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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13. Chapter 13

Chapter 13

 

We saw some players from Safire’s group. They waved at us. We waved back. Much to my relief, everything seemed peaceful. So far, there were no hostilities against us once we had walked past the Northern Gate.

 

Saaler and Thunder were in a state of utter amazement. Walking slightly behind us, they looked around, admiring the Bavarian style buildings, the flat-stone streets. Since they were so shocked, maybe Praya had an entirely different style of architecture.

 

Without further ado, we went straight for the Jolly Tavern. Chances are, Sven would be there. And if he wasn’t, probably some Soul Driver members would be hanging around that area.

 

About twenty minutes later, we arrived, and were greeted by the jolly, fat innkeeper. Even though he was nothing but a soulless body whose seemingly human actions were directed by the iSync server, I still felt genuinely glad to see his round face.

 

Sitting at a round table at the back of the room, was Sven, nursing a cup of whatever he was drinking.

 

He turned to us when he heard us entering the inn. There was surprise all over his face.

 

“You guys came back fast!” his eyes widened. He stood up and came to shake our hands.

 

“Irady is under house arrest in Square’s Inn right now,” he said when he took my hand. “Maybe later you, me and Safire should go talk to him, see if we can finally make a peace agreement and get this whole thing over with.”

 

I nodded. I could at least partially understand why Irady was so angry, but we needed to focus on our main objective of getting out of iSync.

 

“The players from Praya!” Sven turned to Saaler and Thunder.

 

With a nervous smile, Saaler shook his hand. Thunder simply nodded, and tried not to make eye contact.

 

Saaler and Thunder formally introduced themselves, and then we sat down at a large table so we could finally ask Sven what going on.

 

“So...what is Praya?” I asked.

 

Sven folded his hands on the table, closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. After a minute of contemplation, he began to tell the story.

 

“Praya is another city like Queenstown,” he began. “The team that coded the ZERO update was split into several smaller groups. I was part of the group that developed Queenstown. Gavin was part of the group which created Praya. I knew that there would be several testing servers for iSync, each loaded up with a different city.”

 

He looked at me. “That’s why I was so surprised when you said that you have run into players from Praya. The servers weren’t supposed to be interlinked. Praya, Queenstown...they were all supposed to be isolated from each other. Originally, Intos would have been the very edge of what players from Queenstown could explore.”

 

His eyes then shifted to Saaler and Thunder. “I guess the fact that you guys managed to cross into Intos, and now into Queenstown, means that during the blackout a few days ago, the servers had been linked together. Queenstown, Praya, and all the other cities have become one gigantic continent.”

 

I gulped when he said that. All the other cities? Did he means there were other players populated cities besides Queenstown and Praya? Just how many players were there in total?

 

Sven continued to explain. “I am not completely sure, but besides Queenstown and Praya, I believe there are another three cities which were installed onto servers. Wether or not they have been linked to us when the ZERO update was issued, I can’t say.”

 

“Let’s say they have been interlinked,” I said. “Then how can we tell the difference between the escaped sixteen Queenstown players and players from other cities?”

 

“We can’t,” Sven answered point-blank.

 

There was a moment of stunned silence. We had hit a real brick wall with this one. If we couldn’t tell players from different cities apart, then how could we identify the escaped sixteen. It would be worse than looking for a needle in a haystack. At least the needle was shiny and metal.

 

“There is a way to tell them apart,” Flower said.

 

We all turned to her. What had her brilliant mind come up with?

 

“Every player in iSync, no matter how much they level up, is human,” Flower explained. “While they can lie and say that they are not from Queenstown, simply stating that we are from Queenstown should get an unconscious physical reaction from them that would tell us if they are from here or not. Since the escaped sixteen obviously do not want to come back here, their body language should say so when we give them an open invitation to visit Queenstown. We could also have a normal conversation with them, and carefully lure information about Queenstown out of them that only Queenstown players would know.”

 

We all nodded. I couldn’t help but feel amazed. Just a minute ago, the problem seemed impossible to solve, and almost in an instant, Flower had come up with an easy solution.

 

“Although, what kind of information that only Queenstown players would know?” Sven asked.

 

Flower shrugged. “Easy. For example, your name, since your are the Queenstown moderator. Only a player who has been to Queenstown before would know what the moderator is called. The name of the person who wears the silver Eagle Coat. Ireland and Thirteen, the names of the first players who got killed.”
 

Sven thought about it, then nodded. “This could work. All we have to do is to carefully string these questions into the conversation, and then they would reveal themselves.”

 

Fighting with words, instead of the weapons and magic spells iSync had provided to us. I liked that idea. However once we had their real identity uncovered, it would still result in physical battle.

 

Suddenly, the door behind us was thrown open. It was Safire.

 

“You guys never told me you already arrived!” she said with a slight pout.

 

“We only arrived about an hour ago,” I returned.

 

Safire gave Flower a warm hug, and introduced herself to Saaler and Thunder. She was in complete shock when we told her that the two newcomers weren’t from Queenstown, and had crossed over from a different server with a different city installed.

 

When the heavy load of information sank in, Safire grinned.

 

“It’s time to celebrate.”

 

*  *  *

 

About an hour later, Sven stood at the fountain plaza and made the big announcement to the rest of the Queenstown players. He told the small crowd that players from another town had been discovered, and then Saaler and Thunder stood next to him and introduced themselves. Watching them, I almost felt sorry for the two. Especially Thunder. She looked as if her life was about to end when Sven called her up.

 

Like Safire said, players began to prepare for a big celebration. At first, players were a bit uncertain of how to react to the existence of a place called Praya, but then Safire and her small group told everyone that there should be a big party to commemorate this discovery, and quickly, everyone forgot their doubts and fears - even if it’s just temporarily - and began to prepare whatever they could.

 

Sven and several others opened their AirMenu’s, linked them together, and through that created some sort of surround-sound speaker system. Although we had no digital music inside iSync, there were some players who had confidence in their singing ability.

 

Exploring different inns, some players found various instruments: pianos, violins, trumpets and so on. So far, everyone was so caught up between Soul Driver and May Day, and the different Gate Guardians, that the performing arts which were possible inside iSync were largely ignored. There were a total of six players who could still play the piano or the violin in Queenstown. A miracle, considering this day and age.

 

Much to the dismay of the virtual innkeepers, players bought out the large tables from the taverns and placed them around the fountain plaza. Soon these tables were buried under all sorts of food and drink.

 

In the mists of whirlwind of preparations, Quaker, Flower and I stood beside Saaler and Thunder, watching everyone busying themselves. In a way, I suppose everyone was happy that the three of us also came back. It gave off a sense of unity.

 

I glanced at the siblings. Even though they seemed a bit uncomfortable, there was a small smile on their faces. After the big tragedy in their hometown, it must be a joy to see a place where players cooperated so well.

 

I decided to ask Saaler about something I had long suspected. Even though they were quiet and seemed weak, both of them must have great combat skill.

 

“Saaler, how did you get past the Gate Guardian in Praya?”

 

He turned to me, and for a moment looked me evenly in the eyes, as if he was assessing the purpose of my question.

 

“I killed it,” he said simply. He turned away from me, signaling that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

 

There was probably a big chunk of story he wasn’t telling me, but I decided to drop it. After all, there were plenty of things we didn’t know about each other. I looked at Quaker, Flower and everyone else who was preparing. In a sense, we were all friends, companions, comrades. Yet, at the same time, we were strangers to each other. We knew barely anything about each other beyond our fake names.

 

Before I could think anymore, I felt someone tapping my shoulder. I turned around. It was Sven.

 

“Issa, let’s go talk to Irady,” he said.

 

I nodded.

 

“You and Quaker watch over those two,” I said to Flower in a low voice so that Saaler and Thunder couldn’t hear.

 

“Will you be alright?” Flower asked.

 

I smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “I’m just going to go talk to Irady. Nothing’s going to happen.”

 

*  *  *

 

Sven, Safire and I soon arrived at Square’s Inn. Even though all the other inns got stripped of their furniture, Irady’s stronghold was left alone. At the front doors, stood two Soul Driver members guarding the place. When they saw Sven, they automatically opened the door for us. I was impressed by the authority Sven had gathered in his guild.

 

We entered. The main hall where I first met Irady was eerily quiet. We walked upstairs and found two more Soul Driver members guarding a door.

 

“Our main objective is to negotiate a peace settlement with Irady,” Sven said. “We cannot waste anymore time on this domestic matter. As soon as we have Irady agree to give up his hostilities, we will divert our full attention to Praya and finding the escaped sixteen players.”

 

Safire and I nodded.

 

The guards opened the door. I took a deep breath and followed Sven inside.

 

When Irady saw Sven and Safire, he continued to lie on the bed with no reaction. When he heard a third person enter, he raised his head a little and saw me. He smiled. Letting out a deep breath, he slowly stood up.

 

“I never thought you’d have the guts come back,” he said to me.

 

“There’s more important matters than what’s between you and me,” I replied cooly.

 

Irady raised an eyebrow and folded his arms. For the next ten minutes Sven explained to Irady everything that had happened to Quaker, Flower and I in Intos, Saaler and Thunder, and the tragedy in a not-so-distant city called Praya.

 

Irady listened the entire time without as much as nodding.

 

“Our first priority should be finding those sixteen escaped players so that we can log out. While searching for them, we will also look for survivors from the Praya Tragedy. And that’s why, I want you and Issa to make peace,” Sven finished.

 

When Sven mentioned ‘log-out’, it stirred something inside Irady, and I could see some sort of reaction in his eyes. What it exactly was, I could not tell.

 

Irady sat down on his bed again, put his hands together and rested his chin on his hands. He let out a long, thoughtful breath.

 

“I want some time to think,” he said.

 

“Irady, there is a celebration for the Praya players tonight,” Safire stepped forward. “If we make peace now, we could announce it tonight, and by tomorrow everything will have been settled.”

 

I agreed. We simply could not afford to lose more time.

 

I took a step forward, and offered Irady my hand.

 

“Every minute in iSync is a minute lost in the real world,” I said. “Let’s shake hands, let bygones be bygones, and whatever issues are left between us, we can deal with them once we are outside iSync.”

 

Irady looked up at me, but he did not shake my hand.

 

“I want some to think,” he said again.

 

Seeing that we wouldn’t be able to get any further with him, Sven told him that we would come again tomorrow morning.

 

Irady smiled at us. “Tomorrow,” he said with a definitive tone.

 

With a bad feeling in my gut, I left Square’s Inn. Somehow, I had the chills when Irady said ‘tomorrow’.

 

From Square’s Inn, I could already hear the music coming from the fountain plaza. Shaking me head, I decided to forget about Irady for tonight.

 

Like Safire said. It was time to celebrate.

 

*  *  *

 

We came back to the fountain plaza, and what was there was something truly amazing. At the edges, there were rows of tables set up, each covered with all the types of food Queenstown had to offer. Above each table was one open AirMenu, acting as a speaker for whoever was preparing to sing. Players had gathered around the fountain. Many were surrounding Saaler and Thunder. It surprised me to see that neither of the two were feeling uncomfortable anymore, and I could see bright smiles on their faces as they answered questions and told the tale of what happened in Praya.

 

Looking at the entire scene, I could see why Safire insisted on having a celebration. After days upon days of constant stress, violence, and confusion, a relaxing celebration with music and food, where everyone can sit together and have a conversation was important for everyone to keep their sanity. Even though the AirMenu speakers and conversation topics would remind us that we were still trapped in this beautiful prison, at least temporarily we could forget about our biggest worries.

 

“Issa!” Flower called out and came running towards us with Quaker behind her. “How did it go with Irady?”

 

“Both good and bad, I guess,” I said. “We told him everything that had happened, that we should make peace, but he said he wanted some time to think until tomorrow.”

 

“...so, everything is okay now?”

 

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m still alive, he hasn’t tried to kill me. He said by tomorrow he would give us an answer.”
 

Flower nodded.

 

“How are Saaler and Thunder?” I asked.

 

“They seem to be doing much better,” Quaker pointed his thumb behind him. “At first they were pretty nervous, but when everyone was really sincere and welcoming, they eased up.”

 

I glanced over. They were still talking to a couple of players.

 

I looked behind me. Sven and Safire were gone. It didn’t take me long to find them. They both stood on an improvised stage made out of wooden tables. Both had their AirMenu’s on the microphone setting in front of them. Next to the improvised stage was a small band of violin, piano, trumpet and saxophone players.

 

Sven stood on stage and made an announcement. He told everyone that there were some players who wanted to sing, and that tonight they would perform.

 

Everyone cheered, and soon the music started.

 

Watching everyone made me happy, but I honestly was exhausted. After everything that had happened in Intos, the way back to Queenstown and talking with Irady, I just wanted to sit down and think for myself for a while.

 

I grabbed some food, a cup of some form of drinkable virtual liquid, and sat down on a bench a bit further from all the music. From here, I watched various players perform on the makeshift stage.

 

A short while later, Flower sat down next to me.

 

“Not joining the party?” she asked.

 

I smiled and took a sip of my drink. “It's also pretty fun to watch the show from over here.”

 

We sat in silence for a while, both of us enjoying the music and some quiet time. When was the last time any of us could sit down like this and relax? I honestly couldn’t remember.

 

After a few minutes I saw Sven and Safire take the stage. They opened their AirMenu microphones and the piano started playing.

 

There’s a calm surrender to the rush of day

 

When the heat of the rolling world can be turned away

 

I opened my mouth, but then closed it again. I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot. It’s been over a hundred years, but Elton John’s Can You Feel The Tonight was still the highlight of the night.

 

I turned to Flower. She was equally surprised and there was a smile playing at the corner of her lips.

 

Suddenly, she stood up and reached out for my hand. She wanted to dance. I smiled, let out a slight frown, and stood up. Dancing. In iSync. In so many ways iSync wasn’t just a mere game, but an enhancement of real life.

 

I held her hand, and put my other hand around her waist. And to the flow of the song, we slowly moved around.

 

And can you feel the love tonight

 

It is where we are

 

It’s enough for this wide-eyed wanderer

 

That we got this far

 

“You know,” I said to Flower. “I’m glad I met you.”

 

Eyes wide, Flower looked up at me, her entire face red.

 

“Me too...” she said in a near inaudible whisper.

 

“If it wasn’t for you, we would have never gotten past the Gate Guardian at the Northern Gate,” I said.

 

Flower averted her eyes. She scowled slightly.

 

I wonder if I had said anything wrong, but before I could think any further, the music stopped. I looked over to the stage, Sven and Safire were on their knees, clutching their chest in pain.

 

“Wha-” before I could finish my sentence, an incredible pain stabbed me through the chest. Losing feeling in my legs, I feel to the ground. I knew this pain. I knew it all too well.

 

It was the pain we all felt when a Queenstown player had died. 

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