Gathered on the rooftop of the apartment complex assigned to the Felidae clan was every member of the contingent who wasn’t currently convalescing from their injuries.
At the forefront of them, their matriarch, Epione Felidae stood, grasping her hand bearing her shining mark with the other in a white-knuckled grip. Her eyes glowed white as she projected the scene of the battle upon a screen formed of her light mana.
Mars Felidae stood beside his mother, with one arm across her shoulder, enclasping her in a one-armed hug while Deimos embraced her from the other side, comforting her with their presence.
He could feel her shiver in his grasp as she desperately tried to prevent herself from rushing up to the battlefield to assist her husband.
Her sharp canines drew blood as they pressed down upon her lower lip, the wound unnoticed in her avid concern.
Phobos walked up to his free side, gently prying open his clenched fist, placing her hand in his, forcing him to relax, lest he hurt her.
He took a breath he hadn’t noticed he’d been holding and gave her a grateful look, drawing her into his embrace.
He turned to the light screen that showed a temporary lull in the battle…
… and prayed.
For that was all he could do.
High above them, just beneath the cloud layer, Marquis Felidae was the first to break their silent confrontation.
With a shocking roar, the storm tiger leapt towards him, slowly merging with his body. It was as if he had thrown on the pelt of a tiger formed out of dusky winds.
Veins popped out as his muscles bulged with the strain of having to contain such a vast amount of energy and at places, his skin split from the pressure.
Tier 4 ultimate magic: Bloodline Integration.
His contract mark shone with a gentle radiance, clothing him in a healing halo, repairing his wounds as soon as they appeared.
After all, after the age of sixteen, the Tempest of the Mangroves had never fought alone.
If earlier he had become one with the wind, now, he was the storm.
Thunderclap Samsara Palms.
Each strike inspired a gale that met with the one following it, growing, swirling, until a huge vortex formed with him as the centre.
The storm clouds were sucked into the vortex, turning it black.
Cloud rubbed against cloud and in the swirling mass of darkness, the first spark was born.
Then another, and another, until they joined together into huge serpents of lightning that hissed and spat as they arced from one end of the vortex to another like caged beasts, filling the air with the stench of ozone.
They were bolts of destruction waiting to be unleashed and the Marquis their master.
His strikes grew faster and faster until it looked like he had not two arms, but six.
Each strike broke the sonic barrier and resounded across the skies.
Like a sudden thunderclap.
The vacuum formed in the wake of his palms provided a path of least resistance for the sizzling bolts and as if they had received the direction of their master, they coursed along the path streaking towards their intended target: the Sun Wolf.
The sounds of the thunderclaps merged into one uninterrupted rumble as the bolts merged together into a thick column of lightning that connected the two opponents with a jagged curve.
The Sun Wolf was beset by a sense of crisis as the Marquis began his attack. The dark swirling storm vortex, those errant flashes of lightning, they all set off alarm bells in his mind.
So, he had to resort to something which he had been heretofore reluctant to use.
His wolf turned into a stream of white fire, gathering upon his palm while beneath his tang suit, the mark at the base of his neck glowed red, then black as dark flames emerged from it, travelling down his arm to his other palm.
The size and intensity of the flames were disparate, with the black a mere spark before an inferno.
His right arm crackled as it burnt from the excessive heat, yet his face showed no emotion as the very same flames which burnt him healed him again.
He was the Sun Wolf and just like the sun burnt itself to give light, yet remained undiminished, he too couldn’t be harmed by his own flames.
Taking a low stance, his palms moved in gentle circular movements, leaving trails of flame behind.
Together white and black came together to paint an all-encompassing fiery yin-yang symbol where his palms were the eyes of the two parts.
A black eye in white, a white eye in the black.
The black flames devoured the white, growing stronger till, at their extreme, they turned back to white and devoured the black.
The cycle continued.
There was balance.
It was Huaxia’s most vaunted martial art, Tai Chi.
Both opponents had finished their preparations at the same time and as the huge bolt of lightning streaked towards him, trailing off thin tendrils on the way, the Sun Wolf took a defensive stance, enveloped by his flaming barrier of black and white.
The hit was silent.
The lightning being rapidly absorbed by the jet-black Hellfire, causing it to overspread the protective dome.
The eyes of the Sun Wolf glowed even brighter as he leveraged the full force of his mana.
Moving his arms in a circular arc, the black flames fed the white which fed the black, growing continually, devouring the lightning as their nourishment.
Realizing the situation, the Marquis immediately withdrew his offensive, manipulating the currents of wind that surrounded him to make the lightning flow around his body like an armour of energy.
Swinging both arms in opposing arcs the flames surrounding the sun wolf converged into a swirling ball of black and white.
The very space around it seemed to vibrate at the density of the compressed energy and for the very first time during the battle, a trace of concern flashed across the Marquis’ expression.
For, not only did that ball contain the energy of the Sun wolf, it contained part of his own.
The concern broke his mental state and the wind couldn’t keep him aloft anymore, causing him to slowly descend towards the ground, still clad in his lightning armour.
He had only one chance, one opportunity to end it and that was when the sun wolf fired.
It was a competition between wind and lightning and fire and light. If he managed to dodge, he won.
If he didn’t, he died.
But, there was a problem. As soon as he touched the ground, the coat of lightning would dissipate. He just had to hope that the difficulty of controlling such a huge amount of energy would force the sun wolf to attack while he was still in the air.
If not, it would be his loss.
Even as he was halfway to the ground, suddenly the expression on the face of the Sun Wolf morphed to an extremely ugly one as the black flames in the orb suddenly weakened, destabilizing the balance of energies, making it extremely volatile.
“That bitch!” with a primal scream of hatred and rage, he was forced to prematurely deploy his technique.
Breaking free of his embrace, Mars’ mother transformed into her feral form before streaking towards the battlefield in a blinding blaze of light.
Deimos immediately followed suit, transforming into a cheetah and Mars and Phobos leapt upon her back. Then they were gone in a swirl of wind as she leapt from rooftop to rooftop, making her way to the walls.
The rest of the Felidae clansmen exchanged dismayed looks before following as best as they could.
Just as they reached the crowded wall, they came upon the scene of a six tailed fox staring down a beautiful white cat which was snarling with its hackles raised.
The Duchess’ six tails were fanned out in all directions, cutting off her path and she was growing increasingly irate, her brilliance ramping up with every passing second.
The spectators who were shone upon by her brilliance suddenly felt encumbered by malaises. They felt weak, nauseous or their body began to heat up with a fever, for healing was closely related with disease and once enraged, plague and pestilence would follow in a high-level healer’s wake.
The Duchess’ eyes flashed with an anger upon seeing her subjects harmed and she burnt with a transparent flame that emanated thin tendrils of fragrant smoke. Wherever they visited, the ones affected by the curse light convalesced, hurriedly taking their distance as they grew apprehensive of the two confronting women.
“Are you insane! The penalty for interfering with a Mortem’s Duel is death for you and your immediate family. It’s part of the international code followed by every nation on the continent. You would have no place to hide and we would be duty bound to hunt you down! Think, woman!”
The ability to speak even in her feral form marked the Duchess’ kitsune lineage as one of the honoured Daemonic bloodlines. Her words seemed to pour a trough of cold water over the agitated cat and she deflated.
“Mother!” Mars leapt off Deimos’ back and rushed to her, scooping up her shivering form into his arms and she burrowed her head into his embrace.
He felt his shirt grow wet from her tears of frustration and his heart clenched. He turned to the Duchess and thanked her in a soft voice before striding past her to stand on the wall to watch the final outcome.
Phobos and Deimos took his two sides.
In the battlefield, it was a tactical standoff with the Sun Wolf aiming to wait until the Marquis lost his coat of lightning upon contact with the ground, or grew impatient enough to commence his attack, making his victory nearly assured.
The Marquis on the other hand tried to delay his descent as much as possible to force him to attack so he could dodge and counterattack with his lightning enhanced speed.
Suddenly, when he was halfway to the ground, the orb of energy suddenly destabilized and the Sun Wolf was forced to attack.
The world turned black and the only thing remaining was a thick white beam of light and an incandescent blue streak of lightning.
As soon as it came, it faded, only leaving an afterimage burnt into the spectators’ eyes followed by a thunderous rumble denoting the shockwave from the attack.
Blinking away the after-images, he turned to the battlefield.
A gust of wind cleared away the cloud of dust, revealing a huge smoking crater.
In its midst, two figures stood back to back.
The taller more muscular one with the features of a tiger, was missing his right arm where it had just disintegrated from his shoulder downwards.
His left hand held a still beating heart.
The sun wolf swayed on his feet and coughed up blood. Raising a shaky hand, he touched the hole in his chest before leaning back against his opponent’s broad shoulders.
“So… I died.”
“I… *cough* … vowed to take the arm that killed my son… I did it. *cough*cough*”
“Let my clan go…”
“Fine. As long as they don’t harm me or mine.”
The Sun Wolf sighed as he slid down his back and dropped face upwards on the ground. Lying there, feeling his sight go dark, and life drain away, he had only one thought on his mind. ‘Should have listened to the Elders and strangled her when I met her. But… she was so beautiful… just like… her mother.’
The last sight that greeted his eyes was a streak of light slamming into the Marquis, morphing into a woman and showering him with tearful kisses.
He felt jealous… he knew now, why he lost. He wasn’t fighting one person, he was fighting two.
Feeling the rapidly fading mark on the base of his neck, he corrected himself before the eternal darkness claimed him.
He was fighting three.