Friday, February 25, 2011

Of Gods & Shadows (Flash Friday #1)

There was a certain kind of morbid beauty to the snowflakes lighting delicately onto the dark liquid creeping into her inverted field of vision.

Her blood. Its blood. All mixed in an inky pool beneath her body now slumped uselessly in the snow bank she had—ironically enough—chosen as a strategic point of cover while on the hunt for lesser game.

She had not seen the dark-kin coming. For all the grueling training she had endured through her short lifetime and all the battlefield experience she had garnered as the Commander-in-Training to world’s largest standing military, she was no match for a single wildspawn born from the blood and ashes of Chaos.

She would laugh if her lungs had air.

For the first time in all her nineteen years of life, Taliarain Relvir, who had toppled nations and rescued kings, who had courted death-defying odds and survived the Ordeal of the Fey, knew she would die.

A flurry of motion at the edge of her fading vision reminded her that her aggressor was still alive, though adequately damaged—a fact she could at least be proud of when facing Death's dream—but nonetheless ready to finalize its fatal pact with her piteously expired form.

Oh well.. she thought, closing her eyes. At least it was not a dishonorable death...

* * *

In the dream, she was alone in the vast Blackwoods of Edenea and, though she knew Edengarde to be hundreds of leagues beyond the gnarled black canopy, it did not seem at all amiss to see the delicate crystalline spires of Castle Kilberharl bracket the darkened sky. Not just the sky. Her surroundings too, were unnaturally dim, as if the entire world was suspended in everlasting twilight, with shadows—stretched too long—always itching just at the border of her vision.

But it was the snow that gave it away. 

Elaborately filigreed and over-large flakes of it floated gracefully through the air. Yet for some reason, she was garbed in little more than an impractically low-cut dress. Doubly impractical, for it was so long that the hem of the silk brushed the tops of her bare-feet and dragged heavily on ground behind her when she walked. Talia realized that she could walk, though she could not hear the muted crush of snow beneath her feet nor feel the gelid kiss of snowflakes on her skin.

She wrapped her bare arms about herself and shivered despite the absence of cold.

Is this Death's dream of me..?

As if in response, a dark silhouette darted past her periphery. Somehow, without warning, she knew in her heart it was the dark-kin returned to finish its grizzly task, and with neither weapon nor cover to defend herself, Talia realized that she couldn't even flinch away as its talons found her flesh...

Only this time, there was no pain.

Instead, an earsplitting scream pierced the air followed by a muffled thump as the beast crashed to the ground before her. Talia opened her eyes and regarded the corpse at her feet. 

I'm still.. Alive...?

She watched incredulously as the shadows beneath the body extended into inky tendrils and enveloped the dark-kin's crumpled form. When it was done, the umber shrunk back and sunk into the earth, leaving a soft mound of virgin snow in its place.

Without looking, once again, Talia sensed she was not alone.

Lifting up the long, ridiculous train of her dress, she stepped carefully over the space where the beast had fallen and walked slowly towards the new presence. In the void between where she had come from and the world-that-lay-beyond now stood a massive black Wolf.

She was not afraid. 

Instead, she swept into a deep bow, not daring to move again until she felt him move close enough that his warm breath tickled the back of her neck. Straightening regally, she leveled with the Wolf's serene and overwhelmingly perceptive gaze. Violet dusk met brilliant green and, after a moment of that seemed to stand still for an era, the Wolf lowered his great head and licked her shoulder. 

She had passed.

The sensation was beyond what her mortal vocabulary could describe, but the feeling was what she supposed it would be like to swallow a falling star—ecstatic, miraculous, and heartbreakingly joyous. Without thinking, she reached out both hands to steady herself against him and found the fur of the Wolf to be at once plush and rough. It took every modicum of her self-control to pull away.

Fortunately, the old god didn't seem to mind—or notice—which, she wasn't sure, for next he spoke, and his voiceless words were such a deep, rich rumble in her soul that she found it hard to think of anything else.

Not yet, my warrior queen. You still have much to do for the Children of Men... 

It was not a question.

Now come to me and I will carry you home...

So saying, the Wolf lowered his head even further and impossibly gently—and impossibly quick—his great mouth closed about her left hip and tossed her effortlessly onto his back.

Hold tight, Daughter of my Dream.. and remember, the gods are always watching...

With that, and a jolt, Talia gasped as her first conscious breath of air in three moons hit her lungs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The World's Smallest Violin

It's been just under two years since the last time I attempted to blog, journal or otherwise publicize my inane ramblings on the world wide web. That being said, I have accomplished quite a lot of not-writing in this span of time and done a rather bang-up job of violating, in every way possible, the writer's central precept of "write every day". So, in the event that you are actually someone who cares about me personally (in which case you probably already know this) or are—in a completely hypothetical and delusional world—following me over from my LJ alias of waywardwhim (why the hell would you do that?) here's the five minute version of all the not-writing that happened since winter 2009.

Study abroad at Sophia University (Tokyo) 
During which I was inflicted upon my fellow writer and best friend of 10 years L. Scribe Harris who was working in Tokyo at the time. For six straight months poor Scribe had to live with me in her one-bedroom apartment, which was small enough to where, if we held hands, we could collectively touch every wall of our entire living space simultaneously; I don't think I snore but someone give this woman a medal.

Graduation from NC State University (Class of 2009) 
Somehow,  between 5½ years of indecision and two senior seminars that demanded the academic equivalent of ritual self-flagellation every night for a semester, I finally walked away from the college experience with a B.S. in Microbiology, a B.A. in International Studies, and Ph.D. in WTF do I do now? Well, what will you do now, you ask? Tch, be unemployed of course...! 

Unemployment (Winter 2010)
Just like all the rest of the pitiful suckers who brilliantly planned their graduation for December 2009, I was  jobless and sitting on my ass, feeling sorry for myself for the months of January through April. For those of you who missed out on the RSVP for Recession that year, let me give you the Cliff notes version: McDonald's wasn't hiring. 

American Institute of Certified Public.. wha?
By a bizarre twist of fate, I got hired by the last organization on Earth I would have expected to get hired by. I didn't even know what "CPA" stood for when I walked into the job fair that day. It was by freak luck that the rep at the AICPA booth noticed me and handed me an information packet. And, well, I was already throwing my résumé at every man, woman, and dog that even hinted at employment at that point, so the fact that I got the job wasn't a matter of compatibility, it was just as likely sheer statistical probability.

Some of these activities, such as graduating or getting a job, may arguably fall under the category of "necessary", "constructive", and/or "quintessential to not sucking" but they have nonetheless provided me with a wealth of ammunition when it came to combating my nagging muse. So, Raven—you may ask—now that you're done with school and have a source of stable income, what possible excuse to not-write could you have now?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is precisely my problem: I don't.

Not to dwell too long in the department of back-story, but I grew up Chinese—and by Chinese, I'm not talking about the "I was born in China" kind of Chinese. I'm referring to the we-used-our-dishwasher-as-a-dish-rack and anything-short-of-a-4.0-GPA-was-grounds-for-castigation Chinese. This may have had its pluses, i.e. when it came to getting financial backing for "academically sanctioned activities" or just having adults in your life who gave a general damn about your moral upbringing. But if your aspirations lay even halfway in the realm of the humanities, this also meant you were shit outta luck. 

Sure. My parents made me take violin lessons from the time I was five (How else would stereotypes survive?) but this was hardly in the hopes of me becoming the next Itzhak Perlman or maybe one day securing employment in the local symphony. It was just what Chinese parents do. When I expressed aptitude in arts and language, they were not only delighted but often even encouraged my pursuit of certain hobbies, such as drawing. But the key word here is "hobbies". Art, music, drawing, sewing, writing... all of these things were just fine-and-dandy so long as they did not impede my path towards a respectable career in the hard sciences. How else would I support myself, raise a family, and have 2.5 kids and a dog?

It is here that I should point out the hypocrisy of it all because neither of my parents are scientists. My father has a propensity for literature himself and a Ph.D in—drum roll—Economics. My mother is a teacher and brilliant artist who never did jack with her talent. The fact that I even made it through two years of applied sciences at one of the top 25 engineering institutions in the country should be considered a minor miracle. Nevertheless, time was wasted and habits were instilled, and now that we're all brought up to speed on Chicken Soup for the Chinglish Soul, maybe you begin to see the bigger picture.

I have spent my entire life, thus far, not-writing.

What I need to come to terms with is the fact that I am not beholden to my parents, my teachers, or anyone else for that matter anymore. Let me repeat this again so that perhaps my poor abused Pavlov's dog of a brain can understand. I am NOT beholden to my parents anymore. For the first time in my life, how I spend my time is completely and irrevocably my own fault. So this blog—among other inchoate endeavors—is a way of me saying to my muse: "Hey, look! I'm not going to put your off, ignore you,  then say terrible things to you, only to call you at 2 AM on Friday nights crying in the rain... I'm a big kid now!" No more excuses. No more not-writing. I'm my own world's smallest violinist.

Funny enough, when I told my mother the other day that I was trying to write in my free time, her response was: "Why would you want to do that?"  So, what about you? What do you think? Have you ever left your muse out in the cold without cab-fare or gone too far to live up to other people's expectations? What are your excuses for not-writing and how do you overcome them?