Eun burst into Peter’s room. “Peter, we need to—” She spotted Kora, holding a tomahawk, 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 reached out and touched her arm. “You may stand down. I am—”
Eun entangled her elbow and circled back, 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 the room.
Kora scrambled up and shot 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 Kora centered in her vision.
Peter’s urgency turned to puzzlement. “Does aikido teach throat strikes? I thought—”
“It’s a philosophy, Peter.” Eun’s eyes stayed locked on Kora. “If you do it correctly, you’re using any and all resources.”
“A canny…sentiment.” Kora leaned against the wall, using it for balance as she got 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, 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 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 straightened, struck by an epiphany. “A warrior amongst warriors…and back at the gym…I beat 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 adventures with Peter (which encompassed a gamut of paranormal phenomena, everything from psychic aliens to interdimensional wormholes) had opened her mind to the unconventional.
“Hmm…” Peter turned thoughtful. “Bet it has something to do with your worldview, because Blake and his buddies fought like shit…” He nodded at the barbarian. “For the sake of normalcy, call her 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’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, gripped Eun’s forearm, and 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 a High Taire Strategist in a game of bacci.”
“Oh—thanks.” She chuckled nervously. “Can’t take all the credit—without a triple dose of LSD, I couldn’t have touched you. You’re hella fast. Strong, too.” Eun stepped back, waving her hand and mouthing a silent Ow.
“So.” Kora looked at Peter, then at 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 you’re not sure it’s another dimension?” Eun gave Kora a doubtful look. “Or you’re not sure she’s still Holly, only batshit crazy?”
Kora’s hands balled into fists. “I am perfectly sane…” She closed her eyes and took a breath. “But mayhap I could do with some…some inner calm. Despite all my triumphs, despite the legions of wretches I have conquered and gutted, a toxic malaise has grown 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 spiritual blight.” 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 softly and turned back to Kora.
“So if power’s not the answer, what is?”
“Purpose.” Kora’s face turned dark and heavy. For a nerve-wracking moment, Peter thought she was about to cry. “I require purpose, Peter Lee.” She gave him a murderous glare. “Without it, I court madness and woe. Do you ken what I’m saying?” Her eyes burned with an unsettling light.
He cleared his throat, trying to hide his fear. “Uh…yeah. Perfectly.” Then a thought occurred to him, and his fear vanished. “You and I…we could help each other out. 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 said with growing conviction. “I shall bolster your efforts.” Then her expression darkened, shrinking Peter’s scrotum into a tiny hive of wiry-haired wrinkles. “But if you harm an innocent, Peter of Clan Lee, I shall bisect you at the anus with your black-steel 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 forearm. He reached out and grasped it.
“Yar,” he declared mischievously. He didn’t know what he meant by it, 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 squeezed his forearm with tremendous strength. Peter’s smile became decidedly forced.
“Great.” Eun rolled her eyes. “A match made in heaven.”