Sorry about the late notice but it’s going for free now till 4 September!
The following three bits of meta fiction are written to tease out a set of two legendary places called Still and Limbo that I wrote up for one of the quests at the Citadel. And I don’t think I can sum up these two places better than the following tagline I wrote:
“Two forgotten places there be- Still and Limbo,
Still where Time is forever Still,
Limbo where Naught is ever Remembered.”
The Abbot cordially greeted the Lord who strode in regally clothed in fineries that would not look out of place in court but somehow had an unkempt look about him. He looked about to speak but then being lost on the choice of words, was irked and started fretting about. Seeing this, the Abbot smiled knowingly and calmly reassured him, “You have come to the right place. Fret not over it. But this is not the right time and place for the kind of talk we’ll be having, not yet. Let us retire to a more private place.”
The Lord seemed pacified by the words and followed the Abbot meekly into the Inner Sanctuary. He did not take note of anything but the white-robed figure drawing him onwards as they traversed through a long corridor. Otherwise, he might have noted and indeed given voice to the contempt in his servant’s eyes of the dilapidated state of the Abbey and its measly decorations.
In the Lord’s mind, the concept of time passage had fled entirely. All of a sudden, he found himself alone with the Abbot in a study.
“Now we can speak freely.” The Abbot looked at him with his keen eyes. “Now which are you, one who seeks a quiet place for a contemplation, or one who seeks contemplation indefinitely?” An amused smile came onto his lips when he said the latter.
The Lord was confused. “What difference does it make?”
“None and a great deal.” The Abbot smiled enigmatically. Then an otherworldly gleam came onto his eyes. He recited the following verse in a grave tone:
“Two ever that seek Still while One only craves for Limbo,
The Two urgently need Contemplation and the One yearns for not Remembering.
One of the Two pursue falsely for the Hope of Longevity,
Yonder the Lust for Limbo is ever Pure.
Be it the Two or the One, seek Still or Limbo need not be.
Still and Limbo calls its like, whether or not Like beware.”
A series of images flashed past in Garmon’s mind. Garmon knew not from whence they came for he had never seen or even heard of the ritual depicted. For all that those images rippled and undulated and everything seemed to be shrouded under shadows, Garmon knew instinctively that what was shown was a ritual to achieve one purpose. A purpose that fitted with his need, at least for now. Without further contemplation (which was somewhat strange if he reflected upon the instance later, he had always been a cautious man), he started performing the first step of the ritual that would start a process that there could be undone once started…
When he came to again, he found himself in a place that contained no sound nor any odours. Neither was there any sight to behold. Everything here was of a murky colour- it looked like grey at first but upon closer observation, it contained a little of every possible shade he had ever seen and more. When combined together, the murky colour gave off an impression of desolation, comfortable desolation. Just then, Garmon felt something… a concept evaporating from his memories like wisps of smoke that faded to nothingness. But he shrugged it off as it was not important. What was important to him now was the contemplation of this place that he was in now. It was a misty place. No, that’s not right. It was a shrouded place, for sure, but not by mist. Even the lightest mist had weight but this place was shrouded by something… impossible to cipher but definitely weightless. When he reached out his hand to touch it, he felt nothing as if it did not exist at all. But Garmon knew it was there. Just as he knew that this place, this realm he had just entered was a forgotten place, a thoroughly and completely forgotten place, a place that does not exist in his world nor any others. It is a place where you get to forget everything, even yourself, pure bliss for someone who wants to forget, wants to forget everything, wants dearly and most of all to forget himself.Just the place for him.
Iblinikalis, Master of the Ebony Tower, Loremaster of the Uncharted Realms, Paramount Explorer of Arcana Extraordinaire, looked into the scrying orb in front of him. He was looking on the landscapes of a realm lying outside of the physical world (an arcane realm by definition) that he was thinking of claiming fief rights to as First Discoverer. Actually, looking on would not be the correct words for the experience. For Iblinikalis had perfected the art of scrying. Not only could he determine at will what sights to see of a location, he could actually experience of the location as if he had truly visited it.
This arcane realm he had just recently discovered was a strange place. It was not bizarre with a totally different of basic laws governing over its functioning like some of the others that he was Lord of. No, in that aspect, it operated much as the realms of the physical world. Its physical landscape was also ordinary- it had mountain ranges, rivers and streams, flat land covered with vegetation and all other types of terrains that could be found on Taineer, his own home Realm. And yet there was something odd about it. No wind stirred the plant lives, they lay dormant on the ground like creatures that had been hibernating for eons. The streams and waters did not flow, their waters lying stock still like those of a lifeless lake. Yet, there were no unpleasant odours as one might expect from a place without any exposure to the winds. No, in fact, the air was filled with a light crispness of a morning in early winter. It was just that there was a complete absence of any movement- and therefore any sound, at all in this place. It was a place that was still and idling. It was a place that seemed entirely frozen in time.
Another of my meta fiction pieces, in fact this is part of the first piece I wrote for the Citadel when I first joined up as a member. It was intended for the Expand a 30 quest inspired by the fact that the Citadel have a large batch of submission that are 30 somethings composed of small interesting entries that are often worthy of expansion. This meta fic piece presents the background behind a particular set of hammer called Twin Lotus. It was an expansion of a short entry about a set of twin hammers with lotus-shaped heads that I wrote and which belonged to the 30 Hammers submission that was a collaborative effort between multiple members of the Citadel. Here it is:
In the Lu dynasty, there was a house of master smiths which is rumored to be descended from Liang Chu, the man who forged the great sword that the First Emperor, Hwang Ti, used to slay the great water serpent that was responsible for the Great Flood. As with any household that has a long history with a particular trade, every member of this household worked together at the forge, with the men being master smiths and the womenfolk helping out with some of the more menial but physically non-exerting tasks. It is in such an environment that a remarkable woman grew up, the rumored founder of what come to be known as Soul Craft.
Like other womenfolk in her household, this woman routinely helps out at the forge except where the others do so out of family duty, she is drawn heart and soul to the craft. Yet, like the women of her era, she is resigned with the expected role of females in society and does not dare speak of her dream of taking up the family craft rather than waiting to be married off to a family of similar caste to her own. Secretly, however, she observes her father and brothers at work and practices her smithing skills at the forge in the dead of night when her families are asleep, all the while waiting for and dreading the day when she will be married off.
Fate, however, intervened on her behalf. Through an undetailed event which left her household bereft of all the menfolk, she found the opportunity to take up the family craft. With the full support of the rest of her family, she masqueraded herself as a nephew of his father- the alternative to this would be for the whole family to starve or selling some of the daughters into a brothel so the rest can survive. Thus she became the master of the forge and in time expanded the fame and prosperity of her household to even greater heights than the days of her father. Her forge becomes the largest in the Dragon Empire and is renowned throughout, with youths from everywhere coming in the hopes of gaining an apprenticeship with her. So her story might have ended with her real identify never known to any one but her own family. However, as a master craftsman, her desire to reach the “perfect state” in her craft is so insatiable that soon she feels herself increasingly frustrated with her own inability to progress her craft further.
In the later years of her life, she often worked in the forge for an extended period of time without food and sleep, attempting to create the weapon of perfection. This continued for quite a number of years. One day, it was recorded, her apprentices suddenly heard such a loud exclamation of joy that they all stopped in the track of the normal bustle of activity to see her standing triumphantly, holding in her hands a pair of hammers. Then, to the shock of all of them, this remarkable woman collapsed. Her spirit, in departure, showed her true feminine form and with the most serene satisfying smile on her face, fled to the afterlife. The apprentices gazed upon the hammers in awe and all, with certainty, felt the essence of their mistress within them. This pair of remarkable hammers was put in a place of honor in the forge and remained so for many generations. Unfortunately, the Lu Dynasty soon ended, followed by a period of civil war, during which the forge was demolished and the pair of hammers disappeared.
It is believed that this pair of remarkable hammers is the first of the Soul Constructs created by a master craftswoman. Nowadays, there is no written record of what the pair of hammers really look like. However, given that the craftswoman is a devout follower of Buddhism and many of her work in later years also revolve Buddhism themes, it was speculated that these remarkable hammers might have a religious touch to them.
Today I’m supposed to post my Book Discoveries for March but since I’m committed to finishing off a short story before the end of next week, I think I might have to delay the book post until the end of this month. Today I’m going to recycle one of the meta fiction pieces I have written and posted up in my writers’ home at Strolen’s Citadel. The meta fiction doesn’t stand on its own so I might as well re-post the whole submission. The meta fiction is the block of text with a blue background.
The War Drum of Oyr
Description and Properties:
The War Drum of Oyr looks like a conventional war drum made specifically for one player. It is only special in so far as it was made from the skin of Oyr the One-Legged Cow and had inherited the full power of its Call of Thunder. An enchantment laid onto it by a mage of later ages unearthed its full potential- to compatriots and allies, it can reverberate at great distances but always at a suitable volume to uplift their spirits; to foes, none can escape from its beat of doom no matter how far away they are. Some rumours say that the Drum also has the effect of driving bovines within a large radius to wrathful stampeding.
Yet, the War Drum has been long lost. Therefore, it is uncertain to what degree the added enchantment has worn off or if it has expired altogether.
The main debate between sages on the War Drum of Oyr is neither over its construction nor its whereabouts- both are unknown and it is as simple as that. Instead, they argue incessantly about whether Oyr is a unique creature come into being before the ages of time or it was a conventional cow which accidentally swallowed a Shard of Storm and became the creature that legends describe- a one-footed cow four times as large as any conventional cow which can emit a sound like thunder.
Now, you want to know about its construction and possibly its whereabouts? Well, let’s see what scattered accounts there are in the form of colourful local lore and tales from grandsires. There are lots, in fact. They’re not as trustworthy as the words of sages and oft conflict with one another- not that sages don’t- but it’s a hobby of mine to keep track of such rumours and tales revolving around legends. So that I can form my own personal conjecture over the truth. It will probably never come to light, the truth, but one can find one’s enjoyment by seeking to tease out what it could be.
Where shall I start? Let’s start at the beginning. Curiously, the earliest tales recorded of the Drum’s construction was some time after the Great Exploration. And as we all knew, the Great Exploration brought back many artifacts from foreign origins. It might be pure speculation on my part- certainly, no sage had ever entertained the possibility before. At any rate, as many as eight or maybe even more kingdoms claimed that their founder played an unequivocal role in the construction of the War Drum. And yet, there wasn’t a single rumour or family tale floating around of the actual crafter of the War Drum. I find that another curious aspect and it just happens to match up so well to that speculation of mine.
More on the stories about construction themselves? Let’s see. As many as five kingdom’s founders were a great hero and counted among their exploits the deed of having slain Oyr the One-footed Cow though so far as I can see, there is nothing that Oyr had done which qualifies its slaying as being a heroic deed. Ah well. These great heroes tend to be an impulsive lot, slaying anything that doesn’t fit into their mold of conventionality. Wait, there was one among them who claimed that it was the decreed of some obscure immortal who showed him that it was the sure way to defeat his villainous foe. But we only have his own words for that. Then, two others chanced upon- or rather were directed upon by divinity- on the carcass of Oyr. The last is the ultimate showcase of the hubris of humankind, in my opinion. It claims that Oyr itself willingly gives up its own life so that its skin can be used to construct a war drum that will forever ensure that the Righteous triumph. What nonsense, there has never been a single war waged in the name of true Righteousness throughout the history of humans! For the ambitions of single men or as a last resort to violence when two interests irreconciliably clash! That’s what all wars come down to, ha!
Where is the Drum now? Well, foremost there is the claim that it is buried with whichever kingdom founder that really has an instrumental role in its coming into being. That clearly turned out to be false for some of these claims. Which ones I don’t know and am not that interested to find out. Then, there is the legend about the War Drum being restless in mortal hands and never willing to stay with a single mortal beyond several uses, sometimes just one. Of course, war drums had come into fashion over the last few centuries. Enchanted ones made by Hiter musician-wizards abound now. Somehow, these artifacts were being mixed up with the War Drum of Oyr itself and we now hear colorful tales of some of these more special war drums’ histories being passed off as the history of the Drum of Oyr. I have chased down a few false trails myself but it is too early to proclaim that I have found the single true path.
And that’s all I can say at this stage. Now, if you will excuse me, I have some references that I would like to find for another of my conjectures over the buried truths of history.
This is the last of the character sketches based on the prompt of Feeling Tearful amidst a Misunderstanding:
“I will transfer a million to your bank account right away.” He said coldly and the words reverberated in her ears like a gong.
She felt moisture welling up within her eyes at the same time a mass of weight materialised within her chest. Here her reflex took over and she inhaled deeply. That made the weight within her chest curl into a little ball and pressed this ball down within her body until she couldn’t feel it anymore. It also arrested the tear drops where they were. She was not going to give satisfaction to one who could so wrong her as him. Not in this way.
She felt outraged. How could her? What had she said? Merely that being able to physically roll in money won’t be bad, and that only in a joking voice, and he threw money in her face like that? How dare he!
To be honest, I had great difficulty with this particular combo and while this exercise was supposed to be impromptu in nature and the whole passage should be written in a single train trip, I had such a difficult time writing up this passage that it ran over two train trips. I think there are some awkward expressions above that I can’t even fix when I’m typing this now so ah well.
Firstly, happy Easter, everyone!
Not sure whether my followers still remember but at one stage I said I was going to create a bi-monthly commitment to put up short pieces of random writing and one series would be character sketches based on a random matching of a feeling with a catalyst event. As it turned out, I only created three character sketches before I lost interest in the exercise. Below is the second of these character sketches based on a prompt of Feeling Safe amidst an Avalanche:
A white torrent rushed inevitably towards us, certain to subdue us under its icy embrace forever. Yet, in this moment, I felt suffused by a pleasant warmth. Like lying under a down blanket covered over by two other light blankets- an absolute heaven of feathery softness- on a winter night. It reminded me of my childhood, lying thus in his arms. I had a happy childhood- carefree, secure in my happiness through ignorance. Oh yes, life was much simpler when I knew little and cared little. There wasn’t the mad scramble back then of trying to meet up to the expectations of lots of people, of pleasing all except myself. I didn’t what happened as I grew up but one day, I suddenly woke up and found that I couldn’t recognise myself from who I was, who I always thought I was. And ever since, I’ve felt so tired. It is a tiredness in my bones and I carry it with me whenever I’m awake. I dream of changing back to myself constantly and that only made matters worse for me. It conspired to keep me awake at night and I got more tired. But now this, my end is come and I feel that I’m finally home. Yes, this is where I belong and the thought soothed me like a lullaby
Creative-life-wise, I’m taking advantage of the Easter break to get back into writing. I’m currently writing one of the six short stories I have planned for this year, a solo piece while my collaborator is working on the first draft of one of our collab pieces at the same time. Both are for the Excursions from the Citadel and I will release more details closer to the publication data of issue 2 *wink*
P.S. I’ve created my author page on Goodreads and if anyone wants to drop me a question about the Excursions from the Citadel, you are more than welcome to do so between now and May.
Those who follow this blog would know that the Excursions from the Citadel, an anthology series for fantasy and science fiction (even though the first issue just covers fantasy), is now available for sale on Amazon. This is not just another ad that I’m putting up to elicit sales. Instead, I’m offering three free copies of it in exchange for unbiased Amazon reviews. If you are interested in taking up this offer, please leave me a comment here or email me at email@example.com. This offer is not just valid for my blog followers but also my Women Who Write group that originated in meetup and now moved to Facebook and anyone who chance by and see this. So first come, first served. Three copies only available!
In addition, what distinguishes my offer from others of similar nature is that I’m willing to type up your review on your behalf and then send it back to you via email so that you can copy and paste up to the Amazon website if you can’t be bothered typing it yourself. Just to clarify things, this is just an option for you to take up on if you want, not as a means to manipulate reviews. I genuinely want unbiased review on this product that I’ve helped to make and believe is ready to public eyes. However, it is a very new enterprise and we really need feedback from readers in order to know the objective quality of our product.
I admit that cannibalism of the war dead does have a logic to it. Indeed, I may have been the one to slay the man that was in my bowl. Was it a further insult that I found him unpalatable? This particular bowl of stew also came with additional pressures. It had been handed to me personally by a Warlord from the Island of Vattena. I have been in that Warlord’s employ for several years now. Although it was only during the past few months that my Warlord has truly begun to live up to the ‘War’ portion of his title.
The Bevattena, as Vattena’s residents are known, are shape shifters. Taking the form of birds, the Warlord and his followers flew to these shores on a crusade of conquest. Prior to arrival of the Warlord and his vanguard, I served the Bevattena scouts as a translator and guide, then fought alongside the Warlord and his men after the invasion. They paid me in advance with salt and silver and, all things considered, I liked the men. They didn’t compete for position. They were not snarky or jealous. It is a true brotherhood among the Bevattena warriors.
But the bowl of flesh soup made me wonder if I would someday regret my association with the Bevattena. What did I need with a brotherhood? I have never needed anybody. I have never wanted to need anybody. That has always been a point of pride for me. Perhaps my natural independence was another reason this brown, steaming bowl of human stew made me uneasy. Eating somebody would force upon me an uncomfortable personal connection.
Above is an excerpt from the only novella we have included in the first issue of the Excursions from the Citadel, written by the author of Atop a Pine-covered Mountain that is also included in this volume. It is one of the two conventional fantasy stories in this volume by which I mean a story set in a medieval Western, high magic setting. It is my personal favourite out of all 6 pieces but judge it for yourselves.
This is the last of the excerpts that will be released. Go to Issue 1 Excerpts under the Excursions from the Citadel to access all 6 excerpts for issue 1. If you like what you saw of the excerpts posted on this blog, visit here to get yourself a Kindle copy of the actual volume. Also, stay tuned for issue 2 of the Excursions from the Citadel which will tackle a new theme: Wizards. It will include work from the circle of 3 again and potentially more authors. It will definitely include the second and final part of my Chinese story titled A Thread of Chance and potentially two more stories, one solo and one another collaboration piece of what I dub a M&A collab. We are hoping to release it about June this year.
Finally, we are looking for unbiased Amazon reviews so if you’ve purchased a copy, please leave us your thoughts on our work. Also, we’re on KDP Select which means that we will be running a promotion scheme on this book by making it free for a total of 5 days at anytime of our choice. So stay tuned for announcement of the timing of that if what you’ve read of the excerpts which sometimes doesn’t give a fair sense of the whole story doesn’t yet sway you to grab a Kindle copy of the Excursions from the Citadel.
Each Mortal is bound by a Limit, a Geomancer is also a Mortal.
Every Reading comes with a Price, Know the Worth of the Price.
Every Situation is accompanied by Chance, a single Thread of Chance.
It is the idle season. Clusters of women gather to gossip under the rows of willow trees at the village front. A stranger catches their eyes, garbed as he is in a cotton robe worthy of an entire year’s upkeep for a family of three generations. Their gazes track him as far as they can follow: he’s heading for the rear of the village towards the lodging of Xian Sheng, the Teacher. He walks on the mud track with a stroll which proclaims that he belongs elsewhere, to the wide expandless world beyond the village that is both exciting and frightening. The sight brings the villagers into a state of awe. They had never seen such prestige projected through so simple a motion.
The stranger, Xun Zhen whose name means Seeking Truth, creases his brows in reflection over what he had seen on the way to this village. The prices for staple food have gone up in all the towns but there isn’t a drought in the surrounding regions. That usually means someone has been stockpiling them. Could news of my mission have already leaked out? To whom? Xun Zhen shudders to contemplate the possibility.
Xun Zhen feels anticipation building within himself for the upcoming encounter. Quickly overtaking, and prevailing over it, however, is a feeling of unresolved mystery resurfacing. Why had He left? Why did He choose this way, of all possible ways? Unwilling to relinquish his grudge, Xun Zhen refuses to refer to the Old Man as anything other than a generic He. He’s no longer worthy of being anything other than a faceless being in my world. He abandoned me along with all that He was, why should the Deserter earn any respect from me let alone still have my affection? Xun Zhen wishes that that he has come today to simply collect his due from Him rather than an actual mission. Least of all his mission today.
Reluctant to move further, he stops on the mud track, which is still a fair distance from a bamboo fence enclosing a grass hut standing aloof and lonely. He can only see the structures from where he stands but his instincts tell him that this most ordinary residence is his destination.
Sa Sa Sa. His gaze turns to the left where a gale is sashaying among the bamboo forest. Despite the wind, no single bamboo stalk bows. The sight recollects to him the words once spoken by the Old Man while viewing a similar scene. “That’s how a man of virtue needs to be. That‘s how We need to be. Break rather than bend.” That is why He chose here. It is the fitting abode for His character.
Xun Zhen moves forwards towards His hut.
“This is Two,” a cultured voice states. It comes from a man who is all white in hair and beard but with a visage of one in his thirties. He is sitting cross-legged in the middle of the front yard on a seat of stone that the Elements seem to have crafted specifically for him. About a dozen or so children of various ages, wearing patched clothes, sit facing him in the same posture. A surprisingly orderly sight for young children of this social class.
The Old Man has always had that effect, He imbues his unique aura onto everything he touches. I could have been, no, I was one of these children sitting in rapt attention.
Xun Zhen’s mind wanders back to his own childhood, to the first meeting between him and the Old Man.
He looks exactly like the first time I saw him except his hair and beard were the color of ink rather than snow. “Mischievous One, would you like to go with me?” He asked. I thought he looked very ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. I cocked my head to one side as I pondered this puzzle. My eyes roamed across the stranger from head to foot in that way that got Niang – Mother – scowling at me whenever she caught me.
He was wearing a Daoist robe. It fitted him in somewhat but not quite with those men with white beards that they stroked as they prattled about things that we common people don’t, and won’t, know. I didn’t really have a concept of what it meant to be part of the common people, it was just what Niang said I was. So I wasn’t as in awe of Daoists as most of my playmates but more curious.
I stuck out my tongue at him. “Old Man,” I called in retort. I went with him but the name stuck as my special term of endearment for him. He taught me to read and write. He gave me the name of Xun Zhen. “Zhen, Truth, is the core to every being and object. Life is the search for Zhen within and without. Do honour onto the name by never forgetting the meaning behind it,” He said when he gave it to me. He raised me to be who I am.
So why did He betray me by leaving the way He did? Xun Zhen’s hands clench up into fists.
Xun Zhen watches Him draw three horizontal lines on the muddy ground with a twig, each lower line successively longer than the one above it. The Teacher points to what he just drew, “This is Three.” Next to it, he draws a rectangle from the top of which dangles two short curved lines heading towards left and right respectively. “This is Four.” He continues drawing until Ten, a horizontal line dissected by a vertical one.
“Nine is the ultimate number rather than ten. Does anyone know why?” the Teacher asks his students.
The children all shake their heads and look at him expectantly.
“Because Heaven always leaves a single Thread of Chance. Thus we should always leave a single thread of chance for ourselves and others in any situation.”
Xun Zhen enters. “Well said, I come precisely for a Thread of Chance, Teacher.” He put emphasis onto the last word to mock the Deserter.
Above is excerpt of the first scene from my solo piece in this epub: A Thread of Chance. I’ve decided to give this part the subtitle of “An overdue reunion” since I’ve also included a short meta fiction piece that goes in front with the story itself in the actual publication. Anyone who has read my About page knows already that I’ve always dreamed of producing one day a fantasy series LoR style but based on an ancient Chinese setting. A Thread of Chance certainly isn’t an epic but it is set in my Dragon Empire setting which is what I call this fantasised ancient Chinese setting that I’m still crafting away at.
I’m fairly happy at how this piece has turned out and the process of writing it is quite joyful to myself who often struggle with my perfectionist streak that manifests often in the form of a Writer’s block or procrastination. Ideally, I would have wished more time for editing since this is a piece that came to me late relative to the deadline for submission but I do think it is ready for public eyes. Hopefully, you will judge it to be so too. And if you have comments and thoughts on this piece you would like to share, you are more than welcome to leave a comment.
Just an announcement that my multi-author epub Excursions from the Citadel has gone alive on Amazon