Sinister Empire, the region formerly known as Pyeongchang

Woljeongsa Temple complex, on the eastern slopes of the mountain Odaesan

The snow crunched beneath Mia’s boot as she stepped into the temple courtyard. The heavy snow gear impeded movement, but the cold weather demanded it. The energy cell strapped to her right thigh hummed softly with energy, but didn’t provide enough raw warmth to survive the ice and snow. Besides that, there was the issue of the large backpack she carried on her back. She had scraped together enough supplies to survive the winter, and they weighed her down. Sinisters had little patience for snowy mountains outside of landscape paintings, and so she thought she could hide from him in Pyeongchang, at least until the snow melted.

The nine-tier stone pagoda that stood in the center of the courtyard was covered with snow. Mia walked past it and to the door of the main temple, inwardly amazed that the complex was still so well preserved. It had been ten years since she was last here, but little seemed different, though it was hard for her to tell through the snow and ice. She slid the wooden door to the side and quickly entered, closing the entrance behind her. It was still cold inside, but the wind was blocked at least, and night was falling. She lowered the heavy hood of the jacket and removed the snow goggles from her head, stowing them in a pocket.

Mia approached the temple’s special statue, the Medicine Buddha. She remembered the last time she had seen it. They say that this statue was found in a nearby pond, her mother had said. Mia had scoffed at the idea - You don’t just find statues in ponds, she had said. Her mother had just sighed, shook her head, and moved on. Mia smiled at the memory, one of the few times she and her mother had not been stressed about evading Sinister’s Marauder Battalions.

She set down her pack, and laid out a sleeping bag. Mia dared not unpack entirely, in case she was forced to move at a moment’s notice. The Sinisters did not extend much courtesy to their enemies, and more than once she had made the mistake of making camp only to be forced to abandon equipment due to an unexpected guest dropping by. Mia got out her dinner, an old can of soup, and cautiously warmed it by taking energy from her energy cell. She ate slowly, savoring each spoonful. After that, she dressed down and climbed into her sleeping bag, her handgun at her side.

Mia woke to the sound of footsteps outside, early in the morning. She immediately grabbed her gun and left her sleeping bag. Silently, she crept along the walls, weapon at the ready. She listened to the footsteps, trying to ascertain what was making them and how many there were. Her questions were answered when a man spoke outside.

“I can’t tell if somebody was here, Woojin,” the voice announced. “At least, not last night. The snowfall would have covered up any tracks.”

“I’ll take a look inside then, Kurtis.” came the reply.

“Be careful about that.” A third voice, this one a woman’s.

“Relax, ChoA. It’ll be fine.” The door to the temple slid open, and Mia pointed her gun straight at the man’s face.

“Who are you?” Mia asked, her voice firm, not afraid.

“Okay, calm down.” He said, backing away and raising his arms into the air. Mia could only see the two others besides him. They reached for their own weapons, cautiously.

“Answer.” She demanded.

“My name is Woojin.” The man said, speaking in a low tone. He gestured to each person as he spoke. “That’s Choa, and that’s Kurtis.”

“What are you doing here? Are you bandits?”

“We’re Resistance, actually.” Woojin said. Mia’s posture relaxed a bit at the answer. “We heard that somebody was hiking about up here and came to investigate. Who are you?”

“Call me Conduit.” Mia answered. “My real name is for me to know.”

“Well, I prefer real names, but if we’re doing codenames then you can call me Sky-Lord.” Woojin said.

“I’m Perception.” Choa said, an angry tone to her voice.

“I’m still Kurtis.”

Mia considered things, for a moment. She wasn’t part of the Resistance, but she was a fan. On the other hand, she had no way of known these three weren’t actually bandits, or worse, Sinisters in disguise. She gestured back, and Woojin backed up to join his companions. Mia kept the gun trained on them. Her powers were likely more than enough to deal with them, but they were unwieldy and she was loath to risk the temple’s safety.

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Mia said, at last.

“We’re not your enemies.” Woojin responded.

“You’re going to need to prove you’re Resistance if you want me to trust you.” Mia insisted.

“How exactly are we supposed to do that?” Choa snapped.

“That’s for you to figure out and for me to judge.” Mia replied. “Now leave.”

Mia watched them leave the temple grounds, her gun raised, before returning inside. Only then did she realize how cold she was. In her rush to confront her visitors she had neglected to put anything more on. Setting her gun down, she put on some warmer clothes. Mia took a seat then, having nothing more to do than wait.