“WAKE UP!” Zar bellowed as he slapped Defender across the face with his entire body. “You have never frozen up like this before, and now is definitely not the time!” Defender slowly lifted his hand to massage his face as he stared out the pavilion. There was a massive aircraft floating above Texel, and the booming noise they had heard earlier had been an Exo that had jumped from it and had landed only a few meters away. Fortunately, a defender was trying to destroy him, keeping him away from Defender’s distraught band.
“I apologize,” Defender said with a monotone voice. “I must calm myself before continuing.”
“And how long shall that take, Defender? How many Texeli shall crumble? Oh, wait, you probably don’t care,” a frustrated Witherclay barked. Defender gripped his fists and stared at Witherclay, making him cower slightly.
“Do not dare say that again.” He selected the nine warriors, grabbed his pouch, and stuffed the pavilion inside it. Defender ran toward the Exo in hopes of helping the defender finish him off. Her band had been reduced to only two fighters -- Iudith and Evenglory -- desperately struggling to avoid being hit. Evenglory was missing his iconic spear while Iudith was grieving the loss of her horse. The defender heard footsteps behind her and turned around, her face lighting up but her eyes twitching wildly.
“Defender, I implore you, aid me in this fierce combat!” she shouted. The Exo, a far bulkier version of the bipedal horse Defender had faced back at Dragonmount, turned his head toward Defender and neighed loudly. He began to sprint toward them, completely ignoring Iudith and Evenglory. Exos had never done that before! Not only had he been made stronger, but smarter as well. The horse swung his arm at the defender, who was still looking behind her at Defender, right on the side of her head, decapitating her and sending her head shooting to the side, exploding the moment it made contact with a nearby tree and causing the tree to slowly tumble to its side. The Iudith who had been mourning for her horse stared at her defender’s corpse and began gripping the sides of her head, and Defender’s own Iudith could not bear to witness her copy go through such mental turmoil as if she was able to feel her sorrow second-hand. Zar could not even begin to imagine how surreal such an experience must be -- seeing your own self crumble into a whimpering mess on the ground.
“Alright!” Defender shouted, pointing his finger at the Exo, “Iudith, avenge your doppelganger! Ahati and Esmellion, do not show mercy! We must kill this rabid monster before it’s too late!” Iudith shook her head and pointed her staff at the horse, her own steed running even faster than it had been. Ahati and Esmellion struggled to keep up but also began to power up their skills. All three of them began bombarding the Exo, but the Exo seemed to ignore them too. This new type of Exo was aiming straight at Defender and ignoring the warriors! They know, they know that defenders are the true brains behind everything, that without defenders there would be no opposition.
“Gulbahar, Iudith, Evenglory!” Defender shouted, beginning to sweat from how close the Exo was from reaching and decapitating him. Gulbahar slashed at the Exo's legs while Evenglory aimed at his face, but the Exo dismissed them with a simple slash of his arm that inflamed all of them. The Exo lifted his arms to bring them down on top of Defender while Defender stared directly into the Exo’s eyes with his back straight, his hands in his pocket, and his brows furrowed. “Save yourself, Zar,” he whispered in a melancholic tone.
Zar smirked. “Without a chance, Defender. I would not be able to survive a second either way, so I’d rather attempt to face destruction as proudly as you.” Defender turned his head to look at Zar.
“You are one strong Texeli, do you know that?”
“The most renown in all of Texel, I am.”
“NEVER!” Shouted Jadewing as she blasted the Exo back. The Exo was nearing the end of his rope.
“Well done, Jadewing! I shall take it from here,” Gulbahar reassured as his skill was finally ready. Gulbahar’s tornado ripped the Exo’s arms from its sockets, disarming the Exo of his blades for good. Right after, Iudith and Ahati destroyed a leg each, leaving only the Exo’s torso behind. The Exo neighed a final time before his entire body crumbled into… into DOTS!
“Defender, what is going on?” Zar asked, dumbfounded. “They are stronger, smarter, more blood-thirsty, and now made of dots! There are no longer metal remains, only dots, dots that look just like ours…”
“No, they are not like yours,” Defender noted.
“Take a look; they are disappearing.” Sure enough, the Exo’s dots, instead of bonding together like the dots of Texeli, began to disintegrate, turning into dust that assimilated into the ground, air, and trees. Zar glanced over to where the other defender had been murdered, but he did not see anything there, just the defender’s blood. Her corpse, the dots of her destroyed warriors, and the two that had survived until the end had all disappeared. He crawled his way over to investigate and discerned the most vexing footprints he had ever seen in his life.
“Those are called tire marks,” Defender explained when he arrived. “A motorcycle’s footprints.”
“How come the Exo crumbled into pseudo-dots?” inquired Ahati.
“Perhaps that answers your question, dear Ahati,” Iudith responded, pointing her staff at the flying fortress. There were tentacles sprouting from it and worming their way down. The tentacles’ claws were grabbing and pulling in Texeli.
“By iris! The Exo army has been abducting our people!” Gulbahar wailed.
“They must have found a way to harness the power of our dots, creating beasts from them,” Ahati elaborated.
“Let us pray that they do not perfect such a vile practice,” stated Iudith.
“There is a second one,” noted Jadewing. The second one was farther west. It also had tentacles worming themselves down, but instead of abducting Texeli, they were bringing down more Exos.
“Two tentacled ships, out in the hills. While one reaps, the other sows,” recited Defender from the message in the tablet. “We must hurry and join a mob. It has become apparent that the message was correct. No mere raid will suffice against these upgraded abominations.” After some Tapes and lots of Bitters, the band finally joined forces with a mob. The mobs were organized teams that would attack Exos together. There would always be another mob, however, that would try to steal the Exos from them. The powers that be wanted to foster competition, and thus more killing, by promising the mob with the most damage inflicted on Exos prizes ranging from Aja leaves to fighters.
The new Texeli joining the war effort were of all shapes and sizes. There were significantly more Texeli coming out of the shadows than in any other event as if they all knew these Exos were going to require all the help possible to detain. Satyrs, Warriors on steeds, Mages, Gallants, Barbarians, Theri, Hemi, you name it. There were too many to keep track of. After every day, the mob would disband and all the defenders would go join another in hopes of teaming up alongside the strongest. Zar was annoyed at first that defenders were making a game out of the war, but he quickly realized that he should not have expected any less from the species that had called killing their own brothers and sisters because they were mentally incompetent righteous cleansing and a competition.
Just as in the previous one, this raid had started off relatively mild -- as mild as being targeted by relentless Exos could be -- before becoming absolute anguish the second half. As the message from the tablet had said, these Exos were so powerful that Tier A defenders had finally revealed themselves and had begun battling against them with unbelievably powerful bands. They had somehow built the new fighters right off the Bitter, and since the new fighters were extremely powerful, whoever was in the mob with the most Tier A could rest assured that their mob would be victorious. The Tier A, however, were sneaky. If their mob began to slack off because they felt too confident in their victory and did not feel like destroying all the Exo bosses they could, then the Tier A would let the Tier A of the other mob catch up to them. There was constant competition, constant violence, constant extermination, and constant expenditure of Nux, Nux bits, Aja leaves, and Bitters. This “mob raid” was by far the deadliest and most hectic moment of the war thus far.
“Curses!” Defender shouted as he leaped to the side after an Exo had tried to punch him. A week had gone by since the beginning of the raid, yet the flying fortresses were still floating menacingly above them, dropping off more enemies while also abducting more Texeli. Defender had been rather unlucky with the mobs he had chosen to join. Out of the five mobs he had been part of, only one had been victorious and had received the superior prices. Regardless, he had been destroying a significant amount of Exos and had been leeching from Tier A by clambering for the loot that fell from their destruction. Iudith dealt the finishing blow on the Exo and apologized to Defender for not having done so sooner with a smile. Defender smirked in return. “These new-age Exos are one massive pain,” he stated as he blocked the sun with his hand to look at the flying ships. “But more annoying are those bastards.”
“We will just have to destroy all the Exos they toss at us until they run out,” concluded Witherclay.
“Or perhaps there is a way for us to enter the ships and destroy them from the inside.”
“Are you mad?” shouted Jinxan; Defender had finally been able to evolve Jadewing.
“I would rather think I am not, yet I am aware of how absurd such an idea is. I am certain that if it were possible, Tier A would have done so by now.”
“Then let us focus on the task before us, Defender, and halt our fruitless pondering,” stated Thiamarkos, a newly-joined, fire-signed Xana Champion Defender was nearly able to evolve to Zyraxes.
“Oh my, it seems the sky is falling,” said Iudith, looking up. Defender turned around and saw that one of the ships’ sides had exploded, causing the entire ship to veer into the adjacent ship. Both of them began to slowly spiral their way down to the ground and cause an extraordinary explosion. The ground shook violently for a bit shortly after, and the Exos that had not been destroyed yet were finished off by the Tier A who had not bothered to look at all. “Is that what you wanted?”
Defender stared transfixed by what had just happened. He slowly held up his pouch. “I have no idea what just happened, but I guess this means it is time to collect our last ixstones and call it a day.” There was disappointment in his eyes, as if resenting his incompetence. As if thinking why do I even try when I am but a mere B4.