Mel was still tired after sleeping, but this was not unusual for him. Ever since he was a young boy, his parents had trained him to expect danger around every corner. This practice of constant vigilance left him groggy and unfocused most of the time, especially when his father would come into his room in the middle of the night, liquor on his breath, with a long wooden staff in his hands with which he could wake and break his boy until he was a man who could carry on the heritage of his name, untainted by the Redshirt goons breathing down his neck that Rei Okabe would never tell his son about until maybe someday they could break the whole damned cycle of money and corporate violence and finally their plans would all come to fruition and the family could-
Of course, Mel did not actually know his father’s motivations. Instead, Mel grew up with a severe addiction to caffeine, which is why he started his day, much like any other, by grabbing a can of orange soda.
Before cracking the tab open, Mel looked around and realized that his niece and her dumb hat were nowhere to be found. He stood up and stretched, hoping she hadn’t wandered too far, when he heard footsteps.
They were heavy, clomping footsteps, and in the back of Mel Okabe’s mind he thought that this was exactly what the footsteps of a person carrying an extra body’s worth of weight would sound like.
“It wasn’t a dream, then.” The steps stopped. Mel flexed his neck side to side and spotted Pritha Prithvi standing at attention. “But I thought you were only awake during the night?”
The guardian of the cathedral resumed walking until she was a few feet in front of Mel. It wasn’t until she was staring straight back at him that she deigned to respond. “Usually, this is the case. The moon prism wakes me so that I can inspect the premises. Now, I do not know. I suspect there is danger.”
The hairs on the back of Mel’s neck stood up. “Oh, Lordy. Is this about that demon thing you mentioned last night?”
“I have trusted you up to this point, young human. Do not tell me I was wrong to do so. After all, you are the only person I have talked to in centuries.”
“Centuries? How long have you-“
Pritha Prithvi’s eyes shot wide open. “Your companion. Where is she?”
“You knew that I-“
“Do not take me for a fool, man.” The four-armed statue woman reached a hand into her little satchel and grasped at something inside. “I am a warrior, after all. I noticed that you were not alone, and especially that you tried to hide that fact from me. Now where is she?”
Pritha Prithvi withdrew her hand, now holding a threatening-looking scimitar. Mel could scarcely believe such a large weapon could fit inside the small bag, but it got worse when the guard reached in another hand and pulled out a long Japanese sword Mel recognized as a nodachi. Mel backed away slowly, bumping his legs against the pew he had used for a bed the last night. With a quick motion, Pritha Prithvi’s other two hands pulled a fencing foil and a short sword out of the bag, which looked no larger or smaller than before.
Mel’s voice failed him for a moment before he croaked out a soft, “I- I don’t know. And I wouldn’t say if I could.”
Four swords flourished dramatically outward, revealing the full scope of this woman- three and a half feet taller than Mel, at least a hundred pounds heavier, armed to the teeth with weapons perfect for tearing him apart, all balanced on legs tensed to bound forward and shred Mel into tiny little bits.
Two legs. Mel hopped up onto the pew behind him, wavering slightly as he regained a bit of balance.
“If you will not tell me, you are my enemy. DEMON FANG!” With the roar of her attack, Pritha Prithvi quickly stepped forward and brought the nodachi and scimitar crashing down into the pew, simultaneously swiping the other two swords to her sides. It would have been a perfect attack, capable of stopping any opponent from dodging to the side, if only Mel hadn’t spun around and jumped away instead.
Behind him, Mel could practically feel the wood being mangled, but he kept his composure and jumped again to the next pew, trusting that he had better mobility than a woman who had to balance all of that on two feet. He got three rows back before allowing himself to look back.
The four-armed woman had not quite destroyed the high-quality wood of the church bench, but there was a huge, splintered break in its center. With another cry of “Demon Fang!” Pritha Prithvi smashed through the rest of the pew and strode through without even stopping to catch her breath. Two sets of lungs, probably, Mel guessed, I have got to figure out centaur anatomy some time.
Mel turned around and hopped another couple of pews, noting to himself that he was already more than halfway through the rows, when he realized that he was still holding the can of orange soda in his left hand.
“Oy! Pritha whatever lady, are you having trouble getting after a simple human?” Mel called out, praying desperately that his plan of intentionally angering this juggernaut would prove a good idea.
“Save your breath, jumping man,” Pritha Prithvi was not even bothering to call out her attack name anymore, simply bursting through the barricades in sweaty silence.
“If you want to chop wood, you should have opted for axes instead,” Mel called again. “Got any of those in your Mary Poppins bag?”
The four-armed woman stopped smashing and stabbed her swords face-down into the seat in front of her, pulling herself up to stand on equal ground with her opponent. “I know your game, false friend. You wish to anger me and tire me out. But I will still be armed, and you will still have nothing but your wit to protect you, so you will die.”
With one last shake of the can, Mel raised the unopened orange soda to his head. “How do you know I am unarmed?”
He threw the pop can with the strongest pitch he could muster at the human centaur, adding a cry of “Orange Bomb!” to drive the bluff home.
Pritha Prithvi raised her sabre and short sword in front of her face to guard against what she thought was some deadly explosive. Right as the shaken-up soft drink entered her range, she swiped the two skinnier swords in front of her in a wide arc, slashing the can apart. As carbonated liquid splashed everywhere, she tried to declare her attack, “Tempest!”, but nothing could be heard over the screech of aluminum and spray of orange soda.
For a few seconds, the living statue did not respond. She relaxed her arms and shook sticky liquid off of her face, coughing out what had gone into her mouth. At last she responded, “Sweet liquor? Some sort of prank? Either you take me for a fool or you underestimate my resistance to this weak acid with which you have soaked me. Now come and fight me with dignity!”
But when she looked around, the guardian of Sainte Decius’ Cathedral saw nobody. She raised her swords around her to guard from any sneak attacks and prepared to shout her challenge again, but before she could say anything a huge boom rocked the building.
“See now what you have done?” Pritha Prithvi yelled as the sound subsided, still standing shakily on the church pew. “That could only be the sound of the demon you have awakened! Now it is destroying everything in its wake. I must remove its evil magic from the world, but first I shall kill those who unleashed this monster. Now come, human trickster, and let us have a fair fight!”
Mel popped out from the back of the church, having crawled back to avoid detection. He pulled open the door where Pritha Prithvi had stood guard only last evening, grimacing mockingly. “See, you’re asking me to fight fair, which is all well and good if you’ve never actually been in a fight. As much as I’d love an honorable confrontation, I’d also like to not die. If I fight you head-on, I am going to get slaughtered. So ask all you’d like, but I’m not going to get all huffy and challenge you to a game of who-can-abide-by-the-unspoken-rules-of-battle.”
With that, Mel stepped outside and ran as fast as he could, scared out of his mind that he was going to die very, very soon. Instead, he collapsed, breathless, behind the nearest tree large enough to hide his body.