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To Become a Defender

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          Master pressed his scarred forehead against the counter and machine-gunned the confused shop owner with countless apologies for the mildly inconvenient exchange the two had just concluded. She muttered something, probably too baffled to speak up, and Zar rapidly tapped Master on the shoulder as to reprimand him for being overdramatic. Master slowly raised his head, stared at the shop owner’s vexed eyes in vehement requital, and once again was reminded of the utterly embarrassing and cumbersome “conversation” the two had experienced as he gazed at her name in self-reproach. Her name was something in what Master assumed was Arabic script and whose pronunciation he could not even begin to decipher. He hastily fumbled inside the pouch he had stolen from Jin’s corpse as Zar held it still for Texi with which to pay for his purchase and tip in penance for degrading the unsuspecting shop owner’s afternoon to a convoluted quandary, snatched the bag in which the young entrepreneur had so benevolently packaged his items, apologized repeatedly again for he had almost forgotten to retrieve his pouch before departing, and evacuated the tense situation to commence his extensive journey into the unknown with exaggerated strides as to remove himself from the glare most certainly consisting of a hodgepodge of confusion, agitation, and pity as soon as possible.

          Master found a pub and sat down on an empty table without ordering anything. After Zar had finished whatever business he had had with Jin’s Texeli, he had led Master to a village far, far away from Yakoun Forest. There, they had traversed through a sea of repulsed glares at a small town of Mages in a beeline for the nearest shower. It had taken Master an agonizing and embarrassing eternity to finally scrub his blood-and-vomit-encrusted chest, forehead, and arm clean, or at least as clean as he could have made them. As he sat in silence, Master continued to ruminate everything that had happened since the moment he stepped foot inside the forest to when he left the shower and followed Zar to a Texi shop whereat he had met the shop owner. Unlike most Texi shop owners, she had been Human. Neither defender nor coward but entrepreneur. Master wondered if such an occupation were legal since Master had assumed all Humans were encouraged to be or train to become defenders. If her status as a merchant were legal, that would spell hope for Master who refused to become a defender. Unfortunately, Master had not been able to understand a single word she had muttered, causing Zar to do most of the talking and haggling as Master remained quiet and awkwardly staring. Not only had she been taken aback by a talking, severed Texeli hand but had also been suspicious of Master’s silence and appearance. Master remembered having gazed at himself in a mirror at the showers. His forehead, chest, and left arm were all utterly mangled and revolting. Even he had felt an impulsive urge to punch his reflection, so he could only be baffled by how none of the Mages had blasted him away with their magic or had chucked him out of the pub by then. Despite his appearance, the shop owner had benevolently heard his requests and had packaged his items in a bag without any questions asked and a professional smile. Master had been overwhelmed by her inhuman kindness and had begun to apologize impulsively.

          Zar began tapping his fingers on the table impatiently, urging Master to snap out of his ruminating, and pushed the bag of purchases toward him. The bag, made of dots, would eventually disintegrate and become one with the earth, but Master still had hours until then. Nay, he needed to distract himself from his ruminating, so despite having time, he decided to begin transferring the items to his pouch.

          He first retrieved all the water bottles and a basic Human first-aid kit, began to clean the contacts, and administered eye drops as to prevent a potential eye infection from having never cleaned the contacts properly. He placed the contacts on his eyes and reminded himself that he should probably refrain from donning and doffing them so frequently. He then began transferring all the Nux and Bitters he had bought. Jin had not been a wealthy man by any stretch of the imagination, but hopefully Master would find a way to ration whatever he had. After having done so, he removed the most intriguing item from the bag: Mazit Uii. The book would serve as a way to gauge his progress in understanding the many Texeli languages. He also retrieved notepads and pencils for notes.

          “Um… Zar… now that I think about it and my mind is not so cluttered with embarrassment, how are you planning on teaching me the language when you cannot make any sounds?” The blue hand stopped moving and remained still. Was he in shock? “Zar, I know other people can hear you -– I just witnessed you speaking to the shop owner after all –- but never during the entirety of that encounter did I hear anything from you, as if the iris allows you to communicate with others telepathically. Since I am somehow devoid of the iris’ gifts, I cannot hear what you are saying. I can only understand you through your body… hand… language.” Zar slapped his hand against the table, or was it his version of a facepalm? Zar began to tap his fingers pensively until he pointed an index finger up at the roof. Master could almost see the lightbulb flash on. Zar crawled to the edge of the table, jumped to the ground, and crawled away. Master chuckled and turned his attention to the notepads and pencils. One of the notepads was much thicker and larger than the others, and for good reason. That particular notepad was going to server as his journal, not as a notebook for his lessons.

          Not a moment goes by that he does not long for the memories he lost and does not fear losing any of the memories he has. As such, he decided on keeping a journal, a diary, a dump for all his thoughts, experiences, and emotions. He could not bear the thought of forgetting Poging or what Iudith and Zar had done for him or his experiences since he woke up, but he also refused to forget the pain and suffering he felt in Yakoun Forest. He wanted to record all of it, every single second of every single moment. He wanted the journal to be as vivid as possible. Not a single nuance shall be forgotten. Every atom of that notebook would be covered in his writing, and if that ever proved not to be enough space, he would spend more Texi for another notebook, and another, and another, and another! As many as it would take.

          He bit one of the pencils as he pondered what name he could give what eventually was to become a very extensive autobiography. The almost episodic nature of how he was planning on transforming his experiences into writing led to the idea of naming his journal “The Master Chronicles.” Yet, when he wrote the name down at the top of the first page, he did not feel as though the title were accurate. Something was missing. Before he was able to reflect on what could make the title more adequate, Zar jumped on a seat and then on the table and pointed at someone behind Master. Master slowly turned around and before him stood the most beautiful and brave woman he had ever seen. A blue-skinned guardian angel. He stood up and could not hold himself back from giving her a tight hug, soaking her shoulder in his overzealous tears. He knew deep, deep inside his heart that the Iudith before him was not the same Iudith that had saved him, that that Iudith would forever remain a molten puddle, but his heart was skipping a beat every other second and could not rationalize anything. He was so incredibly inundated by euphoria, especially after Iudith reciprocated the precipitous hug, that Zar had allowed the stranger from whose market he had traded for Iudith to ransack Master’s pouch and take a large chunk of Master’s provisions without his knowing.

          “Do… do you remember…” Master asked sheepishly after freeing Iudith from his clutch. She nodded slowly, her eyes drooping to the ground and her shoulders having begun shivering slightly. Master had no idea what to do in such a situation and assumed that hugging her another time would not make the situation any better, so he just stood there, awkwardly staring at Iudith and biting his tongue as hard as he could to stop himself from saying “sorry” a million times. Luckily, Zar was there to talk to Iudith and alleviate the situation.

          The three of them sat at or -- in Zar’s case -- on the table and began to discuss plans for the future. The three of them would become nomadic creatures traveling all over Texel and sightseeing all the lands not yet destroyed by the Exos as detached from the war as possible while Zar and Iudith together attempted to instruct Master in the most standard Xana dialect.

          At some point, Zar and Iudith began to discuss plans in more detail and Master began to drift to his own world. He stared down at what he had scribbled on the journal and glared at his name. Nay, Master was not his name. That was the problem. He never remembered his name, and Master had been a name that Eveline of all people had given him. He rebuked Eveline for all he had and had not done and wanted to abandon such a tainted name. As he wondered what to possibly call himself, he recalled the three letters that had devastated him, the letters muttered by the Exo: N, X, T. Just for the hell of it, he erased “Master” and replaced it with the three letters. Suddenly, his pencil jumped from his fingers and rolled to the floor. The same nostalgia, the same shock, the same petrifying yet fulfilling perturbation that had ambushed him when he had put on the hat, when he had heard the three letters for the first time, when he had looked into the Exo’s eyes, suddenly ambushed him a fourth time as he gazed at the title. “The NXT Chronicles.” The déjà-vu was once again upon him. He felt, he truly felt, as though that moment was not the first time he had laid eyes on such a title. Somehow, that time was not the first time he had written those three words. He shook his head, sprayed his face with water, and sighed profoundly. He looked at Zar and Iudith with a smile and thus began his journey not as a defender -- but a scholar. A scholar who considered Texeli not his subordinates -- but his masters.