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Before the War

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          Several moons dragged by loaded full of turmoil across Louran. NXT heard rumors of a few Mages being kidnapped by Theri -- what a shame it was. The King had already started working on a new spell with which to supposedly strengthen the barrier around the city. If the spell were to work, which it most certainly will considering the King was the most powerful Mage to ever exist, then NXT would be able to continue reading more books without the need to worry about war. As even more moons strolled past, more and more people were rumored to have been kidnapped or gone missing, but NXT cared not. They were just townspeople after all.

          “Your Majesty, but the Alliance would be–” NXT heard a completely new voice say outside the library door. Intrigued, he set down his book and began to follow the voice.

          “Nonsense. No reason is there to merge forces with Gallants of all people. I have finally achieved the perfect defense; this new spell will surely hold all those Theri back for good,” the King interrupted.

          “Stop focusing on the Theri, Your Majesty! There is a far more pressing matter, one you have been allowing the feud between tribes to veil: the Exo hordes! Your Majesty-” NXT stopped listening. Exo? What the Nux could an Exo possibly be? In none of the novels, manuscripts, and textbooks did he ever come across the term Exo. Not even Mazit-Uii had anything about Exos as far as he could recall.

          “Watch, Zarathustra, as I rid you of all your concerns.” NXT witnessed with a feeling of pride -- pride in serving underneath such a powerful Mage -- how the King cast the spell he had been so diligently agonizing over, fortifying the entire city by encasing it within an impenetrable barrier. NXT could feel the magic in the barrier. It was far stronger than the previous barrier. Nothing could possibly go through. He turned his head to witness the astonished faces of the strangers, to ridicule the faces of men who dared underestimate the might of the King. To his surprise, however, the strangers all had a look of disappointment and fear. Angered at their reaction, NXT was just about to attack them when out of seemingly nowhere came blasting through the barrier a horde of what seemed like metallic creatures. Wires, gears, sparks, and lights covered all these invaders… robots of some sort. NXT remembered reading about machines that replaced Humans back on Earth, but that was mere science fiction! There could not possibly be a world out there in which these hordes of robots could possibly exist! Whatever world they may have come from did not matter. What mattered was how easy they were to defeat.

          “Zarathustra, I may have changed my mind about the Alliance of which you spoke,” the King murmured in defeat. NXT felt infuriated. What did those Exos think they were, barging into Louran so audaciously! NXT fetched his gauntlets, gauntlets made of the strongest material in all of Texel -- the material used to create the impenetrable armor some Mages donned. He ran from Allodiael all the way down to the marketplace where the most Exos were and suddenly found himself in the middle of explosions, geysers, and gales. The time had finally come for NXT to prove to himself and everyone that the past three turns had prepared him for anything, even the invasion of these so-called Exos.

          Before he began his offensive, however, he noticed that the stranger who had been conversing with the King, the one named Zarathustra, was casually weaving through all the Mages desperately trying to replenish their magic for another spell. Intrigued by the bravery and confidence of the man as well as curious about the blue hand that rested on his shoulder, NXT could not help but keep his eyes fixed on him, wondering what he was planning on doing. Something about the man seemed different, as if something about his demeanor or appearance stood out from the rest of the people surrounding him. Was he even a Texeli? Nonsense, of course he was.

          Zarathustra had a total of nine companions, not including the blue hand, and would strategically send three at a time to attack one of the metal beasts. Entranced by this odd tactic, NXT could not stop watching. Whenever one of his companions were ready to use their skill, he would send them over and destroy an Exo. Zarathustra, no wonder he was able to converse with the King despite his not being a citizen of Louran. His military strategies and intelligence seemed unparalleled by the Mages that were either running away from the horde or just randomly using their magic. He had killed seventeen Exos using his strategy before NXT smacked himself in the face to bring himself back to the task at hand. He had to fight. There were too many Exos for just that one man, no matter how efficient he was at killing, to deal with. He, the savior from The Vision, had to prove himself even more powerful.

          In front of him were tons of humming, buzzing, and steaming hunks of metal rolling, floating, or crawling their way toward him. The Mages had been shooting at them relentlessly, but there were too many. NXT shouted at the Mages nearest to him to cease fire, and they all stopped stupefied at the sudden assertion of power. “Fellow citizens of Louran, I shall take care of this horde. Do not fire unless you feel competent enough in your skills not to get in my way!” His training had made him nimble, allowing him to dodge all the lasers, bullets, and bombs the Exos tried to stop him with. One by one, NXT began punching the Exos left and right, destroying them into tiny metal pieces. He felt invigorated, as if his entire life had been leading up to that very moment, the moment in which he was able to shine above everyone else. He was the strongest being alive, and no puny Exo could possibly stop him. Yellow, red, black, gray, blue, it did not matter. They were all his size or smaller anyway, so they were nothing but sparring partners to him. His speed allowed him to attack before the Exos even had the chance to rev up their engines. He was indestructible! Not a single Exo had laid a computer screen, metal appendage, or probing tube on him, yet he had successfully destroyed ten, twenty, thirty, forty of them! He was not even tired; in fact, he felt as though he were becoming faster and stronger with every Exo he destroyed. Unfortunately, there were still too many of them -- an endless supply of punching dummies. NXT tried finding Zarathustra to see how he was holding up but could not find him anywhere. Had he been reduced to a pile of dots already? Had he fled away, scared to his very core? Had he witnessed NXT’s unfathomable prowess and decided there was no need for him anymore? Whatever the case may have been, the fact had already been made abundantly clear: NXT was, and will always be–

          CRACK! A loud noise boomed, stunning NXT. The entire marketplace –- buildings, shops, and people –- flew to his left as if an atomic bomb had detonated, wiping out everything before him.  He blacked out momentarily before attempting to wipe the haziness off his eyes but noticed he could no longer lift his left arm. He looked down and noticed he had magically developed a second elbow. He chuckled before letting out a bloodcurdling scream. He tried griping his arm with his right hand, but the pain was beyond anything he could have prepared himself for. He looked ahead of him and reverted back to that one fateful day inside the pub. Towering over him was the bartender but at least four times taller. His green skin had become gray with age. His red eyes had become even more red -- a sinister glow. The cloaked figure in front of him bent down, wrapped its slender, metallic fingers about NXT, and raised him up. It remained silent as it squeezed NXT harder and harder and made him shriek anguished wails for help. NXT's left arm was granted a third elbow even more excruciating than the last by the hooded Exo's right thumb.

          “Y-you want Texeli right?” NXT asked. “Y-you seek the creatures of this world, right? I AM NOT A TEXELI!” NXT could no longer see. Tears were flowing down his cheeks and mixing with his blood. “Look at me! I am bleeding! My arms are broken! I am not made of dots! I never was and never will! Let me go!” In response, the hooded figure dug its claws into NXT’s skin. NXT grit his teeth and furrowed his eyebrows. Pain was being converted into anger. With all his strength, he freed his right arm from the Exo’s grip by blasting two of its rusty fingers off. “You physical manifestation of tetanus, you short-circuiting tin can, you grotesque pile of crock, I shall dismantle your every dot, do you understand!” NXT began pounding the Exo’s hand and arm with his gauntlet. The Exo was old, worn down, and spasming as if it were malfunctioning. Its red eyes sometimes flickered blue before returning to a steady red, and sparks rained down from atop its head. NXT was not about to let himself be killed by such a weak-looking Exo no matter how huge it was compared to the others. Every pound from his gauntlet left a dent on it, but the Exo remained staring at him, its glitching becoming more chaotic. “YOU SHALL NOT KILL ME YOU-” Before NXT could finish his cry, however, the Exo lifted its arm into the air, let out a shriek that sounded like a Human’s anguished wail for help, and slammed NXT down on the ground. As if the first two extra elbows had not been enough, he landed on his left arm, resulting in it becoming nothing but elbows protruding from his skin like a field of red and white poppies. At least he still has his straw hat… NXT slowly struggled to get his right hand to touch his hat –- the hat that was no longer there. The Exo bent down, its blue eyes staring at NXT, and whimpered like a hurt dog. Stop crying, bastard. He is the one supposed to be crying. You took his left arm and his hat. You will pay, you will pay, you will pay. His breathing began to quicken, his heart began to break his ribs more and more, his teeth began to shatter from how hard he was clenching his jaw, but the Exo kept staring and whimpering. Then, the Exo’s eyes changed to being red again. The Exo let out a final scream before scooping NXT up from the ground. No longer able to fight, and having lost his straw hat, NXT fell unconscious.

          And to think that such anguish had only been the beginning.