Eun burst into Peter’s room. “Peter, we need to—” She spotted Kora—still holding a tomahawk—and twitched into a fighting stance. “What. The fuck.”
Peter rose from his chair, hands held out. “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, twisting 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 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, 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 that—”
“It’s a philosophy, Peter.” Eun’s eyes remained locked on 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 yelled back.
Peter took a deep breath and 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’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. And you laid me low as if I was a first-year Forge student.”
Eun’s eyes ticked back and forth. “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 curious. “Wait…so you’re not Holly?”
“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. “For sure. 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 kept squeezing. “You are an accomplished warrior, and wise beyond your years. I’d wager you could best my finest strategists 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 before letting go. Eun stepped back, waving her hand and mouthing a silent Ow.
“So.” Kora looked at Peter, then Eun. “I must find a way to return to Elithia. Will you aid me on my quest?”
Eun cocked her head. “Elithia…that’s another dimension, right?”
“I think so,” Peter ventured. “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 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 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 to 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 madness. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Her eyes burned with a fierce, unsettling light.
He cleared his throat, trying to disguise his fear. “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—”
“—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 collection of wiry-haired wrinkles. “But if you harm an innocent, Peter of Clan Lee, I shall bisect you at the anus with a blunted hatchet.”
Peter gulped. “Shouldn’t be a problem—I only target assholes.”
“You only target—” Kora shook her head in disgust and puzzlement. “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 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 intoned. She squeezed hard. Peter’s smile became decidedly forced as he tried to mask his pain.
“Great.” Eun rolled her eyes. “A match made in heaven.”