The Ursidaean leader watched as the two armies stepped back, leaving their commanders alone to engage each other.
Mursidev felt a chill in his bones, one that the increasing humidity pushing out from the forest could not remove. The feeling of dread that had been with him the past two days refused to go away, though Mursidev was unable to pinpoint what it was that was causing his unease. Considering everything, he believed it a combination of the tensions he was currently observing and the peculiar events within Gumoto. Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, he held out his hands.
Moving his hands in opposing diagonal directions, the battle ground below grew larger and larger. Before long, the vision focused on the combatants, Nemeses facing away from him. The orange and black stripes of the Tigrisian chief were striking, distinguishing themselves against the desert sands compared to the pelt of the Leothite leader. If not for the black mixed into his mane, the lion could easily camouflage himself outside the Enkan in the sands alone. Mursidev could see not just the barely controlled rage in the young tiger, but also a strong determination as he stared intently at his opponent.
“What news from below?”
Mursidev did not turn to greet Athwale, but waited for him to approach. As his friend stood beside him, they looked to consider the view of the grounds that his leader had conjured.
“Not a full army engagement? That is a change of pace.”
“It is. Observing the young Tigrisian, I feel conflicted about him. There seems to be a rage in him waiting to erupt, and yet it was he that requested this fight with Nemeses.”
Athwale frowned. “Any Tigrisian who takes Nemeses lightly will soon be made to regret it. He has led the Leothites to four successive victories, so he is a formidable foe.”
Mursidev nodded his agreement. “That is why I cannot gauge the tiger. The crater crystals that he has embedded in his gauntlets are likely to increase his confidence.”
“Crater crystals? How can you be certain? There is no access into Gumoto from the Serengi, and we have certainly not provided the crystals to them.”
“That is true. Maybe some crystals broke off the rock before it impacted with the forest, and landed somewhere in the desert.”
Athwale considered his leader’s words as he looked away from the magically enhanced vision to the true view. The Enkan was partially obscured by the mist floating away from the waterfall, and the figures below were no larger than ants from the cliff edge. The heat of the day had almost reached its peak, which the Ursidaean lieutenant was sure was going to inhibit the speed of the imminent duel.
“Keeping such a close eye on the events below must be taxing. The magic of the forest is not what it once was.”
“The incantation is not difficult, but the holding of it for hours at a time does take its toll. You saw as such yesterday when you woke me. A morning of it requires an hour or so of rest afterwards.”
“The two tribes did not seem to be doing more than posturing in the previous days. Has anything else of note happened?”
Mursidev nodded. “A pair of Leothites were sent out, seemingly on a suicide mission. They attacked, but the Tigrisian leader fought them single-handedly. They were in a stalemate for a time, but the Tigrisian vanished when he began to lose his advantage. The Leothites fell quickly after that.”
Athwale looked to his leader in disbelief. “The Tigrisian leader vanished?”
“Yes. I do not know how, but I would suspect that the crystals on his gauntlet played a part.”
“But no such thing has ever been observed by any of the troops that have entered Gumoto.”
“While true, it is possible that some of our soldiers fell to such tactics if they were separated from their team.”
“Did you ever come across any Cursed Ones with such ability when you fought in the crater?”
Mursidev shook his head. “There were times where it felt something was watching, but you could not see them. The tunnels below are not for the faint-hearted, and nerves can play tricks on you.”
“That they do. On my first two Gumoto incursions, I was wound tighter than a tree vine supporting a platform. Even the shifting of grit underneath my feet raised my hackles.”
His leader chuckled. “If one enters Gumoto without fear, they will soon learn it.” Mursidev paused as he considered the scene below. “Are the pair waiting for the midday sun before they begin combat? They are making the duel harder on themselves. ” He moved his neck within the collar of his robe, trying to gain any extra degree of comfort.
“The cats have their own mysterious way of doing things. It may be an honour thing, who knows?”
“At last! The pair are about to engage.”
Athwale was about to look at Mursidev’s vision, but a movement separate from the feline armies on the sands below caught his eye. Something moved along the outside of the Enkan walls.
“Mursidev,” he said as he pointed towards the movement, “what do you see over there?”
– U –