Eun burst into Peter’s room. “Peter, we need to—” She spotted Kora, tomahawk in hand, and twitched into a fighting stance. “What. The fuck.”
Peter rose from his chair. “Easy, Eun. She’s not Holly.”
Eun didn’t move. “You’re not making sense.”
Kora grabbed her wrist. “You may stand down. 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, and snatched away the tomahawk. As Kora roared in anger, Eun stood up and spun away, tossing the weapon out of Peter’s room.
Kora scrambled up and shot in for a 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 fell back down, still dazed from the strike to her neck. Eun looked over Peter’s shoulder, keeping her gaze fixed on Kora. Peter’s urgency turned to puzzlement.
“Does aikido teach throat strikes? I thought—”
“It’s a philosophy, Peter.” Eun’s eyes remained on Kora. “If you do it correctly, you’re making use of any and all resources.”
“A canny…sentiment.” Kora leaned against the wall, using it to steady her and get 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 yelled back.
Peter patted the air with both hands, as if to say brace yourself. “Her name is Kor’Thank and she’s a barbarian king. She comes from a land called—”
Kora interrupted. “The gods have placed me in a female 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, and you laid me low as if I was a first-year Forge student.”
Eun was hit by a sudden revelation. Herr eyes searched the air. “A warrior amongst warriors…and back at the gym…there’s no way I could have beaten 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 to puzzlement “Wait…so you’re not Holly?” Her past adventures with Peter (which encompassed a gamut of paranormal phenomena, everything from psychic aliens to interdimensional wormholes) had opened her mind to the possibility of what others would consider downright “impossible.”
“For the sake of normalcy, call her Kora,” Peter said. “She doesn’t like ‘Holly,’ but I explained that here on Earth, it doesn’t pay to raise eyebrows.”
“Oh yeah.” Eun affirmed. “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 stepped forward and gripped Eun’s forearm. She squeezed with wince-inducing force.
Eun tried not to grimace. “The um…the honor is mine.”
“You are wise beyond your years. I’d wager you could best my finest strategist in a game of bacci.”
“Oh—thanks.” She chuckled nervously. “Can’t claim all the credit—without the LSD, I couldn’t have touched you. You’re hella fast. Strong, too.” Kora gave her forearm a parting squeeze. Eun stepped back, waving her hand and mouthing a silent Ow.
“So.” Kora looked at Peter, then Eun. “I must reclaim my body and 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. “But I’m not sure. I need to consult with—”
“By ‘not sure,’ do you mean 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…” She closed her eyes. Took a 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 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 a…by a…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 peasant in the Horn of Africa.”
“You are stuck in an animal’s outlook.”
Peter mumbled “whatever” and plucked a cigarette from his right pants pocket. He fit it to his lips, but Eun snatched it away and crumpled it up. He swore under his breath and turned back to Kora.
“So if not power, then what?”
“Purpose.” Kora’s eyes became dark and heavy. For a nerve-wracking second, Peter thought she might cry. “I require purpose, Peter Lee.” She gave him a murderous glare. “Without it, I court madness. Do you ken what I’m saying?” Her eyes burned with a fierce, unsettling light.
He cleared his throat, trying to hide his fear. “Uh…yeah. Perfectly.” Then a thought occurred, and the fear dropped away. “You know…we could help each other. I have purpose, and you…the way you handled those robo-commandos…”
Her brow furrowed. “Yes. It is obvious that your puny body and meager skills—”
“ ‘Puny?’ I really don’t think that’s the right descrip—”
“—are no match for your infernal enemies.” “Yes,” she repeated with growing conviction. “I shall bolster your efforts.” Her face darkened again, shrinking Peter’s scrotum into a wiry-haired lump. “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, disgusted and baffled. “Your sexual preferences are vexing and troublesome. Nevertheless, I sense good intent within your twisted heart.” She offered her 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, and squeezed hard. Peter’s smile became decidedly forced.
“Great.” Eun rolled her eyes. “A match made in heaven.”