Like I said yesterday, Zikara is still embedded in my psyche, and her arc still pains me as a player. My right hand man, who if you haven’t put it together by now played Asbjørn, does his best to take care of me, in and out of particular roles (be them characters, or jobs relating to an event.) He’s been worried about me, lost in this pain and frustration. So he proposed a way to try to help: more roleplay.
We spend a lot of time roleplaying across all the games we play together. It is always a powerful experience. When we play, we both get so lost in our characters. I have no formal teaching regarding acting or roleplaying. My own brand of method acting is home-brewed and the only way I know. It is part of why characters like Zikara affect me so much. He understands the power of roleplay to devastate someone, but he also knows that it can be cathartic, and has incredible power to heal a player as the character wrestles with and conquers pain.
So we set up a scene. Some unspecified time not so far in the future when the talk among the Coalition reaches Zikara and she puts it all together. Her worldview is shattered. Ozda is not real; he does not exist. Nothing and no one is looking out for the Jeskeri, or for her. Scientific explanations were waiting, just under the surface (literally). She and the rest of the Jeskeri had refused for 500 years to search for answers. They we complicit in their own ignorance. She is broken in a way she’s never been broken before. Asbjørn notices that Zikara has shut herself away from the other Jeskeri and comes to investigate why.
Zikara wildly oscillates between utter despair and burning anger. She contemplates suicide because she doesn’t want to face a world without a higher power watching over her. She contemplates running away because she can’t bear to lie to the Jeskeri. She contemplates inflicting the same pain that claws at her on the Jeskeri with a callous reveal of the truth. And through it all, she laments yet another loss in her life which it seems is doomed to forever be defined by loss.
Through it all, Asbjørn sits with her. He himself is in a unique position. He never believed that Ozda was real. He saw the beauty in the community that the Jeskeri built. That togetherness, that peace, that faith was what drew him in. That is what he tries to show her. He holds her when she cries. He begs her to stay when she threatens to leave.
At first her heart is too broken. Her faith has sustained her for the past 12 years. It has bolstered her through losses, comforted her in times of pain, and given her something to believe in when she couldn’t see the good in herself or the people around her. She took comfort – too much comfort it seems – from the idea that a benevolent deity would ultimately protect the innocent Jeskeri, even if it proved too much for her.
Eventually, with time and patience, Asbjørn convinces her to stay, even if she steps down from her leadership role. How could she leave the Jeskeri? She’s suffered so much loss, how could she choose to inflict that on them – on him? It may not have been the most elegant argument, or the most dignified, but Asbjørn had already tried those and he was getting desperate. The pain in his voice is finally enough to pierce the storm of emotions raging through her.
The rest of it is a harder sell. Asbjørn tries to convince Zikara that the thing worth protecting – the thing that makes the Jeskeri beautiful – is not Ozda, but their community. Zikara struggles to believe that the community can exist without Ozda. Still, in Asbjørn’s conviction and tenacity, Zikara sees a spark. Eventually, in defiance of all the pain she’s feeling – and contrary to her claim that she has nothing left to give – she offers Asbjørn a weak smile.
Asbjørn is right that it is not guaranteed that life in the Coalition will destroy the Jeskeri. But what Zikara chooses to do will go a long way toward protecting or destroying them. Ozda doesn’t have to exist for Zikara to live by the tenets ascribed to her. The Jeskeri give freely what is asked of them, and Asbjørn has asked Zikara to stay, and continue to protect the Jeskeri. So that is what she’ll do. Even if it all feels hollow. Even if it is secretly all a lie. She will keep living, for their sake. And maybe someday, she’ll find the faith in the Jeskeri that Asbjørn has. The flipped script is not lost on her.
When the scene was done, we were both emotionally exhausted. I didn’t hurt anymore, but I assumed that was because I just felt tired. It wasn’t until several hours later, in a break between playing NPCs for the campaign Larp I am Co-GMing, that I realized that something had been unblocked in my chest. I am still upset about the treatment of religion in the game. I still intend to reach for better. But I feel that I can put Zikara down. I can take that mask off, extract myself from that character, and move on. She won’t ever not be with me on some level, but that is true of all of my meaningful characters. Like letting go a paper boat on a river, Zikara can move on, and so can I.