A cold splash of water jerked Master into consciousness. He began to cough violently and was dazed for a long time. He wiped his face with his hand and tried to focus his eyes on anything. He saw Eveline looking at him in reprisal. Master squeezed his eyes shut and tried to remember what had happened. His heart sank as he remembered his defeat.
“I’m not dead?” Master asked. The reply he received was a sucker punch that sent his head spinning to the side and his entire body slamming against the ground. Master spat blood, wiped his mouth, and struggled to sit up after accidentally trying to use his non-existent left arm. “This pain can only mean one thing, huh?”
“What the hell was that back then!” Eveline shouted. “You have no idea how much I had to argue with Taurus to let you live after she saw that… whatever that was. She had already said you had gained her trust! Why did you have a mental breakdown?”
“Mental breakdown?” Master asked. He only remembered losing. He realized that he did not recall anything after that.
“You do not remember? You began shouting gibberish, crying, and having a seizure. I ended up kicking you in the back of the head to knock you out before you hurt yourself or one of us.”
“I… I don’t…” Master’s head began to pulsate. “How long have I been out?”
“About fifty hours.”
“Hours!” Master shouted in disbelief. How could that be possible? “Your kicks are lethal!”
“Far more likely that your brain is just too weak. You have yet to answer my question.”
“I do not know. How am I supposed to know if I cannot even remember?”
“Listen, you have extremely serious mental issues. Not only do you have a major case of selective amnesia, but your emotions are out of control. At this rate, I cannot make you a defender, nor should you be. Defenders are supposed to be competent Humans, not mentally unstable Tier C.”
“But… why did you not kill me?”
“Because I see potential in you. You have some major flaws, so I am more than prepared to smother your life if you dare pull something like that off again, but everyone deserves a second chance.” Eveline, who had been squatting in order to speak with the sitting Master, slowly rose up, stretched his back, and walked away.
“Wait, why had she said I earned any respect even after clearly losing?”
“Because the goal was never to win, you absolute moron. There was no way you could win against a Tier A. She was testing your strategy. You were able to survive for a long time despite the uphill battle. You proved to be worthy of wielding a band. You may not be overpowered by any stretch of the imagination, but with my half-assed band, you would be able to eliminate a lot of Exos no problem during raids.” Eveline grabbed a Bitter and offered it to the grateful Master. “Cheers.”
“What has happened in the past fifty hours?” Master asked after gulping down half of the bottle.
“Nothing interesting, just the usual. Every War Game is basically the same: travel aimlessly until you encounter someone and then beat their behind. Oh, wait, there is this Texeli that has lost his marbles and is destroying everyone. He reminds me of you and your temper tantrums. Apparently, an Exo ambushed his beloved and killed her right in front of his eyes. The poor lad…”
“Why did you wake me up?”
“Fifty hours is a long time to be asleep, you know. I was not going to baby feed you or anything while you were passed out, so I kept splashing you with water every several hours for the past twenty or so.”
“Oh.” Master finished the Bitter and stumbled over to the trash can.
“You also reek more than usual, so let us go to the showers. I purposefully decided to try to wake you up because we happen to be camping in the vicinity of a tiny town.” The two of them made their way to a settlement in the middle of a meadow. The village seemed to be full of welcoming Theri. As usual, they paid for the showers that were created for any traveling defenders. Master wondered what Texeli thought about their showers being their most profitable tourist traps.
“Now what?” Master asked once the two of them had left the showers and were casually sightseeing the town.
“Well, the War Game is still going on, so I want you to observe quietly whenever I encounter someone. You may learn a thing or two, though you proved to be competent enough back then. My main concern is working on your emotions. I wonder what else may trigger another one of your wild sides. Clearly, being physically abused does not do squat since you were abused for an entire week yet H is still alive.”
“Maybe the whole thing with the capsule Thesanthei mentioned has something to do with my emotional state. I cannot imagine that being trapped in a capsule for a prolonged period of time yields any positive results.”
“Perhaps. I have been meaning to go there, actually, but I am not interested enough to get there as fast as possible.”
“Understandable.” The two of them were quiet for a while, and Eveline did not encounter anyone during that time. As if bored of the silence, Eveline began discussing his philosophy.
“Have you ever wondered if you are the main character in your life?” he began.
“I do not think I follow,” the confused Master replied.
“We live our entire lives seeing the world through only a single lens: ours. Sure, we may be able to read history books or watch videos, but any and all narratives we come across are automatically framed within our lenses. How many fiction books have you read?”
“I do not remember. I remember reading a lot, but I have no idea what exactly I read. Something needs to happen for my memories to trigger. Take a rainbow for instance. When I saw one a while ago, I remembered reading about chromatic dispersion but also about the small, green men that are rumored to live at the ends. I take it the leprechauns are fiction.”
“Hm, well, I used to read tons of fiction when I was younger.” Eveline chuckled reminiscently. “You see, I was almost killed by the police for not acting like a B1. I had extremely abysmal parents. They committed treason by raising me the way they did. Both of them were B1, so naturally I would be born B1. However, as you probably already noticed, my way of speaking and acting are nowhere close to reflecting a proper B1. That is because my parents did not act like parents. Instead of scolding me for not acting my tier, they would let me choose my own path. If I wanted to read about mages instead of kinematics, then they would let me. If I wanted to be friends with B4 instead of A4, they would let me. Of course, being young, I did not know any better, and I resent ever associating myself with such scum. Not a day goes by that I do not curse my parents for what they did, but I also acknowledge that there is nothing I can do to erase who I am. My parents only had one rule: never, EVER, let anyone find out I am a B1 when I am not acting as such.” Eveline slapped his forehead, shook his head, snapped it back, and began bellowing in laughter. “What am I doing! I wanted to talk to you about why I think you are not ready to be a defender just yet, not recite my autobiography!
“Listen, I read lots of fiction books when I was young and began to question my purpose in the world. This type of speculating is something that should never happen among Tier B, but because of my parents’ poor parenting, I ended up being tainted by such existential thoughts. In my quest to answer these evil questions, I developed what I call the Protagonist philosophy. I know, very original. It will be hard to explain to someone that does not recall reading many fictional books, though.”
Master was at a loss for words, mostly because he did not understand how any of that could possibly be related to his incompetence as a defender. Regardless, Master decided to play along. “I can still try to understand.”
“Okay. So, in fictional books, you always have a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist is always this strong, brave man who vanquishes the enemies of the state while the antagonist is always this corrupt, cowardly man who gets killed by the protagonist for disrespecting the government. The point I am trying to get at is that if we ever want to succeed in life, we need to be the protagonists, not the antagonists. If we are the antagonists, we will eventually be killed off. Thus is the fate of all antagonists. I have studied many stories and have developed a checklist for what a good protagonist is. You, my friend, are nowhere close to a protagonist, but you are not an antagonist either. You are what I call a side-character, someone dispensable and utterly irrelevant to the grand scheme of things. You are just as likely to die now than centuries from now. You are a nobody. That is not what a defender should be.
“We defenders have been brought here to Texel to save Texeli. We cannot be antagonists or side-characters if we hope to be those heroes. We must be protagonists. You are someone with no past, no way of understanding Texeli and many defenders, and, most damaging of all, you are passive. Way too passive! Imagine reading a story from the perspective of a character who does absolutely nothing the entire time but sit on someone’s shoulder and speak a couple words at a time! That is what you are, a passive observer of the world with no weight on the events that unfold. You must be like me, someone with lots of experience, intelligence, and confidence. Everything you have done since as far back as you remember can be paraphrased into being abused for a week, staying inside a pavilion for another week, and being ordered around by me for a few days. Do you understand the problem here? How could you possibly be of any use the way you are? Could you imagine reading a story from your perspective? No one, and I mean no one, would be able to get past the first couple pages! There is nothing interesting!” Master only understood about a quarter of what he had said but still pretended to care and comprehend by nodding his head in fake acknowledgement.
“So, how do I become a protagonist?” Master asked.
“That is why I am here. Trust me. Together, we can make you into the best defender -- the best protagonist -- there ever has been. You are welcome in advance.”
Master tried to understand what Eveline had stated, but Master could not care less. He could not understand how being a protagonist or an antagonist could be so indicative of one’s competence. Such labels were too subjective anyway. And so, Master soon forgot the entire speech. So what if he was passive? So what if his biography would be read by no one? He cared not. He did, however, care about watching Eveline battle against other defenders. For the following few days, Master keenly observed every battle, every strategy, every defeat. Preempts, Champions, Guru, Rogues, Theri, Xana, timing, authority, everything. He may not care about becoming a protagonist, but he did care about one day being as competent of a leader as Eveline. Eveline blasted away basically every enemy except during the last two days of the event. Eveline had said that there was no reason why he should attempt to promote on the last few days because his band was nowhere close to standing up against all the Tier A that infiltrated the top Echelons. He would rather farm points on lower Echelons. Before long, Master and Eveline stood before “the Lemon” and summoned forth Eveline’s prizes and new allies. During the days after the event, Eveline guided Master through the process of haggling in the market. Texeli trafficking, as Master called it.
As Eveline had predicted, after the War Game, a dungeon event was held in which all defenders would barge into select locations to loot treasure and gain new allies. There was not as much strategy during the raids as there had been during the War Game, but Master still felt as though he had learned new strategies and information. Amazingly, two weeks had passed in the blink of an eye when the same two weeks had felt like an eternity back when he was under H’s authority. Even so, Master could not shake a longing for being reunited with H again. H had been the one who had saved him from the capsule, the man who had taken care of him for two weeks, the man who had made sure he did not die. When the dungeon missions were over, Eveline pulled Master to the side and stared at him with wide eyes and an exhilarated smile so wide that it sent goosebumps down Master’s spine.
“Master, do you know what is soon to befall Texel in only a day or so?”
“I… I am not sure.”
“Exos are coming, Master. Exos are coming, and we will be ready. We will destroy every single one of them. I want you to go out there and prove to me that these past two weeks have taught you all the strategy you need to wipe them all out. If you do so, if you prove to be a valuable asset to the war, then surely you will be officially labeled as a defender. It is time for you to finally become the protagonist.” Master winced for a tiny moment. Eveline’s grip on his shoulders had significantly tightened when he uttered the last words.