- Markshire PCs:
“You,” the stern Kayla said, standing, “require a lesson—in perception. Come.”
Her tone—that of a teacher angrily reprimanding a child—gave Sun-Ok pause. Not because she feared Kayla’s wrath—she trusted Kayla at least to be proportionate to the imagined offense, and regardless was beyond caring about the absurd situation. And certainly not because she was well past childhood, well into her second century.
What concerned Sun-Ok was that in Markshire, to her horror, she had frequently observed that this tone preceded an adult pinching a child on the ear and leading them off. Among her people, this was something no elf-blood—even if part-human and suffering the grave misfortune of ears that did not favor the elven ancestors—would ever tolerate. As Kayla uttered the words, with that observation coming so strongly to mind, Sun-Ok feared her friend would do just that—and that such a pinch might, in Sun-Ok’s current state, catapult her into a blind and dangerous rage.
Fortunately, Kayla simply strode out the door of the tavern, Sun-Ok following in a simmering yet resigned frustration at the many obstacles this place and these people erected between her and the Way. She paused briefly as they left through Foothold’s east gate—it was not a passage she was permitted to make, the giant-infested valley beyond being considered too perilous at this point in her training, yet the guards must have feared Kayla’s obvious indignation, for they said nothing. Sun-Ok fingered once again the bits of brain stuck in her hair—the two-eyed giants were presumably even more fearsome than the one-eyed—then passed into the valley, slowly getting more and more upset with the ridiculous obtuseness she felt all around her.
Kayla seemed to be looking for something, and Sun-Ok’s thoughts wandered dangerously. She had been told that beautiful but vicious white tigers lived among the giants of this valley. It was a creature of almost legendary status in her homeland—the baek-ho—but she had actually seen one decades ago in Lord Deng’s castle. Well, a rug made from a white tiger anyway, head and all. Now that she was an accomplished tanner, she longed to find and work their pelts, but when she caught herself peering around for one in the snowy landscape, she laughed, perhaps a bit insanely, earning an odd look from Kayla.
For to Sun-Ok, at that particular point in time, the baek-ho became the perfect example of Markshire’s wrongness. First, her friends had told her that even the most talented skinners could acquire no pelts from the local white tigers. And if the waste and illogic of that were not enough, one had to head east from Markshire, as she and Kayla were, to find a white tiger—yet everyone knew the baek-ho was the symbol and protector of the west. “Perhaps,” thought Sun-Ok bitterly, “all I need do is walk backwards here—then the Way might be apparent.”
She was in this dark mood when Kayla at last found what she’d been looking for—a small band of giants to slay. “Now for your lesson,” said Kayla. “Do you like the smell?”
Sun-Ok saw immediately what Kayla was trying to “teach,” and the kinder side of her even saw a possibility of offering a lesson of her own. With the dark humor she was in, though, she was not about to make it easy for her obstinate friend. So she reverted to her broken Markshire words.
“Giants smell bad. Knew that already.” She sniffed her own body. “I not smell so good either just now. You bring Sun here for that?”
This, not unexpectedly, nettled Kayla. “We’ll just see how much you like it when they start to rot.”
Again, this did not surprise Sun-Ok, who was still ruled by her dark mood. Gesturing at the icy landscape around them, she snorted, “Guess we wait for Thrym to go ‘way and let this place thaw out.” She sat over to one side of the path, pulling her cloak around her, adding, “I prob’ly got 5 or 6 centuries left.”
“We’ll just hurry it along then,” said Kayla, casting some sort of fire or heat spell over the area.
“Oh, well,” thought Sun-Ok, loosening her cloak, “some people make bad students.” So she silenced her kinder side, not bothering to point out either that the giants were unburied or that Kayla’s grove, thanks to Thrym, was only marginally warmer than this valley. She was cheered, somewhat, when Mez led a little group up into the Pass, stopping to ask what was going on and if they were alright. He’d obviously been concerned for them and the evident tension between them at the Gargoyle, following and then scrabbling together enough help to pull them out of the Pass if necessary. Sun-Ok was touched, but merely nodded to Kayla and the dead giants, answering “She teaching me what giants smell like.”
Mez was confused, but he and the others hovered nearby, guarding them without seeming to, while Sun-Ok’s dark mood boiled unseen behind her meditative posture.
After some time, the giants did start to get a bit ripe, and Kayla came over to her. “And now what do you think? Is that a smell you would want near your home?”
Sun-Ok stood, stretched, and sniffed gently. Her reply would have been more elegant using the Ancient words, but that would have been uncommonly rude to Mezano and the rest, who had come so far, just in case, and still lurked within hearing range.
“Is smell of decay, yes,” she nodded. “’Round us all the time, in town and in woods. Go ‘long with smell of life. If you not used to it,” she paused, her frustration close to boiling over, “take sensitive nose back to grove where nothing ever rot.” Sun-Ok briefly considered that she would probably never be angry enough to mention maggots or other vermin to Kayla, but she still had a point to make. “’Cause we,” and here Sun-Ok vaguely motioned to the figures of Mez’s group, who immediately seemed to shrink from the implied inclusion in whatever she was about to say, “we got living people to worry about.”
And with that, Sun-Ok turned back to Foothold, alone.