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?


26. Chapter 26

Chapter 26


Slowly, the three of us got up. For a few minutes we didn’t move towards the gate. Was it a trap? Why could Saaler and Thunder simply walk through while we had to face three Gate Guardians?


The Gate continued to stay wide open, welcoming us to enter the city.


“Do you think it’s safe to go in?” Quaker asked.


I took a step forward. Nothing happened. I took another step. No Gate Guardians appeared.


“It makes sense,” Flower said, and walked past me without the slightest worry.


“Wait!” I said. “Be carful. What do you mean it makes sense?”


“Gate Guardians are supposed to guard a city right?” Flower said. “Judging from the Gate Guardians in Queenstown, they are supposed to keep the local players inside. It would make sense if those same guardians are designed to also keep foreign players out of the city.”


“But how come Saaler and Thunder didn’t get attacked by Gate Guardians when entering Queenstown?” I returned.


Flower shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe Sven didn’t anticipate that players from other cities would even come to his city in the first place, since he didn’t expect the servers to become interlinked -”


Flower suddenly stopped speaking. Quaker and I knew why. If Sven didn’t design his Gate Guardians to be aggressive towards foreign players because he didn’t expect players from other servers to cross over, then did that mean Gavin did? This would mean that Gavin and his team who designed Praya expected the ZERO update to come into effect.


“There is no use thinking about it,” Quaker said. “If there are any answers, it will be behind those gates.”


Still wielding my Star’s Cut, we moved towards the gate. Minutes later we were engulfed by the same stream of light that had transported Saaler and Thunder. I looked at my hands. They were dissolving along with the rest of my virtual body. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and let the teleportation sequence do it’s thing.


Moments later, I felt my feet touch the ground. I opened my eyes. And what was in front of my was nothing short of breathtaking. There was a main street, but nothing like what we saw in Queenstown. Flower beds split the main street into two halves, with each side wide enough to fit four buses. Along the flower beds we saw rows of benches. Saaler and Thunder were sitting there.


Seeing us materializing, their eyes widened. Immediately, they stood up.


“Issa! Flower! Quaker!” Saaler called out and rushed over. “Are you guys alright? What happened?”


I gave him a tired look, not sure how to respond. Did he honestly have no clue about what happened out there?


“After we were transported here we noticed that you guys didn’t follow us. When we tried to go back outside, the Gate wouldn’t open,” Saaler said. “Did something happen outside?”


“Have you ever thought the Gold, Silver and Bronze knight?” I asked.


“How do you know them?” Saaler’s eyes widened. “Did you...fight them?”


“After you two went inside Praya, instead of being transported with you, the gate blew us away with wind. Afterwards the Gold, Silver and Bronze knight appeared and fought us one on one,” I said.


Thunder stepped forward. “Those are the same ones we fought when we were testing the combat scenarios for iSync…I didn’t think that they would be used as hostile Gate Guardians.”


“They are there now,” I said.


We quickly told them what Flower thought was the specific function of the Gate Guardians, and how there is the chance that their father Gavin was expecting some sort of ZERO update while Sven didn’t.


The siblings listened to Flower’s theory, but didn’t respond. It must be difficult for them to think that their father might have anticipated all this trouble happening in iSync. Yet we couldn’t ask Gavin any questions. He was ripped apart when chaos broke out.


“Whatever the case, the only person we can ask right now is Sven,” I said.


I summoned my AirMenu and wrote a text message to Sven. I waited for a few moments, but he didn’t respond. Probably busy. I selected the inventory option and selected my Feather’s Cross.


We made an equipment check, restored whatever health points we lost in the fight and made our way to Central Square.


Saaler walked in front with his map open. A small blue dot on it indicated where we were. After about half an hour of walking in silence, Saaler stopped in front of a church.


“We’re about five blocks away from Central Square,” he said. “I think we should go to the top of the church first to gain a better vantage point. From that height we can see if Irady has anything planned.”


We nodded.


“Plus,” Saaler added in a low voice. “It’s better that you see that from the distance first.”


As quietly as we could, we entered the church and climbed up to the top of the tower which housed the bell. From there we could a pretty good view of everything nearby.


“Central Square is over there,” Thunder pointed behind me.


I turned around. My stomach churned. I wish somebody would have warned me first. My eyes couldn’t tear away from the sight in the short distance. It was Central Square, alright. A large circle filled with bodies. Row after row of bodies stood there, perfectly still like the Terracotta warriors. The entire circle was completely filled with them, forming a gigantic mass of human flesh.


There was something both majestic and sickening about all these dead vegetable bodies. On one hand they appeared like a powerful army. On the other we knew they were all dead.


“ many are there?” Quaker asked in a whisper.


“I don’t know,” Saaler answered quietly. “I’m not entirely sure how many died in the chaos...but I’m guessing close to a thousand.”


“So nearly everyone who was in Praya,” Flower said.


Saaler nodded.


“Our father is standing in there somewhere,” Thunder said. “We wanted to give him a burial, but we couldn’t find him among all these bodies.”


Letting a profound sigh, I sat down on the stone floor.


“Once we get out of iSync, all of these people should get a proper burial,” I said. But even though I said that, I didn’t quite believe it. To bury these players would mean to acknowledge their death. To acknowledge their death would mean to acknowledge failure. Would The Government be ready to admit failure and risk having the whole project cancelled?


Taking several deep breaths, I calmed myself and stood up. It was time to start the beginning of the end of this game.


“Let’s go,” I said solemnly.


Without a word we all started heading down the stairs. Now that we had observed the meeting place, I could finally see why Irady wanted to meet at the Central Square. With such a crowd of standing vegetable bodies, he would be at the advantage. People like me and Saaler couldn’t fight properly since the vegetable bodies would be preventing us to swing our weapons in a full arc.


I wasn’t sure if I should call Irady a clever fighter or a coward. Perhaps both.


Twenty minutes later we arrived at the entrance to the Central Square. We were face to face with row after row of dead players. Seeing them up close was even worse than seeing them from the distance. Their eyes were wide open, devoid of any emotion. We could now see how rigid they stood, how they neither breathed in or breathed out.


I wouldn’t be surprised if I had nightmares after all this. iSync is the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, but also the most gruesome.


“Irady!” I called out.


No one answered.


“I! Am! Here!” I shouted each word with everything I had.


There was still no answer.


“Irady! Come out now!” I took a deep breath after every word.


We heard the sound of footsteps coming from somewhere inside the crowd of bodies. At first it was a a faint distance sound, but then it grew louder and louder. Someone was running towards us. 


I turned and nodded at Saaler and Flower. They nodded back.


All three of us got out our weapons.


Slowly, a moving figure emerged from the dead rows. It was indeed Irady.


“Issa! I thought you would never come,” he said with a small smile. “And who are your new friends?”


“What do you want from me?” I asked and ignored his question.


“I simply want to talk,” he opened his arms. “As you can see, I am no threat to you. I have no weapons and no allies.”


“Saaler. Flower. Thunder. Quaker,” I said my companions’ names quietly in quick succession.


They knew exactly what I wanted them to do. Without me turning my head, they rushed passed me and surrounded Irady. With their weapons pointed towards him they moved in close so that he could not move without injuring himself. Any attempt to open his AirMenu to summon help would have Saaler strike him down first.


“Now we can talk,” I said emotionlessly.


*  *  *



We found an empty house nearby and locked Irady in a small room. Flower and Thunder were outside the room while Quaker and Saaler were guarding Irady inside the room.


“What are we going to do now?” asked Thunder.


“I’ll go talk to him,” I said.


“Are you sure?” Flower bit her lower lip. “I have the feeling that something isn't right...I don't think Irady easily...”



“Don’t worry,” I patted Flower on the head. “I’ve already talked to him before and seen his close combat moves. He got me once, but he isn’t going to now. I’ll simply go in there and hear him out. We should think about how to transport him back to Queenstown.”


Flower nodded.


I turned to Thunder. “Thank you and your brother for helping us. Irady has nothing to do with Praya, but you guys took my orders anyway. I hope we can return the favor.”


Thunder made eye contact with me for the first time, then nodded.


I turned the handle on the door and entered the room.


“Quaker. Saaler. You can leave us for now,” I said.


Nodding, the two left. Now it was just me and Irady. I took a chair and sat down across him. His hands were tied to the back of the chair. He looked at me with a calm smile, as if he had the advantage in this situation.


“You’ve wanted to talk to me alone, and here you have it,” I said. “Now tell me what you want before we ship you back to Queenstown.”


Irady closed his eyes and nodded.


“I see,” he said. “To be honest I was hoping to talk to you in less physically restraining circumstances, but thinking what I did to you the last time we met, I understand.”


“Talk.” I said coldly.


“I’m not crazy, or stupid Issa. I know we won’t be able to stay inside iSync forever. I know that this world isn’t real, and that sooner or later our avatars will vanish. The only difference between you and me is that you want to get out as soon as possible. I want to stay in here as long as I possibly can. I realize the immense cost on other players my selfishness has...”


Irady took a deep breath.


“But I am selfish. If you had the same life I had before, you wouldn’t be as righteous as you are now. If you had gone through everything I have, you would be just as selfish as I am.”


“Oh really?” I folded my arms and crossed my leg. “So what was your life like before iSync?”

Irady looked me straight in the eyes. “I was born blind, Issa.”


Stunned, I stared back at him. Born blind? Did that mean he only knew darkness? That he did not know the difference between white and black?  The colors of a rainbow? The color of human skin? The faces of the people he loves?


“It’s a long story, and I won’t bore you with it,” Irady said. “But essentially I had to fight and survive by myself for a long time. My life took one bad turn after the other, and eventually I was kicked out of the last place that would give me a bed to sleep in. For about a year and a half I had to scratch together a living as a blind beggar out on the streets. Then a developer from the iSync team picked me up. I had nothing to lose, so I agreed to what he described as the ‘greatest science experiment of all time’.”


He took a breath and looked around the room. “This is the first time in my life that I am seeing what I am feeling, touching and tasting. Probably that is why I didn’t run away with the original escaped sixteen players. I was too amazed to even stand up. All these new sensations and sights. Issa, you have no idea what it feels like to finally find out what a street and house looks like after more than twenty years.”


“If you were born blind, then how you see anything inside iSync?” I tested him. “Your brain has no idea what anything is supposed to look like.”


Irady smiled. “That is truly a gift from God. iSync interconnects all of us. What we see and feel is shared among all the players. For example, if you damage a chair, in order for other players’ brains to know that the chair is damaged, your brain has to tell them and the iSync servers that the chair has been damaged by you. This way, extremely detailed visual information shared among the brains of all the connected players. And using the information from the brains of other players, my mind can create these images and allow me to see what others had been able to see all their lives.”


Not saying a single word, I sat there, processing all of this new information. I wasn’t even sure if I should believe him or not, but his story would justify his extreme skills in close quarter combat. If he had to fight for himself as blind person and actually come out alive, then his blindness awaked a hidden talent.


“I am still going to transport you back to Queenstown,” I said. “Your story is touching, but there are the lives of hundreds of players at stake. There has be a limit to selfishness.”


“I understand that,” Irady said. “But you have something I want. You have my freedom. And I know I have something you want. So, I propose a trade.”


I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”


Irady smiled.


“I know the location of two of the remaining escaped eighteen players." 

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