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?


20. Chapter 20

Me and Flower sat at a table downstairs while Quaker went upstairs to tell Saaler and Thunder that we wanted to talk to them.


“What should we ask them first?” Flower asked.



“I think we should start off with the Tortured One. Ask them if they were trying to get us killed,” I rested my chin on my fist like the Thinker statue.


I made eye contact with Flower. “Have your Eagle Crossbow locked and loaded.”


Flower nodded and got ready.


I already knew what I wanted to ask them. First clear the matter if they were on our side or not. If they were, then ask them why in the world they were so strong. When we first met them, they seemed fragile, scared and weak. But once they entered combat, they turned into seasoned fighters.


Silent, focused and fast.


Those two weren’t beginners.


A few minutes later, Quaker came downstairs with the two siblings behind him. Neither of them had their weapons equipped. They weren’t expecting any hostilities. That was good. Meaning whatever they anticipated, there wouldn’t be any betrayals or back stabbing.


We sat down at a large table. It was time to talk.


“Were you trying to get us killed with the Tortured One?” I asked right away.


Surprised, Saaler raised both of his eyes brows. “What do you mean by the ‘Tortured One’?”


I took a breath. “That monster with the long black robe and ten swords instead of fingernails.”


“Oh! That one!” Saaler raised his eyebrows. “It’s called the Tortured One? I never noticed. What’s wrong? Isn’t it the perfect monster to train on?”


I looked at Flower and Quaker. Neither was sure of what to say. Saaler seemed genuine enough. He probably was telling the truth.


“Did you have trouble with it?” Thunder asked hesitantly. “I mean...we killed it easily...”


“How did you fight it?” Flower asked.


Saaler grinned. It seemed as if he was remembering a great time down in the basement. “Easy! As soon as we saw it emerge in that torture chamber, I activated my Wind Boots, sprinted towards it and cut it in half.”


“That’s it?” Quaker said.


Confused, Saaler shrugged. “What do you mean, 'that’s it'? Should there be more to it?”


Stunned, I couldn’t say a single word. Essentially, Saaler never had to deal with the Tortured One becoming a ghost to dodge the first attack. When he loaded up his Wind Boots, he cut the monster in half before the iSync system could even initiate the command for the Tortured One to dodge.


Saaler wasn’t trying to get us killed. We were just too weak. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he had surpassed the iSync system itself.


“Did you have trouble defeating the Tortured One?” Thunder asked.


“When we fought it, to dodge our first attack, it turned into a ghost,” Flower answered. “It flew right through Quaker’s defense and tried to cut me and Issa in half.”


“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know the Tortured One had that ability,” Saaler scratched the back of his head in embarrassment. “I guess I killed it so fast it didn’t have time to initiate its defense.”


It hurt. It felt as if somebody punched me straight in the gut. Why did it hurt so much? Even after all this training, even after going through all these fights, I still felt so weak in front of Saaler. I couldn’t stop the evolved version of the Gate Guardian. I couldn’t stop Irady. And now I couldn’t even defeat a monster Saaler considered easy.


I stood up. “Sorry. I need some air. I’ll be back in a bit.”


Without another word I went out of the door.


*  *  *



For a while I simply wandered around Intos, looking at the different non-player characters and observing them. In a way, I felt frustrated. I felt weak. I wanted to become stronger. Yet in iSync, simply leveling up wasn’t enough. You needed mental strength. You had to be able to keep your cool when facing a monster more than three times your size. You had to believe that your stats and weapons will allow you to win this fight. Mental strength was just as important as numbers.


It was something Saaler had and I didn’t. I could see that now. He could rush into a fight with no hesitation, focusing every bit of mental space on his speed. Maybe that is why he was so fast. Complete and utter concentration. I could level up all I wanted, but that would be useless if I couldn’t gain the same concentration.


I was weak. In more ways than one.


Eventually I sat down at the wide wodden fences at the training farm and watched the boars go about...whatever iSync programmed to make them to do.


About half an hour later, Saaler came. He leaned against the fence with his arms, resting his elbows on the top fence.


“We were worried about you,” he said.


I smiled slightly. “Sorry about going out like that. I just felt...”


“Frustrated?” Saaler finished for me.


I nodded.


For a while, neither of us said anything. We simply watched the grassy hills in the distance and the boars go about their peaceful, undisturbed life. Well, undisturbed until we came. After five minutes of silently observing the farm together, I decided to ask what I wanted to ask all along.


“Why are you and Thunder so strong?”


Saaler let out a profound sigh and looked at me. He wasn’t exactly looking me in the eyes, but rather it felt as if he was trying to figure out how I would react if he truthfully answered my question.


“Why do you want to know?” he answered my question with another question.


“Because no one is supposed to be as skilled as you,” I said. “We are all beginners. We are all still trying to figure out how to use this combat system. But the way you and Thunder use the Wind Boots...I can’t help but feel that you two have been in iSync far longer than any of us.”


Saaler let out a long sigh. He nodded.


“Let’s go back to Berry’s Inn first,” he said. “There’s no use hiding it. I’ll tell you guys everything there.”


We walked back to Berry’s Inn. Quaker, Flower and Thunder were still sitting there, having a quiet discussion. They all looked up when they saw Saaler enter the door with me.


“We were worried, man,” Quaker said.


Flower looked at me and smiled. I smiled back.


Saaler sat down. He told Thunder that he wanted to tell us the story of what happened to them before they met us. Not just the Praya Tragedy, but also everything before that. At first Thunder looked extremely uncomfortable, but after a while, she relented. There was no use hiding it forever. It was still take several days until we crossed over into the other server and reach Praya, so we might as well know.


*  *  *



“Before they choose test subjects from the general population of the world, the developers had to test individual segments of iSync before putting it all together into one gigantic world,” Saaler explained. “But the developers weren’t ready to test run this project on outsiders before they could make sure that everything was working properly. So, to make tests easier, they broke up the world into different scenarios. Each scenario was installed onto a different server. And test subjects were chosen among those already involved with the iSync project.


“For example, one server had a single room of the Basement Dungeon here in Intos installed. Once the player was connected to this server, he would be fighting one random monster to the death.”


“What if you died?” I asked.


“You couldn’t die,” Thunder said. “Even though the monster could attack you, the health bar that measures how many hits you can take wasn’t implemented. Essentially the dream would end when you had defeated the monster.”


Saaler nodded. He continued. “Other scenarios like wandering around the streets of a town, eating and sleeping at an inn, buying items from shops, were all tested.”


He pointed at himself and Thunder. “We were one of the original testers. We were one of the few chosen to test out segments of iSync before it went live and invitations were sent out to thousands of players around the world.”


I nodded. But there was one small part of story that didn’t make sense to me. “If you have been testing iSync the entire time, then why are you still connected now with the rest of us? Isn’t your job done?”


Saaler shrugged, and a sad smile formed on his lips. “Well, after testing individual segments for so long, we both wanted to find out just how awesome iSync would be if all the different parts were put together in one gigantic world. When we received the offer to participate in these general test with players from all over the world, we couldn't resist.”


He stopped for a moment.


“We just had no idea something like this would happen,” he added in a whisper.


“But why were you two specifically chosen?” Flower asked.


“You remember the developer that got ripped apart? Gavin?” Thunder said.


We all nodded.


“He was our father,” Thunder said.


There was a stunned silence. We couldn’t quite believe what she had just said. We weren’t even sure how to react. Were we amazed? Disgusted? Surprised? Angered?


“How...could a father do that to his children?” Quaker shook his head.


“No, no, no, it was nothing like that,” Thunder quickly said. “Our father had full confidence in iSync. He was sure that the tests were safe, otherwise he wouldn’t have let us do it.”

“He was so proud of Praya and everything else he contributed to iSync,” Saaler said. “He simply wanted to show us his life’s work. He wanted to make us proud.”


“I guess he couldn’t have possibly known that there would be such a serious error with the iSync launch,” I said.


Saaler nodded. “There’s still some more to the story.”


We eagerly listened.


“Praya wasn’t just another city where players from around the world were logged into. All the experienced, advanced players from previous segment tests were gathered there. We more or less knew each other. The developers wanted to show us the entire world as a kind of reward for all of our work,” Saaler explained.


He continued. “That is why, when there was a mental breakdown and chaos broke out, things became even more dangerous than it would have been with first-time players. Every players was experienced in combat, every players knew the weapons system. Every player had already developed their own effective fighting style. When chaos broke out, Praya turned into a killing arena with a thousand veteran fighters.”


“While other players focused on strength, we focused on speed,” Thunder said. “Other players were more skilled, and had more attack power. Had we not focused so much on increasing our speed, we probably wouldn’t have been able to escape Praya.”


For a few moments, the three of us had to let it all sink in. It was a lot to take in. Yet in the end, even though they had more experience with iSync, Saaler and Thunder were the same as us. Trapped in this world because of our curiosity.


Saaler began to talk again. “Our mission is the same as yours. We also believe that the reason my sister and I can’t log out is because the survivors of the Praya Tragedy are scattered everywhere. We want to gather together whoever is outside Praya, and then make a safe log out.”


I nodded. We had the same goal.


“That is why, we will travel with you until we find all the Praya survivors. You help us, and we will help you,” Saaler offered his hand.


“Sounds good,” I smiled and shook his hand. 

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