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         “Are you sure that you want to take it easy today, Defender? You fought so hard to get to this Echelon,” Zar asked as the band made their way toward the Moorlands. Zar then realized what he had said. When did I start thinking of defenders as the ones working hard? When did I stop considering Texeli as the ones exerting themselves despite having to crumble repeatedly, being bathed in the blood and dots of so many of their brethren?

         “As I said, I have lost all interest after such a humiliating defeat. I could not care less. While I am in this state, we might as well deal with the Moorland Theri,” he responded. They were destroying any Exos that they happened to see as they traveled across the moors. To Zar’s annoyance and sorrow, Theri were still working with the Exos despite the weeks that had gone by. The worst part of it all was the countless random dots sprawled across the path.

         “We must gather these dots. To leave broken folk like so much litter… What evil times,” Zar murmured. His mind could not -- or rather refused to -- comprehend how Theri could have sunken to such lows. “Theri with no regard for the cycle of life. The dots of broken folk must be gathered up, or they never mend.”

         “Watch out!” Iudith shouted as she rammed into an incoming Theri with her horse. A flood of them began to charge at the band, so they began to run the opposite way. Little did they know that those pesky hellions were leading them straight to a trap wherein both Exos and Theri were waiting and lusting for blood.

         “Dammit, I have about had it with these miscreants!” shouted Defender as Ahati was blown to bits -– the third in his band to crumble.

         “We are far too outnumbered to do much, Defender. All we can do is flee,” Jinxan stated.

         “Strategic withdrawal sounds far better,” corrected Witherclay.

         “Shut up and run,” Evenglory bellowed, skewering an Exo with his spear. The band struggled but eventually broke out of the circle of Exos and Theri and rushed out of the dotbath. The tattered band found themselves in Sad Cypress but still a long way from the Brackens.

         “Where are the Theri who helped us in Louran? Gone from these lands?” inquired Zar of the stars that were becoming brighter the more dots were shed. “I was so sure they would be here, resisting the collaboration. I hope to iris that those dots we found weren’t… Hurry, the day grows dark.” Before they knew it, the band was once again surrounded by more Exos and Theri.

         “This may have been a mistake,” Defender admitted with a scowl on his face. “So frustrating! I may have lost against another defender, but I shall not lose against these-” he cut himself short.

         “Insult these pests all you want, Defender. I no longer consider them Texeli. They are no more than mere Exo pawns now.” Zar heard a scream to his right. Iudith’s horse tumbled to the floor, his legs having been destroyed. Iudith landed on her back and was soon turned into a bloody mess before crumbling.

         “These bastards do not even leave me a chance to use GLU. Cover me, Atan!” Defender rushed at the Theri who had destroyed Iudith as Atan showered them all in fire. Defender began to pick up the dots as fast as he could and ran out of the inferno covered in flames. He began to roll on the floor trying to put out the fire until Gulbahar used his skill to blow the flames out. “Thank you.”

         “You are insane, Defender,” Gulbahar stated. If their situation had not been so dire, everyone would have smiled with the warmness that they all had once had. Zar’s nonexistent ears began to ring.

         “Do you all hear that?” asked Zar, unable to cover that which did not exist.

         “Look!” Esmellion pointed out. “The Theri Resistance!” Sure enough, a sea of Theri was approaching them -– a sea of hope. Defender sighed in relief but soon turned around to address his band.

         “What are you all standing around for! War has not ended yet!” The band, with their revitalized hope, began to destroy everything in their path, allowing Defender to use his GLU. After several minutes of unrelenting destruction, Defender “strategically withdrew” alongside the resistance to their secret headquarters. Zar, being the diplomat of the band, discussed strategy and was made aware of everything that had happened. The Exos had stormed into the Moorlands and razed an entire town. The unprepared Theri were given a choice: join the Exos in their conquest of the Moorlands or crumble into dots with all the others. Zar and the others knew what the Exos were up to. The Exos had an oddly familiar modus operandi: hire half the population to kill the other half. Zar looked behind him through a window at Defender, who was being accosted by Esmellion.

         A day went by as the band tried to recuperate. Zar went out for some fresh air when he noticed a beautiful woman out in the distance. A Human. “Hold up!” Zar shouted frantically, Defender rushing to see what had gotten him so worked up, “I’ve discovered another defender in these moors! Let’s join up and see if we can’t bring these metal thralls to their senses!” Defender nodded and assembled his band once again. They did not travel far, however, before an Ahati blocked their path. Defender’s own Ahati began to growl at him, and the two of them had a growling contest. The enemy had enough and blasted Defender’s Ahati into dots. Iudith casually looked at the pile of dots, shook her head disparagingly, and tapped her staff at Ahati’s direction, instantly blasting him into dots. “Phew, I’d say the enemy’s trying to keep us away from the other band. An honor, really. If they are shooting at you, you must be… Gah!” Zar shook his metaphorical head violently, raising some of his fingers in the air. “On a second thought, if they are shooting at you, get out of there!”

         Exo after Theri after Exo after Theri after… the enemies just never stopped coming. Slowly but surely did the band approach the defender whose band had been reduced to only three Esmellion. Defender ordered his band to cover her long enough for her to bow with gratitude and escape. “She took her band east. They’ve met up with reinforcements –- the Exos are being smashed!” Sure enough, Zar’s keen observations became apparent when in the horizon sprouted countless of heads. The reinforcements were none other than the combined forces of Alabast Hold, Allodiael, and Oldtown obliterating nearly all the Exos. Their joy at such a beautiful scene was cut short when the growl of all the Exos pierced their ears. The Exos had stopped playing games. In an act of desperation, the Exos began to destroy anyone in their path, even the Theri that had once worked so loyally for them. In fact, they were the first to be wiped out.

         “Those poor deluded Theri…” Zar lamented, “at least we can save their moors! The Brackens are some of the oldest life in Texel. They are a mystery, a wonder. Their spore dents roofs yet heals hurts… The Exos must not destroy them -– let alone use the power for their fell purpose!” Gallants, Mages, Hemi, Theri, and the occasional Barbarians all joined forces against the Exos who had powered up. Despite Defender and the other defender’s attempts, the Moorlands were engulfed in fire. Everything was being destroyed around them. Those foul, metallic beasts! They cared not about victory anymore! As if they knew they were done for, the Exos had begun to aim at the moors instead of Texeli. By the time the Exos had been dealt with, the Moorlands were naught but ash. “Given enough folk, a city can be rebuilt in a day. But places such as these… Did we save the moors? Such devastation, as far as the eye can see. So I must trust the heart: despite this, something precious was won here today.” Zar did not ask what that something was. It was better not to.

         “This was far more hectic than the fight with Slangerr,” Defender noted, wiping off the sweat from his forehead. “Look, Zar, this is your doing.” Defender was pointing at the alliance. Zar could feel his metaphorical eyes begin to tear up. His plan to assemble the tribes had worked, even if momentarily. Now, the Moorland Theri would surely join them. Nothing will stand in their way. When the time was ripe, the Gallants of Alabast Hold, the Mages of Louran, the Hemi of Oldtown, and the Moorland Theri would all join forces with countless of defenders to reclaim Dragonmount. The end of the war was fast approaching. Zar could feel it in his bones. Texeli victory was right around the corner.

*                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

         “Yet another one of those dungeon events?” Caile asked, looking at the beautiful view before him. The Empyrions had one of the most beautiful views in all of Texel, but such heights were not for just any Texeli. They were exclusive to Dracomis.

         “This one is slightly different, however. Instead of three areas, there are two. One for the geniuses and one for the speedsters,” Rasce stated. “Not like it will be lasting much longer anyway. It has been going on for a week. Perhaps if you had been paying more attention to the war, you would have known.”

         “There are far more crucial responsibilities to oversee than a mere game between Texeli and Humans.”

         “Mark my words, war shall one day blast through our front door when we least expect it. Have you forgotten the destruction of the Moorlands only a week ago? And whose fault would it be that none of us are ready? All of us! All of us for being too concerned about what happens here to observe the world below.”

         Caile roared one of its cute yet fierce roars on top of Caile’s right shoulder. “He brings up a good point, Rasce. Why would the Exos ever bother to invade us? The land below is far more accessible than the Empyrions.”

         Rasce looked at the dragon, Caile, on top of Caile’s shoulder. They made eye contact, and Caile let a whisp of smoke escape his nostrils. “I hope you are right, Caile. But we Dracomis are a very formidable and powerful race. Perhaps the Exos eventually find this out and seek our overpowered dots for their infernal harvest.”

         “You just stated why such an event is barely worth our concern! We are overpowered, formidable! Even if Exos decided to strike, do you think we, the most extraordinary race of Xana for our symbiotic relations with Theri dragons, would fall? The Empyrions shall never fall!”