Monday, July 8, 2013

More randomness, same story as before....

Outside of Logroño, La Rioja, Spain

Ibargaun - Family estate of Mendoza de Txibas

Manuel grabbed the vase, it looked old and expensive, made of some heavy, dark-fired ceramic of a deep maroon. Why the fuck not? He lobbed it at the wall to his left, which was covered in some thick, rich-looking tapestry, and it smashed satisfyingly. A scream died in a crushed throat as Teo was finishing up with the housekeeper. The crusty, wizened old bitch had broken Teo's nose when he had first snatched at her. She had invited them in for water or wine, but had been so fucking arrogant and bold when she announced that "Master Garaile" was not in residence, but she would kindly tell him that they had enquired after him, thank you very fucking much. Well, Teo's fists and feet had wiped that smirk off of her face, he guessed, not that she'd have any teeth to smirk with, anymore.

The old, shuffling butler went quickly and quietly with a bullet to the chest, his eyes staring up at the frescos on the ceiling in blank surprise. The cooks and assistant housekeeper only screamed a little, but fell where they were with one to the head each. After that, they got to trashing the place. Toro's instructions had been explicit - fuck his world up, destroy, scatter, make him afraid. Strange, though, that he didn't want him just dead, it would have been so much easier. But, he had been mucking up Toro's affairs recently, and ignoring requests for a meeting...too great an offense for a jefe to ignore. And what Toro really wanted out of the guy, why he'd even bother TALKING, Manuel didn't know, but, it wasn't his job to ask, was it?

They had spent the past two weeks doing their homework and researching their target. There were no photos of him, so, they had to go by some vague descriptions. Señor Garaile Efraín Mendoza de the village talk, tall (but that was relative, over here), always well-dressed, and he could supposedly knock a bull down at ten feet with his stare...the poor little townies were frightened of him. Nobody'd say why, but, as Toro said, power was in perception.

The job had to be done right, otherwise they'd be screwed. They'd cut the security camera lines only moments before getting to the gate, so close the guard wouldn't have even been able to call the cops. The alarm company would be notified, but, out here, average response time was well over an hour, plenty of time to work. They had been smooth enough to let the guard at the gate lower his alert level. He was even easier to take out than the housekeeper, and they propped him up just right to make it look like his was watching, but the knife wound at the top of his spine wasn't visible unless you turned him around. The car was stashed by the guardhouse, just out of sight. El Toro didn't expect them to avoid notice altogether, but, they at least couldn't lead it back to him. He had enough connections with the Spanish government to bail them out of any real trouble, but, they couldn't make it obvious. Maybe they'd leave some ETA graffiti somewhere on the walls, or steal a few things to make it look like a believable burglary.

The place was real swank, marble floors, expensive wood for the furniture, a little gold or a jewel here or there in a statue or two, but, it was understated. The way that Toro, everyone in NYC, and the whole damned syndicate around the globe referred to "the Basque" you'd have thought he had everything, even the can, made of gold. Manuel had been in his share of mansions, both guarding and for jobs, and he'd seen some stuff that was out there, but, maybe old money was different. This place sat above a huge vineyard, one of the largest in all of fucking you knew the guy was loaded. One thing that did pop out about the manse was the white marble fountain out front, facing the had a damn wolf on it, just staring down at the arriving guest. Fucking creepy was what it was, as the thing's eyes seemed to follow whoever was in front of it.

He and Teo went to the furniture next, and were dumping a table and all its plates and silverware onto the floor, directly in a pool of the butler's blood, when Manuel caught the purr of a car's engine in the drive. Out for a week on business, my ass...lying old biddy paid for it, though.

"Teo, we've got friends!"

Teo gave a half-grin and wiped at the blood under his nose, smoothing his mustache, as he always did when he was about to go to work. He drew his Sig, racking the slide. Manuel pulled his own back out, kissing the barrel for good luck. They trotted towards the big teakwood doors and down the steps as the occupants of the vehicle had exited.

The car was a sleek, black Mercedes of a model that Manuel had never seen in an SUV, recently polished. The guy coming from the driver's side, a hired gun if Manuel had ever seen one, was trying to get a piece free at his side and going to duck behind the engine block when Teo's shot got him between the eyes. The other had been opening the rear door when Manuel double-tapped and landed both in the dude's chest.

As they rushed the SUV, Teo took over, pointing his Sig at the occupant and commanding him, "¡Manos arriba! ¡Manos arriba! ¡A menos que quieras perder tu cabeza, coño!" Hands up! Hands up! Unless you want to lose your head, cunt!

The passenger stepped raised his hands and stepped out, broad shoulders filling the doorway of the SUV. He was, sure as hell, NOT what Manuel had been expecting. He had been sure that the guy would be some stubborn old codger, easily frightened and unintimidating. This guy was fucking huge, taller than him and Teo by nearly half a foot, and, in his neatly tailored, pitch-black suit, probably worth more than two or even three of Manuel's cut of jobs, looked like the had the build of a middle weight boxer.

A pair of ice-blue eyes flicked between Manuel and Teo, but, the idiot was un-fucking-afraid. The deep voice that addressed them was equally calm, with an aristocratic, Castilian accent, "Caballeros, bienvenidos al Valle Oscuro...I would invite you into the comfort of my home...but, I see you have already taken that liberty."

"We have, Basque, and you need to see our...redecoration." Teo moved around to the Basque's back and pressed the barrel of the gun to his neck, right below the tie that held back a thick tail of dark, wavy hair that ended between the guy's shoulders,"Now, move."

Teo shuffled him forward, and he didn't argue. It surprised Manuel that he didn't fight, at least a little...with his size and build, and the rest of his appearance, the hair, and the short, dark beard, he looked more like a fucking lumberjack than a "vintner" and aristocrat. Only a few greys in the beard...must have inherited the place, rich jota. His own dad had worked himself into an early grave trying to keep his seven kids and wife alive, and these culeros just lazed around and had money fall on them day and night.

They marched him up the steps and into the house, stopping at each of the bodies. When there wasn't a reaction to the first four, Teo grabbed the fucker by his ponytail and forced his eyes to the butler.

"¡Mira, coño! ¡Ya ves lo que pasa con ellos quienes desafían al Toro!" You look, cunt! Now you see what happens to those that defy the Bull!

Not even a twitch, "Sí, ya los he visto."

Who is this fucker? Is he really just so cold and rich he can buy new help whenever he pleases?

Teo snorted in disgust. He hated these pampered, prissy fatcats as much as Manuel. They'd have fun before they left. They couldn't kill him, of course, but, they could do several things that would put the fear of fucking God into him, if dead bodies wouldn't. They shoved him out to the patio, tiled in white marble, with several shading awnings for the hottest parts of the day. A table at the terrace's rail had two ewers and a set of cups placed on it. Probably done by that damned housekeeper before they did her.

The view of the vineyard spread out for miles upon miles, over hills and into the "Dark Valley". The vines twisted up their guides, sporting lush fruits of every kind of grape that Manuel could name. Enough gasoline to get the blaze started, and the whole damn thing would go up like a Roman candle. If this cold fish wasn't fazed by losing his people, maybe losing his livelihood would at least make him squirm and squeal. And it would give Manuel some fucking satisfaction.

Teo pushed the big man forward, "Siéntate, cabrón."

Obligingly, the jota sat, still as calm and frosty as you please. He kept his hands visible, but rested them on his knees as he propped his right foot up on his left knee, leaning back nonchalantly against the padded seat at the table. His eyes, intent, steady, were creeping Manuel the fuck out. No anger, no fear, no hate...what was wrong with this dude? Was he going to try to buy them off and planning his little spiel? Or was he too stupid to be afraid?

Then, another shock, he spoke in perfect English, indicating the ewers and cups, "Would you gentlemen care for a drink?" After they gaped like fish for a minute, he continued, the accent almost British, still somewhat Spanish, but with something like a Scotsman's lilt, "No? Then, perhaps you shall not mind if I do."

When Teo only sneered, he went and poured himself a cup of wine, a very dark red, nearly as dark as heart's blood.

Teo retrained his Sig on the big fucker's head, "Might as well, it'll be the last damn stuff from this place you'll have for a long fucking time."

"I see...pity, that." He took a long sip, but kept his eyes on them. "You are Americans, are you not? So, who did I offend across the ocean so that they would dare send assassins to invade my home?"

Who the fuck does he think he is?

Teo snarled at Mendoza, "You've interfered with the business of Martín Antonio Hernandez de Santa Cruz, jota, the fucking Bull of New York! We're here as a warning...fuck with El Toro, and you'll get the horns."

The smile was full and white, and didn't reach his eyes, "Ah...clever." He took another sip, then leaned forward, unbuttoning his suit jacket. It wasn't a trick of fancy tailoring, he was lean in the waist. The only break in the unrelieved black of his outfit were the thin silver stripes in his dress shirt and the silver buckle on his belt, worked into a strange shape of a staring eye. "So...what is the remainder of this 'warning', if I may ask?"

"We'll burn your fucking vines up, coño. We've already taken out all of your staff, so, you'll have nothing. If you do this shit again, El Toro will have you offed after a slow, painful torture, which he'll make sure lasts a week, at the very least."

The Basque seemed unimpressed, "Well," he stood suddenly, and began slipping off his jacket, "That shall not do."

"Sit the fuck down, asshole!"

Despite Teo nearly shaking the gun in his damn face, he moved without hurry, hanging the jacket on the back of the chair. He finally sat back down, and once again, propped his foot up and went back to his wine. After a few more sips, he unbuttoned the cuffs on his shirt, and began to roll up the sleeves to his elbows.

Manuel, trying not to seem too interested while keeping to Sig on the bastard's chest, noticed another surprise. He's got ink...what the hell...?

From his elbow to the edge of his left hand, a long sword was tattooed. It was a funky looking one, the top edge of the blade just barely curved, but the lower bowing out in the middle, then sweeping back to taper near the hilt, which was nearly to the guy's knuckle. He also finally noticed the eye tattooed on the back of the fucker's hand, nearly identical to the one on his belt. They weren't crude like prison was their near perfection that was giving him the fucking heebies. That, and Mendoza had seen where Manuel's eyes had gone, and the bastard actually grinned.

Jesus, he's creeping me out. Two guns, he acts like they're not there. Eight dead on his property, and he just walks by them.

He had killed plenty in his time. He didn't keep count, like some did. He figured, if he could forget them, then maybe God would, too, if he confessed and repented enough. He counted himself hard. He would pull the trigger, smash bones, split cheeks, do whatever to terrify, break and goad, without a problem. But...this guy was just fucking weird...was he crazy?

Just what I need, a loon.

Apparently, the cup was drained, because Mendoza filled it again. After the next drink, he tapped his fingers on the cup, as though considering what he was going to say next. He then fished in his shirt pocket, producing a flat tin for cigarettes. He took a brown jacketed cigarette, offering the tin to both Teo and Manuel. When they just looked at him, he snapped it shut and replaced it in his shirt pocket.

When he spoke, despite the impediment in his mouth, the voice was no less commanding, no less arrogant, "I am afraid, gentlemen, that I cannot accept what you are about to do," smoke, smelling of cherries and cloves, curled out from his mouth and the nostrils on that long, straight nose. did he light that? "The last times when someone invaded my home, I killed them, horribly. So, forgive me," the cherry on the cigarette flared bright red, "but I see no reason to do any differently this time."

Something was wrong...something was happening. A dark cloud drifted over the bright afternoon sun, and a distant, rolling thunder echoed, maybe a few miles off. Terror was worming its way into Manuel's guts...and that was always his sign to get out.

"Teo, something isn't right here...."

"The fuck, Manny? What's eating you?" He pushed Manuel on the shoulder, "Make with the fucking gasoline and let's torch this fruit's fields. Maybe that'll give him something to think about before getting lippy again."

Ash flicked off the cigarette, the ember burning fast, "No, your friend understands...something of it. You two, unbeknownst to your comandante, have stumbled into the Devil's den. And, unlucky for you, the Devil was home."

He moved so fast, it was a blur of black to Manuel. But Teo's gun went off, and Manuel fired, double tapping instinctively. They hit him, Manuel knew the bullets had, but still, he kept coming, wrapping one of his huge hands around Teo's face, the other around the opposing shoulder, and he wrenched them each in different directions. God, the sound was awful. And then, Teo was down, his head turned around at an impossible angle, and the big man snatched Manuel's gun in one hand and put the palm of other into Manuel's chest, sending him backwards. It was like getting hit by a small car. He lost his air, and he immediately ached with the pain of the strike.

Trying to breathe, his brain fuzzed and he watched as the Basque stripped the magazine from the Sig and popped the bullets out one by one. In another motion that made Manuel think that he had to be hallucinating, he racked the weapon and threw it to the floor, breaking the grip, slide and body, also cracking the gleaming white marble with the force.

He watched Mendoza, now believing himself crazy. He had to be. The cigarette smoke billowed from the big man's mouth and nose like a dragon's breath. And, where his eyes were icy before, Manuel could see flames burning now.

"Now, footsoldier, you have a cellular phone I presume?"

Manuel, too scared to lie, nodded. The Basque stepped over to him, and reached down, hauling him up. Oh, God, that's where I shot him...why is it already healed?

He was pulled up level with Mendoza, feet lifted off of the ground. Smoke lashed his face, and the man's voice was a rumbling hiss, "You will call your comandante and tell him that you have succeeded, in whatever colorful fashion you choose. And you will tell him all about how I capitulated and begged forgiveness. Then, you will end the conversation, and you and I will speak of where you stayed, how you found me and by what means you came here." He was carried, and dropped into the seat at the table, "And will die."

Something was wrong with Mendoza's arm...smoke was also coming from it...and he turned away as Manuel began fishing his phone out of his pants pocket. He had to think of something, he had to tell Toro somehow....

Just as he was wildly planning, Mendoza whirled, and the tip of a fucking sword was leveled at Manuel's nose. It was just like the blade tattooed on the Basque's arm...where did he get a damn sword? How did he hide that? He didn't have anywhere to fucking put it on him.

"In case you believe that you will covertly alert your jefe, make no mistake, I will make you suffer if you dare try to speak of this to him. I know far more of pain that you have ever dreamed, young man...and I can make you scream and beg for me to end you. Obey, and I might make your death a swift one."

His hands were shaking on the phone. This wasn't supposed to happen. Who WAS this guy? Then, just as he was about to drop the phone, flames began to creep up the sword....

Oh, God....

"Are you the Devil?"

The laugh, the only response he got to his question, was awful.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Nerd appreciated metal, once again

I've mentioned my weird tendencies before, and metal tends to be the main focus of such when it comes to my musical tastes. I like bands that are unconventional, blending subgenres and instruments, vocal stylings and themes, but also keeping the core of the main genre to heart, being rebellious, innovative, and just not giving a flying fark about what the recognized establishment says about such things.

I'd say In Vain's effort in Aenigma lives up to that standard quite nicely. A band of Norwegian origin, they've tackled unique topics and approaches in varies ways previously (see their earlier albums "Mantra", containing what I consider a fabulous piece of metal dubbed "Wayakin" and "The Latter Rain", with such gems as "As I Wither" and "Titan"). They appear to feel that they aren't bound by any convention, whether of any subgenre within metal or cultural stipulations outside the genre.

The album opens up with "Against the Grain", and leads the listener to believe, within the first few moments, that this is your standard black metal fare, with blast beats, snarls and screeches, but, the rapid appearance of melody, unique time signatures and sweeping shifts in the intangible feel of the music would lead the pursuant listener to hear the harmonies and epic reaching of the guitars unto "Image of Time." While, for most of the "clean vocals" are aided by guest stars from fellow Norwegian bands, it still lends credence to the notion that In Vain embody an innovative, complex sound that enlist a vast reserve of resources to properly display their art, with plenty of willing participants that just want to be a part of the sound.

"Southern Shores" abruptly breaks off after the opening bars of "Image of Time" into a mournful, slightly bluesy instrumental, preparing the listener for the moody "Hymne til Havet" sung in haunting harmonies in Norwegian and backed by a traditional black metal screeching vocal about a seaward vigil to the dead.

"Culmination of the Enigma" resurges with a hard, driving riff of guitars, shifting between brutal, "deathy" vocals (guttural and deep), and screeches akin to black metal, but almost sounding more like a cry of despair to the acute listener than any metal vocal device. It speaks to the hopelessness and confusion found in the modern world, as though were are all blindly searching for meaning and direction in our daily lives, only to find further confliction and despair. I personally find this to be a contender for the most brutal and visceral of the tracks on the album, with its violent plea for meaning and shocking delivery.

"Times of Yore" brings back traditional black metal devices, again, at its onset, but then shifts the melodic timeframe in its last half, adding a melodic guitar solo that could only belong, in many listener's minds, in the annals of NWOBHM annals and crying harmonies that are nearly metalcore in their contrasting, punkish delivery, mirroring the shift in lyrics, with its protagonist giving up on the modern world and opting for a simpler, more straightforward existence. It devolves into an instrumental, roaming, guitar driven drive, presumably as the protagonist wanders back to "where I belong". "To the Core" is more pessimistic on this front, merely orating on the downfall of the greedy, superficial and rootless among the rising generations of today, brutalizing their tendencies in deathy vocals and a bit of melody, dismissing them as "Seduced and led astray/Sinking into the deepest void" and "Deserted men with no ambition/Weak souls falling apart/Laying waste to a wealth of talent".

It's rather hard not to concur with that bare-bones assessment when one looks at the pop culture of today and the generations following.

"Floating on the Murmuring Tide" is a lament for the loss of this ambition, all this talent, that the above mentioned "weak souls" have experienced. They are only left to live their lives in the "might have been" past and imaginings of what they might have achieved. A mournful, solitary saxophone is implemented at 1:35 on this track, adding a strange, jazzy depth to this long and bizarre trip, which wanders to its conclusion at 9:17 in this track.

Overall, this is a great album showing the flexibility and innovation that is metal. Though most dismiss the genre as a rigid, macho genre that holds fast to the stereotypes of the 80s and 90s, bands like In Vain continue to show that they're not afraid to implement various influences, instruments, and use all the creativity at their disposal to communicate their message, and, through this musicianship and ingenuity, might gain the genre some unsuspecting fans.

Random beginnings....

A little something I've been contemplating and working on, as in researching and considering...constructive feedback is appreciated. I won't give a synopsis, as I'm still working the whole of it out.

Hope you enjoy.

The pain raging in her head had escalated into a white-noise, blaring crescendo, just stopped. The silence was deafening. It was very nearly worse than the noise and was nothing...nothing...bloody fucking nothing.

They had been beating her before she was so unceremoniously tossed into this oblivion. At that point, she had bones protruding through her skin, loose teeth, splintered ribs, and at least two dislocated fingers. She had fought, sure, but she had been dehydrated, weak, drugged, and broken before it even began. Widgers will at least remember they were in a damn fight, at least.... Then, the bastard on her right drew back for a direct hit to her skull, his hands already bloody and broken from striking her, and she felt his connection. It was as though a quarter-tonne of TNT had detonated in her brain, blasting behind the backs of her eyes.

That wasn't half of the torment. It was this damned quiet and nothingness that really chafed. What was she supposed to do? What the fuck was happening? What she in hell?

She had long given up any faith in a god or heavenly was just childish to wish for some divine purpose or reward for being a prig, to her. Life was hard, and waiting for some mythical sky-man to pluck a person from misery and pain was a tosser's game. Better to pick yourself up and slog on, sod everything else, only a person's own will and strength would get them through. Despite that, and this was what made her seem "hard" to devouts like Grandpère and Abuelita, she did believe in hell. Maybe that was just appealing to her vengeful side, the side that took pleasure in seeing the bastards get theirs, that maybe, maybe, though the weak would never find their heaven, the unjust might get at least their comeuppance on behalf of those they oppressed.

Stupid git.... This is what you get for your sense of justice.

She spoke to the nothingness, not hearing or seeing anything to speak to, but, why the hell not give it a go?

"Where am I?"

Silence. More damned silence.

"What's happened to me?"

No answer, of course.

Did she have a body here? She couldn't tell...she certainly couldn't feel anything corporeal. If she had, she might sat down to mull it over. But really, what was there left to contemplate? Most likely, this was it. As with many people, she had never really thought about it, outside of the contract that she had to sign for her work, of course. She was young, fit, and, though she worked on the dangerous side of things, it never occurred to her that it would come so soon...and not this way.

All things die, chile. Jus' a matter of time. Don' wait fuh it. Live.

Grandpère's admonition to her after Mama's death had been taken a little too literally, she supposed. And that was why she had plowed ahead with everything left in her...even after Papa's following demise five years later. Only fifty-five, but it was the stress and strain that had done him in...and the booze, probably. Losing Mama was the first blow, his business, the next...but Tec's death had been too much, one loss too many. Maybe being Papa's only son and twenty had made it worse...but then, she had seen it coming.

Papa...what would he say now, with his two daughters joining that line of dead? Would he have scolded them, all properly and British, as fools, getting in over their heads? Nita had not calculated the odds properly, for sure, not giving her a full scope of the danger that they were really in. She had insisted that they leave the team behind, demanding only Reyna.

I should've trumped that call. Stupid, stupid Reyna, to let your starry-eyed sister make that judgment. You always knew she was naïve. Just a bleeding milk run, sure....

Alone, she continued to mutter to herself in her own thoughts. But, of course, there was no one to hear, no one to contradict her rantings. She lost sense of time, only hearing her own angry, troubled musings. Who would take care of Phoenix Services now? Gabe had was the next in line, and he was savvy enough to take the was Gary that she worried about, he would try to pervert what they did, contracting out to who knows, and they'd be no more than hired guns and thugs. Who would visit Grandpère? None of the other ten cousins and grandkids, scattered about the Americas, seemed to give two shits. Only she, Tec, and Nita had been present since Abuelita passed, the rest making excuses and waxing poetic about how they missed him so, but they just couldn't make the time.

It was all fruitless worry...she could do fuck all at this point.

But anger was easier. It was more satisfying, if this were all that was left to her, she'd have plenty of eternity for despair. Fighting was always easiest for her, just like Grandpère, You jus' like I am, ma petite-fille, ratha fight than cry, ratha move than stop...but sometime, you got to listen to da win', dem trees, de eart', dey' you mus' listen fuh it.

Sod it all...I'm not giving up.

"Hey! What the hell am I doing here?! Answer me! If I'm fucking offed, just dump me off somewhere, heaven, hell, or just stop this altogether! I don't give a toss! END...THIS...NOW!"

And, from nowhere, the answer finally boomed through her consciousness.


More agony assaulted her, drawing out a scream louder than her previous command. Every nerve was being ripped apart and hurtled through time, space, and dimensions. Starlight, clouds, the blackness of space, and the piercing green and blue of the Earth below was spiraling fast towards her. Had she been among the stars? Or was that just a desperate hallucination? It didn't matter, because she was falling from such a height and so fast, every speeding foot moving closer to the land increased the pain and the pressure.

And then, she was thrown against something soft and yielding. She passed through flesh, injected like a drug. The blood pumped, the heart raged and crashed against the rib cage. Her salty tears flowed from eyes that she could barely feel. Her clotted blood was like a cascade of stones through her veins and arteries. Bones popped and reformed, the marrow alive once more.

Not knowing how, she reached up, and slammed tingling hands into hard metal. She was still raging and screaming, the banging of her fists against steel mocking her pitiable screams for release. She punched harder, her feet finally getting feeling, and she used the rest of her body to thrash. Oh, it bloody hurt, but she could feel, she could move, she had a body, she had a form. What state it was when she exited the damned encapsulation was no matter.

"Please! Someone let me out!" Oh, shit, don't let me be buried...don't let me be under....

When her cries went unanswered, before her throat became raw, she stopped for a moment. She was surrounded by the rider that she signed with her attorney, she had specified cremation. So...was this some sort of sick joke? Did her attackers toss her into this manky tin can to die? Or...was this the morgue? How could they believe her dead?

No, this has to be a dream....a coma, my injuries would have bloody healed. I feel pain...but not like I've just had my skull caved in by some wanker.

But voices drifted to her, echoing off the walls and even into her metal prison.

"Listen, you'll hear strange shit down here at night...that's just work here. It's almost like you want to, just to break the monotony. Really, though, don't let the deadders scare you."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review - "A Memory of Light" by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson

First thing's first about the much-awaited final installment of the revered "Wheel of Time" series. It's about battle; specifically, the Last Battle, Tarmon Gai'don, the Light's last stand against Shai'tan and the agents of the Dark. And it's a doozy. 

For those not completely familiar with the series, Jordan began crafting these novels well over twenty years prior to this final tome. In this world, there are elemental forces of magic that can be accessed by both men in women, called the Source, and used for distinct purposes by the adherents of good (the Light), and those of evil (the Dark, named Darkfriends most often). Men and women sense the Source differently and often have different strengths regarding the ability to properly "channel" the force, ease with finding and controlling it, and the powers for which they have the greatest affinity, the forces are both opposite and complementary. The Source is balance, the power that controls and guides all life in this mythos, as it drives the Wheel of Time constructed by the Creator.

The guardians of the magic, and the world at large, who opposed Shai'tan and the Dark, were Aes Sedai (the Servants of All) and key to him being sealed away from the world millenia before, so that his evil might not destroy the world and the Wheel. However, prophecies dictated that his influence would come again, and that humanity would have to rise up, united, to battle him and his followers. Those followers, frighteningly enough to their world, can come from anywhere, sometimes, even from the careful, guarded ranks of the very protectors and monarchs of the world. The leader of the Light's forces would be one known as the Dragon, a male Aes Sedai from an "Age of Legends", reborn on the slopes of a dreaded mountain that he created after he went mad from battling the Dark One and touching his influence. This hero, Rand al'Thor, is the only one who can fully defeat Shai'tan in the Last Battle, and keep him from the world. If he falls, humanity is lost.

Well, now that's out of the way, let's get to the heart of it. Little prelude is given before the reader is thrown into the thick of the fighting, with first, a look at the devastation and despair that the Battle has already wrought upon a portion of humanity, with the utter defeat of a rebel Andoran force, marshalled by a claimant pitted against Elayne Trakand, (Aes Sedai and Queen, for those unfamiliar with the series) for the throne, by the Dark, and then, in the next step, the reader is shuffled off to join the Band of the Red Hand as they make their own stand in the Andoran capital of Caemlyn to prevent the capture of the city by Trollocs and Fades, common footsoldiers for the Dark.

From there, the conflict expands to all fronts, real and imagined, from the throne room to the dreamscape, as the forces of Light attempt to reclaim the world from the Dark. It seems every inch of Robert Jordan's world sees it's own struggle, and the reader is sometimes left feeling a little discombobulated by the fast-paced, continuous shifts in venue, but, it reflects the chaos of battle amongst split forces, using only their meager resources, wits, and a little luck to just survive from moment to moment. Every nation on both sides gets a bit of a say and an insight, and Sanderson channels Jordan's military mind in much of the strategies and flow of the battlefields. In these battles, everything but the kitchen sink from Jordan's world is thrown in from Dreadlords (channelers/Aes Sedai turned to the Dark) and the mysterious, Dark-bending Sharan people, who were, up until this ending, very rarely seen or mentioned in the series, to the gentle, soft-spoken Ogier numbers clearing the field as axmen do a grove of trees for the side of the Light.

Sanderson does right by most characters involved in Jordan's huge cast, in my humble opinion, and manages to bring out the best of their resources. Fans of the original triad of protagonists, Rand, Matrim Cauthon, and Perrin Aybara (my personal favorite), won't be disappointed, as each man gets his share of the story, despite our hero Dragon being the focal point of the series. Mat's reunion with Tuon brought a few good chuckles from me. Very few loose ends were left dangling, from Padan Fain to Leilwin Shipless to Berelain, but plenty is left to the imagination at its conclusion. Without giving too much away in spoilerish fashion. I can say safely that even I didn't see that twist coming.

But, gentle reader, be prepared. It's a battle of apocalyptic proportions and some readers' favorites, minor and major, may not survive. I can't say that every demise was a tear-jerker or a cheer-worthy end, but, even a few of the near-misses brought a few embarrassing sniffles...and I can count on one hand the number of books and movies that manage to work that out of me. In the end, however, the sacrifices are treated with respect and feeling...and they made the story all the more poignant to even a cynic like me.

As a faithful Wheel of Time fan, I was happy to have the opportunity to read the final chapter of this tale. It is a fitting conclusion to the story that Jordan so lovingly crafted and executed, and a grand epic with which I can only hope to share with the next generation. So, to Mr. Sanderson, I'd say, "well done". And in honor of Mr. Jordan and his gift of this wonderful series, I will say this, in conclusion:

May the Light illumine and protect you, and may your soul always find water and shade.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Starting over again....

The New Year is easily one of the most cliched times of the season...a new you is possible, a better you. Make a resolution, a new committment, find a unique hobby, live your dreams in travel that you kept yourself from in the previous year. I think 2012 has a fun spin because some wingdings, who have failed entirely in taking Mayan culture and thought process into consideration, are touting this as their own brand of neolithic "The End Times" bids, not realizing that it insults and completely redraws the genius of the Mayan calendar system and astronomical findings into a simplified, primitive tool that they can use to wax idiotic about the supposed "End of Days" and get a book deal.

Does that sound a bit bitter? I'm sure it does, but, I think in many senses, I'm a historian at heart, and those that seek to tear asunder the accomplishments and ingenuity of the so-called "primitive" cultures and have the audacity to try and recast them in a Western mold are the worst kind of charlatan in my book. I despise even more that there are people who forward this industry of "The End Times", giving creedence to, whichever the "doomsday" du jour flavor is, be it a myopic rendering of the New Testament or a rehash of the ubiquitous predictions of Nostradamus.

I address this, not to review old arguments and theories, but because the true notion of the "New Year" fits into strange situations that we find ourselves in during everyday life. Things are cyclical in life, whether we in the Western world see it that way or not. One thing dies, another is given an opportunity to come into the void, life goes on, whether we are present or not, and the cycle begins again. That is not to say that one person can replace another, it is to say, that, no matter how we grieve or notice the absence of what was before, but, existence does continue, and we can acknowledge or not, but life doesn't care if we make that choice.

I think this the zen of my husband's mindset, and I myself didn't realize it until now. He has attended over twenty funerals in his thirty-five years, many of them family, some friends, and a few acquaintances. He mourns the loss of the departed, he knows that they can never be replaced, but he doesn't mire himself in grief as many do. I've known him for ten years, and only known him to cry once or twice, maybe once relating to a death, and those were under extraordinary circumstances. I, by contrast, have maybe gone to three or four, one when I was too young to remember. Loss, for those of us who don't deal with it personal terms as often, is harder to understand sometimes, but, as the Blackfoot saying goes, "Life and death are not separate, it only looks that way".

I really started to understand this lesson recently, beginning with my grandmother's death in 2006. Sometimes, a loss takes time to sink in, and Granma's was hard to bear in the sense that she was the link that held our extended family together, in many ways. She was a quiet force of personality, never having to shout or grandstand to gain attention, never having to preen or judge to get her point across. She was everything a Granma should be, loving, generous, kind, always willing to listen and go the extra mile, steady and always there if she were needed. That's not to say Granma Doris Marsh was a perfect person, but she was one of the classiest and sweetest grandmother's a kid could have. Both my brother and I took it hard when she went, though it was most likely quick and painless physically. But I began to learn, we all meet our end, someday, and even the greatest people are not immune to death.

My husband and I had to start over again as well this year, and life chose to teach me the lesson again. One of our pups, a sweet, but somewhat high-strung, German Shepherd that we'd had for a year, managed an escape routine while my husband was loading the dogs into his camper from the lake and was struck after she ran out onto the highway. I wasn't there, but I got the call as he and our friend were rushing her into town to the emergency vet. She died at the vet soon after we arrived. My husband felt extremely guilty, but it wasn't his fault. She had always hated cars, and I could never calm her enough on our runs or walks to mitigate that fear as people roared by on the country highways.

It may seem a trivial time to some to learn the lesson, but it hurts when you lose a pet. You care for them, love them, train them, and try to do the very best for them. But sometimes, it doesn't work out as well as it should. And life still continues on...we had another dog at the time, a sweet year-and-a-half GSD/Pit mix, Fenrir, who needed our love after losing his best friend and playmate. When it happened, he became very subdued for a few days...he knew she wasn't coming back, but not why. And, it was a time to see another opportunity. In honor of Leiche, our lost pup, we could rescue another dog who needed a home. We were lucky, and found a gentle lab/border collie mix named Piper who fit in perfectly with Fenrir. He accepted her right away, a twist that we had not expected, and they seem to be the perfect match.

Often times, we live our lives as though there will always be tomorrow for what we should do today. That is not to say that we should live recklessly, because that would just be wasting what we might have been given. It is to say that we need to enjoy each other and our blessings, because, once we're gone, though we might, or might not, be missed and mourned, life will go on just fine without us, as it is the way of the world. There will be some that will remember us, there will be some that might take our lessons to heart and pass them on...but a legacy isn't as important as what we have, and making the most of it while we do. And as life goes on, we can honor what those who have passed before us have done, and in their stead, try to make the world a little better. Even if we don't, maybe the world will send someone to fill the void for us, and take the opportunities that we should have.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'm baaaaack! With another album review...

To anyone that reads my blog, yeah, it's been a while. Life has a way of coming up with little annoyances, housework, deadlines and all sorts of fun stuff that makes someone who enjoys writing want to grab a double of whiskey and basically state, "fark you all, this is MY time and I shall waste it jotting down whatever I bloody well please". Or substitute your libation of choice on that end.

Enough with the excuses and kvetching...on with the show!

Metal is one of my favorite genres of the music world. It gets to a point where my collection becomes rather nerdy (yes, as you can see by my blog title, it fits) in terms of the breadth and randomness of the metal found within my playlist. Some headbanging folks choose to immerse themselves in one subgenre of the many, I tend to like most of them, yes, even a bit of "hair" metal. There is such a variety within the genre in terms of style, musicality and the different appeals that each brings to the table. There is no empirical "brand" of metal, no matter how some might rage that one band or another fails to meet his or her criteria on what metal "should" be. Death Metal is not Celtic Metal, Celtic Metal is not Doom Metal, or Speed Metal, etc. but, on occasion, the subgenres make one sweet, brutal slurry that transcends any stylistic differences or qualms that one listener may have about either subgenre.

One of my favorite bands in that particular category is Suidakra, what I suppose someone could classify as "Blackened Celtic Metal". A brief explanation for all my friends out there not familiar with the particulars, Black Metal utilizes such devices as harsh, screeching vocals, pagan themes in the lyrical content, "blast beat" drumming (think of machine-gun paced beats), and some distortion with the guitars. Some of these influences, as well as more melodic and progessive devices, clean vocal harmonies, harmonizing solos, etc. appear in the "blackened" varieties of metal, and in the celtic variety, you find foot-tapping, spinning Irish reels, at times a lively, folk-song chorus, and the use of traditional instruments, whistles, bagpipes and fiddles or banjos.

Suidakra make great use of all these elements in their March 2011 release, The Book of Dowth. Influences by a darker side of the Celtic mythos, it tells the tale of the Fomorians, god-like beings in the lore that may have represented the chaos of nature or pre-Celtic deities of their adopted homelands. Giants and usually represented as the villains pitted against the Tuatha De Danann, their fall is documented in this album by the hands of the Celtic gods of man. Their spirits are sealed away in the Book by the Tuatha De and buried for the good of the world, until they are unwittingly set free by an archaeology student excavating the real tomb in Ireland (Dubhadh). As they are unleashed upon mankind, they bring about an apocalyptic end to the world as we know it, creating an Otherworld in this and colliding it with the other side of the veil of mortality, Mag Mell, so they can begin their cycle of rule.

Cheerful stuff, eh? Nevertheless, Suidakra make this a good romp and an interesting listen. They begin in true epic fashion with a crescendoing bagpipe solo that accompanies charging guitar riffs in "Over Nine Waves", blasting into "Dowth 2059" highlighting the shocking discovery by the archaeology student as he recognizes the horrible fate that his curiosity has wrought upon the world. "Battle-Cairns", "Bir-og's Oath", and "Mag Mell", tell of the struggles between the Tuatha De and the Fomorians and their travels into the West to the realm of fallen warriors. The acoustic, sonorous "Mag Mell" might fool the unknowing listener into thinking this a different band entirely, showing off the gentler, lyrical musicianship of Arkadius and his bandmates, and, while I don't particularly count that as a favorite, I enjoy the change-up in the pace and style.

The listener, after the calm, reflective "Mag Mell", is jerked back into the brutality that Suidakra can generate with "The Dark Mound", a tale from the perspective of a druid that ruled and enslaved the people of Erin after being possessed by a Fomorian spirit, his punishment was to be imprisoned with the Fomorians in the namesake Dark Mound. "Balor" continues the assault, recounting the destruction wrought by the return of a Fomorian king who could kill with the power of his extra eye, situated in the back of his head, so no one could take him by surprise. All metallers who appreciate "epicness" will have fanboi/girl moments on this one, where Arkadius gives us his most rolling, epic death-growl at 2:00, followed up by a sweeping, spinning riff that mimics the chaos and speed of battle.

I'd have to say that it's a hard contest between the previously mentioned two tracks and "Stone of the Seven Suns" that have become my favorites. "Stone" begins with a lively banjo, doling out a stomping reel, accompanied by a chorus that could give "Whiskey In the Jar" a good run for a pub song. The former is just as powerful in the lyrical content as the latter, speaking of battles and determination, and a vow to end the conflict at whatever cost. "Fury Fomoraigh" is a gesture of pure rage, plunder and pillage from the view of the Fomorians, they are free to scourge the world now to make it their own, with no De Danann to stop them as they sweep across the earth. "Otherworlds Collide" is the last painful, lamenting acoustic farewell to life and all as we know it.

Overall, I, and I'd believe other fans of the band, would be quite thrilled with this story-telling and craftsmanship shown in this album. Epic and thoughtful, while still showing all facets of the band and their abilities, it manages to show even the most doubting listener that metal can be more than growling vocals and brutal lyrics, but it's still fun when those elements come together, too.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Modest Proposal

First off, I don't pretend to be a world-class economist, political thinker or environmental expert, as often people on the web seem to think themselves after reading an article or two by their favorite talking head on this website or that. I am simply a woman with an idea that I think could potentially benefit the US economically, politically, and environmentally. Many would or will probably disagree with this for a variety of reasons, and that's all well and good, but I would love for someone to see this, someone of both means and power, and for them to consider it.

But, let's get the definition of the problem out of the way. For the past few years, the southern half of the United States has been sweltering in some sort of drought or another. This year, the problem has been exacerbated ten-fold, owing to the 5th most 100*+ F days that Texas has experienced since record keeping began. Farmers are counting their fields at a total loss and plowing under their crops that are dying, ranchers are selling off cattle, simply because they will dehydrate from the lack of natural pools from rainwater, foundations are cracking and splitting, and 95% of the state of Texas is amidst "Exceptional" drought conditions or worse.

This isn't isolated to Texas, but has been prevalent in all of the Southwest and is once again spreading to the Southeast and Midwest. There is no rain in sight, and it's only the last third of July. The lake nearest to my home, Lavon, is down 5+ feet at the moment, and is being further depleted as we speak. There are cracks in my yard that spread over 2" wide. I imagine there are people around the US that share my level of concern when they look at the shrinking waters of their own lakes, see the yellowed rows of crops that remain, and watch as nothing but dust seems to be the only crop available to us.

It could not come at a worse time. The United States is once again in financial crisis, this time over the debt ceiling, and jobs are dwindling once more. More farmers might find ruin over this drought and heat, more ranchers might have to borrow huge sums, fire hands, and scramble to try to save themselves amidst the crises. Budgets are drained even in states that have not gone through the drought due to outstanding debts and the drying up of government aid. Whereas Minnesota, my home state, once boasted a great surplus, the past few governors have left the budget in such ruin that state parks, rest stops, and even the lovely Minnesota Zoo have had to close their gates.

I'll not voice my politics or who I think is responsible for the last point, but, you'll get my drift if you're a resident of that particular state.

While thinking of this, I've had a notion that may help alleviate, maybe not solve, both of those issues. Flooding has been drowning yards and fields this summer in Minnesota. It's not uncommon, since the Mississippi seems to be one of the most deluge-prone rivers, along with the Red River of the North that runs the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. It's not rare to hear of cities along the flood banks buckling down and putting up sandbags, prepping their homes and readying or the worst in those scenarios. But, what if this type of disaster, and one that often costs the states that it afflicts as much as a Texas drought, might be a partway solution to said drought? The water that invades these homes often becomes contaminated and is wasted after the clean-up efforts begin, but what if it could be collected, kept sanitary and then put to a use that it would so desperately serve?

What I'm speaking of is a method to harness nature, in a sense, to use a surplus in one area to fight a dearth in another. Texas, and its surrounding states, need the water. Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, and others in the northern Midwest are often innundated at this time of year, and have to drain their fields and let that water go unused. Minnesota, and many other states, need income to assist their budgets to pay state workers, keep up infrastructure, and make necessary additions to their state budget.

The answer could be in constructing a system of collectors, akin to channel locks, throughout the river systems that annually flood. Studies would be done to determine which rivers in the nation are most likely to flood within a given season. Within each state, construction along the banks of these rivers, in areas that aren't designated as wildlife refuges or for other sanctuary purposes, to install collection chambers that would only unlock in the event that the river flooded over a certain level. Then, the locks could open, allowing the uncontaminated, still useable, rain and river water to be obtained, and once the river resumed its normal flow, then they would close again, allowing the regular course to continue.

The initial issue of start-up funding would be the greatest, I would think, but once the proper funds could be obtained, it could be a true revenue producer. I also believe that the general guideline for how it could proceed should be fairly simple. Each state would be responsible for funding its own system, with construction, repair, and usual maintainance, as well as deciding how much the collection areas would hold. Additional water towers for storage, most likely, would have to be constructed and maintained, as well as treatment facilities, should any contaminants make it into the supply. The states would handle this individually as well, adhering, of course, to any federal standards that are already in place.

Once the facilities are up and running, states that collect the water would ultimately decide what to do with it. Should they themselves face a drought, naturally, their own concerns would be priority. But, if states, wanting to obtain additional revenue and add to their budgets, sold the water to states that needed it, then you'd have a ready source, at least in years like this. Texas and it fellow drought-sufferers might find some temporary relief, and states like Minnesota would get a boost to their budgets that would allow facilties that might be in jeopardy to continue functioning as normal.

The benefits of such a project would be innumberable. You have economic stimulus via the need for a workforce to construct all sides of the projects, from the water collections at the river banks, to the water towers, to the administrators delegating the use of the water. The stimulus also flows to the towns closest to the construction projects. Workers need to be fed, housed, be provided equipment, etc. Mandate that all companies involved must be US-based, and you have thousands upon thousands of jobs and domestic product handed in a neat package to the government. Benefits would also extend to the towns along the river banks due to few floods destroying property and putting people out of their businesses. People in those towns can also get a ration of the water, so that they have a first priority status if the river doesn't undergo its usual flow in the spring and summer.

Environmentally, the spread of contaminants is limited as well. Flooding gets into trash disposal locations, nuclear waste, chemical storage facilities and other locations where the damage can wreak havoc with both people and the natural surroundings. The plan also employs water that is already available, and not drained from a reservoir or natural aquifer. The natural flora and fauna is left undisturbed by flooding. While the construction would provide a temporary issue, once the project is complete, the benefits would outweigh the temporary problem. Also, as I said earlier, no wildlife refuges would be allowed to be bothered in the project.

So...that's my idea. I can hardly believe that I'd be the only one to think of such a plan, and far greater minds than mine could probably run circles around that solution, but I think, if people were to get talking about it, it might at least be a start.