Black clouds roiled overhead. Off to the east, bolts of lightning struck the mountains, marring the air with rocky geysers.
A loud boom sounded from above. Rain followed thunder, sand became mud.
Kor’Thank sank to his knees and clutched the air.
“BITEFIGHTER!” He pounded the silt with a battle-scarred fist. “BRING HIM BACK, AKANAX! BRING HIM BACK, DAMN YOU!”
Holly wandered through Atherton’s halls, humming softly beneath her breath.
As far as she knew, she’d never taken a psychedelic (to maintain her sanity, she’d suppressed her memory of the Event), so she had no context for the blooming calm within her belly, or the mess of fractals webbing through her vision.
She took a seat on a darkened staircase, gaping at the wireframes crawling through the air.
Suddenly, yellow luminescence flooded her sight. The world collapsed into a light-speed blur, erasing her ability to think or focus. There was no Holly, there was no Atherton, there was only this merciless intelligence, bombarding her with fractal after fractal after fractal oh God make it stop she wasn’t everything she wasn’t nothing she still wanted to be—
Holly’s body clutched its head.
“FIX THIS, DAMN YOU!”
Kor’Thank’s belly shone with energy. Waves of light set him ablaze, causing his bones to glare through his skin.
The clouds overhead erupted with bolts, printing glowing veins across the Elithian night.
As purple lightning electrified Kor’Thank, Holly flew into a technicolor vortex. The cyclone tore at her very being, causing the edges of her limbs to fray and waver. For a terrifying instant, she was afraid she might become undone.
A harsh rumble sounded from below. She looked down and saw a light-formed oval, ringed by a circle of spinning rocks. The oval bulged and stretched, then slowly began to split in half. A muscled figure breached the dome, gripping the spinning rock-ring with a gnarled pair of hands.
He flexed mightily and squirted out. As he tumbled upward his outline blurred, matching Holly’s indistinct form. They leveled out and spun in tandem, directly across from each other.
[Hey! HEY!] Her mental yell spilled from her lips. The words took form as vibrating letters.
He looked wildly around and met her gaze. An azure beam shot from his forehead and lasered in on hers. Holly flinched, expecting a jolt, but none came. Unlike their surroundings, the beam stayed even and steady.
Holly went first: [Do I—]
[—know you?] he finished.
Tinny laughter rocked their minds.
Holly looked toward its source: there were hazy faces outside the storm. Somehow, she was able to intuit they were otherworldly beings. Extradimensional psyches that were changing existence by shifting their perspective.
[STOP IT!] she screamed. [STOP FUCKING WITH ME!]
Her muscled companion followed her gaze. His eyes narrowed in puzzlement, then widened in anger. [FIGHT ME!] he roared. [FACE ME IN BATTLE, YE ARCANE LURKERS!]
They giggled again. It sounded like a cross between a dissonant harp and an electric guitar. The noise was accompanied by a distinct pressure—like she was gaining altitude and her ears were going to pop.
A hand made from sparking lightning reached in the hurricane, clutching a small, furry body. It let go, and Holly saw it was Peter’s dog, the one she’d killed when she was five years old. Conflicting emotions arose from within—a tangled mess of shame, anger, and guilt.
The dog’s skin stretched and bulged. A second later it became…
What the fuck?
Now it was a dinosaur—a seven-foot velociraptor.
[BITEFIGHTER!] The barbarian reached out.
It screeched loudly—[RAAAAAWKKK!!]—then its head morphed into a cartoon mushroom, just like the one from the Super Mario video games. The air in front of it wrinkled and wavered, then blasted apart into a mandala-lined portal.
The mushroom-headed dino was promptly sucked in. The portal vanished a moment later.
Holly and the barbarian exchanged a mystified look. They were both thinking the same thing: Did you just see that dog turn into a dinosaur…and then a mushroom?
The hurricane narrowed, drawing in and picking up speed. Holly Dent began to elongate, stretching and flattening. Her psyche followed suit, tautening and lengthening until it was a stripped-down version of its former self. Her focus turned inward, away from Manolo Blahniks and world domination, bringing her face-to-face with the painful truth.
When Holly was five, Peter’s concoction had divorced her from her body. She had watched her fingers become tiny murder-machines, ripping Bitefighter’s jaw off his skull and crunching his limbs into a twisted mess. After regaining control of her hijacked mind, she vowed that no one would ever control her again. She would never submit to a force that—
Countless voices filled the aether, coming together in wondrous, terrible chorus. It was more than a sound; it felt like her very essence was being scraped thin. They were all saying the same thing:
You chose this. You.
She wanted to flee this unwanted epiphany, but her perception circled back to her infinite-minded self, trapping her in a prison of perpetual awareness. She was no longer Holly; she was a spiraling blast of unchecked suffering, yearning to forget she was personally responsible for all her triumphs and all her failures. And so she prayed—she prayed for an end to this spin-cycle madness, she prayed for a narrative to rid her of knowledge.
Down below, a twinkling portal began to open. At the same time, a matching gateway materialized above.
Kor’Thank, she realized. His name is Kor’Thank.
Holly went down, Kor’Thank went up.
Here’s the link to the book on Amazon: Kor’Thank: Barbarian Valley Girl