Eun burst into Peter’s room. “Peter, we need to—”
Then she spotted Kora—who was still holding a tomahawk—and twitched into a fighting stance. “What. The fuck.”
“It’s okay.” Peter rose from his chair, holding his hands out in a take it easy gesture. “She’s not Holly.”
Eun didn’t move. “You’re not making sense.”
Kora grabbed her wrist. “You may rest easy, for I am also a warrio—”
Eun traced a half-circle with her right foot and flowed inward, sweeping Kora off her feet and onto her belly. She dropped a knee onto the back of Kora’s arm, twisted her wrist into a compromised position, then snatched away the tomahawk. As Kora roared in anger, Eun stood and spun away, tossing the weapon out of Peter’s room.
Kora leapt up and shot in for a double-leg. Eun stopped her with a sprawl, then smacked her carotid with a solid forearm chop. The barbarian king crumpled to the ground.
“Whoa whoa whoa!” Peter stepped forward and pushed Eun back. “Knock it off, Eun!”
Kora tried to get up, but fell back down, still dazed by the strike to her neck. Eun craned sideways and looked over Peter’s shoulder. Holly was stunned, but she wasn’t out.
Peter’s urgency turned to puzzlement. “Hold on—did your aikido instructors teach you throat strikes? I thought that—”
“Aikido’s a philosophy, Peter,” she replied, keeping her gaze locked on Kora. “If you’re doing it correctly, you’re making use of any and all resources.”
“A canny…sentiment.” Kora clambered up and leaned against the wall. “I…would enjoy…learning from you.”
Eun raised her fists. “Any time, bitchcakes. Prepare for a lesson in getting your ass—”
“She’s not who you think!” Peter yelled.
“If she isn’t Holly, then who is she?” Eun shot back.
Peter took a deep breath. He patted the air with outstretched hands, as if to say brace yourself. “Her name is Kor’Thank. She’s a barbarian king. She comes from a land called—”
Kora interrupted with, “The gods have seen fit to place my mind inside a female. On my world, I serve as ruler of the Indashi tribe.” She gave Eun a respectful once-over. “Your skills…they are quite impressive. I do not mean to brag, but I am a warrior amongst warriors. You laid me low like I was a first-year Forge student.”
Eun lowered her hands, her eyes ticking back and forth. “A warrior amongst warriors…and back at the gym…there’s no way I could have beaten all those douchebags just by my—holy crap!” She laughed loudly. “The double O negative! Hot damn!” She clapped her hands and whooped excitedly. “That stuff is gold!”
Peter rubbed his neck, grinning awkwardly. He was glad that Eun had found her Super Soldier serum, but there was still the matter of a barbarian warrior trapped inside Holly’s body. “For the sake of normalcy, this is Kora.” He gestured at Kora with an open hand. “She doesn’t like ‘Holly,’ but I explained that here on Earth, it doesn’t pay to raise eyebrows.”
“Oh yeah.” Eun affirmed. “You need a regular name. You’ll skeeve people out if they think you’re different. I’m Eun.”
“An honor to meet you.” Kora gripped Eun’s forearm, squeezing with wince-inducing force.
Eun froze, trying not to squirm. “The um…the honor is mine.”
Kora held on. “Not only are you an accomplished warrior, but you are wise beyond your years. I’d wager you could best our most accomplished strategists in a game of bacci.”
“Oh—thanks.” She chuckled nervously. “Can’t claim all the credit—without the LSD, I wouldn’t have been able to touch you. You’re hella fast. Strong, too.” Kora gave her forearm a parting squeeze and let it go. Eun took a step back, waving her hand and mouthing a silent Ow.
“So.” Kora glanced at Peter, then Eun. “I must return to Elithia. Will you aid me in my quest?”
Eun cocked her head. “Elithia…that’s another dimension, right?”
“I think so,” Peter said, throwing her a quick glance. “But I’m not sure, yet. I need to consult with—”
“When you say ‘not sure,’ do you mean you’re not sure it’s another dimension?” Eun gave Kora a doubtful look. “Or not sure that she’s still Holly, only batshit fucking crazy?”
Kora’s hands balled into fists. “I am perfectly sane…” Then she closed her eyes and she took a breath. “But…but maybe I could do with some…some inner calm. Despite all my accomplishments, despite the legions of wretches I have conquered and gutted…a toxic malaise has taken root in my mind. During my stay in your strange realm, I will attempt to remedy the blight within my soul.”
Peter’s eyes bugged from their sockets. “Dude, you’re a king! How the fuck could you be bothered by…by…what did you call it?”
“A blight within my soul.” She regarded Peter with pity and disgust. “You have much to learn, Peter of Clan Lee. Power isn’t everything.”
“Power isn’t—” Peter scoffed. “Tell that to a piss-poor dirt farmer living in the Horn of Africa.”
“You are stuck in an animal’s outlook.”
Peter mumbled “whatever” and withdrew a cigarette from his right pants pocket. He fit it to his lips and tried to light it, but Eun plucked it from his mouth and crumpled it up. He glared at her, then turned back to Kora.
“So if power isn’t the answer, then what is?”
“Purpose.” Kora’s eyes became dark and heavy, and for a nerve-wracking second, Peter thought she was going to cry. “I require purpose, Peter Lee.” She fixed him with a murderous glare. “Without it, I court madness of the worst possible kind. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
He cleared his throat, trying to disguise his unease. “Uh…yeah. Perfectly.” Then a thought occurred to him, and his fear dropped away. “You know…we could help each other. I’ve got purpose, and you…the way you handled those robots…”
Her brow furrowed in thought. “It is obvious that your puny body and meager skills—”
Peter tilted his head. “ ‘Puny body?’ I really don’t think that—”
“—are no match for your infernal enemies.” “Yes,” she said with growing conviction. “I shall bolster your paltry efforts.” Her face darkened again, shriveling Peter’s scrotum into a tiny hive of wiry-haired wrinkles. “But if you harm an innocent, Peter of Clan Lee, I shall bisect your anus with a blunted hatchet.”
Peter gulped. “Shouldn’t be a problem—I only target assholes.”
“You only target—” Kora shook her head, puzzled. “Your sexual preferences are nothing short of vexing. Nevertheless, I sense good intentions within your twisted heart.” She offered up a hand. He reached out and grasped her forearm.
“Yar,” he replied with a mischievous expression. He had no idea what he meant by it, but it seemed to fit the spirit of the moment. It felt super maurader-ish and barbarian-y
“So it is. So shall it be,” Kora intoned.
“Great.” Eun Yin rolled her eyes. “A match made in heaven.”