Meet the Iconics
As a child
|“||Yoon always loved fire—the warmth, the color, the brilliant blaze. Fire always changed, and changed everything around it. Yoon could empathize. Fire was also always hungry—Yoon could empathize with that, too, as her family were immigrants in Minkai, and struggled to support themselves.
Not long after Yoon learned to walk, she learned to climb, and immediately took a shining to the rooftops of Oda. Her father only brought her to the city for the big festivals, and she wanted the best view to watch the fireworks celebrating the Lady of the North Star. Once, when she was climbing, Yoon fell, dropping into the river, and her father had to fish her out. Yoon coughed up a seemingly endless stream of water, and her grandmother scolded her, saying it would have been far worse if Yoon had hit the ground.
Yoon wasn't so sure. Just as fire had always been her friend, water had always been her enemy. All her life, it had taken her mother away on ships, for weeks or months at a time. And in the end, it refused to give her back.
Yoon's mother had been a brave warrior and explorer, and had told Yoon many fantastic tales of adventure and faraway places, primarily in the savage lands to the north. She also brought Yoon things, like the stuffed bear-owl creature named Gom-Gom, or the crooked stick used to play a strange northern game. Yet one day, her mother failed to return. Yoon and her father waited, growing more anxious as each week. When at last a messenger arrived and confirmed her mother's death battling siyokoys, a grief-stricken Yoon decided that no one else would ever call her by the same name her mother had. Forsaking her old name, she insisted on being referred to only by her mother's family name, the one her mother's adventuring companions had called her—Yoon.
Gom-Gom was the first to accept Yoon's new name. Eventually, even her grandmother gave in, though she continued to sniff at the impropriety. Yoon's grandmother had been a palace servant to the Shojinawa family once, and despite the fact that Yoon was determined to become a warrior like her mother, the old woman insisted on teaching her about things like poise, discipline, and self-control, arguing that they were just as important to a warrior as to a court scholar. Yoon didn't quite believe that, but did her best anyway, proving a quick and capable student.
Yoon's father fared worse. Still a loving, caring parent, he grew distant and sad after his wife's death, and spent more time muttering about things like imperial taxes and yakuza corruption. The new friends he made were constantly grouchy, and Yoon came to think of them privately as his Bitter Friends. They spent long evenings drinking and arguing in low voices, always careful to keep the windows closed and doors locked, even in the worst summer heat.
One night, as Yoon was once more watching fireworks in honor of the Lady of the North Star, her father went off to meet those friends. Yet even as the colored stars burst overhead, a new light blazed up to the east—a burning warehouse! Yoon went to watch the citizens fight the fire, but when she arrived, she found the place surrounded by imperial soldiers. Not only were they not helping put out the blaze, they were actively preventing those inside from fleeing. An uncomprehending Yoon wept to hear their cries, plugging her ears against the crunch of tetsubos on bone as the soldiers beat back burning men and women and their captain issued a proclamation about the punishment of Hwan rebels.
That's when Yoon saw her father.
He was in a knot of his Bitter Friends, blackened with ash, struggling to break through the ranks of soldiers. Even as Yoon called his name, she saw him fall beneath the soldiers' blows.
Screaming, Yoon raced for the line of soldiers. She might have gone unnoticed in the din, if not for the flaming board she scooped up and hurled at one of the soldiers, striking him in the helmet. As the man crumpled to the ground, several of his companions turned toward her. Yet as they advanced, truncheons raised, Yoon found her view suddenly blocked by her grandmother, wreathed in a snaking cloud of eerie black flames.
"Run, child!" the woman commanded. "If you listen to me only once in your life, run now, and don't come back!"
Yoon ran—through the city, out the gates, and into the surrounding fields. Only when she could run no farther did she finally collapse, exhausted, into the grass, listening to the night breeze and the song of insects. Behind her, the fireworks still continued, but the brilliant lines and stars no longer held Yoon's attention. As she held up a hand, little flickers of black flame flared into life around it. Her own tiny fireworks.
Her grandmother had commanded her to leave. Yoon understood that. She had struck a soldier, and no one harmed an imperial soldier and lived. But where should she go? She had always wanted to see Hwanggot, her family's homeland, but it lay across the water to the southwest, and there was no way Yoon was crossing that much water. In a sudden flash of inspiration, she decided to head north, up through the Forest of Spirits, then down along the mainland. She would be an explorer, like her mother. And she wouldn't have to be scared. After all, she still had her two oldest friends—Gom-Gom and fire. Between the two of them, they'd protect her.
Yet while a stuffed animal and a magical flame can handle a lot of problems, they weren't truly equipped to handle all Yoon's needs, and she might well have starved to death in the ensuing days and weeks if she hadn't fallen in with a mysterious traveler. Seemingly waiting for Yoon at a crossroads, the man spoke to Yoon of her powers, helping her come to understand them even as he taught her to scavenge and forage for food. Yet his greatest gift came on the slopes of the great volcano Kumijinja, where he called forth the spirits of the mountain's fire, presenting Yoon to them like a visiting dignitary. As the kami touched her, Yoon felt something inside her shift, and the flames that roiled inside her emerged, turning from black to a brilliant red. In that instant, she understood the fire she carried, and it understood her. When she woke from her trance-like reverie, the traveler was gone, leaving Yoon to continue her journeys alone—a child in age, yet armed with the courage of her mother, and the fiery wisdom of the mountain.1
As an adult
|“||Yoon was only eight when she learned of fire; the power to command and control flames awoke within her, as it had within her grandmother, and her grandmother's grandmother before her. Fire was a good friend to have, for Yoon was on a journey across Tian Xia, fleeing her old home of Minkai and heading down the coast to Hwanggot, the land her parents had left decades ago. Her flame kept her warm at night and protected her from monsters and bandits, and she had friends she met along the road to teach her survival and point her toward the next village or inn.
But on a night trekking across Hongal, the cold winds blew down from the Crown of the World, and even Yoon's flame wasn't enough to keep her warm. With precious little wood to be found on the arid steppes, Yoon broke her wooden walking club in half and set it aflame with a wave of her hand. It had been a gift from her parents, one of the last things she had left of them, and though Yoon was loath to lose it, she knew they would rather she be safe.
Sitting by the campfire, Yoon thought of them. They had been immigrants in Minkai, with precious little to sustain themselves. Her mother had been an explorer and a warrior, sacrificing time with her family to bring good coin home from jobs on the road. Her father had stayed home to work the fields and to take care of Yoon and her grandmother, though he had aspirations of becoming a court scribe. But though they had little, her family made sure Yoon's life was as happy as possible, providing a good education, the freedom of childhood, and what little presents they could afford—her favorite being a stuffed animal named Gom-Gom. Though the little toy was clearly stitched together from what mismatched, discarded pieces of other dolls her parents could buy cheaply, they had made it with love, and Yoon loved it in return (even if one of his eyes had gotten stolen by the Risucho in the Forest of Spirits).
When Yoon's mother fell in battle to monsters from the deep, her father fell too into a great depression, increasingly ground down by the ill treatment of a corrupt local government official. When Yoon’s father tried to organize a resistance, he was cut down by soldiers, and Yoon would have been as well, had her grandmother not protected her by summoning the flames, trading her life for Yoon's safe future. Now, Yoon had only Gom-Gom left. But her grandmother had told Yoon of uncles and aunts and cousins back in Hwanggot, the land her family had emigrated from. Yoon would find them.
As Yoon traveled south, she grew into an experienced explorer, just like her mother had been. She fought off oni in Chu Ye, evaded the fanatical Tidecallers in Wanshou, and protected merchants from lingering spirits in the lands of Linvarre newly reclaimed from the ghosts of Shenmen. Along the way, the etiquette and poise that her grandmother had labored to teach Yoon fell away, replaced by a rugged survivalism, a brashness (and sharp tongue) learned from traveling with all sorts of miscreants, and the unassailable confidence of adolescence.
In the city of Mallaru, Yoon reached the sea, and she was presented with a choice. She could continue her journey on foot, passing through yet more armies, monsters, and dangers along the road. Or she could board a passenger ship from the harbor, making her way to Hwanggot safely. The old Yoon would have balked at a journey across the water—it had almost drowned her in childhood and its monsters had taken her mother. She hesitated, for long enough that the ship cast off and began to disappear out of the harbor.
Yoon was tired. Her fear had cost her a decade. A decade spent wandering Tian Xia, and while the journey had forged her into the warrior she always wanted to become, it would keep her from her homeland no longer. Why should it? There was water in her blood just as sure as there was air in her lungs. There was metal and wood lodged forever in her skin from countless scraps along her journey. There was earth under her nails from ten years on the road. But above all else, there was fire in Yoon's heart—the fire of her family, her strongest weapon and most steadfast ally, driving her to cross half a continent to make her way home.
The heart is a gate, her grandmother had said, and as the emotion gripped Yoon, she saw for the first time what lay on the other side: a world of endless and purest flame, the Plane of Fire sharing the tiniest of its embers. Yoon felt her connection to the realm surge with the realization, and with it, her power. Fire overflowed, burning its way through Yoon's body. An explosion bloomed, blackening the cobblestones.
Yoon soared through the air in a trail of sparks, whooping with the joy of a teenager flying for the first time. The harbor grew smaller underneath her, then held in place as she reached her apex and gravity gripped her. Yoon refused to fall—she had always loved heights. She summoned her flames anew, blasting herself higher still, then again, shooting herself over the water toward the ship. She wasn't the least bit tired. The Plane of Fire was inexhaustible, so why shouldn't her flames be as well? Allowing herself to hang in the air one last time, Yoon aimed herself at the ship and struck the deck like a shooting star, the morning mist glittering in her waning sparks.
The ship would soon reach Yoon's homeland, and Yoon would then have a new adventure to set off on. She would fear nothing again.2