Hero — Part 1
Editors: Speedphoenix, Joker
The wingbearers’ settlement was a sizeable one. It wasn’t quite big enough to be labelled a city, but at the very least, it was no mere hamlet. That was why it seemed odd that the entire village had been drowned in the flames of war. Nell herself had already experienced several encounters. Each time, she worked with nearby wingbearer warriors in order to fend off their hooded assailants. The situation at hand was an awful one. And it only seemed to be getting worse. The clashing of blades grew louder and more frequent as the hero and her companions approached the village’s center.
“They’re too coordinated for this to be some random attack.” Mekina’s expression turned grim as she looked upon her surroundings. Her words came in a low, contemplative mutter. “It has to be a military operation.”
“Right,” said Ronia. “They’re clearly targeting the wingbearers. We just got unlucky and got caught in the crossfire.”
While the court mage wasn’t exactly the type of girl that liked to wear her emotions on her sleeves, they just so happened to be written all over her face at this exact moment. Her gaze was sharpened; she was clearly on guard.
“Whatever the case, let’s keep pushing forward,” said Nell. “The only thing we can do right now is to get there as quickly as we can.”
Both of the hero’s companions abided by her words and remained silent as they continued their journey in earnest. Only after a few minutes of running and skirmishing did they finally arrive at their destination. The first thing they did was hide themselves behind a nearby building. Observation was the key word—they looked upon the scenario in order to glean what they could before getting too caught up in the battle to see the big picture. Their investigations immediately led them to discover that most of the village’s warriors were gathered around a large house just north of the town square.
Like the rest of the village, flames decorated the central building’s vicinity. There were literally bonfires everywhere. Structures had been razed—and not only by the men in black. The wingbearers had pulled down one of their own watchtowers and converted it into a temporary barricade. Most nearby conflicts were centered around it. Wingbearers and men in black alike clashed both in front of and behind the defensive structure. That said, only the unknowns were negatively affected by its presence. Unlike the winged warriors, they were unable to take to the skies and circumvent it with minimal effort.
Hopping the wall wasn’t the only advantage that the ability to fly had brought the hawk-faced fighters. Their wings allowed them to easily maneuver in all three dimensions, thereby expanding their options in battle. The sky was their ally, one with which they had a longstanding relationship. So practiced were their movements that even an amateur could easily tell that they were well accustomed to aerial combat.
“There are too many of them for us to sneak past.” Nell frowned as she looked upon the countless enemies in her way. “I’ll break right through the front! Make sure you two stay right behind me!”
She didn’t bother waiting for either of her companions to answer before shooting into the fray like an arrow from a fully drawn bow. The hero trusted her friends enough to know that they were sure to follow.
They couldn’t react to her. The men in black, whose affiliation remained unknown, were too busy dealing with the wingbearers’ aerial assault to evade her holy sword’s edge. They could do nothing but fall to Durandal as she and her companions charged right through their ranks and leapt over the barricade.
“Was this invasion your doing, girl?” An angry roar reached her ears the moment she landed on the other side of the fallen tower. The chief of the wingbearers had spoken, his voice laced with malice, rage, and suspicion.
“Y-you’ve got it all wrong!” said Nell. “This has nothing to do with us!”
Her protests did little to quell his anger. Fortunately, she wasn’t alone in the endeavor.
“Please calm yourself, sir! I can attest that she means us no harm. She saved my life, among many others.” A nearby warrior approached the chief and made a case for the human and her companions.
While she was grateful for his help, Nell couldn’t quite pinpoint the identity of the man that had come to her aid. It wasn’t her fault. Wingbearers were so different from humans that the latter found it difficult to tell members of the former apart. Only the chief was particularly easy to distinguish. He was so much more muscular than the rest of his tribesmen that he stood out like a sore thumb. Though she didn’t recognize him, his words alone were enough to evidence that it was one of the many she had assisted on her way to the town square.
The chief closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm himself. Having one of his own explain the situation quickly convinced the chief that the girl wasn’t lying. “I am sorry. I should not have jumped to conclusions. Thank you for helping my people.”
“It’s okay, I understand,” said Nell. “More importantly, do you know what’s going on?”
“I am under the impression that we are being attacked by the fiends,” said the chief. “I do not know the precise race of our assailants, but I believe I have seen them amongst the fiends’ members. However, I cannot confirm my suspicions. They have yet to relay their intentions. We were attacked without a word.”
Nell furrowed her brow. It was a familiar name—one she would have preferred not to hear. He had told her that they were his enemies, so she had tentatively marked them as hers as well. The hero knew that if the chief’s guess was on point, then it would mean that they were up against agents from one of the demon realm’s two most powerful factions.
“The lack of light that accompanies the moon puts us at a sure disadvantage. Our eyes lose most of their function in the darkness,” said the chief. “However, we wingbearers remain a race of warriors. This is not anywhere near enough to force us to yield. Our honourless assailants have underestimated us. And for that, we will show them that they are fools!”
He brandished his naginata, which like his frame, was significantly larger than that of the other wingbearers. The wind almost seemed to screech as his blade tore through both it and the nearest enemy.
“We’ll help!” said Nell. “Ronia, use your magic to back everyone up! Mekina, take care of the wounded!”
“Roger,” said the mage.
“Sure thing, dear,” said the intelligence officer.
“I am sorry, humans.” The chief lowered his head. “It appears that you have been caught in our troubles.”
“You acknowledged us as your sisters in arms, chief. And we plan to play the part. We won’t abandon you in your time of need!”
Nell’s voice was firm, unwavering, and full of conviction—a fact that put a wide grin on the wingbearer’s face.
“You said that you guys see much better when there’s light, right?” asked Nell.
“That is correct. We do not see well in the darkness. But with sufficient light, our vision becomes one of our most powerful tools. We are able to see far beyond even those distant hills should the sun be at its peak.
Wingbearers were effectively nightblind. That was in part why the village was aflame. The winged warriors had sacrificed their own homes in order to better see their foes. Of course, the fiends knew this too. Both sides had designated the flames as key points of contention.
“I’ve got just the thing.” The hero raised her divine blade up above her head and chanted a spell. “I beseech the spirits of my ancestors! Heed my call! Illuminate my path! Sacred Shine!”
A glowing orb emerged from Durandal’s tip, ascended into the sky, and began raining light down on its surroundings. The rays it emitted were powerful enough to make her surroundings appear the same way they would at noon. But like the sun, the light emitted from the orb was more gentle than overbearing, more warm than scorching hot.
“Thank you. That is exactly what we needed!” said the chief. “Men! Let us engage our foes! Take up your arms and deliver them to hell!”
The wingbearers roared. Nell’s light had provided them with everything they needed to see not only their enemies, but each other. With their spirits ablaze and their weapons at the ready, the warriors began working together and rapidly mowing down their black-robed enemies. Seeing the sudden burst of momentum soothed Nell’s anxiety and filled her with confidence. Things were looking up. It only seemed to be a matter of time before the wingbearers achieved total victory.
“Oh, well would you look at that? It is the idiot I call my son. What has kept you from joining us in glorious combat?”
A young, fully armoured wingbearer approached the chief. Despite not being able to tell individuals apart, Nell felt as if she recognized him. The colour of a wingbearer’s plumes would change as they grew older, and the individual before the chief just so happened to have a very distinctive set of shades.
Seeing Nell’s confusion, Ronia whispered into her friend’s ear and informed her of his identity. “That’s the guy that started yelling when we were talking with the chief.”
The mage’s reminder was more than enough to trigger the hero’s memories. She hadn’t realized that the man her words had offended was the chief’s son. The revelation was a nice one to have, but it didn’t really seem to mean much to her, so she raised her sword and prepared herself to engage the men assaulting the village.
Only for all her plans to fall apart.
The chief coughed. Blood dribbled from his lips and fell onto the blade that had been driven into his chest.
By his son.
“Get out of my way! I must attend to our leader!”
The wingbearers were shaken. Many of their warriors immediately shoved the men in black aside and attempted to make their way over to the man to whom they had sworn their fealty. But they couldn’t. Their enemies engaged them before they could retreat and forced them to continue swinging their halberds.
“You… traitor…!” The wingbearer’s words were distorted by the blood welling up within his throat. His heavy frame heaved as it desperately tried to take in the air it required to function.
“Hmph.” Rather than grieving for his wounded parent, the younger warrior did nothing but scoff as he drew a bloody knife from the wounded man’s chest. “You have gone senile, father. You are no longer the patriarch you were in your youth. It is time for you to step down.”
Only after seeing more blood did Nell finally unfreeze. She dashed towards the pair and slashed at the chief’s assailant. Evading it was the best he could do; she was too quick for him to counter. But rather than following up and finishing him, she chose to grab the man that had proclaimed her his sister in arms and withdrew to safety.
“I’m on it, dear!”
The most mature of the three women ran over to the chief’s side and reached to treat his wounds, only to be pushed away by the injured warrior himself.
“Please calm down, sir. You really shouldn’t be moving around with a wound that deep!” she said.
“This… is nothing… A mere… flesh wound…”
His breathing was ragged and his words accompanied by clots of blood. Blood spilled from his core, leaked from his chest, and splattered all over the ground beneath him. He was heavily injured. Yet, he had refused to be disarmed; the grip he had on his naginata had never once loosened. He used the weapon as a crutch to prop himself up onto one knee before rising to his feet.
“So it… was you…” His words were laced with dissatisfaction and just anger. “It was you… who brought these… assailants into our lands…”
“That’s right, father. I’ve joined forces with the fiends, the only men truly worthy of being named our brethren.”
“You fool…” sighed the chief. “How low you have fallen… I did not think… that my very own son… would succumb to their temptations…”
“Say what you will, father, but your time is over. The wingbearer tribe is no longer yours to command! It is we who will rule it in your place!”
It was a cue. His words prompted several dozen wingbearers to flock to his side. All of them were as he was, young, foolish, and proud to the point of degeneracy.
“It is over, father! This land will be your grave!”
“You wish to kill me? Fine! Try it!” The chief took up a two-handed stance despite his still bleeding wound. “You are all fools. As the chief of our people, it is my duty to devote all I have to your reeducation.”
“I suppose these words are wasted on you now that you’re on the verge of death, but you really should’ve listened to us.” One of the men in black sneered at the chief as his allies gathered around him. “None of this would’ve happened if you’d just obeyed.”
“Hah! What a ruse!” The chief laughed. “You are a coward. You rely on underhanded schemes and ill-gotten gains! We have no loyalty for the likes of you! Now fight me! Challenge me in droves like the dishonourable scum you are! I will use my blade to seek recompense for the attack you have ordered on my people!”
His battlecry roused up many a spirit. Those that hadn’t betrayed him raised their weapons as their morale hit a new high.
“You shall not fight alone, chief! You have my blade!”
“And mine! I too shall offer my life to the cause!”
“We, your loyal warriors, will fight by your side!”
Both groups disengaged and rallied to their leader. They faced off with their weapons drawn and their hostilities bared.
“…I find it peculiar that you have chosen to remain ever loyal in a time such as this, but I see no fault in your decisions.” The chief took a moment to take a deep breath before breaking into a shout. “To me, men! Tonight, we march through hell’s gates! Let us fight to our last!”
There was a big smile on his face, a reassuring, warrior-like grin.
“C-chief!?” Nell questioned him with her eyes wide, but he ignored her and continued with his speech.
“Now go, men! Discipline your children and show them that they have misplaced their dignity!”
A messy melee began the moment he finished his decree. Friend and foe became all but impossible to discern. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there came the matter of numbers. The number of foes that each warrior would have to slay was absurd. Still, the wingbearers did as true elites would and faced them without the slightest hint of fear. Their enthusiasm was domineering; their battlelust overwhelming, and their power unquestionable.
The man in charge of the mysterious black-robed army clicked his tongue in annoyance before shouting at a nearby subordinate. “You there! Get rid of the humans!”
“That, I will not allow.”
It was a meaningless order. His servant was cut down with a single blow before he could so much as get in range.
“You must leave this place! If you truly wish to aid us, then take those amongst us who are unable to fight and go!”
The hero hesitated for a moment. She didn’t want to abandon the chief or his warriors.
“Nell!” The impatience that filled Ronia’s voice as she called for her brought Nell back to reality. She had to move.
“Okay…” she said with a hint of regret. “Let’s go. Stay alive, chief! Make sure this isn’t the last time we see each other!”
“Your concern is wasted. They would need another thousand men to defeat me,” laughed the chief. “Regillis! Orias! Take a few of our warriors and leave this place. Keep the women and children safe!”
“Orders received, sir.”
“Yes sir, I will uphold my duty, even if it costs me my life!”
Reluctantly, Nell followed the chief’s orders and joined Regillis, Orias, and many others in retreating from the village-turned-battlefield.