Red

Is it a line or a river, dancing on my arm,

Glittering like its silver author, metal.

Though God’s cannons set themselves against self-harm,

Thoughts and desperation made all brittle.

 

Oh, I saw now its glorious, luscious scarlet

The wine of Lamia; I whined of paranoia.

‘Tis but a trivial bicker that drew the rivulets,

One fiery red and two made my lips Mesopotamia.

 

Now that my eyes are dried by the sun,

And merciless winds that urged me on,

With deadlines and pressures that weigh a ton.

If only, they or me could be gone.

 

Still I know I have no right to cry

All I have is the right to try.

*While I know there is no real meter here, I was merely focusing on the sentiment, shifts and allusions along with rhymes this time.

III.

The smell was unbearable. By the time Lord Francis arrived with his men, the beasts of nature had already dined on innocent blood and flesh while flies borne their children to make quick work of the rest.

“There are no traces of survivors, My Lord.”

“I see…go see if the diggers require any assistance.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

Francis watched without comprehending how the gravediggers summon such courage, unearthing pits directly next to carcasses with only a thin cloth about their faces to mask the odor while some picked up the maggot-fests without a stir before depositing them deep into the earth.

“My Lord!”

“Ah, Abel, what is with you?”

“We…believe that we found him…General Shalot…” Francis immediately followed the page to the edge of town where a loose circle of rebels paid their respects through curious inspection.

Francis covered his hand with his handkerchief before he turn over the slumped body felled upon a sword; the movement unleashed a cloud of flies and someone among the circle broke away to gag. Francis squinted hard and found upon the cadaver’s finger a familiar ring. He then wrenched the sword free: the fine smithwork and the handle worn from battles spoke volumes of the way the General chose death.

“Bury him with the honor he deserves,” He managed to scatter the rebels to find a spade, handing the sword for his page to keep.

“You shouldn’t take from the dead, Lord Francis,” He snapped around to face the lecturer, a young man magnified by the pair of feathered wings folded against his back that reached the floor like a cape made of the night.

“Ah, Aldebaran, you never cease to sneak up on me…good afternoon to you, too,” Francis beheld the Nokshan, for even after months of collaboration he still questioned the existence of this mystified creature.

“Still, taking from the dead is almost as bad as cheating the poor,” Aldebaran’s impassive gaze unsettled Francis, though the rebel leader mumbled and chose to move on.

“Why are you here now, Alde?”

“A…request, a simple one.”

“If it is within my power, I would grant it. What is it?”

“Allow me to assassinate the Emperor.”

“…what? That is no simple request! Even if I have the jurisdiction over your life, I cannot condone such a suicide. I have no doubt for your extraordinary powers, but should you fail–”

“–It would be the death of me, perhaps worse, I know. But, what is that to this?” He gestured to the burnt village. “If I should fail, the fact that there was an attempt would still amount to precedent.”

“You are too important for us to lose…”

“Are these innocent villagers any less important to a revolution whose sole existence was to free the people?”

“But you…”

“…I am not the only Nokshan in existence who would gladly help your fight. Now, just promise me one thing.”

“What is it, Alde?”

“The moment I leave this place, consider me dead unless I should return.”

“How can I merely cast you aside after all that you’ve accomplished for the rebellion?”

“…Do as you did with your displaced books; bury me into the depth of memory besides them, so I shall be well forgotten until someone ask for me,” Seeing the desired effect of his jab at the Lord’s forgetfulness, Aldebaran pointed at the remains before them. “Or do as you will with him; bury me into the depth of the earth, erect a tombstone if you so desire. There is no potion as potent at erasing one’s existence than the poison that reduces the colors of lives into a cold white stone with a simple label that symbolizes your family more than you, perhaps with dates indicating your short walk on earth, and a single line at the bottom to generalize your character with more societal labels. I’ve always wanted to be remembered that way.”

“Aren’t you talkative today?”

“Perhaps I am merely getting my share of lines in the narrative before my doom.”

“Why even ask me if you will attempt the assassination anyway?”

“You are the head of the rebellion: my actions would definitely turn it.”

“How unfair, that you should be allowed to turn my will for your own, while I cannot even hope to change yours…very well, I have but one condition.”

“What is it?”

“Return alive.”

Aldebaran scoffed at the request, “I cannot make an empty promise.”

“Then fulfill it…I will save my blessings for when you return,” The rebellion’s leader took hold of Aldebaran’s forearms and gripped it in an unwilling send off before the Nokshan left, accepting the shade offered by the forest as he retraced his path.

What is it then, Alde questioned himself as he glared at the dark earth and wondered if it was washed by blood, that still unsettled him so much despite Francis’s permission? What is that voice that admonished his disobedience and crushed his heart, reading to him his destined doom?

It was the voice of reason, the voice of the Creator, and yet he chose to ignore it.

He then looked into the pale blue sky that reminded him of his little sister’s wings; when he left, the fledgling’s blue jay plumes were already more vibrant than this sky, on the verge of tears for the slaughter it witnessed.

“Ha, I am a fool,” His own voice betrayed him to the Creator, and Alde could only agree. Yes, a stubborn fool. As much as he understand the way of the Nokshans being one stringently following doctrines, how could he forget that night?

He squeezed his eyes shut, and despite the distance his hesitance steps had placed between him and the burnt village, the sharp tang of decay and coal revived painful memories: the cries, his agony, and…and…

He gasped and returned to his spot amongst the dense covers of trees. The Emperor will fall. And, at the next gentle breeze, the Nokshan went on.

II.

Shalot was editing his scripts when someone gently rapped against his door. He overcame the urge to ignore it and set down his pen, got up from his desk, and made his way grudgingly to the visitor.

He saw that it was a boy, small and winded from hurry, “General Shalot, a note for you!” The messenger clearly didn’t know him to think that he would be happy to be reminded of that title.

As he took the note from the boy and bought him off with humble thanks and a few coins, he studied the envelope. Ah, his sister. As he ripped it open, the coarse paper caught his index finger and drew a line across it.

“Ugh…” Red welled up at the cut to form tears that fell upon the earthen floor, and he cringed as the dull color spoke of a battle he wanted to forget.

Shalot raised his arms as though that would stop the fire arrows the Sardis reinforcement sent into the air.

“Take formation, men,” How could one be so calm in the sea of enemies? How could one be so gallant, summoning his life to push the entire cloud of arrows away from his men with so powerful an enchantment? So that was Shalot’s commander, the one that rushed before his men into hell to make it a lesser hell for all, the one that seemed to value himself so lowly to lift lowly ones like Shalot from the blood-soaked earth.

Ah, he digressed. The note. He inspected the contents and found that it was merely a commendation for his manuscripts. It had been nearly two long decades since the Amzran and Sardisian Invasion, and for the past five years he had enough and retired his sword for a pen. Little did he know until now that the pen was almost, if not more lethal than his previous instrument. He started writing about the invasion, the battles, first for himself than published after a fellow survivor of the event read it and urged him to. He didn’t know that certain orators would spin tales out of it. He didn’t know that there would even be a play based on it.

He didn’t know that the plainly stated truths would gain so much spark as to start a fire.

By no means was he the author of the rebellion, but he certainly fed it with the pages of his memoirs. Voices began to harmonize, forces began to organize: the villain, the Emperor, the fallen one…wasn’t he all one of the same?

At this point, his house was intruded for the second time of the day, though this knocking was with much more urgency. He dragged himself to the door once again, saw through the curtains and paused with his heart.

What on earth were the Emperor’s elite guards doing at the door of his shack?

Shalot lost no time to bolt his door, sprinting to the back for his steed only to find its limp body stretched upon the earth, its snout bleeding. They found him.

“General Shalot!” The rapping doubled with summons. “Open the door at once.”

The rapping deteriorated into pounds to force an entrance. He rushed to rekindle enough flames in the hearth to erase his manuscripts and correspondences with the rebellion, with just enough time to seize his sword and take temporary shelter within a cabinet.

The door gave away and the guards poured in, finding a warm hearth fed by secrets, “Search the place.” The order was complied, and Shalot watched through a crack without breathing. “Clearly, he was not in the town, so he must be here.”

How could they be so sure that I was not in town…Shalot felt cold crawling across his spine. Unless…oh it could not be.

A shadow passed by the cracked cabinet, and it paused. Ah, he was done for. He silently unsheathed his sword and waited as the clueless soldier approached, leaning down to peer into the slit of cracked wood. Without a hesitation Shalot buried his blade through the crack, and the poor guard screamed about the loss of a good eye. What an untrained fool.

The fellow’s friends rushed at the cabinet then, and Shalot kicked the door down against an incoming soldier, gutting another before making for the door. “After him!” It had been too long and his senses was dulled as his blade by age; distracted in deflecting a spear, he allowed a blade to glance across his side. “Gah…” He made it past the door, his hand clamped against the bleeding as he ran for his life towards the town, and he did not even need to see the edge of it to confirm his fears.

Crackles of dying flames transformed the town into a pit of embers, charred bodies a strangely prepared meal for vultures. Shalot fell upon his knees at the sight, weakened by blood loss and guilt…had they assumed the villagers hid him? Just because of him they all…

“Enough of this, General Shalot, just tell us who your leader is,” The captain of the guards had caught up; Shalot could feel blade drawn against him, ready to lop off his head should he run.

Somehow he still could not stop himself from laughing, “So this is it…your example to the world?” He read the trail of dark red he left behind a painful epitaph, indifferentiable in his blurry vision.

“I need a name, Shalot, you are a madman.”

“A name, you said?” He didn’t know what force pulled him upon his feet and turned him around to face the wrathful captain; still he smiled. “Can a madman name a nameless rebellion? Does the author always…know the words he created…?”

“Shalot, you–”

Before the Captain and his soldiers could stop him, the former general raised his sword one last time and sank the metal into a broken heart, drawing a period upon the epitaph of a charcoal tombstone.

59,814,018 Cracks in the Glass Ceiling

Yet, we are still not there. Still, the electoral college founded in the great Founding Fathers’ days of fearing “the tyranny of the majority.” What do I have to say as a Taiwanese immigrant woman in the face of such a moment of American history?

I have very little to say beside resonating the wisps of positive energy within the general screams of panic around my vastly liberal environment: do not curse the head that now forcefully pilots the plane. Instead, focus on the passengers. Instead of kicking the back of the chair of those before us, hold those around you close, keep love in your heart, never get cynical. Even though sexism trumped racism last night, we cannot lose heart.

A certain great teacher/friend of mine reminded me that the arts usually thrive under an oppressive regime. It’s the push and pull that brings out greatness. So, I will continue to use my arts (or the experimentation of them) to tell stories. None of what occurred last night and what will happen in the next four years will change my goals, if not only prompting me to fight even harder for the things that I hold dear.

I.

The throne room was saturated with incense from the cleansing ceremony the Grand Priest prescribed during the day. What was it but an excuse to pretend as though the Priest was actually half of what the former Priestess and her father were, and that Lord Claud — for that was the name of the priest — was actually not completely useless in the current state of affairs with his lacking spiritual gifts?

So the incense remained there, useless and cumbersome like its creator; in a similar fashion, ten imperial advisors remained seated there, mindless and clueless without their Emperor. Then at last, one of them decided to break the murmurs of uncertainty.

“We cannot risk upholding this pathetic excuse any longer: His Majesty’s supposed prolonged illness is as foreboding as the truth.”

“What would become of us, then?” A stern voice went against the crumble of resolution. “The rebels would overrun us…our allies held in their places merely in fear of Emperor Luctus would turn against us…do you wish to die so much?”

“…No, but if we are to escape now…”

“They will hunt us down,” A third voice interjected, and it rang and settled at the weight of truth; the minds churned in silent contemplation before the mahogany doors were thrown open, allowing the entrance of the head of these men, Lord Horatio, and by his side the unexpected figure of Princess Lyra, her head held high against the advisors’ disapproving murmurs.

“Gentlemen, apologies for my belated arrival,” Horatio started. “Please be seated. I have found a solution to our unfortunate situation.”

There was a shift among the table in agitated apprehension.

“We must uphold the lie, to put up an act for the maintenance of our states. But, for that, we must have a replacement,” one of the advisors realized the Princess’s presence in relation to Horatio’s words and began to protest but only to be shushed by reason.

“There are very little difficulties in imitating my father’s aura,” The Princess began. “I–”

“– With all due respect, Your Highness, His Majesty was…far more powerful than you in every aspect,” An advisor fought the urge to scorn but failed. “Your…imitation would simply make a fool of us before dooming us all the same…while Your Highness would share our demise as well.”

Lyra beheld the speaker with a cocked eyebrow and a smirk: even he had to admit that she was distinctively a mold of Emperor Luctus, “Was my father truly powerful, that he cannot even return himself to his empire? Perhaps my act would only be a futile play because of the common disdain set against me before I even begin, and it would be the lack of cooperation on your part but not my failure to fulfill my role that brings our doom…Excuse me, perhaps I am too inferior to be considered a collective of ‘our’ with your esteemed lordships?”

The last quip was whispered to Lord Horatio, whose façade was lighted by amusement, “Gentlemen, I can assure you that Her Highness is more than capable of upholding the disguise.”

As their audience settled at Horatio’s words, Lyra scoffed, “To think your words can restrain them so, while mine merely amount to impropriety…very well, I shall bear it if it means maintaining the peace of our Empire.”

Discussions went on, and the advisors arrived upon satisfactory conclusions, drew up details until all that was left to do was for Horatio to cast the illusionary spell. He uttered the enchantments as he composed an ungodly concoction with the Princess’s blood drawn from her wrist before the proper symbols were drawn about Lyra.

“I believe you mean Vega and not Sirius there, my Lord,” Lyra pointed to Horatio a corner of the diagram with her slipper.

The room was hushed, and Horatio acknowledged the mistake with compliment and fixed it. So, the ceremony was done, the spell in place, and with a gasp of mists the disappeared Emperor materialized before them in the Princess’s place. All feared breathing as the fake Emperor beheld his hand, aimlessly measuring the symbolic powers bestowed upon this visage. But she scoffed, a frown followed by a quick flick of the wrist as her appearance returned to her natural state, the case of imperial disguise joining the mists of incense into thin air. Unbeknownst to most, she was disgusted with the works of those hands and chose to embody them as little as she can.

“Very well,” Horatio meant to draw a conclusion. “We shall hereby swear that all of us should hold this secret to our graves.”

Oaths were taken, the business done, men with heavy shoulders exited the room to leave Lord Horatio and Princess Lyra within the conference.

“What stays you, Your Highness? It is late…go rest, we’ve much to do.”

Lyra curtsied and made for the door, but paused at the threshold. “Horatio?”

“Yes?”

“What happens if people see through the disguise? For all I know, your fellow advisors could be right, I could be pulling a stupid show — ”

“– You won’t fail, child, their attitudes were only set against you for your sex.”

“I know.”

“Even if you do fail, we will just think of something…”

The Princess opened her mouth to speak, but thought better and pursed her lips into a curt smile, “I will trust you then…Goodnight, Horatio.” She exited with a flourish of silks.

It didn’t take Horatio’s over two decades of mentoring the Princess to translate her hurts and hesitation…emotions not unlike the fears that ruled her father…but then again, doubt was not an ailment that only coursed through this imperial family’s veins. In fact, was it not one of the most common ropes that bounded and tripped humanity?

Horatio paced to one of the windows and yanked the curtains aside, muttering to the lonesome disk of light hanging in the night sky beyond the glass that parted him from darkness, “It will be fine…all will be fine.”