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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24. Chapter 24

Chapter 24

 

“Hey guys, it’s a message from Irady,” I said.

 

All four of them turned to me with their tired, but surprised faces.

 

“You mean Irady wrote that message...on printed paper?” Quaker asked.

 

I nodded. I was surprised myself. This was the first piece of printed paper I had seen inside iSync. Sven and Safire had always messaged us through the AirMenu. Maybe it was because I didn’t have Irady on my friend’s list that he had to resort to such old fashioned measures.

 

I began to read.

 

Issa,

It certainly is difficult enough to contact you when you don’t have me on your friend’s list. It has been a while since I’ve written anything by hand, and quite frankly it has turned out to be no minor challenge.

 

I won’t pretend that you do not see us as enemies, however there are some things I would like you to listen to. I would like for us to talk not as two enemies, or opponents, but simply as one player to another. Two human beings having a conversation. If you find this message at the Tea House, then you are about one day’s journey away from Praya. When you arrive at Praya, find me at the main Flight Gate in Central Square. It should be easy to find.

 

Irady

 

 

I read though the letter several times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Judging from the tone and language, the writing did sound like Irady.

 

“What does it say?” Quaker asked and tried to read the letter over my shoulder. I handed the letter to him so that everyone else could read it.

 

A few minutes later after the letter had passed through several hands, we sat down. As tired as we were from our journey to this new server, this had us awake again.

 

“He doesn’t say wether or not he has met any of the escaped sixteen players or any of the Praya players,” I said. “But he does clearly say that he waiting for us in Praya.”

 

“Specifically he is waiting for you,” said Saaler. “It doesn’t sound like he cares for the rest of us.”

 

I nodded. He never even mentioned Quaker, Flower, Saaler or Thunder. He wanted to meet me at this Central Square place somewhere in Praya. What bothered me the most was what he wrote about wanting to talk to me. Not as enemies, but as two human beings. Why did he want to do that? Did he still hope that I would join him?

 

“Do you think it’s a trap?” I asked.

 

There was a minute of silence.

 

“I don’t think so,” Flower answered.

 

I nodded for her to continue.

 

“If Irady wanted to set up a trap, there would be better ways of doing it,” Flower said. “When we enter Praya, he would have the advantage since he had several days head start to explore the city, and make ambush preparations. It wouldn’t make sense either if he wanted to make sure that we come to Praya. Even if we didn’t get this letter, we would definitely go to Praya first before going anywhere else.”

 

I read through the letter again. “So you think he is actually...”

 

Flower nodded. “I think he is being sincere in this letter.”

 

“So what do we do now?” Quaker asked.

 

I didn’t immediately answer Quaker. What can we do? Whatever we did, it wouldn’t change the fact that Irady had gotten to Praya faster than us. Also, just because he didn’t mention it in the letter doesn’t mean he hadn’t found any of the other players who were scattered all around. There is a chance that he is simply keeping more information to himself for strategic reasons.

 

“We do what we would have done anyway. Go to Praya,” I answered.

 

I looked at Saaler and Thunder. “You guys originated from Praya, right? Do you have Praya mapped in your AirMenu?”

 

“We have Praya mapped, but I don’t think it’s going to be much help,” Saaler said.

 

I raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”

 

Saaler answered by opening his AirMenu. A moment later, he had the Praya map open. And it was massive. It filled up the entire lobby of the Tea House from one end to the other. There were hundreds of buildings, streets, fountains, parks, clock towers, churches and every other type of structure the you could possible imagine. It was at least ten times larger than Queenstown.

 

“We have the map, but there is still no way of knowing where Irady would hide, the city is just too big,” Saaler said.

 

“Where is the Central Square?” I asked.

 

Saaler shook his head. “I don’t know. In the chaos, we didn’t exactly have time to explore the city and go sightseeing.”

 

With the gigantic holographic map at my waist, I wandered around looking for this Central Square.

 

“What are you looking for?” Flower asked.

 

“Irady mentioned this Flight Gate thing,” I said. “If we can find it on this map, maybe we we’ll have a better idea of what he intends to do.”

 

After about an hour of searching, we found five large fountain squares scattered around the city, each with a door sized arch, which could resemble some sort of portal. One was in the center while the other four were located closer to the city gates. Saaler zoomed in on the fountain square in the center of the city.

 

As far as any of us could tell, there was nothing special about it. Judging from the holographic projection of the map, it looked more or less the same as the fountain square in Queenstown. It had buildings surrounding it, giving it a circular shape rather than the central ‘square‘ Irady called it. But it was by far the largest open plaza on the map, we assumed that the Central Square was more of a Central Circle.

 

“What do you think Irady wants to talk to you about?” Quaker asked as we all stared at the map.

 

“I don’t know,” I said. “Last time we talked, he said something about how life in iSync is better than reality, and how this is what life ought to be. He said he wanted to meet me in Praya, but beyond that...he didn’t really say anything.”

 

“We should get some sleep,” Saaler said. “Tomorrow we’ll wake up early and then make our way to Praya. Before nightfall we should have arrived. Whatever happens after that...”

 

Saaler’s grew quiet. He had no idea what would happen after we arrived at Praya. None of us had.

 

*  *  *

 

 

The next morning we were on the road again. I went through the letter over and over again, trying to figure out what Irady wanted. He never mentioned if he had found other players, so we can’t draw any connection between him and the hooded spy in the forest. At first I thought that it might have been Irady anticipating our arrival, but that didn’t make sense either. If he wanted to talk to me, he wouldn’t have run away.

 

The path was straight again, so we managed to sprint ahead at full speed. After about two hours, we decided to take a rest. Afterwards, we traveled for another hour before taking a break.

 

While the path was straight, the landscape was nothing like the one we saw outside Queenstown. Gone was the sea of lush green grass and daisy flowers. We were traveling through an area sprinkled with small ponds and lakes. Water lilies and water lettuce covered the lakes, and we could hear the the sounds of virtual frogs inhibiting this area. There were small patches of pine trees here and there, but none which blocked the path. There was some mountains, but they were much closer to us than in the Queenstown server. They formed a wide valley around us, with pine trees covering the rocks, creating what looked like a gigantic wave of greenery.

 

After a while, the five of us naturally came down to a halt to admire the landscape. iSync truly was breathtaking. In real life we would have to hop into a car and drive for hours before we could see the beauty of nature in such purity. Or maybe even fly with a plane half way across the world.

 

“Where do you think the developer’s got inspiration for these landscapes?” Quaker asked.

 

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Maybe New Zealand? Canada?”

 

“This can’t be...” Thunder’s voice sounded.

 

With a surprise we turned to her. By now we were expecting something important every time we heard her voice.

 

“What is it?” Flower asked.

 

“I recognize this landscape...” Thunder swallowed with dread.

 

“You mean when we passed by here the first time?” Saaler said.

 

Thunder shook her head. “I was with dad when I saw this. It was a few years ago...I took some panorama pictures on our father-daughter trip to New Zealand...and one of the pictures I took looks just like this. If you stand right where I’m standing and turn towards that pond over there, it will look exactly like one of the pictures I took.”

 

“I probably didn’t recognize it before, because we hadn’t stopped here for a break last time,” Thunder took a deep breath to calm herself down.

 

Saaler put his hands on his sister’s shoulder and comforted her. Quaker sat down to drink some water. Letting out a breath in relief, I sat down next him. Flower sat down next to me.

 

“This is bad,” Flower whispered to me.

 

“Why?” I raised an eyebrow. As far as I could tell, Gavin simply used some pictures from his daughter’s photo collection as a reference to build these landscapes.

 

“If Thunder starts to enjoy living inside iSync, these landscapes drawn from her real life memories might cause her to confuse reality with iSync,”

 

I opened my mouth, but then closed it again. It made sense. If sixteen out of a hundred and six players from Queenstown could decide that iSync was better than real life within the first two hours of being here, it would be a reasonable assumption that other players might reach the same conclusion after spending more time inside iSync, especially if there are strong similarities with their real life.

 

“Quaker. When you get the chance, ask Saaler and Thunder what their reason is for wanting to return to the real world. Ask them if their mother Leah is still alive, or whatever other reason they would have for escaping iSync,” I said in a low voice so that brother and sister couldn’t hear.

 

Having heard my exchange with Flower, Quaker nodded.

 

Suddenly, my AirMenu opened, indicting that I had a new message. It was from a player called Evian. For a short while, I stared at the message. Who was this again? I vaguely remember the name, but I couldn’t pin-point the face that went together with the name ‘Evian’.

 

Then I remembered. It was one of the players from Safire’s group whom I added to my friend’s list so that I could keep in touch with them.

 

I opened the message and read the text. I smiled. Finally we got some good news. Turns out, the non-player character caravan that Safire’s group has been traveling with, took a turn and they are now heading towards Praya. If all goes well, they will be there to meet up with us in about a week.

 

I told Quaker and Flower the good news. After Saaler had managed to calm Thunder down, I also told them. For a while, we discussed wether or not we should wait for Safire’s group to arrive in Praya before we enter. That way, regardless of what Irady had planned, we would be able to overwhelm him with sheer numbers.

 

“Let’s keep on going first,” I said. “We’ll make a decision once we have reached the Praya city gates.”

 

We entered combat stance again, and like the wind, off we went.

 

I concentrated on staying as much as possible on the path. Straying even a little bit would cause me to run into one of the giant ponds. I had no interest in finding out what kind of monsters the Praya server had in store.

 

About three hours later, we climbed up one last hill. Standing at the top, we finally got a view of the surrounding area.

 

It was absolutely breathtaking.

 

In front of us we caught our first glimpse of Praya. Just like Queenstown, there was a city wall encircling the entire city, with big gates in each compass direction. The size of Praya was jaw dropping, The sea of buildings just went on and on, and only if you narrowed your eyes could you see the other side where the city wall formed another gate. It was at least ten times the size of Queenstown. In terms of sheer size, Gavin had Sven beat.

 

“I thought Queenstown was an amazing, but Praya...” Flower said but didn’t finish her sentence.

 

“Maybe the developers had some sort of contest going on? Whoever can created the biggest city wins,” Quaker said.

 

I stared at everything that made up Praya, and I couldn’t help but worry. Tight streets, crowded buildings, narrow alleyways. This was the ideal territory for Irady. Not to mention this would be the perfect place to hide every player that escaped from Queenstown.

 

With a city of this size, we could play hide and seek until our bodies in the real world started to rot.

 

I opened my AirMenu and equipped my Star’s Cut and Feather’s Cross. I turned to Quaker, Flower, Thunder and Saaler. They all had put on their equipment. It was clear to all of us; we weren't going to wait for Safire. It was game time.

 

I smiled.

 

“Let’s go."

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