Eun burst into Peter’s room. “Peter, we need to—”
She spotted Kora—she was holding a tomahawk—and twitched into a fighting stance.
“What. The fuck.”
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. 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 and spun away, tossing the weapon out through the door of Peter’s room.
Kora leapt up 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 stand but she fell back down; she was still dazed from the strike to her neck. Eun looked over Peter’s shoulder so she could keep her gaze fixed on Kora.
Peter’s urgency turned to puzzlement. “Does aikido teach throat strikes? I thought that—”
“It’s a philosophy, Peter.” Eun kept her eyes locked onto Kora. “If you’re doing it right, you’re making use of any and all resources.”
“A canny…sentiment.” Kora leaned against a wall and rose to her feet. “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 both 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: “The gods have seen fit to place me in a female’s body. On my world, I serve as ruler of the Indashi tribe.” She gave Eun a respectful once-over. “Your skills…they are impressive, to say the least. I do not mean to brag, but I am a warrior amongst warriors. You laid me low as if I was a first-year Forge student.”
Eun lowered her hands. Her eyes ticked back and forth. “A warrior amongst warriors…and back at the gym…there’s no way I could have beaten all those douchebags all by myself…holy crap—the double O negative!” She clapped her hands and whooped excitedly. “That stuff is gold!” Her expression turned curious. “Wait…so you’re not Holly? You’re someone else, but you’re trapped in Holly’s body?”
“For the sake of normalcy, this is Kora.” Peter gestured at Kora. “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, by the way.”
“It is an honor to meet you.” Kora gripped Eun’s forearm, squeezing with wince-inducing force.
Eun tried not to grimace. “The um…the honor is mine.”
Kora held on. “You are an accomplished warrior, and wise beyond your years. I’d wager you could best my royal strategists, if you were playing against them 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 gave her forearm a parting squeeze and let it go. 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 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—”
“By ‘not sure,’ do you mean you’re not sure it’s another dimension?” Eun gave Kora a doubtful look. “Or not sure she’s still Holly, only batshit crazy?”
Kora’s hands balled into fists. “I am perfectly sane…” Then she closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath. “But mayhap 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. “You’re a goddamn 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 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 between his lips and tried to light it, but Eun plucked it from his mouth and crumpled it up. He swore under his breath 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 require purpose, Peter Lee.” She fixed him with a murderous glare. “Without it, I risk going mad. 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, clearly offended. “ ‘Puny body?’ I really don’t think that’s the right way to—”
“—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 in faint disgust. “Your sexual preferences are vexing and troublesome. Nevertheless, I sense good intent 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 it meant, but it seemed to fit the spirit of the moment. It felt super maurader-ish and ultra barbarian-y.
“So it is. So shall it be,” Kora intoned. She squeezed hard. Peter’s smile became forced as he tried to hide his pain.
“Great.” Eun Yin rolled her eyes. “A match made in heaven.”