Hyrcurian threw every ounce of power he could muster into his first strike. A wave of sound flew from the clashing blades, strong enough to be physically felt by those standing closer to them. The force nearly numbed Nemeses’ arm as it forced him sideways, his sword seeking escape from his grasp.
With another primal roar, the Tigrisian leader launched himself at his target. Nemeses easily maneuvered his weapon to protect against the orange and black blur, yet the ferocity of his opponent’s attacks continued to threaten disarmament or dismemberment. For a half hour, all the Leothite could do was position himself so that Hyrcurian’s strikes could not maximise their power, fending them off long enough for the Tigrisian to grow weary.
The reverent viewing by each tribe’s warriors turned to energetic encouragement, the Tigrisians to maintain their commander’s onslaught, and the Leothites for their leader to weather it.
The midday heat continued to beat down on them, and it took its toll on Hyrcurian. His pelt glistened with sweat as he panted heavily. His sword swings and other attacks began to dwindle in their power as a slight lethargy seeped in. Sensing the turn of favour, and willing his slipping stamina to support him, Nemeses began an offensive flurry to the roaring approval of his supporters in front of, and upon, the Enkan walls.
The young Tigrisian fought through his fatigue, remaining efficiently fast in warding off the well-timed and direct strikes of the Leothite. Inexperience and lowering energy showed in Hyrcurian’s inability to take advantage of the small openings Nemeses’ own weariness presented, ensuring the elder fighter maintained the offensive where he would not have an hour ago.
The Leothite’s years of defending the Enkan ensured he did just enough to keep the Tigrisian imbalanced. The knowing smirk, the one that never left Nemeses’ face in the heat of battle, frustrated his opponent as Hyrcurian tried to rally his dwindling reserves into an attack that would turn the momentum back in his favour.
Unable to break Nemeses’ chain of attacks, the Tigrisian seethed with anger. He had sworn that he would exact the revenge of many generations upon he who had enforced their exodus from the Enkan, and especially for his father. Remembering the stories he had been told under shimmering night skies, where none could sleep due to the relentless rumbling of empty stomachs, Leothites would use any and every advantage to survive and then subdue an opponent.
Disengaging from Nemeses’ attack, the Tigrisian stepped back a handful of feet. As he did, he thought he saw a flicker of relief in his opponent’s eyes, behind that infuriating smile. As the Leothite stepped forward to resume the attack, Hyrcurian reached for his gauntlet. Yet again, he disappeared.
The Leothites observing howled their protests, remembering the fate of their two comrades. The irony was not lost on their leader, whose smile grew at a challenger using any advantage he could find. Watching the ground for the appearance of disembodied footprints, they did not appear amongst the tracks already left from their duel.
Calming his nerve, he called on the inner sense that had saved him in many a battle. Blocking out the dueling cheers of the tribes, Nemeses felt a power circling him slowly. As the force rushed in, he raised his blade.
The crowd watched in disbelief as the Leothite, eyes closed in concentration, fended off sword strikes, punches and kicks from an opponent even he could not see. The speed of the attacks had increased, Hyrcurian’s stamina seemingly improved by holding the crystal against his palm.
As Nemeses wearied from both physically and mentally, he sought any respite he could secure. Sensing the minute spaces between attacks, he kicked sand in the air. While most grains fell back to the ground, others attached themselves to the sweaty pelt of the now slightly visible Tigrisian.
Unwilling to relent long enough to shake off the sand, Hyrcurian continued to press the opponent that had now wearied considerably. The crystals gave him more power when against his skin, but a sense of wrongness also invaded when he did so. Wanting the battle over, he pulled another crystal from his gauntlet.
Nemeses felt the surge. There was strength in it, but also something else. He did not have time to fully consider it, sensing a larger resonance of the power as the invisible attacks resumed with renewed ferocity. This time, the strikes were strong enough to numb his arm, and before long the limb refused to answer him. Seconds after the blade fell, Nemeses’ head jerked back violently. He fell to the ground, blood flowing from his nose. The scalding heat of the ground could entice him to rise.
As his felled opponent lay in the sands, chest heaving with exertion, Hyrcurian moved in for the killing blow. He halted at the last moment, realising Nemeses could not see him. He would make the Leothite look him in the eye as he finally avenged his father. To the protest of a voice urging him to strike now, the Tigrisian returned the jewels to his gauntlet.
Nemeses looked up as his opponent reappeared. He returned Hyrcurian’s triumphant grin with a resigned grimace.
“The better of us won. The cycle goes on. Do what you have to.”
The defeated Leothite closed his eyes as he lifted his head, exposing his neck for the final strike. The crowd gasped as Hyrcurian lifted his blade. As he began his downward swing, a rippling of the air behind the fallen Nemeses materialized into a form.
The Tigrisian eye’s widened at the form that appeared. Wearing a black robe in defiance of the Sun’s heat, the bear halted Hyrcurian’s descending sword with his own blade.
The bear’s voice rumbled with urgency. “Put aside your enmity. A great danger approaches. One we must face as one if any of our peoples are to survive.”
Screeching howls filled the air as a wave of pale, emaciated figures sprinted from the side of the Enkan walls.
“The Cursed Ones. They come.”
– T –