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To Become a Defender

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          The severity of his situation began to scuttle its devious path, scaling his spine and nape to eventually penetrate his vulnerable cranium. As fear commenced its despicable curse upon his composure, Master narrowed his eyes and analyzed his enemies. Most notable were the three golden angels on the front row, smirking at him as if they had already triumphed. Their confidence left a sour taste in Master’s mouth as he realized their abilities were all Preempt All. He swiftly read the ability’s elucidation, yet as incredible as it may be, Master believed that his mind, his heart, had finished assessing the description prior to his own eyes, for not even half-way through the description had his eyes traversed when a dreadful blanket of despair was forced upon him, suffocating him, asphyxiating him.

          “Dear child, we do not have all day,” Taurus insisted in her characteristically fierce voice betraying her otherwise calm and collected person. Master glared back at her with an irritated expression, and ever so slightly did her eyes widen as if in surprise. Master bothered not with said peculiarity and instead focused on Eveline’s band. To his exasperation, all of Eveline’s three Preempt All fighters, composed of the phoenixes Ataneedusu and Dilgan, were not “maxed out” but instead either 2/5 or 3/5. He was able to observe their statistics, yet the captivating Audelinea triplets condescendingly fluttering before him were censored so Master could not learn whether they were maxed nor what their levels were. To make matters worse, Master felt devastated by the sight of Taurus’ own Ataneedusu. Instead of having multiple Ataneedusu, she only sported that one, instilling on Master the dread of the Ataneedusu possibly being completely maxed out. Master rebuked the contacts for not revealing the enemy’s data but reminded himself that such a dire time could not accommodate reprimands.

          “Hey, Master, are you alright?” asked Eveline, momentarily distracting Master from his pondering. Master swiftly and firmly nodded his head, heaved the deepest of breaths, and analyzed the battlefield for an instant longer as he exhaled. Taurus taunted him with Audelinea triplets and Ataneedusu –- a total of four Texeli with the Preempt All skill. Three of her remaining warriors were yet another group of triplets. According to the nugatory contacts so graciously lent to him by none other than Eveline himself, those three warriors were dubbed Wigo. As his exhale neared completion, Master brainstormed possible strategies wherewith to counter her Ataneedusu. Perhaps Eveline’s Zalmoxis and two Iaazipaa, three individuals who possessed extraordinary defensive capabilities, could withstand the undoubtedly formidable storm that would inevitably befall his comrades promptly. Even if the three could, there was no guarantee as to whom Taurus was planning on mobilizing first. Should he risk sacrificing Zalmoxis and the two Iaazipaa or should he risk sending forth the Ataneedusu and Dilgan trio in hopes of striking her forces first? No answer revealed itself by the time his exhale depleted.

          “No more stalling. Commence.” Taurus had no need of consulting her band for strategizing -- a sign that many victories had the band, with a predetermined formation, relished. However intimidated, Master rapidly muttered his commands to Eveline’s warriors, and the confrontation began.

          Zalmoxis and the Iaazipaa all charged the battlefield with a hopeless effort to withstand the enemy wave of three Wigo. One by one, the three valiant warriors were reduced to smithereens as blasts of magic-infused water gushed into their bodies and exploded them. Master had incorrectly assumed that Taurus would send her Ataneedusu first, but as he saw the three of them fulminate so instantaneously, Master’s bowels began to churn and convulse. Master knew very well what was at stake: his life. If he did not prove himself worthy, he would be discarded like all the other plebeians before him, like the Neanderthal everyone, including himself, believed he was. Yet, with three of nine allies vanquished without even ten seconds having expired, Eveline’s entire force would be eradicated in a substantially shorter amount of time than the time that had taken him to exhale. Master had begun dreading the worst.

          The second standoff was comprised of Eveline’s Thesanthei and two Esmellion, an awkward trio Eveline had insisted on levying simply because Thesanthei had proven useful in shining a light on Master’s past, against Taurus’ Ataneedusu and two Zalmoxis. To Master’s delight, one of the Esmellion propelled at lightning speed and pierced Ataneedusu in the heart while the other launched her trident across the battlefield, decapitating one of the Zalmoxis. Thesanthei attempted to flagellate the remaining Zalmoxis to death; however, his attempts were futile. The bleeding Zalmoxis, neglecting the pints of blood cascading from the lacerations on his back, stumbled forth and confronted the Esmellion that had launched her trident across the field. The Esmellion, not quite prepared to die just yet, attempted to dart to her trident so she could defend herself, confident in her ability to out-speed the Zalmoxis that seemed closer to exsanguination than triumph. In an unprecedented turn of events, Zalmoxis, as he stumbled back after momentarily losing his balance, used his incredible, raw upper-body strength to swing his sword and send it spinning toward Esmellion who in her hubris had completely let her guard down, foolishly forfeiting her life and exploding into cubes after the sword sliced her head open.

          Master had ordered Eveline’s Zalmoxis, Esmellion, and Dilgan to attack next, but since Zalmoxis and Esmellion were scattered all over the sparkling ground, only Dilgan, whose ability was still not ready, confronted the angel triplets. Needless to say, Dilgan was murdered in cold blood before flapping his wings more than thrice.

          Eveline’s band of nine had been reduced to a measly four on the first turn whilst Taurus’ composure remained unfazed. The three angels were still taunting him with their sly smirks. Master tightened his fist until a trickle of blood dripped onto the grass. He looked at the three Wigo and knew that only a Preempt All would be able to eradicate them with ease, yet the problem lay in knowing when Taurus would send them. Her face as stoic as ever did not betray nor reveal her intentions in the slightest. As Master began to envision all the different probabilities, a part of his brain cerebrated the battlefield. In none of his time with H had he ever wondered about nor contemplated the fallen Texeli as he was then. Their immortality but miserable vulnerability became as apparent as ever. Master recognized that Texeli’s only purpose was to be reduced to dots for the amusement of Humans during a downtime in the war, as if Humans could not go a week without senseless destruction, as if Humans cared not for the feelings of Texeli and only desired to see death even if the death meant the loss of their own team members. Yet therein lay the main incentive for senselessly destroying Texeli: Texeli never truly died. They could be brought back to life at a Human’s whim. There was no remorse in subjecting Texeli to such eternal torment for they could be resurrected with GLU effortlessly. Were Texeli just pets? Had Humans exploited Texeli fear and vulnerability just to conquer them? Perhaps defenders were not the saviors propaganda sought to dictate.

          “Master, you are trembling like crazy!” Eveline interrupted, mockingly. Master closed his eyes and opened them slowly to gain his composure. Despite having been engrossed in his own theories about the Texeli’s social disposition, another part of him had relentlessly strategized a countermeasure against having caused over half of Eveline’s team to crumble. He made eye contact with Taurus, who had been patiently waiting for him to make the first move, but not even her eyes harbored a clue as to her strategy. He elucidated his plan of action to Eveline’s band, and the second turn commenced.

          As Master had assumed, Taurus had not been foolish enough to risk sending all three of her Wigo at once on the same wave as an active Ataneedusu, thus she played her cards safely by sending a mixture of a Wigo and an Audelinea. Thankfully, Audelinea was a rather slow fighter who was unable to defend herself before Ataneedusu basked the two of them in flames. Also as Master had predicted, Taurus capitalized on the death of her Audelinea to send another Wigo who would have been accompanied by an Audelinea if that Audelinea had not crumbled on the previous attack, minimizing her fatalities by only killing a single Wigo instead of two. Such a strategy assumed that Master would send a multi-target onslaught, however, but because Master had predicted the strategy, he had purposefully refrained from sending Eveline’s active Ataneedusu and instead had ordered for an Esmellion-Thesanthei joint attack, thus eliminating the Wigo without breaking a sweat and retaining an active Ataneedusu. Even though the first two confrontations had been a significant success for Master, the second turn’s final one would prove to be severely detrimental.

          Since Taurus had assumed that Master would attack with a multi-target skill faster than that of Audelinea, and the only one on the band capable of such an ability was Ataneedusu, then the only logical follow-up to such a gamble would have been to send both Audelinea at once since if everything had gone according to plan, no one on the band with an active skill would have been able to kill both Audelinea before one of them could Preempt All. Master had gambled on Taurus having come to the same conclusion, yet Taurus threw Master a curveball by instead sending the critically-injured Zalmoxis as the third strike. In consternation, Master gawked as the Ataneedusu whom he had ordered to strike with his ability alongside Thesanthei wasted the ability on the dead man. In retrospect, Master cursed himself for not having ordered Ataneedusu to strike alongside Esmellion, for if he had done so, Esmellion would have had a chance to strike first, killing Zalmoxis and allowing Ataneedusu to retain his skill for the next attack.

          When the dust settled and the newly-sprinkled dots finished rolling to a stop, Master assessed his situation through jarred breaths and disbelief. He had cornered himself in a disadvantageous trap with both Ataneedusu’s skills inactive; in so doing, he had stripped himself from the ability to destroy both Audelinea at once. He had no method of preventing at least one Audelinea’s skill, hence two of his fighters were sure to meet their demise, and the only way of killing an Audelinea was to send Esmellion. However, sending Esmellion would mean killing Esmellion that same offensive at the hands of the other Audelinea. If so, then he would have no more Preempts with which to strike the last remaining Audelinea before she systematically hacked and slashed all remaining band members with that god-awful smirk on her face. He was done for. There was no hope. He had lost, he had lost being so close to victory, and all because of that curveball Taurus had pitched, all because of his blunder in sending Thesanthei instead of Esmellion. He apologized to the remaining members of Eveline’s band, and the third turn began just as quickly as it ended. Esmellion pierced one Audelinea just for the other one to bask the entire field in a blinding, searing light that destroyed Esmellion and Thesanthei, the same light that on the following offensive crumbled the two remaining Ataneedusu, the only two remaining members of the band.

          Master, after having witnessed the downfall of all the Texeli who had once so passionately welcomed him to the pavilion with a night of festivities, could not bear his grief, could not bear the blood that stained his hand, arm, and body, could not bear having lost to Taurus, and could not bear the thought of having failed to prove himself worthy. He had utterly, utterly failed, and now he had to pay the ultimate price. He allowed his disgruntled corpse to land on its knees and his head to slump forward against his heaving chest awaiting Taurus’ punishment, awaiting his death. Yet, his death never came. Instead, he heard Taurus approach him and state, in a very casual and relaxed tone, “stand, boy, for you have earned my respect.”

          “How so, dear Taurus?” Master groaned, refusing to stand nor lift his chin. In that same position of surrender, he extended his arm and waved it, showcasing the littered battleground. “See you not the remains of my fellow comrades? See you not my incompetence? I have failed you, Eveline, and myself with such a pitiful display of impuissance. May my abhorrent head be dissevered from my undeserving shoulders, may it limply roll onto the floor and shed its rotting flesh, revealing the repugnant skull of an impotent child with no memories to call his own, with no identity, with no purpose!” Master’s chest began to boil. He pressed his hand against it and allowed his body to lean forward and his forehead to pummel onto the hardened ground. He elevated his voice to the point of bellowing, tears pouring forth from his blood-stained eyes. “Stranded have I been for the past weeks in this foreign world! Benighted have I suffered in solitude! Why, God, do I suffer!” His anger, his grief, his pain, they did not cease their astounding ascent. His emotions had forsaken him and cared not for anything but flying toward the sun. Master was apprehensive of what would happen if their wax wings melted. “Cease this torment, Taurus! I have no need of this incomplete life of mine! Neither past nor future does this bellowing child possess! Countless of nights trapped within the walls of a Pavilion contemplating my purpose have led to no revelation, no satisfaction. What am I to do! My only hope was to become a defender, to pretend as though I could still have a purpose, but I have witnessed with my own two eyes just how much of a pipedream such a naïve ambition had been! Would you really entrust the title of defender to such a repugnant, mewling excrement of Humanity?” Master had not realized, but foam and slobber had been oozing from his mouth and forming a puddle, some drops even running up his cheeks before eventually realizing their ineptitude and ending their own lives with a final leap head-first into the graveyard, into the mountain of their brothers’ corpses. Even so, Master failed to experience even the slightest ebbs in his fuming, as if his production of serotonin had been spontaneously terminated and his anger was free to ravage Master’s sanity as it pleased. “Someone help me!” Master blurted out with the last ounces of his sanity before everything became black.