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         “That went quite well,” said Zar with a sigh of relief. “The suzerain was rather amiable for a Gallant being told he should mobilize an army to work with, not fight against, the other tribes.”

         “If that is what you call amiable, then I am afraid of what you would call hostile,” commented Defender, who had had front row seats to the intense back-and-forth that broke out between Zar and the suzerain.

         “Our mission is done regardless. Now we shall head for Oldtown to see if we can recruit Hemi without having our arms ripped off. In my case fingers.” Zar wiggled his fingers as he said the last sentence. He noticed that Manu and Baderic had once again begun glaring at Witherclay and Jadewing as if it were their fault they had to suffer the humiliation of even glancing at a single one of those bedraggled abominations, so Zar felt the need to add “and if you have a problem with this plan, by all means say so now or forever remain biting your dots.” They remained biting their dots. The band had not traveled far from Alabast Hold when Defender stopped everyone. His device –- a tablet, he called it –- had vibrated with a new message, the second message that day.

Good Afternoon, Defenders. Intelligence has found a gathering of powerful Exos. These Exos are far stronger than those previously observed, so we implore you all to help us defend against these hordes. Further instructions shall be disseminated via the tablet, but in short, Defenders will travel to the location indicated on the map attached to this message and will join forces with the others to take down these Exos TOGETHER. Do not think you are the Alpha and try to confront one of these Exos alone. I assure you, it will not end pretty for you.

         “Seems your plan for recruiting armies will have to be placed on hiatus for the time being. As a defender, I cannot simply ignore this plea for help,” stated Defender, opening the map that conveniently knew where they were and had begun generating directions.

         “Suit yourself, Defender. We shall follow you wherever you go,” Zar reassured speaking on behalf of everyone. Once the directions had finished generating, the band began their long journey. Defender commented on how unfair it was for those two defenders from earlier to have a mode of transportation while he had to suffer leg cramps and pulled muscles, but he also commented something about Human society and Law of the Fittest or whatnot. Zar heard but did not listen, and the others did not seem to have listened either. Hard to listen when the storyteller is mumbling underneath his breath as if cursing at a dinner table to which even their grandmother was invited.

         The farther they traveled, the more defenders they were able to witness, but not many of the defenders were conversing. As if gathering for a business meeting, every defender seemed to ignore the others, and Zar asked Defender to clarify why everyone seemed as aloof as Mages, to which Baderic chuckled. His response was a confusing “Humans are both social animals and asocial machines; do not worry about it.” Ironically, as he finished saying so, a defender ran up to him and hooked his arm about Defender's neck, smacking Zar off Defender’s shoulder.

         “Ey, ready kick robot ass?” the defender shouted.

         “You dare sneak up on me and hurt my friend!” Defender retaliated by bending down, grabbing the defender’s hips, hoisting the defender over his head, and letting go, causing the defender to land on his back and have his wind blown right off of his lungs. Defender extended his arm, allowing Zar to crawl his way back up to Defender’s shoulder. “Sorry about that, Zar.”

         “I didn't know had pet,” the defender said, dusting himself off. Defender punched him in the stomach, causing the defender to crumble onto the floor.

         “They are not pets, imbecile.”

         “Right, you calling them friends. Fine, I leave you alone with friends.” The defender looked behind his shoulder at his band composed of five Jadewing and beckoned them to slowly walk past Defender.

         “Let this be a lesson to you all,” Defender said after the defender was far enough away from them, “not all Humans are as nice as myself; in fact, the majority are cretins such as him.” The rest of their journey was relatively calm with the other defenders minding their own business and those defenders that wanted to be jerks imposing themselves on other defenders rather than Defender. Suddenly, Gulbahar told everyone from atop his dragon that there were explosions off to the distance, and Zar noticed faint flashes of light in the horizon.

         “Let us hurry, perhaps we are able to gather some loot from these Exos. The stronger they are, the more precious the drops, right?” Jadewing asked. Defender grinned at the mention of precious items. They rushed head-first into the battlefield where small, brown Exos were popping out of the ground or materializing. These small Exos had crooked legs like that of a satyr’s and saw blades for hands. Some where incredibly easy to destroy whilst others were giving even Gulbahar a run for his Texi.

         There was nothing to worry about the first day, and the sun was beginning to settle behind the horizon. Zar discerned, for a split second, a smirk on the sun’s face as if telling him “you just wait until the battlefield really gets heated” but dismissed it as his own concerns being manifested in the form of delusions. Zar’s most nagging concern was the rate at which Defender was expending all his Nux bits to fight as many Exo bosses –- the Exos that were significantly stronger than the others –- as possible. Not only would they become tired of traveling through the raid area looking for said bosses and drinking some Bitters for extra oomph, but they would also get extremely hungry after fighting a boss and would either have to wait to catch their breath or have Defender provide them some Nux bits for the necessary boost in energy.

         “Alright, I set up the pavilion so we can sleep,” Defender announced, pointing at the bivouac. They had left the battlefield and all the nocturnal defenders behind and set up camp far away enough not to worry about being destroyed in their sleep by a stray Exo. “Those were a bunch of Exos, but they were not strong enough to warrant much help. Perhaps the last few, but Gulbahar was able to prove himself superior yet again.”

         “I did wonders too, you know,” Jadewing claimed, pouting at Defender.

         “Yes, yes you did. We all did wonders, whether big or small. We collected lots of loot as well.” He pointed at the bag wherein a bunch of ixstones and Texi were stored. “Alas, I am but a mere Human and need my beauty sleep.”

         The next day went by far more painstakingly. So much, in fact, that Gulbahar admitted to giving up. Defender held a meeting with everyone inside the pavilion that night and it was decided that “Cradle” was to be summoned once again. The hope was to build any of the three powerful Texeli they had seen some defenders levying. One was Jamshad, the other Neversaw, and the other Ahati-waqrat. Jamshad and his “pieces,” the term Defender had used to call Jamshad’s past Selves, were rather pessimistic Texeli who would ask very cumbersome questions such as “do we know truly if this is the right way?” or “who are you to command us, when you are without power or home?” Defender was asked the latter question by Ihsan shortly after having been built, and such a question had rendered poor Defender speechless for a while. Neversaw was a bipedal creature donning all green and brown sporting three long claws on each hand and a hood over his head. His nose was a pointed, yellow proboscis that failed to complement the otherwise green and brown appearance of a hunter. Ahati-waqrat, simply nicknamed Ahati by Defender, was a small, green dragon, but a peculiar dragon because his other pieces were not dragons at all! A Golem, Ahati was; a Golem who changed from a cyclops to the dragon his ultimate form took. No longer were formalities needed for Defender could simply look through his contacts and tell the name and “rarity” of each Texeli built -– a new update not previously present when he first donned the contacts. Zar missed the bonding time they had had, but it seemed as though this “asocial machine” would rather use the new feature of the contacts to learn everything about the new recruits than let them introduce themselves.

         Defender had built a few “uncommons” of all three but nothing to brag about. The most valuable builds had been “XP” fodder for Gulbahar. Now that he had more than nine companions, Defender was left with no choice but to start using his pavilion for its intended purpose: as a home for those that were not taken into the battlefield. The process of raiding bosses and building in hopes of acquiring Ahati, Defender’s preferred warrior, repeated itself throughout the week, but Defender kept building uncommons and rares instead of their epic forms. Gulbahar kept being buffed, and once he had “reached his max LV,” Defender decided to start leveling Jadewing who begged him to level her up next. Zar and many others were baffled at this forced evolution. Evolution was supposed to be natural, but now they were witnessing war that had made a long and beautiful wonder into a daily necessity, a daily chore.

         After about a week of continuously going to the battlefield and destroying the seemingly endless sea of Exos, Defender and his band began struggling to do anything against them. Aside from the round, brown, satyr-legged Exos, giant, six-legged, Gatling-gun-wielding Exos had begun materializing, and these Exos were obliterating everyone. Six, seven, even eight defenders had to band together to defend against these new, formidable foes, and Defender’s band in particular was being left behind. Zar could tell from Defender’s eyes that he was lusting for Ahati, but in the week of fighting he had only been able to build two rares. At this point he had more Jamshad and Neversaw rares than Ahati rares, but something was better than nothing because he had begun leveling up those rares and swapping Jadewing, Amata, and Humusi for them.

          The last day came and went having exterminated every ounce of spirit from the defenders. The Exos had stopped materializing, and the defenders had begun destroying the remaining Exos. No defender had truly believed it was the end, however. Once the last Exo had been exterminated, the defenders had remained on edge for what seemed like hours of agonizing anticipation under the scorching sun at the site that had been reduced to nothing but an Exo junkyard. Defender had gone back to his pavilion to tell everyone the good news and to summon Cradle; however, a very peculiar event took place after doing so.

          "Thank you, defender, for eliminating Exos,” Cradle boomed in his low voice and built free of charge an Artachsharta (a knight on top of a mighty steed), 1500 Texi, and a silver crown. Zar stared at Artachsharta for a while before shedding tears of joy from his non-existent eyes and saying “we finally meet again, old friend.”