The Wingbearers’ Village — Part 2
Editors: Speedphoenix, Joker
The high pitched ringing of steel echoed across the battlefield. For a few seconds, the sound was replicated each time it faded. But then, it disappeared. In its place was a dull clattering as one of the two weapons responsible for the ringing fell to the ground.
“…I concede.” A now empty-handed man muttered the two words quietly under his breath. His naginata had been blown away and his enemy’s blade had been pressed against his neck. He was vexed, but there was nothing he could do. The duel was over. He had lost.
“Thank you. It was a good match.” Nell smiled as she pulled her practice sword away from her opponent’s neck.
A stir ran through the crowd. Seeing her triumph over the warrior had caused many wingbearers to raise their voices and discuss the results with those next to them.
“I expected nothing less,” said the village’s chief. “Even my most powerful warriors have found themselves bested by your blade.”
“I am sorry, boss. I have lost.” The wingbearer moved to the edge of the ring and kneeled before the village head, who happened to be sitting just outside of it with his legs crossed.
“That is fine. She may be human, but she is strong. Do not worry, I am not disappointed in you. All that matters is that you learn from the experience.”
“Then I believe that all is as you wished, sir. It was an eye-opening experience.” Though he was muttering under his breath, the wingbearer Nell had defeated spoke in a tone that could only be described as earnest. He wasn’t lying. Losing the battle truly had expanded his worldview.
It was night time, and the festival was already underway. The hero and her companions had been led from their hotel to the village’s downtown area as the celebrations began. There, they had found a large ring, one obviously meant for combat.
All three of the girls had immediately eyed it suspiciously, but it faded into the background as the village head gave a toast to their arrival. Only about halfway through the night did it finally get mentioned again. The wingbearers’ boss had asked Nell to show his people her strength. She realized that accepting would provide her with an opportunity to earn the respect of those that had yet to warm up to her, so she had done exactly that. She dueled three of his handpicked elites and defeated them one after another. Demonstrating her strength proved worthwhile. It ultimately served to make the feast even livelier than it had already been.
Though she had bested all her challengers in single combat, Nell’s strength and vitality stats weren’t all that abnormal from a demon’s standpoint. They were high, but weren’t high enough to take the village by storm. It was her skill with the sword that led her newfound brethren to acknowledge her superiority.
Nell was of the dextrous variety. She had always known how to use her hands. Her natural talent was put into full bloom as she was taught the way of the blade—as she was taught to wield the heroic might that lay within her. Nell sucked up the techniques bestowed to her like a sponge would water. It didn’t take long for her to far outclass the average swordsman. And that talent of hers had only blossomed further in the past few weeks. The one on one instruction provided to her by one of her travelling companions had allowed her to realize the essence of the art. Though he was dressed like a butler, he helped further her technical skill at an even faster rate than ever before.
Unlike demonic techniques, which involved leading heavy clashes in which both parties could exert the full extent of their brute strength, martial arts developed by humans focused on finesse. Emphasis was placed on individual, highly technical moves as opposed to matching one’s foes with naught but power. As such, humans had the upper hand when it came to swordplay despite their lack of strength and vitality.
She had come a long way since she was first christened the church’s hero. Nell had already become so powerful that she could defeat several notable demons in a row without becoming short of breath, but she wasn’t done just yet. She still had plenty of room for growth.
“That was a fine display of skill, Nell,” said the village’s chief. “Thank you. I believe that should be enough to convince those that had yet to accept my decision that, though you are human, you are worthy of being considered one of our brethren.”
“I should be the one thanking you. You gave me the perfect opportunity to prove myself. I just hope that it was enough to convince everyone.”
“I doubt that my people will continue disapproving of you after seeing such a wonderful series of duels. Do inform me if there appears to be anyone hostile, and I will resolve the issue personally. But that is enough of that for now. The night’s event is a feast, and I wish not to waste any more of your time. Please, enjoy it to your heart’s content,” said the chief with a hearty laugh.
“Thank you very much, sir. I’ll do exactly that,” smiled Nell.
Evidently, defeating three of the clan’s more powerful warriors had worked. The village’s people flocked to Nell as soon as she was free and bombarded her with questions about the secret to her strength. And so, she spent the rest of the feast surrounded by friends both old and new.
It happened late at night, long after all the evening’s festivities had come to an end. There wasn’t even a hint of moonlight within the pitch black room. The only sounds that could be heard were the rhythmic breaths taken by the three girls sleeping within it—and the creaking of a door.
Several figures dressed from head to toe in black entered the scene. Each noiselessly slipped from shadow to shadow as they approached the targets they were assigned. And as they neared, they drew from their robes a set of daggers, each dripping with a viscous, toxic substance.
They reached the girls’ bedsides in sync and raised their daggers overhead. But they weren’t provided the opportunity to deliver the fatal blows that they had hoped for.
“You’re attacking illusions.”
A female voice prompted all three would be cutthroats to spin around and face one of the room’s corners. There, they saw one of the girls they had marked as a target with her staff raised. None of them managed to fully wrap their heads around the situation, but they at least understood that one of their targets was up and about. They immediately shifted targets to the active threat and charged at her.
But they were too slow. She muttered the name of her spell before they could reach her and caused all three robed assailants to collapse where they stood.
“Thanks, Ronia,” said Nell.
“That was wonderfully done,” said Mekina.
The layer of darkness that covered both of Ronia’s companions vanished as the spell concealing them undid itself.
“I couldn’t have done it without you, Mekina. I wouldn’t have noticed them.” The mage shook her head.
“I totally didn’t realize we were under attack either,” said Nell. “I would have just kept sleeping. So thanks, Mekina. We really owe you one.”
“I’m just doing my job, girls,” she said with a wry grin. “They’d have long fired me if I couldn’t do at least this much.”
Unlike the other two, Mekina was an intelligence operative. She had two jobs. The first was to detect enemies in order to keep her allies ready and alert. By nature of occupation, she was extremely sensitive to the nearby presence of enemies. Being asleep hadn’t stopped her from realizing that hostiles were approaching their room, so she had gotten up and warned the others before they were subject to the nocturnal assault.
Mekina’s other role was, as her title implied, to gather intelligence. And that was why she hadn’t joined the two in meeting with the leader of the wingbearers. She had been too busy using the opportunity to scrape up any information she could get. She had used not wanting to get in the way of negotiations as an excuse to be placed in another room. The Germanian spy made it seem as if she was standing by and idling around as any other guest would, but she actually spent the entire time investigating the wingbearers and learning everything she could.
“You aren’t as good as Mekina, but you would’ve noticed it before me if you weren’t drunk,” said Ronia. “You had way too much today.”
“I couldn’t help myself…” Nell covered her face with her hands and turned her eyes away from her friend in embarrassment. “The wine they had was really, really good.”
Her pitifully bad excuse caused Ronia to heave an exasperated sigh and Mekina to giggle.
“R-right, so who are these guys anyway?” She knew it didn’t justify or rationalize her actions in any which way, so she immediately changed the topic whilst directing her gaze towards the men passed out on the floor. Ronia’s spell had drained them of their consciousness and put them in a deep sleep.
“Aren’t they just wingbearers?” asked Ronia.
“It doesn’t seem like they are.” Mekina used her foot to roll one of the men over and unveil his face.
“Oh. They don’t have beaks.” The mage immediately realized that their assailants were missing the wingbearers’ characteristic hawk-like faces.
“Goodness, there are so many different types of demons,” sighed Mekina. “I have no idea which race these men belong to.”
“Then how about we ask the chief? He’d probably know,” said Nell.
Nell perked her ears up the moment she stopped talking, and not because she was waiting for one of her friends to respond. As the person standing closest to the window, she happened to catch a bit of an odd, unnatural sound. She immediately moved over to the window, opened it, and looked outside.
“What…?” The first thing that she did after making use of the elevated perspective her position on the second floor provided her with was gawk in confusion.
It was a melee. Wingbearers and people dressed from head to toe in black were all over the place with their blades crossed. And now that the window was open, the sounds coming from the village were clear to her. Screams and battlecries were accompanied by the clanging of metal.
Her relative proximity to the island, or rather, lack thereof, had prevented her from noticing the odd state that had overcome the wingbearers’ settlement in the middle of the night. Battles were happening literally everywhere. Wingbearers and men in black were attacking one another in the open.
One of the aforementioned fights was happening not too far from where Nell was situated. One of her beaked friends was locked in a duel with one of the mysterious assailants. A second was sneaking up from behind him, but the feathered warrior hadn’t even the slightest clue.
“Oh no! That’s not good!” Nell looked down from the windowsill and hesitated for a moment. The second floor was pretty high up off the ground. That said, she knew that she couldn’t afford to wait, so she clenched her teeth, stepped onto the windowsill, and jumped.
“Nell!?” Ronia shouted at the hero in surprise, but she didn’t respond.
After experiencing a moment’s worth of floating, Nell bent her knees to disperse the inevitable force of the impact that came with landing, and in that same motion, kicked off the ground with as much strength as she could muster. She shot across the ground like a rocket and swung her blade at the cloaked man in the midst of positioning himself behind the bird-faced warrior.
He managed to avoid it. But he was unable to do anything more. He was caught by the follow up that came as she twisted her waist and drove her blade into his torso. The life faded from him as he coughed up a mouthful of blood.
His death didn’t seem to come as much more than a nuisance to his companion, as the other cloaked figure didn’t offer even a word of grief. He clicked click his tongue in annoyance before leaping away from the wingbearer he was in the midst of fighting. He then retreated from the disadvantageous two-on-one situation by melting into the darkness of the night.
“Thank you. I owe you my life.”
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it,” said Nell. “Do you know who the guys that just attacked you are?”
Upon closer inspection, Nell realized that the wingbearer was one of the ones working as a guard, so she immediately probed him for further information. However, provide information he could not. The man, who wore a set of brilliant obsidian armour and wielded a naginata like every other wingbearer warrior, shook his head.
“I haven’t the slightest clue. They suddenly appeared out of nowhere and began attacking us without a word. I apologize, but I am worried for the chief’s safety. I believe that you should be fine given the extent of your strength, but I suggest you evacuate immediately nonetheless.”
The warrior flapped his wings and began heading back towards the village’s center.
Hearing her name prompted Nell to spin around. There, she saw Mekina and Ronia headed towards her. Their expressions indicated that they too had realized that the situation was more grave than expected, that they weren’t the only ones under attack.
“I’m terribly sorry, dear,” said Mekina. “I should have had a better grasp of our situation, but I didn’t think much of it because there were only a few enemies near the inn.”
“It’s not your fault, Mekina,” said Nell. “What did you do to the people that attacked us?”
“We stripped them and tied them up,” said Ronia. “Now what?”
Nell frowned as she paused for a moment to consider their options. Ronia’s question effectively meant that she wished to know whether Nell wished to run or fight. The first thing the hero did was to consider what Yuki would do in her shoes. That alone made her path clear.
“Let’s go help the chief,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll be needing as many hands as they can get.”
The hero knew that Yuki wasn’t the type to abandon people. He would do his best to save everyone he could. She could see him smiling the same way he usually did as he easily crushed his enemies by smashing his way through everything they threw at him. Although he was a demon lord, his example was what drove her actions of heroism. The fact that she held herself to his standard was ironic if anything, but she sought to imitate and learn from him regardless. She was convinced that his example was exactly what she needed to follow. Because she knew that he would never let those that needed him down. That he wouldn’t run away.
And as a hero, she couldn’t either. Choosing escape in the face of danger would reduce her to nothing but a laughing stock.
“That’s a wonderful idea,” said Mekina. “I would at least like to gather enough information to understand who these mysterious assailants are.”
“Should we use the orb of correspondence?”
“No. We don’t know what’s happening yet.” Nell shook her head in response to the court mage’s question. “I think we should go with Mekina’s suggestion and figure out who we’re being attacked by.”
“Yes, let’s,” nodded Mekina.
And so the curtain rose on what the three of them would find to be a long, grueling, exhausting day.