Eun burst into Peter’s room. “Peter, we need to—” When she spotted Kora, who was still holding a tomahawk, she twitched into a fighting stance.
“What. The fuck.”
“It’s okay.” Peter rose from his chair, holding his hands out. “She isn’t Holly.”
Eun didn’t move. “You’re not making sense.”
Kora grabbed her wrist. “You may rest easy. I am—”
Eun circled back 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 bend, then snatched away the tomahawk. As Kora roared in anger, Eun stood up and spun away, tossing the weapon out of Peter’s room.
Kora leapt to her feet and shot in for a double-leg takedown. 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 in and pushed Eun back. “Knock it off!”
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, keeping her eyes fixed on Kora.
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 braced against the wall and rose to her feet. “I…would enjoy…learning from you.”
“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 both hands, as if to say don’t freak out. “Her name is Kor’Thank. She’s a barbarian king. She comes from a land called—”
Kora interrupted: “The gods have seen fit to place my mind inside a female. On my world, I served 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. And you laid me low as if 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 myself…holy crap!” She laughed loudly. “The double O negative! Hot damn!” She clapped her hands and whooped excitedly. “That stuff is gold!” Her expression turned curious. “Wait…so you’re not Holly? You’re another dude who’s trapped in her body?”
“For the sake of normalcy, this is Kora.” Peter gestured at Kora. “She doesn’t like beinc called ‘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.” She offered her hand.
“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 squeezed harder. “Not only are you an accomplished warrior, 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 touched you. You’re hella fast. Strong, too.” Kora let go and Eun stepped back, waving her hand and mouthing a silent Ow.
“So.” Kora glanced at Peter, then Eun. “I must find a way to return to Elithia. Will you two peasants aid me in my quest?”
Eun cocked her head. “Elithia…that’s another dimension, right?”
“I think so.” Peter threw her a quick glance. “But I’m not sure. I need to consult with—”
“When you say ‘not sure,’ do you mean ‘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…” She closed her eyes and 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 try and 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 just call it?”
“A blight within my soul.” She regarded Peter with disgust and pity. “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 stuck in the Horn of Africa.”
“You are ensared 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 swore under his breath, glared, and turned back to Kora.
“So if power isn’t the answer, then what is?”
“Purpose.” Kora’s eyes became dark and heavy. For a nerve-wracking second, Peter thought she was going to cry. “I need purpose, Peter Lee.” She fixed him with a murderous stare. “Without it, I am susceptible to madness. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Her eyes burned with a hot, unsettling light.
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 have purpose, and you…the way you handled those robots…”
Her brow furrowed in thought. “Yes…it is obvious that your puny body and meager skills—”
Peter tilted his head. “ ‘Puny body?’ I really don’t think that’s the correct way to describe—”
“—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 pit 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. “Your sexual preferences vex and trouble me. Nevertheless, I sense good intentions within your twisted heart.” She offered up a hand. He reached out and grasped her forearm.
“Yar,” he replied mischievously. He had no idea what that meant, 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. She squeezed Peter’s forearm; his smile turned forced and awkward as he tried to hide his pain.
“Great.” Eun Yin rolled her eyes. “A match made in heaven.”