The Wingbearers’ Village — Part 1
Editors: Speedphoenix, Joker
Nell and Ronia sat in the middle of a large room with a polished wooden floor. Both wide and deep, the dojo-like facility didn’t seem even the slightest bit starved for space despite the fact that dozens upon dozens of winged individuals were crammed within it. The hawk-headed demons lined the walls as if to surround them. Their sharp gazes and deadly beaks were trained upon both the hero and her companion.
Their disguises were off and their true races exposed. But they proceeded with confidence nonetheless.
“We’re not seeking an alliance. We know that would be asking for far too much.” Nell spoke to the feathered man sitting across from her, the man responsible for the clan and its well being. “All we would like is for you to remain neutral, as you have been.”
“We do not take kindly to requests from the likes of mere humans,” snarled the leader in an ominous tone. He was significantly larger than her, and the feathered wings extending from his back only made his silhouette appear even larger and more intimidating.
Nell, however, didn’t flinch. She refused to be overpowered by his aura regardless of how domineering it may have appeared. She spoke right back to him in a firm tone. “I was told that demons obeyed those stronger than them.”
“You were told right. We respect those that are more powerful than us so long as they conduct themselves in a manner we judge to be worthy of our praise.”
“Then obey me,” said Nell. “Because I am stronger than you. All of you.”
It wasn’t a taunt. The words had left her mouth in the most indifferent of tones, as if she was merely stating a fact. And yet, it led to agitation. One of the younger wingbearers lining the walls shot to his feet and raised his weapon. It was a naginata, a mix between a sword and a spear. It had a spear’s shaft, but was tipped with a full-length sword. “You dare mock us, girl!? You are nothing but a child!”
His sudden act of aggression led many more of his clansmen to ready their weapons in turn. Likewise, Ronia did the same. She raised her staff and began channelling her magical energies such that she would be able to begin casting her spells immediately.
A veritable explosive situation. Even the tiniest of missteps from anyone involved could have caused the flames to surge and engulf her. But not even that was enough to faze Nell. Her gaze remained trained on the man before her, unwavering and calm despite the tense air that filled the room.
“Your confidence impresses me, if nothing else,” said the wingbearer clan’s leader. “Do you truly believe that you are powerful enough to triumph against all of us at once?”
“I won’t come out of it unscathed. I’m sure to take quite a bit of damage. I might lose an arm, a leg, or maybe even both. But at the end of the day, I will be the last one standing.”
“How dare you!”
The first wingbearer to have drawn his weapon continued to shout angrily, but neither the hero nor the leader of his clan paid him much mind. Nell did glance in his direction, but that was it. She turned back towards his boss immediately and continued to speak as if he hadn’t been of any importance whatsoever. “But I’m sure that you would agree to remain neutral even if I couldn’t take all of you at once.”
“And why’s that?” The clan’s head cocked an eyebrow in interest.
“Because I know that wingbearers honour duels. The others wouldn’t interfere if I challenged you to single combat.”
“You are correct. If you were to challenge me, then my people would merely stand by and watch in silence.”
“If we were to duel, I would be sure to give you a wound that would bring you to the brink of death, whether I win or lose. I’m aware that you know I’m at least strong enough to do that.”
“…” The clan’s leader narrowed his eyes, as if evaluating her.
“And if you were to lose or be brought to your deathbed, then your clan would be sure to go through a period of chaos and strife. That’s not something that you can afford given the demon realm’s current state. You don’t want to duel me because you don’t want to risk that. Listening to my suggestion and staying neutral—as you have been—would be the far better choice.”
The village head took his eyes off the girl; he closed them and began to contemplate his options. Silent waves of tension pulsed through the room as Nell continued to stare straight at him nonetheless.
Only after a long period of silence did he slowly reopen his eyes.
“Fine.” There was a grin on his face, a wide one. “I admire your courage, girl. Your bravery makes you worthy. My clan and I will accept you as one of our own and respect your wishes. We will remain neutral, as that is what we had been planning for regardless.”
The hawk-faced demon paused for a moment and narrowed his gaze once more. “But do not be mistaken. We are not willing to acknowledge or accept humankind as a whole. You and your companions are the only ones that we are willing to consider our brethren.”
“That’s good enough for us. Thank you very much,” said Nell. She breathed a sigh of relief as her lips curved up into a small smile.
“What!? What are you thinking, boss!?” The man that had stood up and pointed his naginata at Nell began screeching in disbelief.
“Enough!” The village head silenced him with a glare. “My decision is final. Have I made myself clear?
“…Of course, boss. I understand.” The pressure exerted by the village’s head caused the man to back off. He promptly bowed in a display of subservience and sat back down.
“Listen, all of you.” The chief looked around the room as he spoke. “Let it be known that you are not to harm either of these girls or their companions. They are to be regarded as our brethren. Those that do not wish to comply with my decision may now speak. Consider this your one and only opportunity to object.”
None of the hawk-headed demons present dared to defy their chief. They all bowed as if acknowledging his order, which led him to nod in satisfaction.
“Ah, yes, and before I forget.” He turned back to the two girls. “Were you planning on spending the night in the area?”
“We were hoping to.”
“Wonderful. Then tonight, we feast,” he said with a smile. “We will prepare a room for you at the inn. Do make sure you get enough rest to enjoy the festivities.”
“Thank you, sir. We appreciate your generosity.” Nell bowed.
“I am not doing anything you need to thank me for. I’m merely providing a powerful warrior with the respect she deserves,” said the village’s leader. “Guide! To me! Show our guest and her companions to the inn.”
The man responsible for escorting the hero and her companions did as instructed and showed them to the inn. Nell felt as if there happened to be an annoyed glare boring its way into her back as she left, but she didn’t pay it much mind. She had always been fairly ignorant of ill intent to begin with, so she hadn’t thought much of it; the wingbearers were sure to warm up to her in due time.
“Ugh… I’m so tired…” The hero heaved a deep sigh as she flopped onto her bed. “I was so nervous…”
“By the looks of it, everything seems to have gone just fine.” The third member of Nell’s party spoke to the two other girls. Unlike them, she had a mature vibe. She seemed like the type of person that excelled at taking care of others. “Great job out there, you two.”
While Nell and Ronia were Allysian in origin, Mekina was not; she hailed from a different nation. Given its status as one of the continent’s greatest powers, the kingdom was undoubtedly one of the greatest contributors to the operation that the hero had embarked on. But it wasn’t the only nation concerned about the demon threat. Many of the countries that Allysia was on good terms with had also contributed forces to the effort. Such was the case with Mekina’s fatherland: the Germanian Union.
It wasn’t just countries either. Even some individuals not associated with any sovereign entity had joined the cause. There were all sorts of different people involved, each with their own backstory. But, goal aside, they shared one thing in common.
They were humanity’s finest—and not just in terms of strength. In fact, many of them couldn’t hold their own in battle, but they were experts in their own fields nonetheless, extraordinary exceptions that ranked amongst the elite.
“Nell did great,” said Ronia.
“I’m not really sure how, but I managed to pull it off,” said the hero. “I think it’s safe to say that the wingbearers will be keeping their beaks to themselves.”
The reason Nell and her two companions had visited the wingbearers’ village was because fiends that they had tentatively assumed to be their enemies were passionately venturing all over the demon realm in an attempt to recruit additional allies. One of the races that they had their eyes on was the one that Nell had just finished negotiating with. The wingbearers were one of the demon realm’s most influential groups. And yet, they had chosen not to ally themselves with either of the two major powers. The moment they changed their stance was the moment the balance of power would be broken, the demon realm would be swallowed by war.
It was easy to imagine that a massive war in the demon realm would have consequences beyond it. Many human nations were sure to use it as an opportunity to declare war and initiate campaigns far more aggressive than any currently active. Demons and humans would once again dye the battlefields in copious amounts of blood. And the larger the demon realm’s conflict, the more aggressive the humans would become. That was why Nell had to step in. She had to try her best to grow the neutral faction and keep the scale of the conflict to come as small as she could. Bolstering the number of neutrals meant abiding by one of war’s most basic principles: taking away from the enemies’ forces and bolstering one’s own.
As demonstrated by the wingbearers, clans that chose to negotiate often were willing to accept Nell, to view her as their own. If she continued to do exactly that, then there was a chance she could very well bring the conflict as a whole to a close, that she could end the long-standing feud between humankind and its nemesis.
That was why many nations and individuals had chosen to involve themselves. To crush the smolders that plagued their homes.
“I know I have to seem really confident since demons respect strength, but it’s really not my thing.”
Seeing Nell complain as she rolled around on top of her mattress led Ronia to giggle.
“You messed up badly and made them angry. Thankfully, their boss is smart.”
“Ughhh…I know, you don’t have to remind me,” groaned the hero. “I know I can win if it comes to a fight, but it would be a really close one. I’m glad we managed to avoid it.”
“Why, that sounds terrible,” said Mekina. “Is that chief of theirs really that strong?”
“He is! I’d have a really hard time beating him. But I think Mr. Remiero would be able to win hands down.”
“Well, of course he would. He may have retired already, but he is still the realm’s most powerful adventurer. If he can’t beat someone, then no human can.” Mekina leaked a small sigh before continuing. “I’m sorry girls. I wish I could help, but I’m no good when it comes to a fight.”
“It’s okay,” said Ronia in a matter-of-fact manner. “I’m just as much of a burden. Demons are just too strong.”
Her knowledge over the mystic arts was second to none. She was quite literally one of the world’s most powerful human mages, matched only by a few select individuals. And yet, even she was outclassed by demons. That wasn’t to say that every single demon was a more powerful caster than her. There were many different types of demons, and each had different strengths. Some demon mages were far weaker than Ronia. However, those that were more magically inclined had her totally beat.
That was why, unlike Nell, she wasn’t meant to be out on the front lines. Her role wasn’t to fight. It was to provide support in the form of cover and backup.
“You may not be the best fighters, but you two are still really important,” said Nell whilst pumping her fists. “You can do all sorts of things that I can’t. I know that I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’ll try my best to keep both of you safe.”
“I’m sure you’ll do a wonderful job of it,” giggled Mekina.
“And we’ll pay you back by covering for your weaknesses,” added Ronia.
“Thank you. Both of you.” The hero spoke with a big, happy smile. Having her companions by her side reassured her; the moaning and groaning that she had been so eagerly engaged in even just a few minutes prior was nowhere to be seen.