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Absence

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         Defender was pacing back-and-forth, counting the minutes before the entrance to Riverfort opened; Gulbahar, the ace of the team, was fighting the air with his sword as his dragon slept; and Witherclay was chatting with Amata and Aldwi -- Iudith's rare piece -- most likely pumping each other up for battle. Zar was staring at the three of them converse quizzically, contemplating the idea of a Xana, Theri, and Hemi having a friendly discussion. They had not bothered with Blazegate the day prior and instead had slept the majority of the day in preparation for their second and third raids into Riverfort, which were to be one day after the next.

         “Someone look happy today,” a taunting voice sliced its way to Zar’s metaphorical ears, snapping him back to reality. Defender perked up not having expected another defender to show up. The defender was none other than the one who had ambushed Defender and had knocked Zar off Defender's shoulder shortly before the raid had started. The defender's eyes flinched, a sure sign that he was reading information about Defender using his contacts that had been updated to not only reveal information about Texeli but also about defenders. His laughter boomed as he exaggeratedly hunched over, clutched his stomach, and bawled his eyes out. “A lame name! Are you dumb and not creative?”

         Defender frowned, and Zar noticed that the band had ceased all chatter and movement and was staring intently at the two defenders. Defender twitched his own pupils and read the defender’s name. “Yours is no better. The name is naught but gibberish with no meaning!” he retorted. Defender shifted his focus to the defender’s band composed of nine purple gorgons. “Last time I saw you, you also had a band full of-”

         “Slaves,” the defender interrupted, smirking widely. “And you not comprehend the meaning of my name because it only for smart people.”

         “Big talk for some low-level pervert.”

         “I been aching for a fight with a Human with my bare hands. Seeing Texeli go up against Exos and even themselves turned me on.” The defender told his band to get out of his way and got into his fighting stance.

         “Street brawls are for Tier C scum. Then again, I expected no less from trash like you, having been overcome by sexual frustration because all you have are those horrendous witches as potential mates.” The defender stopped smiling and rushed toward Defender at lightning speed, sweeping Defender off of his feet and, in the split second that Defender was hovering parallel to the ground, slamming down on Defender’s stomach with both his fists. Defender quickly jumped to his feet and shifted backward to increase the distance between himself and the wild animal before him. Zar and the others had risen to their feet but were reprimanded by Defender for doing so. “This is a fight between Humans. Texeli need not interfere, understood?”

         “I know you fight, Defender. You body slammed me and got me heated for fight. Don't try acting high and mighty just because you a Tier B. Fight me!”

         “Fine, you got me. I am a B4 -- the lowest of all Tier B. As such, I may or may not have been secretly training for combat recreationally.” Smirking, Defender got into his own fighting stance.

         “Your turn strike first, piece of shit.” Zar saw Defender flinch upon hearing the curse -– a moment of weakness the defender took advantage of by once again launching at him. The two of them exchanged punches, but for every punch Defender was able to land the defender would land three. “What going on, bitch? Where all your arrogance?” Even Zar flinched at the obscenity. To think that some Humans were capable of such lows, lows to rival even those of Hemi! The defender punched Defender right in the center of his chest, knocking him back far enough for the defender to jump up in the air and spin 360 degrees, landing a round-house kick on Defender’s temple. Defender immediately faceplanted on the ground utterly exhausted. “Up, Mr. B4, or I shove entire arm up your-” 

         The Humans had been too busy to notice, but Zar stared at another couple of Humans riding on the two-wheeled contraption he had seen back at Alabast Hold. The one riding at the rear extended her arm and heel-palmed the defender straight in the forehead with all the momentum from the contraption behind it. The defender was sent flying –- literally soaring through the air an appalling distance –- before bouncing on the ground a few times and rolling to a stop. Zar could not possibly expect the Human to have survived such a strong and direct hit to the forehead, but when the one who had pummeled him got off the contraption and stepped on both his arms to pin him down, the defender began to jerk around in futile attempts to shake her off. Zar stared in horror as she forcefully removed the contacts from the defender's eyes, his wails seemingly vibrating even the ground -– and who could blame him when she had long nails and blood dripping from them by the time she finished? She rose to her feet and shackled his right arm to the back of the contraption, his wails having lessened to whimpers. She confiscated his tablet and smashed it against her knee.

         “We shall not, under any circumstances, tolerate defenders fighting each other during a war,” she bellowed loud enough for Defender to hear. “Defender, consider this your first warning. A second warning is all that is needed for your status as a defender to be revoked. We cannot have soldiers killing each other instead of doing their jobs. DO YOU UNDERSTAND!” Defender painstakingly rose to his feet and shouted a feeble yes before dropping down to his knees.

         “Are we done here?” the second defender asked over his shoulder.

         “Yes. Qavl, having initiated the fight, has been revoked of his status as a defender without any warning. He shall be punished accordingly.” She got on the contraption and the two of them rode away, dragging the defenseless Qavl behind them. Qavl’s band dispersed every which way, excited about finally being free.

         “Need a hand?” Zar asked Defender, giving him a Bitter. “We only have a couple minutes left before the dungeon opens; we should start preparing ourselves mentally.”

         Defender stayed quiet as he chugged down the Bitter and stared at the spot on the horizon where the three had disappeared. “I think that this settles it, Zar,” said Defender as he rose to his feet with a tone that reminded Zar of a man accepting a gruesome fate, “there most definitely is some sort of defender society watching our every move.”