaker said loudly. “This is Irady’s fault. It is his fault for being so greedy, for trying to blackmail players.”

 

I nodded, grateful that my two closest friends in iSync didn’t hold a grudge against me.  I’m not sure how much that made me feel better, but it was good to know I wasn’t all alone. I had someone to talk to. I had never felt so grateful to have friends.

 

We went up to the inn keeper, and each ordered the most expensive meal Intos had to offer. It was some kind of steak from an animal which only existed within iSync, with rice and vegetables on the side.

 

Soon, the food arrived and we dug in.

 

The texture, tenderness and juiciness of the meat were perfect. It felt and tasted like wonderland in my mouth. Later, when I asked Sven why the food tasted so real, he simply said that the programmers didn’t have much to do with it. It was my own brain generating these tastes based on what I had eaten in real life before. Our brains were truly amazing things.

 

After we had eaten, Quaker also went upstairs to sleep.

 

Alone, I decided to wander around Intos. It was a beautiful little town. I walked to its tiny town center, where non-players characters were selling their goods, calling out from their stalls to me, since I was the only potential customer around. The little marketplace was lively, yet I knew none of these people were real. I was surrounded by people, yet I was all alone.

 

The houses were rather plain and low. Each of them had two floors, with brown, black or red rooftops, a little front garden, a small black gate and a wooden front door. I strolled along the footpaths that were made out of flat stones until I reached the edge of the town, where there were some farms.

 

When I entered the farms, I made a surprise discovery. All the local farms were raising some sort of boars, instead of domestic pigs. At the fences, there was a sign. I walked closer to read what written on there, but the text was pixelated. I touched the pixelated graphics and an AirMenu window popped up, telling me that these boars were meant to be used for combat training.

 

Intrigued, I drew out my Moon Blade and Feather’s Cross, and entered the ring. Almost immediately, a wild boar noticed me, turned, and with glowing orange eyes signaling hostility, ran towards me. Just a moment before it would hit me, I side stepped and used the Moon Blade to cut along it’s side. The boar wouldn’t die. I spun around and aimed my crossbow at it just as it passed me.

 

The boar let out a cry and dissolved into a million tiny polygons. In front of my the AirMenu opened up, telling me that I was roughly twenty-five boars away from reaching level four.

 

I smiled with satisfaction. So this is how training in iSync worked. I’m sure these boars wouldn’t kill you, but they didn’t give all that many experience points to level up.

 

Before another boar could enter combat stance against me, I quickly exited the boar pen and made way back to the inn. I looked at the sign hanging at the door. “Berry’s Inn” it said.

 

*  *  *

 

After a few hours, all three of us gathered at a table on the first floor. There had been no new messages from anyone in Queenstown. We were starting to get worried. Did chaos break out over there? We messaged Sven and Safire, asking for updates, but neither answered.

 

I quickly told Quaker and Flower about the discovery I made in Intos, and how we could easily train at the farms, and safely raise our levels that way.

 

Normally that would have been big news, but right now there were other things on our minds. Have May Day members started going after us? What was happening in Queenstown? There was radio silence from Sven, Safire and Faith. Made me wish I made more friends in Queenstown while I still there.

 

As more time passed, we grew more worried. We hadn’t felt any sudden pain in our chest, so that meant no one had died. Yet, why would no one answer our messages?

 

“Where are we?” a voice sounded from outside.

 

All three of us made a jump. Who was that?

 

“I don’t know...” said a second voice. “We are so far away from Praya...”

 

The three of us looked at each other. We nodded. Those weren’t the words a non-player character would say, they weren't programmed with such dialogue.

 

Those were two real people.

 

I swallowed.

 

We had found two of the escaped sixteen players.

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