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Chapter Text

         The days shortly after the end of the raid were eventful for both Defender and Zar. Artachsharta, the knight who had been built by the divine totem, was none other than one of Zar’s best friends. At first the knight seemed baffled at the blue hand soaring through the air fueled by nothing but excitement but was slowly able to recognize the hand’s voice as that of the valiant seaman he had once met turns ago by a beach and whom he had gifted his spare set of armor. “By iris! Is that you, Capt’n?” he had exclaimed not knowing if he would rather know what had happened to the rest of the once proud and whole Captain or be spared the undoubtedly gruesome details.

         “I am no longer Captain Zarathustra, dear Arta. I go as Zar now.” Zar had then proceeded to explain to Arta everything he had experienced starting from the initial wave of Exos at the foot of Dragonmount. Arta had glared at Defender the moment Zar mentioned the reason for his decimation as if shouting “are you so incompetent as a defender that you were not able to protect even a single Texeli!” Despite all the tensions at the beginning, Zar reaped the benefits of having learned any Texeli built retained the memories of all its previous copies by spending hours and hours sinking deeper and deeper into the sea of nostalgia the two shared while Defender sought his first experience in the market.

         The defender-ran markets sold all sorts of Texeli cosmetics, such as Nux bits and Aja leaves, but also sold imports from Earth. Satin steel, called Tape by the defenders, was a miraculous innovation that served as a way to excite the dots within people and mold them back together –- a way to heal. GLU, however, were even more amazing. Instead of having to wait until the dots of fallen warriors finally reassembled, GLU served as a catalyst for the reformation of dots, making resurrection a virtually instantaneous process. Tape, Nux bits, and Aja leaves were sold for Texi while GLU, Nux, and Bitters could be obtained by trading either Texi or Texeli.

         Zar felt disgusted as he witnessed Defender trade all the Jamshad and Neversaw pieces for Ahati pieces without even a hint of hesitation. Oh, how the war had belittled their value! They were once indispensable warriors but now mere pawns for a Human to obtain his dream band. “I hope you are content obtaining all the six Ahati you wanted,” Zar had confronted Defender, “await patiently I shall for the day you decide to discard me like all the others.”

         Arta and the market aside, the days went by smoothly and without much struggle. Even so, they were still in a battlefield and could not simply sit on their derrières the entire day. As the band traveled toward Oldtown to resume Zar’s plan, they obliterated all the Exos that dared obscure their path. Fortunately, there were none that were exaggeratedly powerful. Gulbahar was without a doubt the strongest among them in terms of raw strength, and his skill was an intimidating tornado that sent any Exos in its way flying to their gruesome end as a pile of metal scraps, but Ahati was not to be underestimated. Even without having been fused with power fodder, Ahati’s damage output was incredible. No Exo could possibly stand a chance against Ahati’s merciless, concentrated magical attacks. Before reaching Oldtown, however, Defender’s tablet once again displayed a message from the powers that be.

Greetings once again, Defenders. The raid on the Exo spawn area was a massive success, and it seems as though the Lemon was graceful enough to gift everyone who participated a present as thank you for their troubles. The more Exos were killed, the better the presents, so next time let us all try our best for better prizes! In fact, we have another assignment, but this time we will be going against Texeli rather than Exos! If you are up for the challenge, go to the location on the map. Further instructions and details are attached.

         “What do they mean by fighting against Texeli rather than Exos?” Witherclay blurted out, staring at Defender after Defender had finished reading the message out loud. “I know you Humans have your own customs, but since when is beating up those you are meant to defend not absolutely asinine!” The animal bared its teeth and pointed its scorpion tail at the defender, losing his self-control to anger like all Hemi seem to do.

         “I shall read the attached instructions and details; perhaps they will shed the light we need right now,” Defender responded nonchalantly. There was silence for a while as he read to himself until he looked up and told everyone to begin packing up for a long trip. “This will be fun.”

         The mission was a rather interesting one this time around. Three areas there were: Flashvault, the lightning dungeon guarded by Ambarender –- a scorpion-Xana hybrid with a gargantuan lance; Blazegate, the fire dungeon guarded by Attii’kusu –- a wise dragon covered head-to-claw by purple armor; and Riverfort, the water dungeon guarded by Iudith –- a formidable dark Mage with a hooked staff and terrifying steed. Each dungeon had a magical atmosphere that excited the dots of any who shared the same sign, increasing their strength multiplicatively. The purpose of the mission was for defenders to prove their might to the three guards in hopes of being able to recruit them. The initial message had made everyone assume the defenders were to attack with malicious intent; however, the guards were the ones who had wanted to host the dungeon event. The three were skeptical of Humans, wondering whether they were heroes or curses in disguise. In fact, Alittum, the rare piece of Attii’kusu, confronted Defender by asking him a crucial question that embedded itself at the back of every Texeli mind: You are defending us from Exos, sure. But who will defend us from your ambitions?

         Defender had trouble advancing deep into Flashvault. Each dungeon had three areas each increasing in difficulty the farther one went, and Defender had not been able to advance into the third area due to a lack of lightning fighters. Same went for Blazegate, although Manu had tried his best to push them farther into the second stage than they were able to at Flashvault. Riverfort was a completely different story.

         Since only one dungeon was open each day aside from the last, seventh day, Defender had to suffer humiliation after humiliation against lightning and fire signed warriors until the third day, the first day Riverfort was opened. Gulbahar and Witherclay, the strongest and third strongest fighters on Defender’s band, had roared at the top of their lungs as each one of their dots surpassed everyone’s expectations, even their own. Amata had also begun to shake with hunger for violence as his strength was multiplied so far Defender decided to levy him for the first time in many, many moons. The first day Riverfort was opened, Defender had his band guzzle down Bitter after Bitter as they stormed the first area of the dungeon. By the end of the sixth day, the second day that Riverfort was opened, Defender had begun his raid into the third area. On the seventh day, the day all three dungeons were opened, Defender and his band had not thought twice about storming into the third area of Riverfort until they were overpowered by the guardian herself. Her Flodd technique had begun to destroy the buffed Gulbahar in only one shot, and there had sometimes been three of her showing up at once! Her AGI and WIS were incredible, far beyond anything Defender had faced before. “If only I had bought more Gulbahar instead of Ahati,” Defender had complained, but then turned to Ahati to shout “but you shall prove yourself useful in the next raid -- for your own sake.”

         At the end of every day, the guardians of each dungeon would provide pieces of themselves to the defenders they deemed most worthy. It goes without saying, then, that Defender had not acquired nearly as many Abarender and Attii’kusu as Iudith, but with the Iudith that he had acquired, he had been able to push even farther than half-way through Riverfort. The dungeons had items called Doxites and Similiths. Doxites were just like the other ixstones -- all Defender had to do was summon the divine totem and sacrifice his Doxites for stronger fighters, which he would shamelessly sacrifice to Iudith to make her stronger. Iudith, being a dark Mage, cared not for the lives of those she was consuming; Zar even dared say she enjoyed it. Similiths, however, had the very interesting property of being able to build with certainity the Texeli that dropped it. With both those items, Defender had been able to level and fuse Iudith to the point of her becoming even stronger than Gulbahar. Unfortunately, even with Iudith, Defender was not able to complete the entirety of the third area because of a lack of GLU and Tapes. Zar could tell, however, that Defender was more than ecstatic, even euphoric, after the event had ended. He had exerted everything he had on that event but was confident his sacrifices were all worth it.

         Their raiding of the dungeons was eventful, but not eventful enough to warrant any further elaboration. One must acknowledge, however, that Texeli against Texeli during the war was unheard of up to that point and Defender’s band had been very uncomfortable the first few days because of it -- aside from the Hemi who had always known a life full of beastial infighting -- but they all finished the event having adapted to this new way of life. War does wonders to the life of soldiers -- something Zar had not learned until then. However, there was one and only one moment worth elaborating, a moment Zar and Defender were to remember for a long time from how unexpected and bizarre the altercation was with him.