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Alex

His eyes are shot; his arm is broken; the magic has left them all. But Alex takes a stance from eidetic memory and snarls:

“I know kung fu.”

Quan-Ti, immortal, hesitates.

Behind Alex, Amadeus Faust steps out from nothing and opens his femoral arteries with a circular blade. In the cage, the Chosen Ones scream.

A snap of the cloak; the sorcerers vanish. Alex, on his elbows, crawls toward the lever that opens the door. His face is white-green, his blood an empty bucket. He gets a grip with one hand. Then the other.

His body pulls it down.

Toe

“I liked it!” says Alex, as they push out the back exit.

“Everyone liked it, nobody’s saying they didn’t like it,” says Tyler.

“IT WAS A 112-MINUTE STROBE-LIT CINEMATIC ORGASM,” Daniel announces to the parking lot. Behind them, someone whoops.

“Are you getting orgasms confused with epilepsy?” says Phillip.

“Are you not?

“It was really, really a lot of fun,” says Tyler. “Particularly considering that nothing was at stake and the girls didn’t get enough screen time.”

“I just can’t believe they gave Toe’s part to Michael Cera,” says Dylan.

“I’m not Michael Cera!” says Toe. “I’m Michael Cera?”

Faust

“A nameless kill is without glory,” hisses the tattooed man, “and rest assured that today you die. So this I tell you: I am Amadeus Faust.”

“Really?” says Alex.

“That’s kinda semiotically loaded, man,” says Tyler.

“Tyler,” says Toe. “Gross.”

“You don’t even know what semiotics is.”

“I know I don’t want to see you two load each other with it.”

“Is your surname really Faust?” asks Daniel curiously. “I thought the preferred transliteration–”

“I chose it myself,” snaps Faust.

Alex smirks. “If we’re picking our own names, I want Einstein Tyrannosaur.”

“Dude!” says Toe. “You know that one was mine!”

Phillip

“But when I’m fighting,” says Alex quietly, “it’s like–”

“Don’t say a dance,” groans Phillip.

Alex laughs. “No. It’s like walking on one of those things at the museum, where it lights up and plays a tone where you tread, except each move subtly changes the chord.”

“Seriously?” says Tyler. “I get wireframes and countdown timers, pick a path, hit the targets…”

“What about you, Daniel?” says Phillip.

Daniel smiles. “Pachinko,” he says. “Pachinko forever, and I always win.”

“Toe?”

“Huh?”

“What do you see when you fight?”

Toe blinks. “A bunch of people,” he says, “trying to–like–hit me?”

Toe

Midnight in the park and he’s lost his damn gun. “No,” he whispers, fumbling in the tall grass. “No!”

They step out from the trees. He’s surrounded. “First blood,” Tyler sighs.

Silently and without surprise, Toe realizes it worked. Options rise to his mind like bubbles: aikido, varma kalai, banshay, systema. Systems. A hidden layer of the world, glyphs of potential and force. But most importantly–

“I know kung fu,” he murmurs.

“Prove it,” grins Alex.

Their NERF revolvers rise, not in slow motion, but with the fat predictability of fastballs over the plate.

Toe unclips the lightsaber at his belt.

Tyler

“Wasabi,” says Daniel.

“On a peppermint,” says Alex.

“With ketchup,” says Daniel.

“And a thing from the freezer,” says Alex, “that I don’t know what it is.”

Toe squints at it. “I’ve eaten worse.”

“Wait wait,” says Daniel, “the piece de gras–” and lets fall one drop from the old man’s vial.

Toe nods, satisfied. “Forty bucks.”

Daniel and Alex whoop. Tyler leans over, hesitant as a man prodding a burning cat. “Look, whatever that stuff is, it’s not kung fu,” he mutters. “It could be dangerous. Don’t you think we–”

“Shh,” says Alex, and throws another five on the pile.

Toe

“Because you are chosen ones,” whispers the old man. “Because the sorcerer is waking in the East and he will be searching for it. Because you four must save us all.”

“Is this an RPG?” asks Toe. “I hate RPGs.”

Alex snorts. “You cried every time you killed Tifa.”

“Oh, are we going to bring up middle school?” Toe snaps. “Because we all did some things in middle school.”

“What were you saying?” Alex asks the old man quickly.

“Mix tapes,” says Toe. “With Disney showtunes.

“You didn’t,” gasps Tyler.

“Do you want kung fu or not?” yells the old man.

Tyler

“Secret dealer room,” calls the old guy over his shoulder, grinning. “Special chance, just for you! Very close now!”

“Remind me why we’re following him?” mutters Alex.

“All the good stuff, you have to buy gray-market,” Tyler says. “Underground. Trust me, I’ve got a good feeling about this guy.”

“And if he’s just some psycho?”

Tyler grins. “Four on one? We could take him.”

“You don’t know,” says Toe, “he could be a karate master, maybe that mop is like his bo staff–”

“Just because he’s Asian doesn’t mean he knows karate,” snaps Daniel. Toe turns from gray to pink.

Toe

“Relax, T,” grins Alex as they squeeze shoulders crowdwise. “We’re among your people.”

“Toe wasn’t short enough?” asks Daniel. “It’s T now?”

“I reject all nicknames that do not reduce aggregate syllable count,” says Tyler.

“These are not my people,” says Toe, a little gray.

“Remind me when we got our WonderCon badges, Daniel?” Alex grins wider.

“Why, just after last year’s WonderCon, Alex.”

“Attending a con with nerds doesn’t nerdify me,” grunts Toe. “I enjoy Star Wars. Star Wars is mass American pop culture.”

“Granted,” says Alex, “but the lightsaber on your belt, T, that puts you over the line.”

Daniel

They crash through the door at the top of the stairs into the stock room of a department store, wherein the background music is, for some reason, Rage. Daniel grabs a PA phone from a startled clerk and shouts “run away” before Hugo’s axe bites through its cord. Tyler kicks Hugo’s knee and his next swing goes wild, and the four of them are scrambling away from the giant and his gang, straight up the escalator bannister. “Weapons,” pants Alex, “need weapons–”

When Hugo and the mooks arrive a few seconds later they’re poised in stance, calm and ready, umbrellas high.

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