Sunlight sprinkled upon the fur of the gigantic she-wolf, the transparent follicles breaking up the rays into prismatic hues, clothing the beast in a mysterious veil of light. Her back was slightly hunched with age, her long white eyebrows hanging down over her piercing grey eyes that sparkled with the light of wisdom. It did little to detract from the dignity of her presence, only enhancing it with the weight of years.
Behind the great wolf, the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries stood massed in their battle-lines. Unlike the uniformity of the Regiis army’s attire, each of the mercenaries seemed to have taken it upon themselves to dress as uniquely as possible. Their garb ranged from the faded and tattered smock of a beggar to the silken robes of nobility; from the unprocessed furs of animals to the most complete of chainmail, I even noticed a man with colourful feathers tucked into his hair. War-paint and tattoos abounded. They made for an eclectic and colourful bunch. In other circumstances, I would have enjoyed the novelty of their attire, now, I was in no mood to appreciate it. Their grim stance and the murderous aura they emitted ensured that I was more concerned about father who was engaged in a staring match with the she-wolf.
Father met her gaze confidently as she took his measure. Her nose wrinkled and her lips drew back in a snarl, revealing her razor-sharp fangs. A low rumbling began in her chest till it burst forth from her lips, the feral sound invoking a primal fear from the depths of my being, causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand.
“You are the one? The one who killed my son?” Her voice was a deep and mellow, tinged with the hint of a growl. It was laced with a power that seemed to vibrate the air.
Father nodded in acknowledgement. “The Sun Wolf did perish at my hands. He challenged me to a Mortem’s Duel and lost. His life was the price of that failure.” The wolf’s snarl grew even more sinister. Father ignored it and continued, “He was a great warrior and it is my honour to have been his last opponent.” He stripped the shoulder-length glove that covered his mana-arm and showed it to the wolf, lightning crackling around the greyish swirls of wind that made it up. “He has left his mark upon me. He will not be forgotten.”
I worried for Father’s safety. He had only recently stepped into Tier 5, it was very difficult to say whether he would be able to stand up against the Sun Wolf’s mother who had a lot more time to consolidate and advance her cultivation. Under ordinary circumstances, Father would be able to hold out against her long enough for the Regiis contingent to wipe out the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries and then aid him in his battle against her. But right now, with the ant legion’s uninterrupted assault tying up a large portion of the army, he was on his own.
The pincer attack we had been expecting had come, but from an unexpected direction and a lot sooner than we had hoped.
At over ten metres in height, the wolf the size of a small house towered over father. Her hackles rose and her snarl intensified. With my sensitivity to light mana, I noticed the element going berserk around her, a clear sign of her agitation.
The world grew brighter as the sunlight warped. My vision began to blur and fade to white as the wolf began to glow with arcane brilliance, robbing her surroundings of colour. The air stilled and lightning crackled around father as readied himself for combat with a grim expression on his face. The ripples of their confrontation spread outwards and even the ant legion that had been unrelenting in its attack paused as it sensed the pressure of the two Tier 5s.
There was utter silence as the buzzing swarms of aerial ants retreated and landed among their brethren on the ground, waiting for the conclusion of the clash between the two titans.
“Grandma! You promised that you wouldn’t be so grumpy!” A childishly petulant voice suddenly cut through the silence that shrouded us. Immediately, there was no trace of the tension that had pervaded the atmosphere. The gigantic she-wolf that had seemed so fierce till now stopped snarling. She sat down upon her haunches and licked her jowls, giving off the distinct impression of a chastised puppy.
The wolf cancelled the spell which had been warping the light away from the occupants of its back, revealing the figure of a girl and a boy.
The girl was extraordinarily beautiful. Her skin was pale, as if it had never seen the light of day, yet it was far from sickly. The alabaster shade making her seem like a living sculpture. With her symmetrical features and figure, it was an easy mistake to make. Long legs peeked out of the slit in her midnight black velvet cheongsam and her waist-length dark hair was thrown over one shoulder, exposing one of her black furry wolf-ears and her alabaster nape. The finishing touch to the masterpiece was her soulful dark eyes and blood red lips.
Father’s lightning petered out as he stared incredulously at the source of the voice, or rather at the boy who was sitting beside her.
My jaw dropped and my mind blanked. Steven? What was he doing here? No… more importantly, what was he doing riding the Revered Ancestor of the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries. The girl beside him had called her grandma. So, she was the daughter of the Sun Wolf? Or one of his brothers… Did he have brothers? And why the hell was his mana signature connected to the girl? He married the Heiress of the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries? How? Why?
My train of thought was disorderly as my mind struggled to reconcile myself with the situation.
The girl jumped off the back of the wolf and Steven followed her lead, then stood with his head hung low, avoiding everyone’s eyes. Unmindful of the gazes upon her, the girl smiled cheerfully and scanned the crowd. Her eyes lingered upon me for an instance before she winked at me and moved on, confusing me greatly. Did she know me?
Finally, her line of sight stopped on Deimos who was standing along with Ceres and Phobos in her squad behind Marshal Canis. She waved at her enthusiastically.
“You’re quite the pretty one, aren’t you? No wonder my foolish little brother found it hard to practice moderation when he saw you while he was hopped up on the spiked alcohol the Duchess had pumped into his system.”
She turned to Ceres. “Quite the common practice for her, wouldn’t you say?”
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