Thousand Years of Dreams Day 15: Seth’s Dream Part 1


The latest dream-memory to come out of Lost Odyssey doesn’t arrive from the hazy memory of the eternal warrior Kaim, but from another immortal and fellow companion in Seth Balmore. “Seth’s Dream” actually comes in two parts with the second cominga bit later.

This dream-memory sees Seth remembering a time when she plied the seas as the Righteous Buccaneer. The only female pirate captain and also one who robbed the decadently wealthy in order to help the most poor and destitute. But it wasn’t the pirating and Robin Hood-style robbing that made this dream-memory rise up but the sense of freedom we all yearn for. Freedom from the shackles of civilization and laws meant to tamp down the need to be free.

While it celebrates just such a freedom it also points out that the antithesis of freedom is not a prison with walls and guards, but forced solitude. A solitude which robs oneself the spirit to be free if there’s no one to share it with. What’s freedom but a curse and not a gift if one did it alone. This dream-memory doesn’t have as much of an impact as some of the previous ones but it does a good job in delving into what is freedom with people to share it with and what is freedom but doing it alone.

Seth’s Dream Part 1

O, wondrous beast Aneira–Proud descendant of the white-winged clan!You alone were my irreplaceable companion.

Would it anger you to hear me call us two of a kind? Were we not, in fact, a perfect combination, you and I? Bound together by a single thread–that gossamer thread we know as loneliness…

Aneira,

I owe my life to you!

Not, of course, that you “saved” my life in the ordinary sense of the word. Mine is not a life that can be lost under any circumstances. It is an irrevocable burden. I will not die–I cannot die–and therefore my life was not for you to save.

O, Aneira!

What you saved, I now see, was not my life but my heart.

Back then–long, long centuries ago, I was a pirate–the only woman pirate on the open seas.

Seth Balmore: that name was known to all who plied the sea. Some spoke my name in fear and trembling, while others voiced it with deepest admiration.

Some even called me the “Righteous Buccaneer,” nor were they far wrong, I’d say.

The pirate ships I commanded had rules–rules that were clear and strict.

We targeted only one kind of vessel, those opulent passenger ships the wealthy boarded for pleasure cruises. We would put a bit of a scare into the passengers, of corse, maybe rough them up a little, but killing was strictly forbidden. All we did was squeeze a few drops of treasure out of the purses of those who had more money than they knew what to do with. We traded our booty for cash with shadowy dealers, and the money we shared in the world’s dens of poverty.

I would cringe at being called a “champion of justice,” but we prided ourselves on being far more than “villains.”

I became a pirate for one simple reason:

I hated the law, and I hated even more those who flaunted the law for their own self-aggrandizement. In a word, I wanted a life of freedom.

Whenever I stood at the prow of a pirate ship sliding its way through the waves, and I viewed the vast ocean stretched out beneath the clear blue sky. I felt enveloped in the joy of having taken limitless freedom in my own two hands.

True, I need not traffic in the fear of death and aging known to all who count as human.

And because I will neither age nor die, infinite time means for me infinite freedom.

Not bad, wouldn’t you say?

I would spy the ship that would be our day’s quarry.

I was always the first to board it, springing lightly onto their deck with a shout.

“I am Seth Balmore! Now be good and hand over your money and valuables!”

Then, taking the booty we had snatched, my men and I would raise a cry of victory and leap back into our ship.

I was absolutely free.

Nothing stood in my way.

Eternal life overflowing with freedom–

Not bad, wouldn’t you say?

“‘Righteous Buccaneer’?!’ What kind of fancy-pants nonsense is that? How about ‘Pirate Bitch’?”

Of course one always hears such jealous ravings in all walks of life, but especially so in the thuggish world of pirates.

Needles to say, I knew I had many enemies.

Even a child would realize that being called a “Righteous Buccaneer” could only increase the number who hated me among such raping and pillaging brigands as pirates of the sea.

But I didn’t care about that.

I could be stabbed with a knife or blasted with a cannon and still I would not die.

“Immortal Seth,” they called me, and it was literally true, not just a figure of speech.

“I won’t get in your way,” I told the other pirates, “but I won’t let you get in mine, either!”

I was afraid of nothing and no one.

I lived the way I wanted live, and wouldn’t– or shouldn’t have–let anyone interfere with me.

I went wrong only once, but that was all it took.

In a moment of carelessness, I let them capture me.

Of course, that alone was nothing for me to be afraid of. As I keep mentioning, I can never age or die. It would have done them no good to try killing me–and they knew it. The most they could do would be to rough me up a little and threaten to make it worse for me next time. They had to do something to show their men how tough they were: they couldn’t just let me horn in on the pirate game and pretend it never happened.

So I said,

“Hurry up with the torture, will you? I haven’t got all day.”

We were in a cave on a desert island.

I was in handcuffs and leg irons surrounded by half a dozen huge men, all well-known pirate captains. One of them was holding a long, thick chain.

“I get sick to my stomach just looking at your sweat faces. Come on, hurry up and beat me with the chain. Or would you rather strangle me? Whichever you choose, hurry and get it over with.”

The men laughed out loud.

“‘Hurry and get it over with’?” said the leader. “Too bad for you Seth, but this punishment is not the kind that can be hurried. I’m just sorry we can’t stay with you to the end.”

“Yeah,” chimed in another man, “unlike a monster like you, we humans don’t have all the time in the world.”

“Okay, men. let’s make it fast, the way the lady wants it.”

Licking his lips, the man with the chain approached me and two others grabbed my arms from the sides.

They were not going to use the chain as an instrument or torture but to rob me of my liberty.

They chained me to a gigantic boulder in the cave.

They were laughing so hard they could hardly contain themselves.

“Just what you need, eh, Seth?”

“It’s the end of the road for you.”

“We can’t shoot you, we can’t stab you to death, so we’ll just lock you up.”

“We’ll never come back to this island again.”

“And even a half-baked pirate like you know this place is not on any sea lanes.”

“No fishing boats even.”

“And right about now, your men have off looking for the wrong island.”

“We’re the only ones who know we brought you here. Not even our crews know where we are.”

“Nobody’s coming to save you, that’s for sure.”

“You’ll be in here forever.”

“Can’t move a muscle, and you can’t even die.”

“All by yourself.”

“For the rest of eternity.”

With that, the men walked out of the cave, leaving me there with a single lantern.

“Cowards!” I screamed. “Don’t run off like that! Don’t do this to me!”

But the only response was the hollow echo of my own voice in the cave.

The lantern the men left behind was not meant as kindness, but rather the opposite. It was a prop in their little drama: when it finally ran out of oil and went dark, it would impress on me the weight of eternal solitude.

As long as the lamp kept glowing, I was filled with rage for the men.

But when the oil was running low and the flame began to flicker, a deep anxiety assulted me.

Unable to move, I stared blankly at the flame.

Eternity.

This world has no such thing Or perhaps it should not have.

Solitude:

I was always alone. Or, more precisely, I always ended up alone. It was my destiny. I could be surrounded by companions whose feelings matched my own perfectly; I could share the deepest love with another, but in the end I would always have to lose them. Do you know what it feels like to see countless others succumb to death while you yourself are on the road of endless life?

Ah, but in your case, Aneira, you do have some idea.

As I watched, the lamp in the cave went out.

A world of darkness spread out before me.

And there I was: alone.

No more would I taste the sorrow of parting.

But neither would I be able to taste the joy of meeting. Eternally. Without end. Alone.

I did not try shouting.

People shout and scream for one one reason only: because they want someone to hear them. Because they believe there is someone somewhere who will their cries.

I did, however, shed tears.

Which is not to say I wept. There is no way that the immortal woman pirate Seth Balmore would ever break down and cry.

A tiny tremor went through the darkness: that is all it was.

And then I noticed. Oh! Tears are coming out of me.

Really, that is all it was.

The hours passed.

Or perhaps it was days.

In the darkness I lost track of the flow of time.

There was something else I lost track of.

If all there was left for me to do was to stay by myself, struggling against eternal solitude, incapable even of rotting away, then what was the purpose of my living in the world?

Perhaps the men who trapped me here had been right: unable either to age or die, perhaps I was some kind of monster.

Then why was such a monster living in this world?

What was I supposed to do here?

I did not know the answer to that.

I would never know the answer, to the end of my never ending life.

I felt frustration.

Sorrow.

But above all, fear.

Eternity was frightening to me.

Solitude was frightening to me.

I might have been trembling.

Or without even the energy for that, I might have been utterly drained.

Whatever it was I was feeling, that is when it happened.

Aneira: that is when you first appeared before me.

A tiny burst of light softened the darkness.

And from the light, almost before I could wonder what it was, there came a voice:

“Are you, too, trapped in the prison of solitude?”

“Who–who is that?”

In the light, a flash of white wings.

Then with a sudden increase in size and brightness, the light seared my eyes. Accustomed to total darkness, my eyes could not stand the glare, and for an instant they could not see anything at all.

Grimacing, I clamped my eyes shut before daring to open them little by little.

There before me hovered a pure white, glowing beast.

Its white wings were breathtakingly beautiful.

How beautiful you were, Aneira!

But yours was not a florid beauty. No, it was subtly different.

Your beauty wore a cloak of loneliness.

“I am like you” you said.

And when I cocked my head to look at you in puzzlement, you continued.

“I have been looking for someone like you for a very long time.”

You spoke slowly, majestically:

“O, immortal woman pirate! You and I share a single destiny.”

You knew who I was.

“Together let us escape from this solitude and make our way together,” you said, your eyes locked on mine.

Escape from this solitude–the words continued ringing in my ears. But I did not know who you were. I could not even be sure what you were. Nor could I leap joyfully at the invitation at one I could not tell as friend or foe.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am Aneira of the white-winged clan.”

“White-winged clan?”

I had heard the name before. The white-winged clan were said to be wondrous beasts that had become extinct in the distant past.

“I have heard that the white-winged clan died out long ago.”

“I am the last of the blood line.”

“The only survivor?”

“Indeed. As I said, the last.”

“Which is why you spoke of solitude?”

At that point, almost before I knew it, a weak, almost self-mocking smile crept over my face: I felt myself lowering my guard as I spoke to you. My chains, however, were digging even deeper into my flesh and shackling my heart as well.
“You used the phrase ‘prison of solitude’ before. It’s true. This is a prison, feeling along for eternity is a prison without bars”

You nodded at these words of mine, Aneira, in silence.

But then you said, “I was in a prison, too, until just now.”

“I’m sure it’s true. To be the only living survivor…”

“I have spent far too long a time alone.”

“I know what you mean.”

In the legend, members of the white-winged clan are thought to live a thousand years. But even if you were to live on for several centuries, a sole survivor, you could never meet a female member of the clan of the white wing and hope to make children with her. The clan will never rise again.

The sole survivor must live out the remainder of his days alone.

“In order to conquer the unbearable loneliness,” you said,

“I would need someone to make her way with me”

Then you looked hard at me and said,

“O, pirate woman, are you not of the same mind?”

I nodded in agreement.

But then I made a point of smiling and said as casually as I could, “In other words, you’re lonely!”

Your beautiful face softened and you said with some embarrassment, “I wonder…”

“According to the legend as I have heard it, the clan of the white wing are proud and love their solitude.”

This only increased your embarrassment and you said, “Solitude has its limits.”

That did it.

I decided to trust you then and there.

“Well, if that’s how you feel, you should come right out and say it: “I want company!”

“Company?”

“All right: a companion.”

“A companion?”

“Exactly. So it’s decided: I’ll team up with you.”

That ended all hesitation. Just as you saw in me one to make your way together with, I put my full trust in you.

“Let’s go on the high seas!” I cried.

“Isn’t that what ‘make our way together’ meant?”

“You mean that I should become a pirate?”

“You don’t like that idea?

You paused for the space of one breath and chuckled softly.

“I’ve always wanted to give it a try.”

No sooner were the words out of your mouth then you leaped at me.

With one bite you cut through the thick chain that held me down.

 

O, wondrous beast Aneira–Proud descendant of the white-winged clan!This was how you and I first met.

In the nine hundred years since then, we raged over the open sea more wildly than I ever had before.

When I stood at the prow of our pirate ship in search of prey, you were always there beside me.

We became irreplaceable partners, friends, companions…family!

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Trailer: Sleeping Beauty (dir. by Julie Leigh)


This coming October we get a small indie film from Australia which has caught my attention since I saw it had been one of the entries to the main competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film is Sleeping Beauty and it’s the directorial debut by Australian writer-director Julia Leigh and starring one of the industries rising young stars in Emily Browning.

Sleeping Beauty is described as an erotic drama which follows Browning’s university student who becomes involved in the hidden world of beauty and desire and those young women hired and trained to play a role in them. From what I could tell from the trailer and reading about reactions by audiences to the film at Cannes this film looks to have a similar tone and theme to British illustrator and erotic writer Erich von Götha (pseudonym used by Robin Ray).

With Cronenberg also exploring the more hidden corners of sexuality through psychoanalysis with his film A Dangerous Method it looks like the Awards season will have another sexually-charged film joining it around the discussion table with Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty. The film is set for an release in the US sometime this October 2011.

Poll: Which Films Are You Most Looking Forward To Seeing In October?


Last month, at this time, we asked you which films you were most looking forward to seeing in September.  The results are in and it would appear that September is going to be all about Drive, Contagion, Moneyball, and Warrior for most of our readers.   Thank you to everyone who voted.

Below, you’ll find the poll for October. Let us know which October films you’re most looking forward to seeing.  As always, please feel free to vote for up to four films.

(As for me, I voted for The Rum Diary, Footloose, In Time, and The Skin I Live In.)

Thousand Years of Dreams Day 14: Elegy Island


If there’s common thread to some of Kaim’s dream-memories it would be the theme and topic of war and how it affects everyone and everything. Some of the dreams has war right at the forefront while other it’s a background piece. For Day 14’s remembered dream-memory it’s how war affects written history and the consequence of war on descendants who only read about it in books and learned of it in classes.

“Elegy Island” is a prime example of how true the maxim that history is written by the victors. What that saying doesn’t point out is that the victors rewrite history and the truth of events to suit their needs or to hide away from the light the true nature of the event. As a student of history it’s sometimes frustrating to come to the realization that past cultures of long-lost tribes of people are gone forever because war has destroyed any trace of their legacy.

This dream-memory also makes it known how we as a people may have in our genetic history the ability and, sometimes, need to wage war, but it’s learning how to not repeat the same mistakes generations later which we’ve never been able to get a handle on. How holocausts and genocides will begin to fade in the memories of a people who were complicit in such acts with each passing generation until the stigma has faded to nothing but footnotes in long, hidden texts.

Maybe the cycle of war our species continues to find itself in will never be broken unless we make an effort to never forget the horrors of war. But as with each passing generation that remembrance will fall by the wayside and that “it wasn’t us who did this” become the excuse to stop remembering and hide the truth.

Elegy Island

This happened a long, long time ago.

On a small island – which has since perished – they had an odd custom.

They mourned their dead with song: with elegies.

The songs would play without ceasing from the last moments before death, through the funeral, to the burial.

Elegies would be sung for many purposes: to ease the grief of the family, to recall the legacy of the deceased, to appease the soul of the one who died under stressful cicumstances, to celebrate one person’s having lived to a ripe, old age, or to evoke anger at another’s pointless death.

There were no fixed melodies or lyrics. Apparently the songs were sung without lyrics at all.

“No documents have survived, so all we can do is assemble oral histories,” sighs the achaeologist as she views the island from the deck of the ship.

The people of that island country had no writing system, which means they had no way to leave behind signs or evidence of their lives.

“I wish we could at least interview a few survivors. but there weren’t any. Every single person was killed.”

The research team’s archaeologist is a young woman in her twenties. Her country is the one that destroyed the island. It happened while her ancestors, seven generations back, were still young people.

“I hate to bad mouth my own country,” she says with a shrug, “but they really didn’t have to go that far.”

“That far” is no exaggeration.

Her country prided itself on it’s overwhelming military force. For it to gain mastery over the tiny island would have been as simple as twisting an infant’s arm.

But her country believed in oppressing its neighbours with force. The leaders were thinking more of those neighbours then of the lands itself when it launched its all-out attack.

It was scorched from end to end.

Every human being on the island – from newborn babies to elders on the verge of death – was killed without mercy.

“It’s odd, though,” says the young woman with a grim smile, “there are hardly any records left from that time, even in our country.”

“I suppose what they did was so terrible, they didn’t want their descendants to know about it.”

Her remark prompts some older scholars on board to clear their throats, at the sound of which she snaps her mouth shut.

“Sorry,” she whispers, “you’re not much older than I am, you porbably don’t want to hear about all this old stuff anyway…”

“I do, though.”

“What interest can a sailor like you have in these boring academic matters?”

Kaim only shakes his head in silence.

Suddenly things become very busy on deck. The boat is approaching the island and has entered a stretch of intricate channels where the skills of the crew will be tested.

The boatswain calls Kaim.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman says, “I shouldn’t be monopolising your time. You’ve got work to do…”

Even as she apologizes, the talkative young archaeologist asks Kaim.

“Do you mind if I ask you one last question?”

“Please, ask away,” he replies, stopping in his tracks.

She looks around to make sure no one is listening and whispers, “I’m sure this is your first time taking a research team over….”

“Uh-huh.”

“And your first time going to the island?”

“Well, yes…”

“So you probably don’t know about some of the bad stories they tell about this place – that some scholars who go there fall under a curse. Like, they get sick while doing their research on the island, or they become mentally unstable after they get home. I’ve heard some even killed themselves.”

“You mean a long time ago, right?”

“Right. This is the first research trip in fifty years. Up to them, every time they sent out a team, one or two of the members would suffer the curse. This is why they put a stop to them all these years. So I’m a little scared myself…”

She sends a mock shudder through her body. “I just thought I’d ask if you could teach me some magic spell for getting back safely…”

Kaim looks straight at her – not merely taking in her appearance but searching for the person deep inside.

“You’ll be fine,” he says.

“You think so?”

“I’m pretty sure you’ll be okay”

She looks at him questioningly.

“If you hear singing, though,” he adds “hum along with it”

“What do you mean?” she asks, her expression increasingly uneasy, but Kaim says nothing more.

“Get over here now, Mister!” the boatswain shouts at Kaim, who heads for his station.

He did tell the woman one white lie, though.

This is not his first time coming to the island.

He has been here many times before.

Hes first trip happened a long, long time ago.

As the archaeologist said, that islands elegies had no fixed melody or lyrics. They were all sung extemporaneously and never repeated.

A hundred deaths required a hundred elegies.

Nor did mourners agree in advance on the nature of their elegy before they started singing. At frist, each would sing his or her own song expressing his or her own feelings about the deceased. Eventually, the jumble of songs would come together into a single melody without any one singer taking the lead.

In the culture of this island that had no writing, there was, of course, no musical notation. There were no instruments for accompaniment either. Each mourner, in grieving for the loved one, would give voice to hopes for a peaceful journey, and a song would emerge.

Kaim’s travels first brought him here when the island was at peace, which is to say, centuries ago.

He happened to arrive just after the death of a village elder. For three days and nights, an elegy was sung around the clock. The island people’s song, which shook the darkness and reverberated all across the clear, blue daytime sky, left its mark with a certain ennobling comfort in the breast of Kaim, a man for whom fate had decreed that no one would ever sing an elegy.

To think that such an island had been burned to the ground!

The people fled in all directions at once, and were murdered one at a time.

It was an absolute bloodbath.

Kaim knows about the atrocities that accompanied the butchery – things that were not handed down to the generation of the young archaeologist.

Had it wished to, the woman’s country could have taken control of the island in a single night, but instead it used its military power to chase down each of the islands inhabitants over a period of several days as if carefully filling in the blank spaces in a coloring book.

The island became enveloped in elegies.

At first, while the living still outnumbered the dead, voices in elegiac song all but shook the island with their volume.

As the days went by, however, and the dead came to outnumber the living, the sobbing voices in song grew ever fainter.

When the battle reaches its final phase, the few remaining islanders, who had been cornered in the islands northern tip, fled into a large cave.

They resigned themselves to death.

All that was left for them to do was pray that they might be allowed to die with some degree of peace.

But even this small measure of hope they were unable to wring from their attackers.

The army of the archaeologist’s country wert for maximum brutality. The entered the cave with every weapon at their command, and they dragged out and killed one islander per day.

Today is was an old man.

The next day it was a young man.

The day after that they tortured to death a young mother with an infant at her breast, and the following day the infant they tore from her arms was put to death.

The elegies resounded without interruption.

The singing voices that escaped from the cave invaded the ears of the soldiers who were carrying on the masacre. Those soldiers with kind hearts collapsed one after another, or they went mad and left the front line.

Song was the final weapon of the islanders, who had no other means to fight.

They went on singing as they struggled against starvation, thirst, and their own fears.

The commanding officer of the anti-insurgency force ordered his men to fill in the mouth of the cave. If they buried the people alive, he thought, the singing would no longer be audible.

Nevertheless, thir singing continued.

It went on, day after day.

Rainy days, clear days, daytime, nighttime it continued, but no longer without breaks, which gradually increased in length.

The singing went beyond being an elegy for a single person and became a song suffused with the sorrow of all the living things on the island.

About the time the season ended, the last thing thread of singing died out.

The army left the island.

Not a single record of these military operations was left.

Never again did anyone come to live on the island.

The first research team in fifty years is plagued by difficulties.

One scholar after another collapses.

Almost every day, someone is sent out to the vessel anchored offshore, sick.

All of the scholars moan with pain, blocking their ears.

The situation is exactly what it was before the island was sealed from research.

Kaim knows exactly what is happening.

The ocean breeze sweeping across the island sounds like a song.

The brances swaying in the forrest sound like a song.

The birds in the trees sound like a song.

The babbling of a brook sounds like a song.

The treading of boots on piled-up fallen leaves sounds like a song.

The crashing and receding of waves on the shore sounds like a song.

The elegy for the island that people sang with every last bit of life they could dredge up from inside themselves, now is being sung by the island itself.

“Please stop, I beg you, please stop…”

The scholars cry out in their delirium, covering their ears.

“I dont know what we did. It was our ancestors, not us.”

The scholars who maon this hear anger and sorrow in the constanty recunding elegy.

What they say is true: it is not their fault.

But they have been given no knowledge of what happened on this island so long ago.

Sometimes, not knowing can be a profound sin.

They should prick up their ears and listen all the more.

That is what Kaim has always done.

The elegy being sung by the island is not merely hurling hatred and anger at them.

The island is not trying to torture members of the younger generation like them who are without sin.

Rather than blocking their ears, they should listen.

If they do so, the message will reach them.

For the island is telling them.

“You must know the truth. You must know what actually happened on this island so long ago.”

The investigation ends much earlier than originally planned.

Most of the research team have returned to the ship, their health broken, and some of the more seriosly ill members have been sent home. It is no longer possible to continue the work.

The young archaeologist who spoke to Kaim on the way in is one of the few who have persevered to the end.

“Thanks to you,” she says to Kaim.

As soon as she climbed from the launch into the ship she saw Kaim standing on deck and hurried over to him.

She looks haggard, but her fatigue is clearly less phyical than mental.

Still, her eyes harbor a strong-willed gleam.

“Did you hear the singing?” he asks.

“I did,” she says with a nod, looking back at the receding island.

“It was so sad!”

Just as he had thought: she was able to open herself to the sadness.

“Did you sing along with it?”

“Yes, I did that, too – partly because of what you said to me, but I also found myself humming the same tune quite naturally.”

Kaim nods and smiles at her.

This is the first time he has encountered anyone with the heart to hear the island’s elergy.

“This time when i get home,” she says, “I want to do some more serious research on the war. It’s something I have to do, I almost feel I don’t have any choice in the matter.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” he says.

“I might turn up some facts that my country finds inconvenient, but I feel its absolutely necessary to learn the truth – to know what actually happened.”

The ship emerges into the open sea.

A single white bird flies out from the island is if seeing the ship off on its journey.

Tracing a great arc against the blue sky, it releases one high, ringing cry.

No longer an elegy, this is a song of joy and forgiveness signaling the dawn of a new age.

END

Review: Torchwood: Miracle Day Ep. 08 “End of the Road”


“End of the Road” is quite an apt title for the eight episode in the fourth season of Torchwood. We see the end of a couple characters during the episode and at the same time we finally get the final pieces to the question of who or what caused “Miracle Day”.

The episode begins with the Torchwood team arriving at the Colasanto estate and led by Olivia Colasanto to her grandfather and Jack’s former companion and lover from the late 1920’s. We find out that Angelo Colasanto has kept himself alive through natural means, but is now in a coma as Jack looks on. Angelo’s condition when revealed almost felt like a cop out, but in a major exposition info dump done by his granddaughter we find out who is behind Miracle Day”. They’re called The Families and are made up of the descendants of the three men last seen in the previous episode forming an alliance to study Jack’s seeming immortality.

Angelo himself has been kept out of the alliance due to the three men’s discomfort over his homosexuality. Angelo has been observing not just the three families through the years, but Jack as well in an attempt to either stave off whatever plans The Families have in regards to the “Miracle” or, at the very least, give Jack the clues needed to fix the problem. But before Jack, Gwen, Esther and Rex can do their thing to save the day there’s the little obstacle of Rex’s old boss in the form of Wayne Knight interrupting the Jack/Colasanto reunion. The rest of the episode never lets go of the throttle once John De Lancie’s CIA head honcho Shapiro show’s up and we get closer to this season’s endgame.

The episode was well-written even with the major expositional scene involving Nana Visitor’s character. Each character in the Torchwood team got a chance to shine in their roles with Barrowman making Jack’s bittersweet reunion with Angelo a mixture of happiness and regret. If there was a weak point in the cast’s performance it would continue to be some of the side characters like Wayne Knight’s deputy director Friedkin and Bill Pullman’s Oswald Danes. While I can understand the role of Knight’s character in the overall scheme of things this season I still can’t quite grasp just exactly what Pullman’s Danes character is suppose to do other than be over-the-top creepy. Even Ambrose’s Kitzinger got a chance to own her scene as she finally unleashes what she truly feels about Oswald Danes despite having to be his publicist.

“End of the Road” ends on a major cliffhanger with one of the Torchwood team members shot and the team split apart as the CIA, The Families and everyone else seem to be pulling at them from all directions making their task about solving “Miracle Day” that much more difficult. With only two more episodes remaining this season what looked to be a show that seemed stuck on idle for most of the middle episodes has suddenly begun to speed ahead towards what could be an epic conclusion.

Bastion!


A short while back, I got a message from a friend of mine. He urged me to download a game available on the XBox Live Arcade called Bastion. Actually, it was more like he demanded. Well, I acquiesced. And I could not possibly be more pleased that I did. Bastion is going to cost interested parties $14.99 (US currency) and is available for the XBox 360 and for PC gamers as well via the Steam network. I have heard no word about it being available (now or in the future) on the Playstation Network.

So what is Bastion?

Well, it’s an action RPG in the tradition of games such as Diablo. You control a character who is known only as the Kid, who makes his way through a city and world that have been ruined by an apocalyptic event referred to as the Calamity. The Calamity not only destroyed the magnificent city of Caelondia – where the Kid hails from – but also seemingly everything nearby, including the home of the Ura… a superstitious warrior tribe who had often been at odds with the Caelondians. Unfortunately for the Kid, he has no idea how this transpired, or what to do in a world where everything has been smashed to bits. Helping him on his way is a low-voiced narrator who guides the Kid – and, by extension, the player – through the game’s action. The story is told (almost) entirely through the narrator’s quips, which come one line at a time. Rather than having to read through large blocks of text, we instead are treated to a consistent flow of short quips from the narrator. He remarks on almost literally everything… from the progress of the story, to the different perks the Kid equips as he levels up, to the Kid’s choice in weapons… and, of course, on every piece of junk that the Kid finds lying around the burnt-out wreckage of their former home.

As a result of this narration, I would say the story of Bastion is considerably richer than that of many other action-style RPGs – Diablo springs prominently to mind. However, the story is also fairly simple, despite a couple of twists, and there is a dearth of developed characters. It doesn’t play with the same richness as some of the all-time greats in the genre (like some of the Legend of Zelda games). I should, however, note that the casting of newcomer Logan Cunningham as the voice of the narrator does a lot to give this game a style all of its own. Not only does he seek to bring this world alive for us, but he imparts some significant emotion into the games’ heavier moments.

Gameplay takes place over a series of beautifully rendered worlds which are restored a bit at a time (in the form of terrain pieces, both the actual surface of the world and the details accompanying it) recalled from the aether beyond. A variety of enemy types inhabit this world, each with their own quirks. The Kid equips two weapons (and while a melee and ranged weapon are strongly encouraged for ease of use, these weapons can be any pair you desire), a shield which can be used to both block and reflect enemy attacks, as well as a spell chosen from a list of at least 25 such spells (in earnest, I didn’t count. I suspect I missed a few anyway). In addition, the Kid can carry a number of health potions and black potions which restore health and power spells, respectively. Using these implements, the Kid fights his way across a dozen or more chunks of the world, interspersed with ‘Proving Grounds’ for each weapon, where the Kid is called on to complete an extraordinary task with each weapon for big rewards. Between missions, he’ll return to the last safe haven of Caelondia, called the Bastion. In the Bastion, the Kid can purchase upgrades (ten for each of the game’s 11 weapons!), equip spirits (of the 80+ proof kind) that give him significant bonuses, and select his weapon loadout. The player can also make the game more challenging by equipping idols (similar to equipping skulls in the Halo game franchise).

The single player will take perhaps 8 hours to complete (more if you’re extra thorough or big on using idols) and is followed by a New Game+ mode.

I really can’t recommend this one enough. Even at the (seemingly) hefty price tag of $15, it delivers as much content as some newer games which have the gall to charge a full $60~ retail.

Thousand Years of Dreams Day 13: Portraitist of the Dead


Day 13 brings us another dream-memory remembered by Kaim from Lost Odyssey. This time around it’s called “Portraitist of the Dead” and we get to know how the process of death could turn those surrounded by death to see it in a cold, emotionless manner.

Like the portraitist in the dream-memory I often wonder how doctors, coroners and morticians view death once they’ve experienced witnessing the event countless of times. For those who witness death of a loved one for the first time the effect could be devastating in more ways than one. There’s suppose to be stages to grief with denials and acceptance on either side of the spectrum, but emotionless and cold rarely happens to be one of them.

Soldiers who spend too long on the battlefield were said to cut their emotions from seeing enemies and comrades die if just to try and keep themselves from losing their sanity. Do civilians who must witness and deal with death on a daily basis do the same or do they actually feel some form of emotion behind their cold, professional exterior.

For those like myself who had to experience and witness the death of a loved one sometimes cutting one’s emotion helps in the short-term. In the end, even trying to stay calm and emotionless never works as grief, anger and sadness are just too strong to keep locked in. Sooner or later these emotions will burst through and, in the end, it’s these emotional outburst that helps us stay sane and our way of helping move the process of grief along.

It must be difficult for those who cannot do this because their profession requires them to remain calm and focused. Emotions just gets in the way of doing the job required. I don’t envy these individuals and at the same time respect their courage to go through it day in and day out in whatever way they can to stay sane.

Portraitist of the Dead

She always has mourning clothes with her. That way, she can begin a portrait as soon as a request comes in.

And so it is today.

Having slipped into her mourning dress in the shed on the pier, she boards the downstream ferry. Her hands are full: one holds the case with her painting tools and the other the garment bag for her mourning dress.

She has heard that a rich man lies dying in a town twenty kilometers downstream.

Her name is Rosa.

“It’s a race against time,” she says with a grim smile. “I have to start as soon as possible, before the face changes.”

“Changes how?” Kaim asks.

“It’s hard to say.”

There is a deepening strain to Rosa’s smile.

“But I know it when I see it – when the person has gone from ‘this side’ to the ‘other side’.”

“Once they’ve gone over, I can’t paint them – at least not in the way that will please the family. It just can’t be done.”

Rosa is a professional portraitist of the dead.

The custom of preserving death masks is now widely practiced in this area. Families too poor to hire an artist daub the face of the newly deceased with dye and preserve the loved one’s deathbed expression on a cloth pressed against the dyed face. Some families make a death mask with plaster. Only the wealthiest families can afford to hire a professional like Rosa, so that lurking in the background of an individual’s death there can be a variety of disputes.

“I have heard families quarreling over the inheritance behind my back even as I sit there sketching the dead person. One widow presented my portrait of her husband to the court to prove that he had been poisoned. Another time, some loan sharks waited until the moment the man died and charged right into the house. One husband tried to spit in his wife’s face as soon as she gave up the ghost. Apparently, she had been unfaithful to him for years.”

Rosa tells her stories with utter detachment. She reveals no emotion at all.

This, she says, is indispensible to be becoming an outstanding portraitist of the dead.

“You have to open your sketchbook and get your brushes going with the bereaved family members right there, overcome with grief. There’s no way you can produce a good portrait if you become emotional or allow yourself to be swept up in emotions of the other people in the house.”

Kaim responds with a silent nod.

His only connection with the woman is to have boarded the same boat and sat at the same table. Only a few minutes have passed since she started volunteering her stories, but that is all it has taken for Kaim to perceive the hint of nihilism lurking in her beautiful features.

“The more respectable artists despise painters like me.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, half of them accuse us of making our living from people’s deaths. The other half look down on us for not being moved by what we do. I see their point. I mean, the emotions are what give rise to all the arts, whether it’s painting, sculpture, music, or literature. We don’t have emotions like that: we’re nothing but craftsmen.”

Rosa speaks without a hint of either self-mockery or pride.

Her tone suggests that she is merely stating the obvious in an obvious way.

Kaim takes a sip of his rye whiskey, and Rosa drinks from her rose-petal tea.

The boat makes its leisurely way downstream.

The season is spring.

The river is high with snowmelt, and white water birds have settled on its surface.

“Strange,” Rosa says with a giggle, “when I first saw you, I thought you and I must be members of the same profession. Which is why I took the initiative to speak to you…”

Kaim gives her a strained smile. He knows nothing about painting and he is fairly certain there is nothing about his appearance that would cause him to be mistaken for an artist.

It well could be, however, that in the profile of this man drinking whiskey alone in the afternoon Rosa has recognized the hue of nihilism like her own.

Or then again, she might have perceived the shadow of ‘the other side’ clinging fast to Kaim’s back.

Until a few days ago, Kaim was on a battlefield.

There, he witnessed the killing of many enemies and many allies.

But he was unmoved by any of it.

Such youthfulness had long since vanished from him.

Though outwardly unchanged, Kaim has lived through several centuries.

Rosa says that she is in her mid-thirties and in her tenth year since becoming a portraitist of the dead, which apparently puts her near the beginning of her career.

“If you wouldn’t mind,” she adds, “I have a few more things I’d like to discuss with you.”

When Kaim nods silently in compliance, Rosa thanks him and gives him her first heartfelt smile of the day.

Portraitists of the dead are never present while the subject is dying. The very fact that such a professional has been called means that the person’s death is imminent. And so theirs is seen as a presence of ill omen and even defilement.

A family member or friend who has been at the bedside dares to broach the subject quietly in another room.

“Don’t you think it may be time to call the painter?”

The answer—whether “Too soon for that” or “I think you may be right”—is delivered in guarded tones.

Introduced to the family by the church, the portraitist never enters the house by the front door. Rather, he or she goes around to the back and is shown to the room where the sun cannot penetrate. There, the painter changes into mourning clothes and waits for the announcement of the death.

Eventually, a quiet knock on the door is followed by a summons to appear, and the painter dressed in mourning sets to work.

Not all deaths occur at the end of long lifetimes, of course. All too often the painter must depict the face of one who has died young of illness or accident.

The face that emerges in the artist’s sketchbook radiates the delicate vivacity of the one who has just crossed the border dividing life from death, one who has only moments before transitioning from ‘this world’ to the ‘other world’.

The work presented to the family is an oil painting done from the sketch, but Rosa believes the sketch itself is a far more authentic portrait of the dead.

“There is nothing quite like the atmosphere in a room where someone has just died. How to put it? It’s as though the flow of time has stopped, or time itself has melted into the very air… the sobbing and the wailing sound as if they might last forever, the only movement of time in all this being the way the face of the dead person emerges little by little onto the blank white page of the sketchbook.”

She hands him her thick sketch pad.

“See,” she says, showing him countless faces of the dead.

“This is two years’ worth.”

Many of the faces are peaceful, but others are full of agony, and all without exception possess a mysterious presence. They differ unmistakably from faces in sleep. Neither, however, do they look dead. They seem as if they might open their eyes at any moment or just as easily crumble to ash.

They hover, men and women alike, on the very brink of death.

“After the body has cooled, it’s too late. It’s also too late if the family has begun making its preparation for the funeral. The game is won or lost in those very few minutes follow the death itself. All we can do is start sketching – as efficiently and expeditiously as possible.”

With a painful smile, Rosa adds, “In the eyes of the family, though, that makes me a cold-hearted woman.”

Kaim turns the pages of her sketchbook, saying nothing.

He would like to tell her that it is the same on the battlefield. There, no one has time to mourn the death of a soldier. If you’re busy shedding tears instead of doing the next thing you have to do, you end up being one of those forced to travel to the other world.

The final sketch in the book is unfinished:

The face of a young girl.

The general outlines of the hair and face are sketched in, nothing more.

Kaim looks questioningly at Rosa.

“My daughter,” she says softly.

“But why…?”

“A portrait painter of the dead reaches full maturity in the position when she is able to paint a member of her own family. Which only makes sense, I mean, how self-serving is it if you can be coldly objective toward the death of a stranger but not toward a member of your own family?”

Her daughter died two years ago, the girl’s three short years of life brought to a sudden end by a bad flu that was making the rounds.

“I was holding her hands almost until the moment she died,” Rosa says, “I was in tears, calling her name and pleading with her to come back to me, not to die.”

After the doctor looked at her with a shake of his drooping head, though, Rosa relaxed her daughter’s hands and opened her sketch book. Wiping her tears she picked up her pencil and tried to sketch her daughter’s face.

“But I couldn’t do it. The tears came pouring out of me no matter how much I wiped them. I simply couldn’t work.”

Kaim turns his gaze on the unfinished sketch again.

Some areas of the white paper are wavy – perhaps where Rosa’s tears had fallen.

“I guess I’m not qualified to be a portraitist of the dead,” she says with a smile, glancing down at the river.

“But still… if I had to choose one work of art to leave behind, this would be it”

The boat gives a blast of its steam horn.

Frightened, the birds on the river leap into the air in a great mass.

Kaim closes the sketchbook and returns it to Rosa.

He considers complimenting her on the excellence of the drawing, but chooses silence instead. Such praise, he feels, could be a sign of disrespect for her work, for Rosa herself, and for her daughter.

“I didn’t mean to bend your ear like this,” she says, “I’m sorry.”

She stands and peers at Kaim once again.

“Really, though, you look like a member of my profession.”

Kaim gives her a strained smile and shakes his head.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” she responds with a strained smile of her own.

“And you probably won’t like my saying this, either, but please call me if you ever need a portraitist of the dead.”

“I won’t need one,” Kaim says, “I have no family.”

“No family? Well, then, when your own time comes…”

With a little chuckle, Rosa leaves. Her right hand grasps the case with her painting supplies; her left, the garment bag with mourning clothes.

Unfortunately, Kaim will never need her services. He will not—cannot—go to the ‘other’ world just yet.

On the long, long road of his life, how many deaths must he encounter?

The steam horn blasts again.

The boat gradually lowers its speed and edges toward the river bank.

The landing draws closer.

When he leaves the boat, his journey will begin again.

It will be a long journey.

The next battlefield lies far beyond the mountains that tower in the distance.

End