- Markshire PCs:
The spirit Vastion haunted Sun-Ok in the following days. It was not fear of the thing itself, for she quickly decided that either she would face the thing or not, defeat it or not, whether she feared it or not. So, with respect to Vastion itself, she readily fell, unthinkingly, into that same sense of fatalistic, helpless liberation she had experienced during the Crossing.
What Sun-Ok struggled with was what it meant for her soul. Was her spiritworld reachable then, from Markshire? Would it be possible, when the time came, for her soul to slip the clutches of Odin, or Garm, or Hel—it remained uncertain who exactly was laying claim to her, and she’d long given up trying to decide why—and migrate to another body? If so, how?
Still, though, she arrived at no answers. And slowly, that small voice of concern about Kayla grew louder—but her friend was nowhere to be found.
So, it was in this troubled state of mind that Sun-Ok readily agreed to help her friend Ava raid the Demonskull Orc caves one more time. Perhaps she felt drawn to that spot of her first death, perhaps she wished to check Kayla’s druid circle, a short walk from the cave. Perhaps she wished only to further practice her fighting skills, or perhaps she sought to confirm her decision to fight evil. They were all valid reasons to go with Ava, but she seemed unable to concentrate—to focus in on an answer to the introspective questions she had been raised over decades to constantly ask: “Why am I doing this? How does it keep me in the Way?”
Sun and Ava fought through the orc caves methodically. Yet something was obviously wrong: the orcs had set many traps, placed sentries, and were altogether defending themselves more cleverly than was their typical, brutish, spiked-club-to-the-head norm. Sun-Ok gave not a thought to the ease with which she herself reverted to her old skills—removing traps, sneaking up to sentries and slitting their throats. Instead, just one thought entered her confused mind. Someone smarter was directing the orcs now: had Vastion come here after his terrorizing appearance at Kayla’s nearby circle?
She quickly dismissed that thought, as there were no vermin running about the cave. But the second thought—about how natural it was for her to follow her old hiding ways—never pushed into Sun-Ok’s question-crowded brain. And as she and Ava left the orc caves, the evil horde decimated and their traps destroyed, she stepped unthinkingly over that spot where her soul had first departed for Elvidnir—and returned.
They passed into the forest, ready for trouble as always but expecting quiet. Instead, they heard a distant ringing of clashing weapons, and Sun-Ok darted toward Kayla’s circle to investigate. Empty—but Ava had already located the source just to the north: two oddly clad humans by a small ruined building, fresh orc corpses at their feet and an older body—human, seemingly, and prepared for burial—to one side.
Their story was at first confusing: they were sailors, assigned to bury their dead captain in a place he had loved, these very woods, far from the sea. Yet they were oddly unprepared, without tools and without the unique roses that were also part of the captain’s dying wish. Before the tale was done another steadfast friend, Blizzard, joined them quietly from the forest’s dappled shadows.
Blizzard—everything he did was quiet and enigmatic. If he would only speak, Sun-Ok might discover if, as she suspected, he came from a realm close to her own. His face proclaimed it, his fighting style as well, and he often wore the pointed straw hat common to the lands that included the Kingdom. He understood the tongue of Markshire, but not Sun-Ok’s own native language, and she knew none of the languages spoken by the Kingdom’s neighbors; yet Blizzard communicated only with signs and the drawings he skillfully sketched in his journal. She sensed his silence, rather than a physical muteness, was the result of a vow or mission—perhaps he was a member of one of the odd monastic orders that the Kingdom’s neighbors reportedly generated in bewildering numbers.
However mysterious, Sun-Ok was heartened by the arrival of Blizzard, smiling briefly at his straw hat, remembering Thrakh’s fanciful maps. She turned back to the two sailors as they finished their yarn—the roses they needed to fill the captain’s behest were held by the fearsome, one-eyed giants living a long hike to the southeast with their strange ice-snake pets.
That news made them all hesitate, for they were daunting enemies, much more dangerous than even the cleverest orcs. Sun-Ok had faced them once before, helping Durok obtain ice to forge her rapier, but it had been a simple matter then for her to assist Durok and Mez’s bodyguard Walis—sturdy fighters both—with well-placed attacks from the flanks. With a bard like Ava, helpful in a fight but too noisy to sneak, and a dedicated bowman and flanker like Blizzard, this time it would be Sun-Ok herself going head-to-head with the cyclops.
Perhaps that first fairly painless encounter clouded Sun-Ok’s judgment, or perhaps the fighting abilities she had developed since filled her with excessive confidence. But what swayed her, ultimately, to take up the task in spite of her fear was, oddly enough, the sight of Blizzard’s straw hat. For it provoked in her, with the sea-captain’s body lying right there, overpowering memories of Thrakh and Marco, of the debts she owed to all the sailors and captains she had met in her travels. She did not fully comprehend this foreign concern with the handling of the corpse after the soul had departed, but she vowed that she would do what she could to respect and fulfill the captain’s wishes—for the sake of the sailors she had known.
And so, with this one thought silencing all the others in her bewildered mind, she convinced her friends to go retrieve the roses, leaving the two sailors with tools to properly prepare the captain’s grave.
That there were dozens more one-eyes in the camp than there had been the first time did not matter to her. And she made no effort at all to use the wiles of her former path—the traps and finesse that might have provided an edge over the cyclops’ size and strength. Instead, with that one thought echoing in her mind, she relied on her new fighting discipline. And she failed, dismally.
As the one-eye clubs blotted out the sky above her, Sun-Ok emerged, angry and confused, once again in Elvidnir. She was saddened, shortly, when Blizzard appeared next to her, for she read into his customary silence a condemnation that most likely he did not intend. Doubtless this place of Markshire’s dead was as problematic for him as it was for her, and the tragedy of bringing him here fell squarely on her narrow, slumping shoulders.
The battle raged on, a confusing struggle, with each of them visiting Elvidnir and returning. At last, they drew breath, together, at the one-eye gate, spattered in their own gore and that they had generated, cyclops corpses everywhere.
At some point, Sun-Ok noted, they had been joined by Kyle, a snide and distasteful sort she had met on a few occasions in the tavern next to Alec’s house. She held her tongue, though, for he too had been badly injured, so he must have helped against the terrible foes. She was surprised at his willingness, but gave him the benefit of the doubt—the times she had met him were after all always after long tiring days spent at work next door.
Sun-Ok was also in no condition to question anyone else’s actions—for they were her own acts that had brought them to such a state. And if the questions that fact raised for her were starting to flash through her mind, they remained blotted out by the honor she felt she owed to her sailor-friends. And by the drums—for a few of the one-eyes remained, injured, and seemed to be summoning reinforcements.