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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35. Chapter 35

We were all shocked. For a few moments we just stared at her. She had retracted her claws and wanted to shake Flower’s hand. Why only Flower? We had no idea. And honestly I don’t think any of us really cared. After all, for now, we were alive, and that was all that mattered. 


Hesitantly, Flower shook her hand. While this Honoria girl was ridiculously strong, now that the fighting was over, we didn’t feel any killing intent from her. Gradually our senses calmed down and we moved from a state of blind fear and awe to conscious nervousness. We were glad that she didn’t want to fight us, yet knowing that such a powerful player existed inside iSync was somewhat unsettling. 


I opened my mouth to ask her who she was, but she held up her hand to silence me. 


“This house has been destroyed, we better find a new hideout. Don’t open your AirMenu to message anyone. Yamil can detect any outgoing messages from Praya territory and read its contents.” 


Immediately I shut up, and the rest of the group closed their AirMenus. So that was how Yamil managed to direct his army towards our hideout. It seemed that telling Sven and Safire about the spy innkeeper at the Jolly Inn would have to wait. As long as the Jolly Innkeeper didn’t know that we knew of his real identity, then he shouldn’t be making any significant moves. By now he shouldn’t be in Queenstown anymore since everyone else had moved out. We had to make sure that no one found out that Iren had been captured by us. If that information reached the Jolly Innkeeper then he would surely make a run for it. 


Walking behind Honoria, my thoughts were racing. There was just too many things to deal with at once. There was the Jolly Innkeeper. Then there was Saaler who was trapped down in the New Victory dungeon, plus we had Yamil hunting us and this strange Honoria girl who at least for now appeared to be on our side. 


I careful glanced back at Thunder. Besides Iren and Irady, I was the most worried about her. Iren wouldn’t do anything for now. He was heavily traumatized by Yamil and would probably stay in this mental state until we managed to log out of iSync. Irady was smart and he probably realized the grave danger of the current situation. For now we could count on his corporation, at least until we got out of Praya. Once Sven and Safire were here, we could deal with Irady. 


The real problem might be Thunder. Out of all of us, she was the most likely to become unstable. She had already survived the Praya Tragedy and it might be only because she had her brother Saaler with her that she managed to stay sane. Now that Saaler was trapped in the New Victory dungeon, none of us were sure about Thunder’s mental state. She might start to make rash decisions and rush into the dungeon by herself. As long as she didn’t feel any pain, it meant that Saaler was still alive. And as long as he was alive, Thunder was a ticking time bomb. 


As far as I could tell, Thunder was calm enough. She didn’t fidget, not did she behave in any way that might suggest she might go mad. She did appear slightly nervous, like the rest of us, due to Honoria’s display of power. 


I slowed my step by a bit so that I walked next to Flower.


“Do you think Thunder will be alright?” I asked in a whisper. 


Flower looked me in the eyes and shook her head. Her eyes told me that Thunder was far from OK. 


In silence we continued to follow Honoria. No one said a single word since we wanted to avoid any detection by Yamil. It was then that we all sensed that something was off. From what we saw earlier, there were more than a thousand dead player at the central plaza of Praya. Even though Honoria killed at an incredible rate, there was no way she finished off all Praya players. In fact, it was rather suspicious that the flow of dead players suddenly stopped. What was Yamil thinking? If he simply kept sending in more, then sooner later Honoria would have gotten overwhelmed and the rest of us wouldn’t be able to keep up either. 


I kept thinking about why Yamil would suddenly withdraw when the answer finally hit me. Sven and Safire were coming. If Yamil was already concerned about the two Queenstown groups, then it could only mean that they already starting to close in on Praya. 


I looked around. The streets were eerily empty. Not a single dead player wandered around. Suddenly they had vanished. Perhaps Yamil hoped that we would assume that Praya was safe again and that we would send out messages to Sven and Safire telling them to enter the city. Maybe he purposefully let a few hundred players get killed by Honoria so that we would get a false sense of safety. 


I shook my head. That couldn’t be it, right? Yamil was only a piece of software. Lines of emotionless code saved onto a chip. Could it be possible for Yamil to have his programming include human emotions in his calculations? I gulped. 


After another twenty minutes of wandering through tiny alleyways, with each turning corner becoming tighter, we finally entered a building through a tiny door in the back. From there Honoria immediately climbed up the stairs and didn’t stop until she reached the attic. 


I looked around. The rooftop had four large windows. Each window had a large crossbow and sniper sights installed onto it. In one corner there were large stacks of arrow supplies. In the other corner there were huge stacks of food supplies. It would last for months for a single person. And a third corner there were wings. It looked like a super sized version of a triangular kite, resembling the famous design by Leonardo da Vinci. At the bottom there were handles installed. 


Honoria was prepared for a siege. However alone, she would have difficulties holding the place. No matter how fast she was, she probably wouldn’t be able to operate all four crossbows at the same time. 


She sat down on the ground. She motion for us to do the same.


Nervous, we sat down across her. 


“Now...” she said with a tired sigh. “Talk.” 

 

---

 

For the night, Sven’s group decided to stay at the Tea House. Sven had been opening and closing his AirMenu far more often then usual, constantly checking if there was any message from Issa, Quaker, Flower, Saaler or Thunder. Normally there would be some kind of update from them every day, but in the past few two days there has been nothing. His messages and calls went unanswered. Yet he remembered very clearly not to have felt any pain, which meant that no Queenstown player had died. 


He messaged Safire and asked her if she had any news from Issa. Safire immediately replied with a simple “no”. 


For Sven, this wasn’t a surprising answer. A little earlier he had told Safire that his group had decide to sleep in the Tea House for the night. He smiled a bit. Safire must be furious right now. The fact that she immediately understood what the Tea House was meant that her scouts must have discovered this village before he arrived. He knew for sure that Safire wanted to beat him to it. 


With a sigh, Sven closed his AirMenu. What happened to them, he wondered. If they were not dead, then why didn’t they reply to his messages? It couldn’t be that the Praya servers had lines of code that disabled Queenstown players to message each other? That couldn’t be. Sven remembered clearly that for AirMenu functions, each city development team had to use the same standard code. No matter how skilled Gavin was, he would be forced by the government sponsors to stick to mandatory code. 


“Are you alright?” Cynthia came from behind him. 


Sven looked behind him and shook his head. “No...I just feel worried. Issa isn’t answering any messages. I just keep thinking about what we will find in Praya.” 


Cynthia took a chair and sat down. She opened her AirMenu and unequipped her large long range crossbow. It was perhaps because Sven relied so much on their superior shooting skills after the Queenstown players broke up into two groups that she had gotten to know him well. And right now, she could see it in his eyes that he was tired. Just a few days before he felt optimistic, but right now there was so much uncertainty. A few days ago, Praya felt like it was just another city. Now Sven, the one who is burdened with decisions, had to decide wether or not to head into a city that felt like a black hole right now.


Sven took a gulp of whatever liquid was in his mug and sighed again. He was consciously aware that if he sighed so much, it would make Cynthia and the others worried. But at the same time, he couldn’t help it. Sometimes at night, when a day’s travel was over, he couldn’t help but slump down and sigh endlessly. Sometimes it felt as if the burden of every dead player and every trapped player rested on his shoulders. While no one openly blamed him for it, he still felt responsible. 


Sometimes he had nightmares about certain lines of code he could have added into the Queenstown master code that could have avoided this entire situation. The first iSync test was supposed to be testament of the power of science and computer technology. Now it has turned into something of a prison. 


He glanced over to Cynthia. He forced a tired smile. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. I just feel worn out from all the running today.” 


Afterwards a silence settled between the two. Sensing that Sven wanted some time alone, Cynthia stood up and left the room. After she left, Sven thanked her with a smile. He felt grateful that she understood him so well. 


Cynthia walked out of the Tea House and sat down on a bench outside. She looked up at the stars across the vast canvas up in the night sky. Since they weren’t inside a big city, the sky didn’t suffer from any light pollution which meant that even the tiniest star was visible to the naked eye. 


Gazing at the vast canvas, Cynthia couldn’t help but wonder what all the programmers outside iSync were doing. Clearly they were extremely skilled, simply judging from the incredible detail this world was built with, but they couldn’t find a way for the players to log out? She was sure that they weren’t being kept in here on purpose. Otherwise administrative players like Sven would have logged out first. 


Cynthia stood up with a profound sigh and made her way to a nearby house where the NPCs have given her a bed for the night. She couldn’t help but smile at that. Whoever programmed the NPCs had made sure that at least these virtual strangers had a kind heart. 


In that moment of thought, Cynthia stepped into a small puddle on the mud ground and slipped. Her first natural reflex was to try to regain her balance but instead with her own added momentum she fell sideways. With a splash, her left ear hit the wet mud ground. 


“Damn it...” she swore.


She was about to get up when a sound made her freeze. With her left ear pressed to the ground, she did not move, trying to identify where the sound came from. 


Boom...boom...boom...


It very faint, but clearly present. Since it can only be heard by pressing the ear to the ground, it meant that the sound was coming from somewhere further away, but it was a very loud sound for it to be transmitted this far.


Boom...boom...boom...


Swallowing, Cynthia got up. She wiped the mud off her face and turned around to go back to the Tea House to tell Sven about it, but then stopped halfway. 


It was obvious that he wanted to be alone. 


She looked at the small puddle on the ground, then at the Tea House.


It can wait till tomorrow, she shook her head and went back to the NPCs house with a spare bed. 

 

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