Sang-je’s ultimate aspiration rested upon becoming one with nature, seamlessly woven into the fabric of this world. Eugene had unwaveringly held onto the belief that every action Sang-je took was a step towards this profound communion. Yet, in a sudden twist of contemplation, a statement by Alber resurfaced in Eugene’s mind.
“I can’t fully trust his words. He claims he desires death, but who’s to say he doesn’t have ulterior motives?”
Among the myriad pieces of information that Alber had imparted to Eugene, the one that resonated most profoundly concerned Anika’s Ramita bringing peace to Sang-je. For Sang-je, Anika’s demise was imperative.
“In that case,” Eugene speculated, “Alber must have been deceived by him right from the outset.” Alber had aligned herself with the enigmatic creature, not solely driven by the yearning for her tribe to break free from their constraints but also because the creature’s desires weren’t unreasonable. The longing to reconnect with their origins and return to the world of their birth was fundamentally human.
However, as time elapsed, Alber’s trust began to erode. Yet, due to Sang-je’s stranglehold on all information, she likely couldn’t uncover any concrete evidence to substantiate her suspicions.
Eugene halted her deduction and adopted a patient stance, aware that Mara might have deliberately sown seeds of misinformation to sow confusion.
“How can you be so certain whether or not Sang-je desires death?” Eugene inquired.
Mara retorted, “Because it defies reason for an awakened lark to yearn for death.”
“Do Hwansus have no inclination towards survival?” Eugene probed further, her thoughts briefly drifting to the turtle Hwansu she had encountered at the desert sanctuary and the reactions of Abu and the small one as they scampered away. If Mara’s assertions held true, the pieces of the puzzle began to align.
Kasser, who had been an attentive listener, interjected, “Are you suggesting that larks and Hwansus are fundamentally distinct entities?”
“Regardless of their nature,” Mara countered, “is it logical to equate creatures like us, sentient beings, with parasites locked in a perpetual cycle of consumption, reproduction, and awakening?”
Eugene and Kasser exchanged a knowing glance. Though lacking a concrete rebuttal, they both harbored an unspoken hesitation to endorse Mara’s self-praise with their acknowledgment.
Nevertheless, as Eugene contemplated the two Hwansus nestled quietly at her feet, she found herself leaning toward supporting Mara’s assertion that larks and Hwansus were indeed disparate entities. The endearing Hwansus bore no resemblance whatsoever to the gargantuan rat-lark she had encountered previously.
Nonetheless, she resolutely confronted the reality as she gazed at the rat.
“Your origins trace back to a lark,” she asserted.
Mara let out an exasperated click of his tongue. “Ah, humans, why do you dwell on such matters? What truly matters is not the past but the present.”
Eugene found herself taken aback. She hadn’t anticipated receiving a dose of philosophy from a lark.
“…Are you genuinely refuting the notion that some larks become Hwansus?” she inquired.
“That’s indeed a fact,” replied Mara. “But I don’t remember anything before awakening. So, the form I had before my awakening is not me.”
Eugene’s confusion deepened. Initially, it had appeared as though the mystery was unraveling, but now more questions arose.
“If your assertion holds, then larks and Hwansus must be distinct entities. Larks seek death, while Hwansus… don’t. But I’m perplexed. Isn’t becoming a tree and experiencing death a form of respite for you? I’ve encountered Hwansus who can communicate their intentions. In their case, the elders referred to death as ‘extinction,’ and extinction signifies vanishing, not integration into the cycle of this world, doesn’t it?”
“Of course, death is preferable to extinction. Yet, living is far more enjoyable.”
Taken aback by this unexpected response, Eugene sought clarification. “What do you mean?”
“I suspect you’re seeking an explanation because you buy into that absurd notion of wanting to become a tree. What I’m about to share is information of the highest quality, something even the elders haven’t told,” Mara mumbled to himself before addressing Eugene directly.
“There are grades to a lark’s death. The worst fate is to be obliterated by the King,” he explained, briefly casting a glance at Kasser with his crimson eyes. “That’s literal extinction. So, it’s a superior fate compared to falling prey to another lark. Figuratively, it’s like rebuilding a sandcastle after it crumbles. And even better than that is meeting one’s end at the hands of a human.”
“So, you’re saying it’s better for a lark to die at the hands of humans than to be eaten by another lark?” Eugene asked.
Mara elaborated, “When larks meet their demise by human or through consuming humans, they establish a unique connection with this world—a sort of ‘fateful bond,’ one might say. This, in turn, heightens the likelihood of awakening.”
Kasser let out a soft sigh of comprehension. He now grasped why larks would assail humans, who were not even their typical prey.
“The most desirable form of death is the transformation into a tree through Anika’s Ramita. However, even this death doesn’t represent the ultimate choice. What a lark genuinely craves is the state of awakening. Yet, the odds of awakening are exceedingly slim. Instead of pinning hope on a minuscule probability and risking annihilation at the hands of the King, it’s preferable to meet one’s end at Anika’s hands. This allows them to break free from the ceaseless cycle of dry and active phases.”
“Is becoming a Hwansu… the ultimate aspiration for a lark?” Eugene inquired.
This revelation diverged from the information she had received from Alber. If Mara’s words held true, it meant that Sang-je had duped Alber with the data she had been provided.
Sang-je, is everything you utter a falsehood? Is there any truth in your words at all? Anger surged within her once more, yet, paradoxically, she also felt a strange sense of relief. There had been something irritatingly elusive, like a tiny thorn lodged in her thoughts, that had been bothering her until this moment.
Could Sang-je truly be blamed for simply yearning for death? Perhaps the larks, forcibly transplanted into this world, were indeed the true victims in this tale. And if transforming Sang-je into a tree was not a punishment but rather the fulfillment of the monster’s desires, then perhaps his tranquil end was not as far-fetched as it seemed. The need for conflict might no longer exist.