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To Become a Defender

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          He did not even realize he had died. He had been reading books -– that is all. How he managed to die by simply reading books did not make any sense to him. Regardless, he knew he was dead from the vast darkness that stretched to infinity before him, the bottomless void in which he was floating, the ever-expanding silence… He had no body. He was merely nowhere yet everywhere. A sentient… point… in space. Just as is the case with a Geometrical point, a zero-dimensional construction, he had no length, no width, no height, no time… nothing. He might as well be nonexistent! Dead! With no eyes to see, no nose to smell, no ears to hear, no mouth to taste, and no flesh to feel, he was nothing but a remnant of the once avid reader cooped up in a library day and night… Had the library even been life? He was not sure anymore. His only memories were of that library. Books upon books but nothing else. Who had he been… if he had been anything at all!

          A muffled ringing began to creep its way to his Tympanic Membrane, but wherefrom? He was nothing and was surrounded by nothing, yet the muffled ringing persisted. He attempted to look around -– a silly propensity that endured past his death –- but saw nothing; he was doubtful of his head having budged at all. With no frame of reference nor sense of proprioception, how could he think any more of himself than nothing, than emptiness? Despite all this, the sudden testament to his inhabiting a three-dimensional space raped his mind in the form of the doppler effect. He felt surprised yet could not feel his eyes widen, his mouth drop aghast, his fist’s grip tighten… but he felt surprised. The low rumbling devoid of genesis began to circle around him. To his left, behind him, to his right, directly in from of him… How could this be so? Was he not a point in space? Was he not nowhere? The low rumbling had manifested itself into indistinct whispers… He felt himself become excited. Whispering… words… words other than his own… He may be blind, but not deaf. He may be mute, but not dead. There was another being in this realm.

          The mumbling, although indistinct still, was high-pitched. A female. Must be a female! Either a female or a young man… he cared not. Soon, the mumbling would become comprehensible, and maybe then he’ll be enlightened as to what his current condition held in store for him. He’ll learn who he is, who he was, who he will be, who he always was and who he will always be, who he had been and who he had ought to be… but waited and waited he did with the mumbling not having become any more comprehensible than the senseless dribble of the wind caressing the windows of the library… Suddenly, the mumbling became very loud to his left and stopped abruptly. He was thrust back into the hopeless void and there he remained with his mischievous nothingness that was indubitably harassing his precarious sanity.

          Stripped from time perception, he could not gauge when he was. When… where… Gradually his mind reverted back to his initial assumption. He resided in a zero-dimensional realm in which neither space nor time existed. Nothing existed. He did not tire either, or at least he did not think he did. He could feel emotions such as fear, excitement, depression, yet he could feel neither fatigue, nor hunger, nor thirst… Had he slept? If so, he had not dreamt. To his conscious delight, the feminine mumbling started. He begged for the mumbling to manifest itself, to not forsake him as it had done so before, and slowly his wishes came to fruition.

          “Dead… murdered… lucky… happy… Exo…” Exo. His mind began racing. Exo? Where and when had he heard that term before? A deep, oozing rift fractured his mind as he struggled to recall. Exo… “It’s been… not very far… I told them…” Them! There are more than just her. Fascinating. “Apparently, the War Games finished… survived, obviously… you… Tier C, right?” War Games? Tier C? Were they amidst a battle? And Tier C, a term from his distant past. A past he did not remember but somehow could feel was a time before the library. Who was he? “To be honest, I was certain I would die… my friends… Human protected by Texeli –- ironic, is it not?” The term Texeli was one he was familiar with from the books he remembered reading, but nothing else. Human?

          “I myself am a Human, as you are, but even then… I believe we are both just as surprised by the turn of events. Imagine! All the poor Tier C who had no say in the matter. No fault of theirs was it that the iris teleported them hither, amidst the burning dots and screaming children! Yet they had to reap that which they did not sow. A tale that brings tears to my eyes and one that is so fresh in my mind. I never killed anyone, believe it or not. Whether they be Tier C or Tier A, I cared not. I hid. Surely my lackluster band could have beaten a good majority of them -– they are not that smart, after all -– but I did not want to confront anyone. Plus, I do not want anything to kill anything regardless of whether they are able to regenerate or not. I wonder how you reacted when you first saw a Texeli build itself up from its remnants. I was horrified. I was mourning their deaths when all of a sudden, their what I once thought as corpses began to shake violently with a blinding glow. I thought I was about to die!”

          There was silence for a while, and he was afraid that his ears had gone dormant again, but if he paid close attention, he could hear the rustling of leaves, the shifting of steps on loose rocks, and… “You know, I am glad I met you. Not only was I able to save someone from death, but I now have… well… enough about that. Just know I am happy. Even if you cannot speak, I can at least pretend you are listening to me, right? As long as you do not start, well, you know… decaying and whatnot… everything will be fine! I feed you, groom you, nurture you… like my own… my own…” Silence again, but he found refuge in the sounds of the forest. He was no longer in the realm of nothingness. He was in… Texel.

          “Pssst, Human, are you awake?” a voice asked. He no longer heard the noises of the forest. Had his consciousness blinked? How long has it been? He was distraught but content, content in the idea that he was asking when without the doubt that time even existed. The voice sighed. The voice sounded masculine. “There are two friends of mine that have been… nauseated… ever since they laid eyes on you. Do not fret! They are not nauseated because they hate you or anything; quite the contrary. They care too much about you. Your condition has really riled them up to the point of not wanting to approach you. They begin balling their eyes out the moment they get too close to you. Anyway, I brought them by force here tonight. They have something to say to you and I will make sure they say it regardless of whether or not you are even listening.”

          There were whimpering noises. “How pitiful, right?” another unfamiliar voice said. “I bet you never would have thought that we were this weak… such crybabies… yet here stand two whimpering old men at the sight of their… mangled…” the voice devolved into sobbing.

          “Your last memory of us was that of two heroic, fearless warriors battling an uphill battle, sacrificing themselves so their alien friend could escape, becoming traitors and pariah amongst traitors and pariah in the name of comradery! And you… our last memory of you was that of a youngling, but a very strong and determined one. One that would bring greatness to Texel! A coward who, with the right training, would become the greatest warrior the world had ever seen! Now, look at you… so decrepit and…” More sobbing ensued.

          “What happened to you, NXT?” NXT’s heart stopped, or so he thought. He was still floating in nothingness, but he felt as though his heart had stopped –- a feeling he could not articulate well even in his thoughts. NXT, NXT, NXT! He was NXT! That was him! His name, his identity, his Self! He remembered! NXT. He wanted to open his mouth, to console them, to tell them that he was still there, to tell them that he was fine and well, that his vision of them had not changed and that he still thought of them the same, but… but… nothing. He then remembered what he had heard. At the sight of their mangled… Mangled. He was mangled. His body was… He wanted to puke. What had happened to him after the library! Why did they say he was mangled! How did he look like? Was the reason why he could feel nothing that his entire body had vanished leaving nothing but a bodyless head and its spinal cord? Pull yourself together, NXT. Be more rational. His heart was racing; he knew it despite not feeling a heartbeat. He could still not feel anything.

          “There, there. It’s all better now. No need to cry,” the female voice said. His consciousness must have blinked again. Her voice became dreamy as she began to sing a lullaby. By the way the pitch of her voice was changing, NXT could deduce that either she was walking back and forth or, most likely, he was being rocked back and forth… like a baby. He pictured himself, the grown man he visualized reading books in the library, naked and cradled by a mysterious woman. The woman had long, brunette hair waving down to her hips and skinny arms that he could not comprehend how were sustaining his weight. Her face was long with bags under her eyes and sunken cheeks, yet her smile radiated warmth and love. She was beautiful. Then the word mangled raced across his mind and the man who was being rocked back and forth began to shrivel. His left arm twisted uncontrollably and made awful cracking noises. Each crack echoed loud enough to drown the lullaby as the man’s muscles slowly deflated, leaving nothing but bones. His ribs began to jut out, his face nothing more than a skull with blood-shot eyeballs, his legs nothing more than sticks. Random gashes slashed across the man’s chest, neck, face, and legs, bathing the woman, who did not stop rocking the man nor singing for a second, in bright-crimson blood. The man’s jaw unhinged and…

          “Did you enjoy the lullaby? My mom taught it to me and I would always sing it to my… There is something I have been meaning to take off my chest but for which I have failed to gather enough courage until now.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “I had a son. A sweet boy. A very gifted child, mind you. So, so gifted. He was merely three years old when my husband and I realized that he was a mutation. He had broken from the curse bestowed upon us by the governments of the world. You are Human; you should know of what I am speaking… Well, my husband and I were both Tier B, yet our son was showing signs of being Tier A. Could you believe that? Probably not, since such a mutation is extremely rare. Even in a planet with so many billions of people, such a mutation was deemed so rare it could not possibly happen more than a couple times every three generations! Government people are smart, after all, and they would not have mass-produced the IQ-altering weapon if they had not been certain that the weapon would have proved to be both efficient and flawless. Yet my lovely son was one in who knows how many hundreds of billion! That is why… One day, my husband and I were seating on the sofa watching our little miracle play with his Rubik’s cubes when we heard a knock on the door. They were policemen. One was very muscular and had a deep, intimidating voice but the other was a mere child no older than thirteen! Could you believe that? The police force hiring a pre-pubescent child? Well believe me, I saw it with my own eyes! And don’t you underestimate the ruthlessness of policemen regardless of their age, no siree. The two of them stormed into my house and stared at my little angel. The tall, muscular men stared stoically while the other had one of the most horrendous faces I had ever seen! His eyes were wide, his grin was maniacal, and his hands were groping the air. He seemed like he was mere seconds from foaming at the mouth. My husband tried to stop them, he truly did, but the muscular man trapped him in a hold wherefrom no amount of violent shaking could free him. I am but a weak Human, you know. Not once did I think of lifting the weights wherewith my husband worked out daily, so I could only stare as… as that young policeman… I have been using you as a substitute for several days now, you know. Over half a week. You are my angel, my little Walt.”

          “Oh, my iris! Mike, look!” a strange voice shouted. Mike… Moments later, NXT heard Mike scream something about saving another defender. NXT did not understand what she meant by defender, but soon her voice trailed off as he heard countless of footsteps frantically running left and right. A flood of distinct voices overwhelmed his senses. They were all shouting about an Exo stronger than any they had seen before, about the other defender that would surely die if Mike did not save him, but then their screams rose to blood-curdling, ear-splitting levels as they began bellowing about how Mike’s head had been slapped clean off her shoulders. NXT’s blood was drained from his body, he just knew it had. A terrible, foreboding sensation flooded the vast, empty landscape before him. Mike had been decapitated trying to save someone, and she died shortly after holding what she had been deceiving herself into thinking was her lost child. But what of him? What of NXT? What would happen to the man that had served as Walt’s substitute? What would happen to the man who had remained asleep for days on end with no concrete recollections of who he was? What would happen to the man entirely vulnerable to everything? He tried in vain to shake his body, the body that must exist yet he could not see, could not feel. He tried to scream, he tried to do anything, but nothing would happen. Absolutely nothing. Any second now, the Exo, whatever it was, would rush at his impuissant corpse and tear it to shreds, would mangle it even more than it was already. Was that why he was mangled? Was that why he was floating in an empty void? Was that why he had partial amnesia? Had he been attacked by an Exo? Was that the same Exo? Had he been tracked down? Was the monster there to finish the job?

          “We will not abandon you, NXT” one of the voices whispered in his ear.

          “Damn right, NXT. We will not abandon you at a time like this. We will protect you once again, like we did back in Oldtown.”