- Markshire PCs:
As it turned out, Sun-Ok’s meditative journey required two trips back and forth through the history of her life, and three trips to the Grotto to get more food.
The first memory-trip was instructive, for it showed her where and how she had broken from the Way. To a small degree, at least, she had lost her people’s view of death, subscribing to the notion that death was failure and thus, implicitly, a departure from the Way. But of course, death was just a step along the Way, and an unavoidable step at that. Perhaps that deviation sprang from the Markshirian dead-place itself, or Garm’s echoing laugh, or just the need in this place for a powerful god like Odin to intervene.
It certainly complicated things—death was supposed to take her to a new body after all, even if it sometimes meant a waiting period in the spiritworld. As she turned it over in her mind, though, she realized that it need not make any difference at all—she could just as easily continue in the Way returned to the body of Sun-Ok as she could if her soul migrated to another.
As for the perplexity that the Vermin-Lord had caused her, she could come to no real answers, but concluded that she probably never would. She had been overwhelmed by her fear, she decided, and her Way was in any event most decidedly not his. This line of thinking actually allowed her to take heart from his appearance, for it at least indicated that her own spiritworld and thus the Way she knew were not so very far away. Hidden, perhaps, but reachable all the same. And so, with respect to Vastion, Sun-Ok remained concerned for Kayla but at ease herself.
Not that either of these realizations led her to ignore the palpable danger the Vermin-Lord represented, nor the power of the local gods as proven by the very existence of Elvidnir, nor the sway these things held through the beliefs of the local people. Quite the contrary: by establishing that the Way existed—and persisted—alongside these beliefs, Sun-Ok was able to view all of it more objectively, casting a new and penetrating light on what she had before viewed as obstacles and annoyances.
They had not been large steps from the Way, yet small deviations could have major consequences, as she had seen. Unfortunately, as she completed that first trip back and then forward, she still had no idea what to do to get back to the Way, even if she was comfortably reassured—through her newfound harmonious coexistence with Markshire and its own cosmology—that she could.
And so, after a break to warm herself and restock in the Grotto, she nestled back into the little cocoon her heat had formed in the still-falling snow above the Foothold cemetery. She was determined to sort through the random-dream images on a second mental trip through her life, certain after the baek-ho epiphany that some truth would emerge between the chaos of dreams and the order of time.
That second trip was both harder and easier than she imagined. Easier because at least some themes or categories of dream-images were readily apparent, harder because sorting them out solely in her mind was challenging.
One theme that emerged immediately as she walked backwards through the images was her work as a tailor. This confirmed for her what she already felt so deeply—that the collection of nature’s bounty and the fashioning of it into items of even greater beauty and utility were an integral part of her journey. She had never abandoned her efforts to perfect her art, though, so this simple reassurance did not really help her get back to the Way.
A second theme from her troubled dreams, however, was the many friendships she had made. And as she placed some of the last images, moving backwards, in this group—Johannsen’s crushed skull, a shy Marco gently rebuffed, and a sobbing Hon-tae—a realization came to Sun-Ok. Her greatest disappointments had come when she failed her friends or caused them to suffer. As she moved back even further, to the images touching on her parents, the pain this thought caused her mushroomed overwhelmingly.
Yet there, in her makeshift snow-shrine overlooking Foothold’s cemetery, bolstered by the focus her task had provided and a fierce commitment not to dishonor her ancestors, she willed down the tears. And examined her pain.
In that pain, oddly, she discovered a third set of images—enemies she had fought. And it suddenly came to her that her enemies were evil and her friendships and love good. She had embarked on the warrior’s way with the notion that its discipline would make her a hero of some kind, fighting for some abstract notion of good, becoming a champion in the eyes of others. But what she found, as she looked at her pain and at her enemies, was that yes, evil existed, tangibly: good for Sun-Ok, though, was defined much more intimately, in the heart.
And it was to that conception of good that she now re-dedicated herself: not a grand, epic crusade against unrelenting evil, but a simple, honest, and ego-less commitment to follow her heart, to help those in need, and to aid her friends.
As the pain receded, yet more images fell into place—she was not suited to the path of the warrior. To strive for it was taking her further from the Way. And with the newfound warmth in her heart pushing back the cold of her environment, her mind was entirely comfortable with that. She could best help others, she decided, from the rear with her bow, from the flanks with her rapier, and from the front as a scout. Not big things, perhaps, and probably thankless—definitely not a glorious battle—just spotting danger, minimizing it, and then pitching in to eradicate it.
Tears fell anew as she came to this conclusion, joyful tears this time. For the harmony of heart and mind, reconciled by dreams, was powerful proof that she was returning to the Way.
“Thank you,” she mouthed to her ancestors, bowing toward the cemetery as she rose. Then, stomach rumbling again, she headed back to the Grotto.