Bonus Interlude (Ren, pt.1)

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It was a curious sight, Ren admitted. An oni in full armor and an axe-wielding woman in a party dress standing on top of a train as the wind blew past them. Not something you saw every day.

“Are you sure you wanna do this?” Nayeli asked.

“Absolutely. Is my job to protect Kichirō from people like you.”

“Really? Cuz if that’s all you want you could just give up and I’d take you out for ice cream or something some place far away, promise. We could talk about boys,” Nayeli quipped sarcastically.

“No,” Ren said. “I want to fight you. Fighting strong people exciting to me. Makes me feel alive. Is what I live for.”

“Uh-huuuuuuh…” Nayeli sighed, and grabbed the handle of her axe from the back of her dress. “Alright, I guess we’re doing this then.”

“Yes,” Ren said, brandishing her spear. “We are.”

The two demihumans faced each other atop the train, their eyes never leaving one another’s. Their white-knuckle grip on their weapons was absolutely unbreakable. Neither one of them dared to look away in fear that they would give their opponent a chance to make the first move.

Ren smiled. This was how a battle between two warriors should be. Simple, and threatening, like a lump of sharpened steel. None of the arrogance or fancy politics that dominated Kichirō’s world. No talk of principles or ideals. Just the clash of two indomitable wills, showing their respect for another in the vital, focused art of combat-

Is she looking away from me?

Ren stared dumbfounded as the demigoddess casually broke eye-contact to look out on the forest like some sort of sightseer, sticking a finger in one of her ears and twisting it around like she had nothing more important to do than scratch some itch in her inner ear. She flicked away a wad of greasy yellow earwax and returned her gaze to Ren, looking utterly bored.

Ren returned the gaze in kind, her furious expression making the demigoddess uncomfortable.

“….”

“…. So is there any place in particular you wanna do this, or-”

“Here is fine.”

Ren dashed forward, the wrapping on her spear blowing away in the wind as she struck the first blow. Her naginata clashed against the rough slab of rock her opponent called an axe, sinking only a few millimeters into the handle. The entire train shook instead. Ren clicked her tongue in annoyance. Hyper-dense, huh?

The demigoddess looked at her, annoyed. “Well that was rude. I only have one of these things, you know. You gonna pay for this later, or are we gonna have to cut that out of you too?”

“You assuming you’ll win?” Ren said, smiling. “Arrogance. We killed demigods before. Kichirō much better at what he does than your boss. And I no-”

Still locked blade to blade, Nayeli’s feet left the ground, her lower body twisting around and driving a powerful kick into the tiny oni’s side, sending her flying into the distance.

“What’s that?” Nayeli bellowed. “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you!”

————-

What incredible power, was what Ren thought as she soared through the air like a bird. Or a bullet. Landing almost fifty kilometers away, she crashed into a thick thicket of trees, coughing up blood. Her vision spun dizzily. She was much, much stronger than Ren had expected. The last time she’d been kicked so hard she couldn’t see straight… that was more than a decade ago, right? Was she sure she wasn’t more of a monster than she was?

Ren looked around. It was hard to tell what with being in a crater where everything looking like she’d just gotten off a nasty bender, but… was this a forest?

The demigoddess landed a few feet away from her, still holding her axe.

“Sorry about that, I lost control there for a second. I get a little fucking touchy when people talk shit about my boss,” Nayeli said with an air of disinterest. “It won’t happen again, I promise. I’m impressed though, I really meant to kill you with that. They build them tough where you’re from, huh?”

Ren laughed. “I am oni. We do not die so easily. Something we have in common, I think.”

“Don’t build ’em very tall though, apparently,” Nayeli said derisively. “Or curvy. That a part why Asian girls don’t have any tits or is that just an oni thing?”

Ren instinctively clutched her chestplate, her red face becoming imperceptibly redder. “Really?! You bring that up now?! Not everyone can have boobs the size of Mt. Olympus, god-girl! Besides, they just get in the way!”

Nayeli snorted. “Yeah, whatever.”

She reached down, and tore a slit in the leg of her dress. Then she undid her ponytail. “Ready to rumble, shortstuff.”

Ren looked around. Now that her vision had settled, she was sure of it.

“We shouldn’t be here,” Ren said, a note of concern sneaking into her voice. “This an Arizona national park. We can’t destroy this. We fight here, maps will need to be rewritten.”

“Yeah yeah,” Nayeli said dismissively. “Look, I don’t like beating up other demihumans. Makes me feel like a bad guy. I’m a good girl, you know? So are you sure you wanna do this fight? Like, really sure? Here, tell you what. If you wanna fight me, how about put one hand behind my back and swing my axe one-handed? That way nobody gets hurt and-”

Taking advantage of the opportunity, Ren once again lunged at the demigoddess.

“Hey!” Nayeli shouted. “Are you even listening to me?! Be fucking nice!”

The two of them locked eyes and weapons, demihuman against demihuman, polearm against polearm. They disengaged, the air crackling between them. Ren swung her spear, and distant trees cracked in half, sliding apart like cut vegetables. Nayeli did the same in return, except when she did it, it was the hills that were cut apart instead. A small cut opened in Ren’s cheek as she dodged the glancing blow. So this was the difference in their power.

This is bad. If things continue like this, then I won’t be able to reach it in time. I have to move things along here.

Ren thrust the spear towards her head, trying to end the fight immediately by destroying her brain. Nayeli lazily tried to parry it, pushing it to the left so it’d just miss her face, but when the spear passed, she felt it cut her. Actually cut her. But the blade had never touched her. She’d cleared it by centimeters at least. Blood dripped down her face in the exact same spot where her glancing blow had struck Ren.

Nayeli’s expression turned sour. It was the same look she’d had fighting the homunculus in Central Park. Her eyebrows twitched as she narrowed her eyes and sighed, pinching her brow.

“I knew it. I fucking knew it. No way I could get a break. Alright, so what’s this then? What did you do? Peel my skin apart with your mind? Put a spell of shared pain on me that rebounds your wounds back to me? Does that spear cut through time and space to deliver wounds that’ll never heal? What is it?”

Ren smiled.

“You know what this spear is? It a replica of Tonbogiri, spear of Honda Tadakatsu, so sharp it cut things without touching them. Edge so thin it’s invisible, yet harder than steel.” She withdrew the spear, allowing the light to hit it so that the demigoddess could see her own blood hanging off the invisible edge of the spear what seemed like inches from where the blade should have ended. “Sharpness decreased by more than a thousand, but it still carves the atoms off your bones. Sharpest blade there is besides original.”

The small red oni spun the spear, Nayeli’s golden-red blood sliding off the surface of the blade like grease.

“How about we go back now?” Ren intoned threateningly. “You come with me or-”

But the demigoddess seemed unconcerned. In fact, she seemed delighted.

“Oh, is that seriously it? For real? Thanks for telling me how it works!” she said, smiling and laughing. “‘Bout time I got a fucking break! Here I thought you might’ve had some sort of crazy-ass superweapon that like, reverses the order of cause and effect or some shit, but really all it is is just a sharp stick! Now I know I can stop being so careful!”

Ren growled. “Why you…”

But there was no time to finish that thought. Nayeli rushed towards her like a freight train moving at light speed. Her speed was overwhelming!

Ren quickly brought her replica up to guard as Nayeli swung her axe down on her with her left-hand, shattering her bones, her footing and everything else in a five-mile radius. Hills turned to dust and trees blew away like sheets of paper in the wind.

True to her word, Nayeli handled Ren’s spear one-handed, catching her by surprise by forcing the spear towards the ground with her axe and slowly overpowering her. Finally, she pushed aside the naginata altogether and rammed her fist into Ren’s face, punching her so hard she bent backwards and fell flat on her back with enough force to collapse the ground into an enormous crater, deeper than the Empire State Building was tall. Blood spurted from Ren’s nose like the magma that seeped out of the violated earth in tiny rivulets. If this kept up, she might just carve out a new caldera. And Ren would be the shovel.

But still, she could feel it. The desire to win coursing through her veins, the determination succeed. She was an oni. It was in her blood. As she becomes stronger… so do I! I can take the punishment!

Willing her destroyed arm to move, Ren took advantage of Nayeli standing right over her and plunged the spear straight into her stomach.

I’ve got you now, god-girl. There’s no way you’re walking away from this. This spear is going straight through you!

That was Ren realized… it wouldn’t.

“Wha-… what?” she said weakly. The spear had struck her, but she was having trouble getting it to go any deeper. The Tonbogiri, the spear that was supposed to be sharper than anything in this world, was stuck barely six inches inside her. She hadn’t even reached the other side! What’s more… she couldn’t pull it out!

What the hell?!

“You said you’ve killed demigods before, but you mustn’t have killed very many,” Nayeli said, the smallest trickle of blood lining her lips. “Otherwise you’d know that shit like this… isn’t going to fucking work on me!”

Grabbing the spear by the shaft, she kicked Ren in the gut so hard she vomited blood and let go of the Tonbogiri. With the spear safely in her grasp, Nayeli clenched her abdominal muscles and shattered the spearhead while it was still inside. Then she snapped the shaft into two worthless pieces.

She looked down at the hole in her stomach, pulling back some of the fabric of her dress.

“I’ll pull this out later,” she said, like she hardly cared about the incredibly sharp pieces of metal lodged in her. “Did you really think that’d work though? If you really knew jack of all fucking shit about killing demigods, you’d know that you’d better do it with magic. Words like monomolecular, subatomic, q-blade… those things are worth less than crap. None of them can kill me. You wanna cut a demigod? You better bring a sword made by God Him-fucking-self. At this rate, I’d say that rat-fuck Mickey was smarter about killing me than you.”

The oni sputtered, blood filling her lungs.

No, it’s not enough. It’s still not enough. But I’m almost dead. At this rate, I might not be able to do it before I bleed out. I thought I’d have at least a couple of minutes. We onis are supposed to be hard to kill, dammit! Is this girl…

Ren looked at Nayeli, bitter, angry, respectful fear in her eyes.

Is there any part of this girl that’s really human?

“Last chance to do the smart thing and give up, shortstuff!” the demigoddess said. “Just say the word and I can take to the hospital. I’ll swoop in and scoop you up in my arms and take you away, your knight in shining armor! Though I guess your boyfriend wouldn’t be too happy about that, would he?”

The demigoddess mocked her. Ren got up, her body held together by almost nothing but willpower. She smiled in absolute defiance, as if every movement was a curse on Nayeli.

“That all you got, bitch?”

Nayeli stared back, confused but annoyed.

“See, I don’t get you,” she said plainly. “I don’t get this right now.”

Sticking her thumb out, she gave it a lick and rubbed it on the cut on her cheek, the cut disappearing almost instantly.

“I keep trying to be nice to you and give you a fighting chance, but you just gotta go and keep pressing my fucking buttons. I’m trying to be merciful here. Why don’t you just show a little bit of fucking appreciation?”

“I never ask for your mercy,” Ren replied sharply. “I going to beat your ass just fine without it. Besides, it disgraceful for me to accept charity from my opponent. I no fucking think so.”

“Yeah, but it’s smart.

“Then I guess onis stupid.”

“Very, very, very stupid.”

Ren laughed, even though it caused her pain. “I say the same thing to him once.”

Nayeli frowned. “Well, sayonara compadre. Can’t say it’s be fun.”

Putting both hands on her axe, Nayeli swung, opening the tiny red oni girl up like a gutted fish. She collapsed into an unrecognizable scarlet heap, the blood that matched her skin so well soaking into the pulverized ground like fresh rain.

Nayeli sighed. “What a fucking joke. Not even a good one either…”

She started to walk away, a visibly bad taste left in her mouth.

“Did I say I was done with you yet, you fucking bitch?”

Nayeli looked back in surprise. “Oho?”

Ren stood up, a red vial clutched between her teeth. She tipped her head back, and then spat out the empty vial. Her wounds had healed.

“Phoenix yolk,” she explained, unfastening her shattered armor. “Good for one use only. Heals all wounds. No lasting effects like ambrosia, but better than nothing. We always carry some in case of emergency.”

The armor fell away, revealing nothing but a tiger-skin loincloth and a bandolier of the same red vials. There was a large iron club strapped to her back. Ren hefted its weight with meaningful familiarity.
“Now I show you how oni really fight.”

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