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         Defender kept flinching his eyes in futile attempts at reading Slangerr’s band. He may have been smiling and boasting about his chances of being victorious, but Zar knew he was sweating profusely from fear. Zar was most concerned about the three Esmellion. With no way of knowing what LV they were and if they had their skills ready, Defender could not risk destroying all his Guru by accidentally sending them against those vile demons. Even his own line of preempts would crumble in the blink of an eye because they were low-LV, especially Atan.

         “You know Defender, if you lose, you forfeit your spot in Echelon I, but what do I forfeit if I lose? I am so confident that I will render your entire band to a mere sea of dots that I shall forfeit the straw hat the iris gifted me,” declared Slangerr while walking away from his band as to avoid being collateral damage.

         “The iris gifted you the hat?” asked Defender as he did the same.

         “While visiting the fire-ridden city of Louran, I stumbled upon this singed straw hat. It had blood on it and part of it was on fire, but all I had to do was clean it up a little bit with some water and bada bing bada boom, I got myself quite the classy headwear. Do you want to know something interesting about this hat?”

         “Please, continue.”

         “I know you are desperate to start the battle, so I shall skip all the particulars. This hat is neither made of dots nor is it made of straw. It is a weird hybrid! As if a Human teleported here with a straw hat and somehow turned it into a Texeli object.” He took off the hat and began to rotate it, showcasing every angle. “Considering that I found this hat in Louran, it would not surprise me to learn that a Mage used his magic on this hat. The hat is very valuable, I’d assume, but I shall not lose. Prepare yourself, Defender.” He put the hat back on his unruly hair and cracked his knuckles.

         “Let us commence!” shouted Defender, pointing toward Slangerr’s band and shouting commands. Slangerr, too, began to shout commands. Evenglory, being used to attacking before anyone else, rushed straight at Slangerr’s Ahati while Defender’s Ahati struggled to catch up to him. Meanwhile, Gulbahar stared at the two Esmellion before him. One of the Esmellion blasted forth, raising her trident in the air and ready to gouge his eyes out. He was too focused on the first Esmellion to notice that the second Esmellion had swooped below his line of vision. The second Esmellion dug her trident so far into his dragon’s side that the blood-covered blades erupted from the other, causing the dragon to lose control and distract him. The first Esmellion smirked as she took advantage of his distraction to pierce his chest with her own trident. She rose her trident in the air and began shaking it up and down, Gulbahar wailing at the top of his lungs as he gradually crumbled into dots. The second Esmellion kicked the dragon off her trident and the two of them retreated to their own side of the battlefield.

         Evenglory, after having taken care of Slangerr’s Ahati with the help of Defender’s Ahati, rushed alongside Defender’s other preempts toward Slangerr’s third Esmellion. She saw them coming and quickly decided to throw her trident at Atan, piercing and extinguishing the poor bird in the blink of an eye. Without his fire scorching everything around him, another one of Slangerr’s Ahati casually floated toward him, taunted him for his inability to hurt a mere Earth-signed Guru, and blasted him to dots. As retaliation, Defender’s Esmellion swooped down on the Esmellion that had attacked Atan and pinned her against the ground. “Ready to feel the pain that you have inflicted upon my ally?” she asked condescendingly.

         “Do your worst,” she retorted, spitting on her copy’s face. Defender’s Esmellion smirked, wiped her face, lifted her trident, and began to puncture the pinned-down succubus’ abdomen repeatedly. Evenglory decided to ignore Esmellion’s manic stabbing and made a beeline for yet another one of Slangerr’s Ahati before he could attack them. With his spear, Evenglory impaled the dragon that almost instantaneously exploded into dots. Surprised at how quickly the Ahati had crumbled, Evenglory struggled to stop his momentum and ended up stumbling on the ground before retreating from the battlefield alongside the Esmellion who had finally stopped making a bloody pulp out of her copy.

         To Defender’s horror, his line of STG’s were left to fend themselves against Slangerr’s line of two Atan. Defender prayed for none of the Atan to have their skills ready, his wishes becoming true when he saw that Iudith had started to build up magic at the tip of her staff before any of the Atan had even started to defend themselves.

         “Take this you overcooked chicken!” Iudith shouted, blasting ice-cold water at the bird. Instead of destroying Atan, however, Ia, a mere frog, jumped and intercepted the blast, sacrificing himself so Atan could have enough time to fly away. Zar was completely baffled at the tactic, a tactic he had not yet seen, and gawked in even more horror as the two Atan began flying in circles around both Ahati and Wigo. They began flying faster and faster, causing a fire vortex a few meters high to form, and all Zar could do was watch in horror while listening to their cries. Ahati and Wigo were being burned alive, and the heat from the Atan's attack had made everyone retreat and cover their eyes. After five long seconds, the two birds flew back to their respective positions in Slangerr’s band, leaving behind nothing but dots.

         “Do you understand now, Defender, why I am the strongest defender on Texel?” Slangerr taunted. The first wave had passed. At this time, both sides were to stop battling and allow the defenders to pick up the dots of their fallen Texeli. This was also the time for defenders to whisper commands into the ears of their remaining forces. “Are you trembling yet?”

         “Me, tremble? Unheard of, Slangerr. If anything, you should be trembling!” retorted the sweating Defender. His eyes were wide open and his hands were shaking. His band was now cut in half with only five fighters remaining –- Iudith, Esmellion and Evenglory, Jinxan, and Witherclay –- while Slangerr’s band also had five fighters remaining -– two Esmellion, two Atan, and yet another pesky Ahati. Usually, Defender’s band would still have seven or so remaining, not five! He did not have the upper hand he was used to after the first wave, the first turn.

         “You ready, Defender?”

         “I have always been ready.”

         “Ready to lose!” Slangerr shouted, pointing his hand and sending Esmellion, Atan, and Ahati to face against Witherclay and Evenglory. Esmellion was first to strike, propelling her trident straight at Witherclay. Witherclay, in an attempt at preventing the trident from impaling his body, whipped his armored scorpion tail to deflect it. Unfortunately, Esmellion's speed was too great, and his tail only managed to deviate its trajectory ever so slightly, the end result being that his tail was now pinned to the ground by the left-most prong while the right-most prong managed to pin down his right arm -- a very awkward position for a centaur to be in. As Witherclay struggled to free himself as fast as possible, Evenglory aimed straight at Ahati.

         “Yes!” shouted the lunacy-ridden Hemi, “three out of three Ahati destroyed by my spear!” He once again thrust his spear into the stone dragon, exploding him into dots, except this time Evenglory was able to prevent himself from stumbling onto the ground. Atan decided to attack Witherclay, propably expecting him to crumble easily since he was already hurt, but Atan failed to completely destroy him. Instead, Atan scorched Witherclay's aquamarine armor as he began pecking at Witherclay's bare chest and face. Each peck would send chunks of his skin flying to the side. It seemed to Zar that Witherclay was going to crumble any second, but Atan stopped his rampage a mere couple pecks away from doing so. As that Atan flew toward his initial position on Slangerr's side of the battlefield, Slangerr's second Atan began to fly toward the perforated Witherclay to finish the job.

         “Quick, allow me to heal you!” Jinxan shouted, flying toward him and using her magic to recover his stamina.

         “No matter what you do, fairy, you both are doomed!” Atan screeched, lifting his wings and blasting forth an inferno that enveloped both of them. Jinxan’s wings were the first to catch fire, rendering her unable to fly. She crumbled resembling a caterpillar writhing on the ground in pain. Witherclay, on the other hand, survived slightly longer. He withstood the inferno and even took a couple steps toward Atan, but he, too, crumbled before landing a single blow.

         “You never answered me, Defender,” Slangerr shouted as his two remaining Esmellion prepared themselves for their onslaught. “Perhaps this next attack will finally open your eyes to the fact that I, Slangerr, am leagues above you!”

         “Leave them to me, Iudith,” said Defender’s Esmellion before blasting ahead of her.

         “You won’t get any closer than that, dear,” shouted one of the enemy Esmellion, giggling as she flew backward to avoid her attack.

         “Stop flying away you hag!” she shouted, flying faster and faster. As she did so, so did the other demon.

         “Hag?” Esmellion stopped giggling. “HAG! Do not dare call me a hag!” She stopped flying backward and launched herself upward, revealing the second Esmellion who had been waiting the entire time with her trident pointed forward. Defender’s Esmellion tried to move out of the way, but her momentum was too great. Her throat flew straight into the middle prong, causing the second Esmellion to burst out in laughter and dig the other end of the trident into the earth. The pierced Esmellion was left leaning against it and creating an equilateral triangle composed of her body, the trident, and the blood-stained grass. She kept struggling to lift herself out of the trident by pushing against it, but her blood-soaked hands were slipping every time she tried to do so. She began to cough up blood when the Esmellion that had been flying backward walked toward her. “What was it that you called me earlier?” she asked, leaning close to hear the gurgling noises. “I recall you calling me a hag. Now, you, too, are Esmellion, so you should know just how much I love that term. I shall repay you by ending your suffering, dear.” Instead of stabbing, however, this Esmellion decided to twirl the trident as to simulate a saw and began to dig into her back, slicing her in half about her length.

         “Control yourself, Hemi scum!” Iudith bellowed, riding her horse toward the Esmellion that had just sawed the other in half and hooking her by the neck with her curved staff. She lifted Esmellion up and began to spin the staff at an incredible speed, the centrifugal force alone crushing Esmellion's neck and keeping her trapped inside the centrifuge of destruction. After Iudith’s arms got tired, she slammed Esmellion against the ground so hard that Esmellion’s left arm bursted out of her socket and disintegrated into dots immediately thereafter.

         “Any last words, dear,” Iudith asked, pointing her staff and building up a magical blast.

         “You shall crumble at the hands of my copy anyway, Xana,” the Hemi spouted. Iudith destroyed her with a stoic expression on her face and casually rode back to her position on Defender’s side of the battlefield. Defender was sweating more than ever now. This was the first battle that he had ever been part of that lasted until the third turn.

         “Iudith and Evenglory are the only ones left, and they are going against his Atan and Esmellion. Iudith will die against Esmellion, that damned preempt. My only hope against Esmellion is Evenglory, but his AGI may not be enough. Either way, I must guess his plan of action correctly so I send Iudith against Atan and not Esmellion. If he sends Esmellion first…” Defender’s voice trailed off. Zar was surprised. This was the first time Defender had ever been cornered enough to start speaking his thoughts out loud. He began picking up the scattered dots and whispered into Evenglory’s ear “you better not disappoint me, preempt” before leaving the danger zone.

         “You know, I have always found it fascinating that no matter how far a weapon is thrown, no matter how far blood is spilt, when a Texeli dies, everything is turned to dots instantly. Their weapons, their blood, their bones… everything to dots for us to haul to safety. Sort of like Quantum Entanglement, wouldn’t you say?” Slangerr rambled, but Defender remained silent. Defender's silence gave Zar enough time to ask himself the question he had already asked himself a million times: why had he not disintegrated yet? “What are you pondering so earnestly, Defender? Just accept the fact that I have won, that I shall keep my hat, and that you shall lose your place in Echelon I.”

         “Coordinated attacks,” Defender responded.

         “Ah, yes, coordinated attacks. So you have learned, Defender; you have learned why it never mattered if your fighters were of a higher LV and SEF than mine. Copies of a fighter are able to read each other’s minds, sort of. They are able to communicate in ways that we Humans are not able to. All you need to do is have them work with each other for a couple weeks and presto! You have an unstoppable band.” Slangerr looked at his tablet. “Ah, I still have three full minutes to take care of you. It was fun, Defender, but our encounter shall end soon enough.” Slangerr smiled widely and lifted his arm. To Defender’s pleasure, Iudith effortlessly defeated Atan, but that left Evenglory to face Esmellion. Defender crossed his fingers, but Esmellion was able to dodge Evenglory’s spear and decapitate him in one fluid motion. Iudith and Esmellion stared at each other for some time.

        “That was a very brutal way for a Mage to destroy someone. Are Mages not supposed to be more classy and professional than that?” Esmellion teased as she slowly glided around Iudith. Iudith only stared, unmoving. “What? Cat’s got your tongue? Or have you accepted defeat? Perhaps you are smart enough to know that by the time you even twitch a single muscle, I would already be there, right in front of your face, my weapon piercing all the way through you.” Iudith closed her eyes and extended her arms out. Her horse bowed his head. Esmellion growled. “You are no fun.”