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Iwa

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Downtown Seattle was overstimulating, and Holly was understimulated.

She sighed as she scrolled through her phone, deleting her failed Tinder date’s number. Another bland, pretentious budding artist thinking she was so different from everyone else Holly had seen in the last month. Same bland, indecisive date location (“I don’t know, where do you wanna go?” and then settling for a movie before heavy petting in her studio apartment). And same completely underwhelming sex, leaving Holly far more frustrated than before.

A message came through. “How did it go?”

Holly groaned and turned off the screen, pondering her response. Her (very taken) friend, Tess Shuksan, had been messaging her encouraging emoji throughout Holly’s recent dating adventures, and with how bubbly and positive Tess was, Holly didn’t want to let her down. She didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news that she hadn’t came once, and the date was a disaster.

But Tess was also an oni, a horned nature spirit incapable of lying. She would smell the dishonesty of Holly if she tried to cover it up, so Holly just had to bite the bullet and tell the truth.

“It was awful,” she texted. “She took me to a silent, pretentious art film that I didn’t understand, the dinner was stuffy and vegan, and she was a pillow queen.”

“Yikes,” Tess replied. “Wanna come to our place for some noodles?”

Holly nodded, then remembered that Tess couldn’t see her. “Sure,” she replied. “I need real food after eating a lawn for dinner last night.”

Tess, her girlfriend--Keisa, also an oni--and their roommates lived above a ramen shop in the International District of Seattle, hub of all sorts of cryptids--nonhuman entities--and humans from foreign lands. The area had a distinct Japanese flavor, which meant that most of the oni in Seattle tended to migrate there unless they stayed in their mountain tribes in the Cascades. And luckily, the subway wasn’t a long ride to the district, and they were only a few blocks away from the Transit Tunnel, so she didn’t have to travel far to see her friends. 

Everything went perfectly on Holly’s way to the apartment. Nobody sat next to her, both nubs of her earbuds were working, her playlist played all the songs she wanted to hear, and there weren’t any sudden stops. Tess even met Holly at the Tunnel, wearing pajamas with little oni masks on them, slippers, and a torn-up tanktop. She was a multicolored goddess...a very unfortunately taken and smitten goddess.

“Did you get here alright?” she asked, slinging an arm around her. Tess was a lot larger than Holly, her muscular arm needing to bend a bit awkwardly around her frail shoulders, her arm near Holly’s navel. Holly took a second to study the intricate old fashioned oni tattoo on her hand, the colors popping in the splotches where her skin was brighter. 

“It was pretty good,” Holly said, trying to not enjoy Tess’ protective arm too much. Even in her raggedy, casual clothes, she was still so gorgeous, an Amazonian entity with skyward horns to add to her intimidating, effortless but monstrous beauty. “You didn’t have to meet me down here.”

“I don’t need to do a lot of things,” Tess said with a sideways grin. “And the things I need to do, I tend to forget.”

Holly laughed and shouldered her a bit. “You sound like Keisa.”

Tess sighed. “Yeah. She rubs off on ya.” With a wink, she changed the subject. “Now, let’s have some ramen and talk about your shitty date.”

When they got to the apartment, Keisa was sitting cross-legged at one of the couches, watching oni women sparring on TV. “Sup,” she said, mouth full of noodles.

“I thought we were going out to eat,” Holly said.

“Nope, fuck that,” Keisa mumbled. She swallowed. “It’s Sunday. Ain’t nothin’ open. Besides, Tess has leftovers at her job.”

The ramen shop beneath the apartment was where Tess worked full time, making traditional ramen by hand and adding spices to attract the Seattle hipsters. It was a charming little place, but lately, Holly had been too busy to visit Tess at work. 

“I’m assuming you want mild?” Tess asked, half-sprinting to the kitchen. 

“All the ramen you’ve given me before was good,” Holly replied, finding a place to sit next to Tess’ girlfriend. “I trust you.”

“I’ll give you my mystery concoction then!”

“Do NOT!” Keisa hollered.

“Why?”

“It’s MINE.”

Tess laughed. “I have more! Let the guest have some!”

Keisa blew a ginger lock out of her face and sighed. “Fiiiine. I guess it’s a small price to pay for such hot gossip.” She slurped a noodle indignantly.

Holly suppressed a chuckle. While Tess was a tall, dark, and handsome warrior--a gentle giant at that--Keisa was an imp. Her horns were a bit disproportionately large for her head, her body dainty and dollike, which often fooled people. Keisa was just as strong, if not stronger, than her girlfriend. 

And Holly, being the shy human she was, was a bit more than slightly terrified of the tiny ginger. 

“When are you gonna tell me about your shitty date?” Keisa asked, wiggling her legs.

“Um..”

“Keisa, behave!” Tess snapped playfully from the kitchen before coming round with a tray full of bowls of ramen and tea. “She just got here. Let a girl breathe.”

“It’s fine,” Holly said, voice cracking. She told Keisa all that she had previously informed Tess of; the shitty movie, the vegan food, and the unreciprocated sex. 

“Don’t let Elita hear you rag on vegan food,” Keisa snickered.

Elita was one of their roommates; a frail, nearly silent tengu who traded a sword for LuluLemon leggings and worked as a yoga instructor. She was a diehard Buddhist and vegan, much to Keisa’s carnivorous dismay. 

“Is she here?” Holly looked around the apartment.

“She’s at her temple. And Tasha is out with a new boytoy,” Keisa responded, licking her lips and continuing to slurp the curry-filled liquid of her extra-soupy ramen. “It’s just the oni gang today. Hence the fighting.”

Tess laughed. “Elita’d kill us if we had something so ‘barbaric’ on TV.”

“Speaking of barbaric.” Keisa set down her bowl of ramen, now empty, nearly licked clean. “She didn’t touch you at all?”

“No.” Holly hesitated. “I mean, she kissed me at the door of her apartment, but not even a makeout.” She shuddered. “It was like those awkward first kisses in middle school.”

Keisa snorted. “I dropped out of middle school, and that still sounds bad.”

“Oh, I’m sorry--”

Keisa waved her off. “I knew what you meant. I’m not a fucking pansy, Hols. But seriously. You need a proper girlfriend.” She rubbed her fingers together and giggled, sitting back in the couch.

Tess gave her a long, cold stare. Her blue eyes brightened. “Are you thinking of hooking her up with one of your friends?”

“Of course. If she likes pro-fighter oni.”

“Wait, she’s an oni?” 

“Of course she is. You think I get along with many other people?”

Tess choked on her ramen. “That’s racist.”

“Isn’t! Humans are often dishonest and...disappointing, as Hols pointed out. Tengu are far worse...Elita’s an exception. I’m glad there’s a kind I can trust.”

Holly chewed her lip. At this point, she was too desperate for anyone to give her attention. She’d take anyone who might be interested. “Who are you thinking?”

“Iwa.”

Tess dropped her chopsticks. “Iwa...Akari?”

“Obviously. Do you know any other Iwas?”

Tess slammed her hands down on the couch. “No. No. NO! Absolutely not! She’d break her in half and eat what’s left for breakfast!

Holly chewed her thumbnail. “At this point, I wouldn’t mind much. If I die getting laid, then that’s a good way to go, isn’t it? Besides...I’d do anything to get eaten.”

Keisa cough-laughed, sounding like a dying smoker, and in that moment, Holly knew that Keisa was indeed a bad influence. She was even starting to sound like her, and Holly was no extrovert.

Desperately reaching for a bottle of water, she said, “Iwa Akari is a professional MMA fighter, full oni, full Japanese. She lives in South Seattle. Lemme find pictures.” Keisa pulled her phone out of her pocket, scrolling rapidly. “Here!”

Holly’s jaw dropped instantly. “She’s not real,” she breathed.

On Keisa’s (albeit very cracked) screen, Holly saw someone who could’ve easily murdered both Tess and all her glory and her girlfriend too, devouring Tess for dinner and Keisa for dessert. She was huge, definitely the tallest and most muscular woman Holly had ever laid eyes on. She was absolutely covered in tattoos to the point it was unclear what her natural skin color was. She saw faces of oni, of old masks, of the scales of koi and dragons dancing across her well-contoured muscles. Her horns curled forward and under her ears, and in the picture Keisa shared, she was dangling charms off of the tips. Her hair was closely-shaved on the sides, a gradient to the longer top, which was spiked up in the front, the tips dyed blue, the rest of her hair jet black.

She had her arms slinged around Keisa--who looked like a child in comparison--and Tess--who looked small compared to her. Not only was Iwa muscular, she was thick. Holly was sure gym rats and diet fiends would have a heart attack knowing she was so massive. She definitely wasn’t fat, but from the gyms that scared Holly away, she knew she definitely counted as obese.

And she loved it.

“How did you meet?” Holly asked, her voice coming out much higher than intended.

“At my bar!” Keisa said proudly. “She’s a regular customer when she comes for matches up here. And there’s a lot of fights up in these parts, since there’s so many oni here.”

“Would. Um. Would she be willing to come up for a girl?”

“Of course she would! She’s been single for years! And she likes the small girls like you.”

Holly crossed her arms. “You’re way smaller than me.”

Keisa waved her off. “Anyway, I’ll text her. Where would you like to go out?”

“Um. Um!” Holly thought for a moment, her thumbnail finally breaking free from her finger and onto her tongue. Spitting it out, she said, “Not a movie.”

She saw Keisa text “not a movie” to Iwa.

“Don’t say that,” Tess hissed.

Keisa pressed enter.

“You’re an awful wingman! Give me your phone!” 

“No!” Keisa rolled off the couch and ran from Tess, holding the phone up.

“Keisa!” Tess growled, grabbing the phone from Keisa and holding it far above her head. “You can’t hold your phone away from me! I’m taller than you!”

“That’s not fair!” Keisa wailed, jumping to try to reach the phone.

Tess typed a few more things on the phone, far from Keisa’s reach.

For a moment, nothing happened. Tess held the phone up, Keisa sat at her feet, arms crossed around her legs, and Holly waited, wiggling her crossed legs against the worn-in couch.

Suddenly, the phone buzzed.

Tess lowered the phone a bit, and Keisa jumped and snatched it. 

“She thinks you’re cute!” Keisa cheered.

“You showed her a picture?”

“Yeah, I grabbed your Facebook profile picture. She thinks you’re really cute, and she’s willing to meet up at an izakaya around here tonight?”

Holly’s heart hammered in her chest. “Tonight? What time?”

Keisa typed furiously. Within moments, a reply came.

“Seven? Her treat.”

“Is she a goddess?”

Tess and Keisa stared at her, beaming. 

“Did I say that out loud?” Holly squeaked, sinking further into the couch.

“I’m telling her yes,” Keisa decided. “Let’s get you ready for your date!”

“It’s not much of a date,” Tess retorted as they went into their room, “more of a catered one-night stand.”

Keisa giggled impishly in response. “Hopefully, it’ll be a many night stand…”