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         “We should go now, Defender,” Zar advised after he saw that the band was beginning to pant rather heavily. “We should take a rest and let the other defenders clean up the rubble.” The band, after having convinced the stubborn and sobbing King that an Alliance would be the best course of action, had rushed to the city and begun destroying the Exos that had broken through the fortified barrier. The Exos had barged alongside Theri, ridding Zar of his doubts but with the conclusion he had been dreading the entire time. “By the iris, we got our answers. I almost wish we’d stayed in the dark. These Theri must have been collaborating with the Exos all along…” he had said, surprised at first but growing more infuriated by the second. In a burst of anger, Zar had bellowed “you’d betray fellow Texeli to these tinpots? Have you no honor? Traitors!” Zar had truly been the most talkative he had been yet, stating his thoughts out loud instead of containing them inside his metaphorical head. “I have a powerful anger in every dot of this reduced body… Most of these Theri are allied with the Exos, but a few fight against them. Odd business, this. The Theri aren’t what you’d call sociable folk, you know… Texel shifts like sand these days, after an eternity of the same…”

         “Fine. Let us retreat. I would much rather continue the War Games anyway,” Defender ordered, leading his band through Thyrsa Way, a territory that, like the sands of the desert, was riddled with the spells of Mages. There were Theri lurking about being ignored by the Exos that would charge directly at Defender’s band.

         “What is it that the Moorland Theri bought their safety with –- and sold us for?” wondered Zar, his questions going unanswered and ignored by the world. Defender, however, was having fun. His wishes of continuing the War Games had been heard. More and more ixstones were poured into his bottomless pouch as he defeated Tier B. As for Tier C, he would simply get hit a couple times before landing a stunning blow to the solar plexus and tossing them into the lethal quicksand from which no one can escape. Unfortunately, they did not get far. Defender refused to keep spending his Bitters -– he had already spent far too many getting to Oldtown and crossing the desert -– and set up his pavilion hidden from sight. By then, nearly a week had passed since the beginning of the War Games, and the band was truly exhausted. That night, the tablet rung.

Amazing, you all! The number of corpses we had to scrape off the concrete, dig out of the ground, fish out of the water, and take down from the trees was truly unfathomable! Thank you all for your continued support, but it is time to get back to the mission at hand: taking down the Exo forces. The rule of Defender-infighting shall start to be enforced as of the moment this message is sent to everyone, so use any excess stamina and adrenaline you may have on Exos, NOT Defenders. We have attached to this message images of some corpses we deemed either oddly dismembered or creatively discarded for those who care for such things. Oh, and make sure you collect your thank you prizes from the Lemon.

         “Have all the Tier C been dealt with, then?” Iudith asked over Defender’s shoulder, startling him -– the first time he had ever been noticeably startled. Iudith smirked.

         “This probably means that all the Tier A running this show are satisfied with our housekeeping and have deemed any remaining Tier C competent enough at surviving to be valuable assets toward the war effort. If there are any Tier C remaining, I highly doubt they are anything other than C1,” he replied.

         “Do you think any of the defenders that attacked us were Tier A?” Witherclay asked.

         “Not at all. Just as how there is a noticeable difference between the speech patterns of Tier C and B, there is a noticeable difference between the speech patterns of Tier B and A. Not even those pesky, motorcycle-riding defenders are Tier A material. My best bet is that all Tier A, which are definitely the minority, have set up headquarters somewhere and have hired Tier B to take care of anything related to Public Relations, such as the patrolling and message-sending.”

         Zar was content with the progress that was made toward the Alliance and was okay with Defender continuing the journey at his own pace. No Bitters, no Nux, and lots of market-haggling. Zar usually spent his days with Arta updating him on how the war was going since he did not have the opportunity to witness it himself; Defender had deemed him unworthy of being levied and kept him stored inside his bottomless bag, which Arta said was not nearly as uncomfortable as it sounded. Human technology was fascinating, allowing anything and anyone inside the pavilion to remain there despite it shrinking down and fitting inside the pouch. Unsurprisingly, before the band arrived at the Moorlands, the tablet sang its ominous chant once again.

Defenders! It is time to beat up some Texeli again! That is right, we have been challenged by yet another three Texeli. Come one, come all, to the dungeons located on the attached map!

         “Such a horrendous manner in which to announce a challenge,” Evenglory responded, the newest addition to the team.

         “Uh… consider it Human’s crude humor, so do not take it so harshly,” Defender retorted.

         “You all may be more conceited than Mages,” bantered Jadewing smugly.

         “Very funny, bug,” responded Iudith.

         “Alright, that’s enough; none of you can handle a joke very well, so we should stop escalating this needless squabble,” interjected Gulbahar.

         “Well look at you, Gallant, taking charge,” mocked Ahati.

         “Leave the fighting between Texeli for the dungeons, bunch of brats,” Witherclay spouted. Defender let the squabble continue until it reached dangerous levels of hostility, the final push being Gulbahar’s dragon letting out a roar at Iudith, who had charged a spell that hit Jadewing square in the face after Gulbahar dodged it by jumping to the side and crashing into Witherclay, whose scorpion tail shot out instinctively and stung Ahati’s own tail.

         The dungeons this time around were at the Theri, Hemi, and Xana Strongholds. As before, each dungeon, in this case stronghold, had a dot-exciting atmosphere that would make Theri stronger when invading the Theri Stronghold, Hemi stronger when invading the Hemi Stronghold, and Xana stronger when invading the Xana Stronghold. Only one stronghold was open a day except for the last day when all three were open, just as before. Also just as before, the Texeli in the strongholds dropped Doxites and Similiths, which Defender used to get the three new warriors.

         The new Theri was a blue-armored and reserved scorpion; then again, being introverted seemed to be a staple of all Theri except those from the Moorlands. She was said to be more willing to fuse than become friends with others. Needless to say, she was a formidable foe in the stronghold. Ahati, however, was a Theri, and a scary one at that. Although Defender was not able to travel as far as he did in Riverfort, he sure gave those Theri a run for their Texi.

         The new Hemi was a succubus. A very dazzling succubus. Zar dared say one to challenge even Jadewing. Esmellion was her name, but just as Jadewing, she had one nasty, smug attitude. She even dared say “a few more journeys and I may be commanding you, Defender,” leaving Defender speechless but at the same time swooning. She was the one Defender fought for the most, paving his way through all the Hemi. She was a preempt, just like Evenglory, so there was a point in which no one, not even Witherclay, could stand up against her. Defender had to resort to haggling in the market just to acquire some more Evenglory, whose price had inevitably rose.

         The new Xana was a Mage cloaked in black and gold and riding a black steed. He, just like Iudith, would send concentrated magic hurling at his enemies. Although Esmellion was the one whom Defender had lusted for the most, this Xana, Theodi, was one Defender was able to acquire a lot of pieces for because of Iudith and Gulbahar destroying everything in their wake. That is, until the thunder-signed enemies became too powerful for those two poor, water-signed Xana to do much of anything against. Theodi liked to speak in riddles and poems, one of his famous ones being:

The Exos have an eye in the sky

Defenders say ‘Do or die

The epic grows common as time goes by

         Defender must not have been a fan of poetry because he promptly sold Theodi for Esmellion. Perhaps Esmellion was correct in claiming that she would be commanding Defender after only a few missions together. Instead of her prowess, however, it would be her looks that would eventually bring Defender to his knees. After the event and after Defender’s last summoning of the divine totem, Defender sat very comfortably as he drank a Bitter.

         “Need company?” Esmellion asked as she glided her way toward Defender, Jadewing looking in disgust from afar.

         “I–um... I do not see why not,” responded Defender awkwardly. She sat beside him and coiled her tail around Defender’s left arm.

         “Well aren’t you quite the daring one,” Zar teased. “Have mercy on this poor fool! His heart may explode any second.”

         “Yours would be too if you had one!” Defender barked.

         “Whoa, no need to become so defensive, Defender. At ease, for I would not dream of stealing her away from you.”

         “No one may steal me away from anyone. If anything, I am the one to do the stealing,” Esmellion hissed with a soothing voice.

         “Defender, whenever you are done playing with your new lady-friend over there, you may want to check out what your tablet has in store for you this time,” Gulbahar announced as he cleaned his sword.

         “Ah, your tablet can wait. Stay with me a little longer,” the very devious and manipulating monster whispered into Defender’s ears.

         “Yeah, I–No! I shall check my tablet right now,” the flustered Defender shouted a little too loudly as he rose to his feet and hurried over to his tablet. He read the message quickly, but his expression, in the blink of an eye, changed to that of a Gallant turned to stone by the sands of the desert right as he found out a Hemi stole his Nux.

         “Defender?” Esmellion asked, her tone significantly changing from her usual mocking one to that of genuine concern. Defender remained silent.

         “Alright, Defender, you’re spooking even my fearless dots,” Zar stated in a shaky voice. He crawled his way up Defender’s leg and rested on his shoulder to read the message, which seemed to be just as frozen on the screen as Defender was in the middle of the pavilion. Zar let out an embarrassingly high-pitched whimper as he read the message, but before he was able to announce what he had just read, an extremely loud, booming noise was heard outside.

         “What is going on, Zar?” Iudith asked, for the first time allowing her countenance to reflect her fear.

         “Exos, they are… they are raining down on Texel.”