On top of the Cathedral of Sainte Decius, a man with a long nose lay prone, gripping his weapon so tightly that his right hand ached. In the last two days, Smith had been threatened, shot at, tossed into a mysterious bureaucracy, shuffled along into a pile of socks, given a gun from the sky, forced to run for his life and finally, most distressingly, he had run out of cigarettes. Filled with an abundance of nerves, his hands shook and he had to grip the gun with two hands to keep it still.
Despite all of the adrenaline and fatigue, Smith raised the handgun, unsuited for sniping as it was, and focused on his target. In a voice he hoped the abomination would never hear, Smith whispered “Death”.
Minutes earlier, Mel found himself lost. Carla was nowhere in sight and the entire forest seemed to run in a circle. He would pass a copse of trees and then, as soon as the landmark was out of sight, come across it again.
It wasn’t until he had passed the same point for the third time that Mel heard the unmistakable sounds of a brawl elsewhere in the woods. He closed his eyes to pinpoint the sound with his ears and followed it blindly, using the stick he had picked up to guide him through the undergrowth.
When Mel opened his eyes, he saw the guardian statue stooped on the ground, but she wasn’t torturing his niece as he had feared. Instead, a round red creature was floating at roughly eye level, cackling. The creature turned to scan the ground and Mel saw a face that, if it had any purpose other than looking evil and scary, was failing. Before he could move, Mel locked eyes with the thing.
A soft glow of heat emanated from the wooden rod that Mel now noticed jutting out of the top of the monster’s head and for a moment, it felt like a powerful force was pulling him away. Reacting on a gut instinct, Mel replanted his feet and struck out with his own makeshift staff at the red thing’s face. It was surprisingly easy to hit the mark as the creature was made up almost entirely of face, so much so that before he quite knew what he was doing, Mel was swatting the little troublemaker around like it was a particularly resilient fly. After running scared from the woman on the ground a few feet away for the entirety of that morning, this was some well-deserved therapy for the overstressed man.
And then, as Mel swung hard at where the creature was bobbing, dazed, in the air, it suddenly wasn’t. Unable to stop his momentum, Mel kept going and crashed down onto the scrabbly brush of the forest floor. He turned, dirty and confused, to try and figure out why he had fallen.
And there she was, Pritha Prithvi the mighty, looking a bit sweaty and dusty but no less warlike, offering the one hand of her four which was free. Mel took her hand with only a little hesitation and pulled himself to his feet.
The centaur’s stern expression turned briefly into a smile, although she looked a bit pained. After all of this time with a perpetual frown, Mel guessed that Pritha Prithvi was unused to making a happy face.
“Human. You saved my life.” The centaur also seemed unused to expressing gratitude by the unnatural tone with which she spoke.
“I didn’t really mean- that is, I guess, it just happened. That thing looked like it was going to kill you.”
Pritha Prithvi’s face returned to its natural frowning appearance. “You do not know the demon’s nature, then.”
It didn’t seem like a question, but Mel answered with a simple yes.
“I am afraid of the news I may have to give you, human.”
Mel felt his Adam’s apple growing dry in his throat. “My name is Melchizedek,” was all he could manage.
“Walk with me, Melchizedek,” the living statue turned away for a second before hesitating. “It is dangerous to go alone, and I would feel more secure now if you bore arms. Take this.”
Once more Mel witnessed the four-armed woman reaching one hand into the small pouch on her side and pulling out a large object. It was a sword, about a foot and a half in length and one-sided with a slight curve. The blade was a solid silver color and the hilt was simple as well, a dulled dark grey with a small circular guard.
Mel took the offered weapon with a nod of thanks. “A katana? No, it’s shorter, more like a sabre in the-“
“Wazi- Oh. Sorry. My dad taught me all this kind of stuff, but I never could get the names.” Mel noticed that Pritha Prithvi was looking ahead, unmoved by his rambling. “Thank you, I mean. I’m pretty good with this kind of thing, at least enough to help. What I’m trying to say is-“
“Be calm, Melchizedek.” The woman started walking again, at a brisk, purposeful pace.
Mel did his best to keep up while holding his borrowed sword safely beside him. He was tempted to ask for a sheath, but the four-armed woman had now pulled her fourth sword back out of her magic little pouch and was striding along purposefully with her hands full, so Mel sheepishly held his tongue.
Finally, the two warriors reached the clearing with the cathedral again. Pritha Prithvi stood tall against the door, scanning the air and horizon for any oncoming threat. Apparently satisfied, she turned once again to Mel.
“The woman you were travelling with. Who is she?”
“I am sorry. The-” here the woman paused for a moment. To Mel it looked like she was trying to work out a puzzle, but before she could solve it, he understood the implication of her apology.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?”
Pritha Prithvi stared for another second before giving a single slow nod.
Melchizedek Okabe fell to the ground. He stabbed his sword forcefully at the dirt, but rather than sink in, it slid out and clattered against the wall of the cathedral, clanging noisily onto its side. The living statue had not seen a human in centuries, but she recognized the emotion of grief. She looked back up and stood guard over the broken man.
It was another moment before either of the allies spoke. Pritha Prithvi was increasingly uncomfortable with the situation, but felt she had to say something.
“I understand your grief, Sir Melchizedek. I too have seen family destroyed by the demon. I too was powerless to stop it.”
Mel didn’t look up, but dug his fingers, bloody and dirty from tearing at the ground around him, into his knees. “It’s my fault.”
The sword in the statue’s lower left hand touched Mel’s shoulder softly, as if he was being knighted. He looked up to see eye contact from Pritha Prithvi for the first time. “It is my fault. I was tasked with guarding the world from this monster, but I spent my time attacking you for fear of your betrayal.”
Mel grabbed his sword and pulled himself up. He couldn’t measure up to the nine-foot woman, but he still gave the most forceful glare he could through the tears streaming down his cheeks. “Both of us failed to protect her. But it’s my fault she’s here in the first place. If it wasn’t for me, Carla would be safe at home. I had to go and get her involved in this mess, so if anybody is to blame for her death, it’s me.”
As soon as it had spoken, the demon blinked out of existence between the two humanoids. In front of them, huge pits appeared in the ground instantaneously and the air filled with the sound of collapsing dirt.
Pritha Prithvi dashed forward, stowing three of her swords in her pouch as she ran. Another pit opened underneath her and she used her three free hands to vault out without breaking stride. Mel tried to follow, but before he ran even a few yards forward, a chunk of the earth beneath his feet disappeared and he fell once again, twisting his ankle.
Holes stopped appearing. The dust settled. Mel looked up to see Pritha Prithvi, her body stretched to its limit with her left foot buried in a small pit like the one which had ensnared Mel. However, at the end of her long body, reaching high up into the air was Pritha Prithvi’s longest sword. On the very edge of the tip of the nodachi, the demon was pierced right between its eyes, a small stream of dark blood trickling down.
The morning sun was eclipsed by a cloud of dirt falling like a painful, perverse rain, so that all three parties were forced to shut their eyes. Mel climbed out of the soft, wet earth as soon as he felt confident that it had stopped falling. In the confusion, the demon had slipped off of the point of Pritha Prithvi’s blade and was frantically teleporting a few feet at a time in random directions, pain and blood keeping it from focusing.
Mel waded through the muddy ground to join his ally, favoring his sore ankle. The centaur was holding her swords at the ready and following the plunger monster with her eyes, ready to strike at any moment, when a great cracking noise rang through the air.
“What is-“ began the ancient woman, but Mel recognized the sound of a gun being shot as soon as he heard it and dove down into the dirt and shouted at her to do the same. The demon, old as it must have been, was also confused by the noise. It twirled dizzily in the air, disoriented.
A second shot rang out and Mel looked up to see that it had come from the roof of the cathedral, although he could not see the shooter. But as he turned his head forward he saw the target. Whoever the shooter was, they had been attempting to shoot the demon. It wasn’t a direct hit, but a bullet must have grazed the plunger’s stick. The wooden handle was splintered along the side and straining to stand up straight, steam and smoke pouring from the breaking point.
The plunger’s pupils disappeared and its eyes glowed white. The steam around its body was turning a sickly yellow-green and streaming into a solid mass of concentrated magic. “You…” the demon was gasping for breath and obviously quite injured, but this only gave its voice a more haggard, alarming tone. “You’ve fucked with me for the l-last time today. I m-might have g-gone easy on you before, might h-have toyed with your p-pathetic lives, b-but now, y-you’re all g-going to die.”
The opaque mass of steam flew into the air above the demon, still streaming out of the gunshot wound in its handle. Formless smoke formed into the rough shape of an arrow pointed directly at Mel and Pritha Prithvi.