Soon, Peter and Eun could knock people over without touching them, or create sigil-formed shields that deflected or weakened hostile enchantments. Kora also taught them evasive magic; they could run up the walls, twist through the air, or jump ten feet high if they put their minds to it. Peter, who was already an accomplished breakdancer, picked it up quickly.
“This is awesome!” He launched into an aerial cartwheel, spinning three times clockwise as his body inverted. He landed with a light thump and grinned broadly. “This is fun.”
Eun moved her hands in snappy flicks. Marble-sized orbs drifted up from her fingers.
“Barrion’s Blind. It’s a nonlethal spell.” Kora nodded at the orbs. “If you focus on them and visualize an erupting volcano—”
“Like this?” She closed her eyes at the same time Kora yelled, “NOT YET!”
The orbs blew apart, sending the three teens diving to the floor. Each detonation shook their bones, rattling their tissues with painful vibrations. Peter covered his ears and screamed at the top of his lungs.
Seconds later, the noise stopped. The three teens stayed glued to the floor, a piercing keen ringing in their ears.
“Everyone okay?” Kora asked shakily.
Peter shook his head, trying to clear it. “Yeah…” he mumbled. “What the fuck.”
“Barrion’s Blind,” Kora repeated. “A lot of the time, it works better than direct offense. Give us a warning next time. If you catch us off guard—”
“—I’ll make you blind and deaf,” Eun finished. “Got it.”
“Can I try?” Peter asked. “Maybe I can—”
“Absolutely not,” Kora said firmly. “You’re way too reckless. Eun will let us know before she casts it; you’ll just pop it off and fuck us all.”
“Not true,” Peter muttered. “I’d—”
Eun said, “Stick with acrobatics. You’re a great dancer, Peter. Tweaking physics plays to your strengths.”
“Point,” he conceded. “On a different note: Blake and his hench-cocks…they’ve been pretty quiet lately. No bra-snaps, wedgies, ear-flicks…”
“They’re coming for us,” Eun said. “Soon.”
Peter cocked his head. “And you know this how?”
“I’m spying on them.” Eun smiled. “No one suspects a mousey-looking Asian girl, much less her mousey-looking gal-pals.”
“Whoa…” Peter regarded her with newfound respect. “You’re running a spy network?”
“Call me Mochizuki Nobumasa. Since I know you like ninjas.”
“Fuck yeah!” Peter turned to Kora, his face aglow with childish glee. “Mochizuki Chiyome: the most famous kunoichi in all of history.”
“What’s a kuno—”
“A female ninja. She assembled a bunch of dispossessed women—orphans, prostitutes, refugees—and trained them in disguise, espionage, and assassination. She was so…so…” Peter trailed off, beet red with nerd-gasmic excitement.
“Badass?” Kora prompted. She was clearly amused, but trying not to show it.
“Yes!” Peter threw her a zealous glare.
She made a patting motion with both hands. “Easy on the ninja-boner.”
“My friends, Peter—don’t ever call them hookers,” Eun warned. “I mean it—I will kick your fucking ass.”
He wasn’t listening. His eyes were ticking back and forth, hands and feet tracing out the outlines of exotic martial arts moves. He was deep in the grip of an adolescent fantasy: facing off against legions of samurai, beating their uptight asses while he wore a dope-ass disguise—wandering monk or humble farmer, maybe. Classic ninja shit. Yeah, he’d pack a ninjato, that was standard, but he’d also carry a blowgun and shuriken. A lot of shuriken. Maybe some shuko too; those things were so fucking coo—
“Peter.” Eun cut through his daydream.
“Huh?” He blinked and straightened.
“My friends. Prostitutes. No.”
“Yeah yeah,” he waved dismissively. “Got it.”
“Have you checked the Bloom?” Kora asked. She’d asked him to help her gather info on the disembodied plane.
“Yup.” He cleared his throat. “Spoke to some entities, who only confirmed what I already suspected: I need to brew up a new batch of Fuckrising.” He chewed his bottom lip. “To be perfectly honest, it scares the shit out of me.”
“Who’d you talk to?”
“A bunch of abstractions, a few soul-composites. The first one seemed super important. Royal, even.” He stared at the floor, trying to remember. “Her name started with a ‘C.’ ”
“Chrysalis?” Kora prompted.
“Yeah!” His eyes lit up. “That was it. Chrysalis Vira, or something along those lines.”
“She’s an eternal archetype.”
“A what?” His brow wrinkled.
“A demigod. Comparable to beings like Atriya and the Timekeeper.”
“So does that mean I can—”
“Yes, Peter,” Kora said irritably. “You can trust what she said. Make another batch of…” she closed her eyes and sighed. “Of the Fuckrising.”
A flash of fear crossed his face. “She said to make it extra potent. But why would we need a roided-out version of the most potent psychedelic known to m—”
Kora regarded him with a critical eye. “Part of you knows. The part you share with the rest of existence.”
Peter relaxed. “Yeah…you’re right. If we’re all something approximating God, then—”
“We chose this,” Eun finished. “We’re in a no-lose game. And we should play it to the hilt, because it’s way more fun when we forget it’s a game. The True, right?” She looked at Kora.
“Amen,” Kora replied.
Peter took a deep breath. “Gotcha. You can’t argue with an archetypical force, right?”
“Eternal archetype,” Kora corrected. “But close enough.”
“What about you? Dig up some info?”
“Yep. Apparently, my weapons can nullify Dee’s enchantments.”
“But they’re only good for an hour a day,” Peter reminded. “For the other twenty-three, we’re Fucksville.”
“Meaning we’ll have to plan,” Eun said. “Assess the terrain, navigate accordingly. That’s the best we can do for now.” She thought for a second. “In any situation, really.”
“Ever get tired of being right?” Peter groused. “Fuck.”
She cracked a smile. “I do, actually. I’m waiting on your angry Korean ass to grow the hell up—maybe throw me for a loop every now and then.”
He rolled his eyes. “Silly me—what was I thinking? Being a strategic genius must get so old.”
Kora cleared her throat. “The Fuckrising, enchanted weaponry…anything else?”
Peter said, “We’re gonna have to wear tuxes and dresses—it’s prom, after all—but when things get hairy…” His eyes searched the air. “We need to fight in something simpler. I can modify our getups with quick-release tabs. Give em a yank, and our clothes’ll fall off like an altar boy’s robes.”
“Peter.” Eun crinkled her nose. “Don’t be gross.”
“Sorry. I meant to say that I’m pretty sure I can whip up some fighting uniforms.”
“You’re not making robo-suits, aren’t you?” Eun’s voice was dry and knowing; Peter loved all things robot.
“If only I could.” A regretful sigh. “Not enough time, not enough resources. I’ll try for the next best thing.”
Eun’s phone buzzed in her pocket. She took it out and checked its screen. “One of my spies.” She slid it back in her pocket. “Blake and his goons are ready to move. According to my sources, it’ll be tomorrow.” She looked at Kora. “I know you’re ready.” Then at Peter. “What about you?”
“I’m set. You have a plan, don’t you? On how to beat them.”
“Not how to beat them, per se, but yeah: I’ve thought of a couple things that might help out. Kora can manage—she’s got enchanted weapons, after all—but you and I need to up our game.”
“Lay it on me.”
“Double O negative. You have any?”
Peter’s eyes widened as he grasped the meaning behind her question. “Enough to turn you into Bruce Fucking Lee.”
“Good.” She studied the floor. “I’ve got something else as well.”
“Yeah?” Peter was curious; his voice lilted upward.
“Yeah.” She met his eyes. “But we’ll see. Blake may or may not go for it. We’ll play it by ear.”
“You’re the boss.” Peter shrugged. “I’m just the gear guy.”
“Reductive,” Eun said, “but accurate. In this context, anyways.”
Kora leaned against the wall and crossed her arms, resting one ankle lightly atop the other. “I’ll brush up on the sword and shield stuff.”
Eun nodded approvingly. “I’m going to revamp our schedule—make sure we get some team training in.”
Peter opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off. “Peter. You’re not going down a robo-suit rabbit hole. Not on my watch.”
“ ‘Not on my watch,’ ” he scoffed. “Cheesy, Eun. Totally eighties.”
“Cheesy but appropriate,” she said. “Don’t forget: the fate of humanity rests in our hands. We can’t afford to fuck around. You tend to get lost in—”
“Come on, Eun.” Peter groaned. “We’re about to face off against a goddamn Pain Lord. Can’t you cut me a little slack?”
“Think before you speak: ‘we’re about to face off against a world-devouring evil.’ Under what circumstances would that warrant any slack whatsoever?”
“Yeah yeah. Eun the all-knowing.”
Eun laughed. “Don’t worry—there’s a time for rules and a time to break ’em. For now, let’s mind our Ps and Qs. We’ll play it fast and loose when the pace picks up.”
“ ‘No plan survives the first slash,’ ” Kora intoned.
Eun glanced at her. “We say ‘punch’ instead of ‘slash,’ but yeah—couldn’t agree more.”
“Fuck.” Peter sighed. “Rules for this, rules for that…might as well be in the goddamn military.”
Eun laughed again. She did it softly this time, beneath her breath. Because she knew, in a nameless corner of her eternal soul, that rules had been made so consciousness could enjoy a plethora of games. Games of finance, games of war, games of art…everything in life was an immersive game. Deeply complicated and deadly serious, but a game nonetheless. And every game had its own set of rules.
Existence, however…well, that was different. Existence was a game without any rules.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.