The door bursts open as Kubota draws his lips away, and Saangwan appears in a wreath of magical energy. I recognize her from various military matters in Azure City, and her distinctive eye covering. Her words are deathly quiet and calm as she addresses the honorless dog, “Kubota. This ends with your execution, or no one ever knowing. Walk away now, and it will be the one you favor.”
Kubota snarls, “Your oath—”
“—requires me only to speak the truth. I need not volunteer anything.” Her no-nonsense manner is clear.
Kubota grimaces silently, conflicted. After a long moment he stalks silently past Saangwan and slams the portal shut. Saangwan locks the door, and only then lets her aura of power fall. She speaks kindly, “I am glad I could be here for you, Miko.”
I ask tremulously, “Saangwan, how—”
“—did I find you? You know better than to ask such questions by now, Miko. I am here for you,” Saangwan is almost motherly in her care.
A single spell undoes the ropes, and I quickly draw a stray robe over myself. I feel so helpless after all this with so little on…I whisper, “Thank you. But I am so out of sorts…”
Saangwan sets a large bottle on the table and beckons, “Yes, drink this. It is a mix of anti-venom and restoratives; you will feel right as rain after taking it. Physically. I am here to help with the other part.”
I cannot hide my smile and amusement as I correct Saangwan, “That is an enchanted lamp. I am—”
“—over there, so sorry,” she corrects her course apologetically.
I take her soft hands in mine, a light-tower sailing her to port, and gratefully accept the concoction. It soothes and warms as it heals, and Saangwan delicately holds it precisely throughout my drought for comfort. I shiver once more and keep her hands in mine so she will not wander the room aimlessly as I ask, “You said—”
“—I was here to help with ‘the rest,’ yes. Miko, though I am blind I see much that others have trouble expressing, even if they too perceive it. You have been through so much in such a short time, Miko. You are an ironwood tree now stripped of its dense bark and free to grow before restoring yourself. I have seen your journey, Miko, and it makes my heart ache. Tell me what you have learned, Miko, not what you have experienced. In the world of the blind, let a diviner guide you.”
I take a slow breath. I know that I can trust Saangwan, but still…I gain strength as I continue from the weak beginning, “I have learned how blind I truly was. How rich life can be. I have seen friends and foes, and learned the true meaning of trust and friendship. The hard truths of real relationships. I have learned that a true paladin accepts they do not know everything, and accepts the truth of others.”
Saangwan’s smile was beatific, “I’m so proud of you Miko. Those words mean a lot. I sense that you are still conflicted, though. What troubles you?”
She must know the gist of my answer, but…she wants me to say it aloud. For my own benefit? I speak with another trembling breath, “That even with the law men can be so wicked. That evil is like a cockroach, tenacious and pervasive. I have seen that even good hearts can do such horrible things, and that even wicked souls have some shred of humanity. I know that my path is so confusing! I fear the will of the Gods and the hearts of others.”
Saangwan nods her head slowly and brushes hair from my face tenderly, “But does the good path have to be a clear beacon to always guide you to still be the right path? Is it possible to step off that trail and still do your best to always follow it?”
I shake my head and lean on Saangwan’s shoulder, “I…I do not know.”
Saangwan sighs and holds me tightly, letting me weep softly for a moment, “Oh, Miko. I know it is so hard. Keep your eyes closed dear, and tell me how you envision this moment on your journey. Describe the path to me in your own words.”
I speak softly but with the surety of a seer, “I see The Twelve around me and above me. The path behind is grey, but soft and white in the beginning. A beautiful, perfect curve in the beginning like a Zen garden. As it winds closer to this moment I see it straightening, ever straighter and less flowing with crumbling cobblestones, dangerously mired. I stand perfectly balanced at a fork in the road.”
Saangwan is soothing, her hands running through my hair and down my back comfortingly, “Yes, Miko, now describe the forks, the path ahead.”
I tremble and quail, “I do not—”
“—want to, I know Miko. I know it is frightening, but you must,” Saangwan says with motherly determination.
I continue obediently, “Slightly above me and to my right is a path of alabaster with dangerous curves and gaps that leads closer and closer to the Twelve as it goes on. I see Matsumo at the end beckoning to me with a warm smile, and handsome Roy traveling that road. Sometimes he leaps brilliantly, other times he stumbles and is hurt, but always he pulls himself to his feet. Even Hinjo and Shojo walk the path in their own ways. Karla stands at the very fork, leaning slightly to the alabaster but undecided. The other fork…I cannot, their eyes!…”
Saangwan soothes me and whispers into my ear, “I know it is uncomfortable, Miko. The medicine is sometimes bitter, but the cure is worth the taste.”
I suck in a sharp breath and continue, “The other path appears straight, but has many forks down it, each fork with its own forks. It matters not how one travels the path, for all lead ramrod straight into the glowing eyes and flames. Yet the obsidian path beckons, offers comfort and easy travel…so many travel it, like Kubota, blind to where it leads and caring only for their journey’s temporary comforts.”
Saangwan holds me for a long moment and says nothing, letting my own words speak to me. I understand them on a deeper level, but my choice…I must choose. I cannot choose yet! Something burns within me, and I realize that even Saangwan cannot help me at this moment. I reach for Karla’s ear-ring, but I do not have it! I search frantically for my clothing in the room, but I cannot see my garments. Saangwan does not know why I am frantic, what I am looking for, but I must find it! Suddenly the air crackles with energy and loud ‘pop’ of displaced air. Karla floats just above the floor, fire and lightning blazing at her fingertips.
I rush to her to calm her, but she sees that Saangwan sits passively offering no threat. She settles to the ground and dismisses her readied evocations, smiling sorrowfully to me, “I sensed my earring had been away from you for days and checked in.”
Karla was surprised as I took her in my arms and babbled hurriedly, explaining the ship and why Saangwan was here and why I had just been searching for the earring. She takes it in stride, blinking rapidly but never asking me to pause or stop. At the end, I am out of breath and sitting on the bed again. Saangwan once more takes my hand, and Karla sits next to me. She takes my remaining hand in her own and speaks firmly, “Now Miko, that is quite a lot. You’re sure you saw me in your vision?”
I nodded and sat mutely, stunned with everything. Karla spoke softly, “I suppose that is not too much of a surprise. Miko, I cannot make your choice for you and still do not know my own future. But for yourself Miko, consider the words you chose. With the life you lived, would you choose the easy path? You know the truths of those comforts, thought they may be comforting in the now. You know the risks and rewards of both trails.”
You have seen the friends you admire and allies who have made their own mistakes continuing to strive down the hard path. After so much trial, I know that power and ease seem so appealing. But the challenge goes away then. The rewards of love and friendship slip away, and you will never know the joy of overcoming. Is the pain of stumbling not worth that?”
I sit still and do not answer her, gripping both of these kind women’s hands and thinking. The glowing eyes and screeching voice whisper promises in my head as the words of Roy and Matsumo flow through my brain. The tangible memories of Hinjo and Shojo, and the moment I am touching now. Shojo was right about one thing: we are responsible for our choices. Only I can make my own choice. My resolve firms, and I stand on my own power without the touch of another. I scream to everything and nothing, “I am Miko Miyazaki! I know the truth of myself and my choices of the past! Before the Twelve Gods and all the Spawns of the Hells I declare my choice. I CHOOSE(!!!)…”