Metal Time – Still Life by Opeth

Back in 1999, progressive metal heroes in a band called Opeth released an album. That album was not the first I heard from them (That honor goes to 2008’s Watershed), but it has become a favorite example of their work for me. I especially like listening to this one while writing.

Why a death metal album?

Why Still Life?

There are a few reasons. First and foremost, I suppose, I like the sound. This is a nebulous reason for me, because I don’t really understand music. I only enjoy what I enjoy. I find it difficult to put into words why some sounds work for me and others do not work as well.

Second, as with many of my favorite albums, Still Life is a concept album. It tells a story. As a death metal album, this story is thoroughly dark and bleak. But the story is there, and connects the songs into a single theme. I find that enjoyable.

What really struck me yesterday, however, was the lyrics. That’s the third reason.

Now, lyrics for an album where half the words are growled or roared, may sound silly, and to some degree that is true. I actually have looked up the lyrics, because the ones I could decipher have stuck with me.

Having peered into that particular abyss, I was reminded of a moment from my education as a writer.

I was a senior in high school, and taking a class at the local collage, Introduction to Creative Writing, taught by a poet who would not terribly long later receive some recognition for his work, Matt Rasmussen.

In class he said something, the meaning of which I never forgotten even if the exact words are difficult to recall.

He told the class that most songs don’t have great poetry for lyrics, because poetry and music require different qualities to succeed.

I agree with him in-general, but recalled his words yesterday as I looked over the lyrics for Still Life.

I concluded that the lyrics for these songs are, in-fact, pretty good poetry. Lots of variance in word-choice, and tons of tonal flavor just in the text alone. Anyway, this is not really a review. This is a gushing praise of something I adore.

Still Life, by Opeth. If you like death metal, have a listen.

Anyway, I have other words to hammer on today.

Thanks for reading.

Tenlyres Chapter 18

Previously…
Ilsa and Blue have joined with the Keeper of Tenlyres, who it is their mission to protect.
The Keeper has demonstrated knowledge of the Lyres and a mystical ability to heal wounds.
However, the forces of the Ayoch have surrounded them, and trapped them beneath the Central Lyre, along with a surviving force of Oshomi nomads. The siege is nearly over.
Escape is now or never.

Previous Chapter

Buy Tenlyres I on Amazon.com!

Tenlyres II - Chapter 18 lq

Ilsa and Lemuel climbed the tunnel until they reached the place near the top, where Blue crouched, peering over the rise at the steppe outside. Blue looked over her armored shoulder at them. “I don’t know what they’re waiting around for. They second army got here the same day as the Red Lector himself.”

She recalled the conversation she had overheard in the plant pile when Ferdinand had shown up at Palend’s manor. “Some of them work for the Gray Lector, and whoever that is, he isn’t allied with the Red Lector.”

“Lectors this, Lectors that,” said the flat voice of Siuku, the Keeper of Tenlyres, from behind Ilsa. “What cares do we have for the names they give themselves.”

Blue raised her eyebrows at Ilsa. The question on Blue’s face did not require mental powers to convey.

Ilsa nodded to the Keeper. “It could inform our strategy.”

“Divide and conquer, children,” said Blue with relish.

Siuku’s cold red gaze moved to Blue’s face, her expression unreadable behind her veil. “None of us are children.”

“It’s an expression of simplicity.” Lemuel frowned past Blue at the lines of Ayochian tents, now encircling the lyre. He looked up at the gleaming metal strings of the lyre. “Keeper, do you know which strings open which passages in the lyre?”

“Yes. But if we open more surface passages we will only have to guard them as well.”

“What about passages that go deeper into the lyre?” asked Ilsa.

“Few Keepers have ever gone below the highest chamber.”

“But it is possible, right?”

“Yes, priestess. It is possible, but it is dangerous.”

“Dangerous? Why?” She frowned. The possible dangers below could not be worse than the armies surrounding them already.

Siuku closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Our people tell stories of creatures trapped beneath the lyres, imprisoned there just after the beginning by the ancient spirits.”

“Wait,” said Ilsa. “The First Book of Hathani talks about something similar before the departure of the gods.”

“Perhaps your city writers are not all wrong. We call them Uzan, among our people, evil beasts that warred with the first of our people, when the spirits walked among us.”

“Suppose they’re down there. How could they survive underground for thousands of years?” Blue asked.

“Such creatures are not mortal in the stories,” said Siuku.

“But they might just be a myth,” said Lemuel.

“I don’t know about myth, but all living things die eventually,” said Ilsa.

“How optimistic.” Blue grimaced. “Got any other ideas to cheer me up?”

Ilsa shrugged. “We could wait underground until they starve us out. Then we would just lose everything while we smell our own filth.”

Blue’s red-rimmed eyes blinked. “Is that a joke?”

“I mean, we have to do something.” Ilsa turned to Siuku and Lemuel. “Right?”

“Agreed.” Siuku’s brow furrowed. “In fact. If we open all the passages, we might be able to use that confusion to escape when the Uzan emerge.”

“If they emerge,” said Lemuel.

“Scholar, do not doubt my words. They are below us, not far below now.” Siuku turned to the three Oshomi who had been keeping watch with Blue. “Go and prepare everyone to ride.”

“But the Uzan—,” said one of the men.

Ilsa shook her head. “They may be able to live forever, but I’ve never met any monster that couldn’t be killed.” She produced the pistol from one of her bonds. “Send up our steeds when it’s time to move,” she said.

The man bowed to Siuku. She nodded to them in reply. He and the other two Oshomi followed the passage down into the chamber below.

Ilsa did not like the implication of opening the lyre, but what other choice did they have? She peered over the slope of the passage, searching the Ayochian line for where they might keep their prisoners. Cass and Ferdinand and the Oshomi the Red Lector had captured were hopefully still alive. Either way, Ilsa has a debt to repay all of them, especially her fellow priestess.

She found a tent a few back from the line, directly across from the place where the far arch of the lyre connected to the base of the platform. Her eyes narrowed as she squinted, but she couldn’t pick out any sign of her friends.

Blue put a hand on her shoulder. “They’re there,” she said. “How did you know?”

“Lucky guess.”

Her friend whistled. “Let’s hope that luck holds.”

Hoofbeats and thumps of feet on stone announced the arrival of Siuku’s horse, Hailek, and Blue’s strider. Tirica Chollush rode in Blue’s saddle. She had recovered well after Siuku had sealed her wound, though days without sunlight had left her paler than before.

Ilsa turned to face the strings. “Everyone, get ready to ride. I’m about to open the gates.”

 

Ilsa drew her second pistol and loaded it, then crept up from the passage, staying low. The light of midday sun glimmered on the strings and felt warm on her skin. Winter might be truly over, Ilsa thought as she looked back and forth, scanning the Ayochian camp for signs of anyone watching. She saw none. She pressed her back against the wall beside the passage and aimed down her pistol’s barrel at the strings.

“Hit every string, and the lyre should open,” said Siuku from the passage.

Ilsa grunted and trained the pistol on the string farthest from her. The reflection of a scope glinted in the camp beyond the black stone of the lyre. She threw herself to one side, pistol free of her trigger guard. A bullet whined off the wall where she had just been crouched, high-velocity long distance round with Morhoenese propellant judging by the sound and smell.

“What the hell was that?” said Lemuel.

“Someone’s been waiting to take a shot,” said Ilsa without looking back. She stepped into the silhouette of the lyre’s arch, hoping the sniper wouldn’t have friends already lining up a shot in the blind spot. A low chuckle came from behind her and to the right. Ilsa whirled, one gun forward, the other still pointed at the strings.

A skinny black girl with frizzy hair stood beside the passage, her back to the stone and a pistol in one hand, aimed at Ilsa. She put her index to her lips, a shushing gesture.

“They call themselves the Brothers of the Black Desert,” said the girl in a Chogrumian accent. “Master Black Powder likes them.”

Ilsa scowled as she heard her father’s pseudonym among the mercenary companies. “Black Powder?”

The girl smirked. “Ozleji said you seemed not to like your father. Truth is, I really don’t care.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Melinda. I’m Black Powder’s best apprentice yet. He’s never seen anyone shoot like me.” She twitched her wrist. A trigger clicked just as Ilsa started to move, but she couldn’t predict the direction of Melinda’s shot. The bullet hit the pistol Ilsa had aimed at Melinda in its back, just above Ilsa’s wrist and tore the weapon from her grip. The pistol skittered away across the lyre.

Ilsa snarled and swung the other pistol to fire at the girl. She’s a mercenary, obviously employed by Ayoch, like Ozleji Sammhar had been. Before Ilsa could fire a second bullet from Melinda’s pistol hit her in the back of the hand. She grunted in pain, but the gun’s barrel moved to within inches of Melinda’s young face. Where she meant to pull the trigger she could not find the strength in the needed fingers, and they remained stiff.

“Shit,” said Ilsa.

“Muscular toxins in the round. Paralyzes a local area around the bullet.” Melinda smiled, her pistol pressed into Ilsa’s chest. “I told him I was better than you.”

“You mean, my father?”

“Who else, silly?” The girl smiled at Ilsa, teeth bright and white. “I knew you would come out eventually and I’d get my chance to prove it.” Melinda cackled with laughter and lowered her pistol from Ilsa’s heart. She backed away onto the open side of the lyre. “Come on now, Ilsa, be good and follow me. I promise the boys won’t shoot you before I do.”

The pain in Ilsa’s wounded hand ran through her nerves like fire. She was used to bullets and blades, but the toxins hurt worse than that. Her mind pulsed with pain. She pressed her hand to the wall near the passage with a gasp. She normally did not keep her guns loaded because the bullets could detonate when summoned improperly through a bond. But in one hundred heartbeats Ilsa would have her chance to try it if this girl didn’t shoot her first.

“Ilsa, what’s going on out there?” asked Lemuel asked from the passage. “Blue says she can’t sense anyone else.”

“There’s a weapon bond out here. Stay where you are.”

“Don’t try reaching into your spirit, Ilsa,” said Melinda. “I won’t let you pull out another gun.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you won’t.” Ilsa gritted her teeth and stalked toward Melinda, still leaning on the wall with her open hand.

Less than fifty heartbeats to go.

Melinda laughed and waved Ilsa out into the open. She glimpsed a second scope in the light of day. She looked to be dead, even if she beat this girl. Forty heartbeats to go. Ilsa shuddered on her feet.

“My father trained you too, is that it?”

“I’m no liar. I’m the best he’s ever trained.”

“I haven’t met a lot of his other students.” Ilsa mustered up the strength to force her grimaced into a smile. She faced Melinda.  Twenty heartbeats. “He barely talked about the others when he trained me.”

“Well, he’ll be here soon. Not sure if he’ll be happy to find you dead. But I have a feeling he’ll forgive me.”

“You’re a bit of work.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Melinda’s lip curled.

Five heartbeats.

Both of Melinda’s pistols aimed at Ilsa. Four. Ilsa rolled her eyes. Three. “I’m not your rival.”

Two heartbeats left.

Melinda’s fingers inched toward the trigger. “Time to go, Ilsa.”

One heartbeat left.

Ilsa clenched her open hand.

Zero.

She focused on the image of the pistol just as it had been, a firearm with a loaded magazine full of Dalite 5.6 millimeter rounds. Every detail, every piece of information about her ammunition swam in her head. Yes, she had never done this, but no, it was not impossible. She felt the pistol in her hand, stable, whole.

She let the strength leave her legs and gravity carried her to the stone of the lyre, even as she swung her arm up to fire. Melinda’s pistols roared and the bullets flew over Ilsa’s head. A gun cracked in the distance and a bullet ricocheted off the side of the lyre’s arch a few meter’s away from Ilsa and Melinda.

Her own bullet cut into Melinda’s shoulder. Melinda staggered to one side. “Better than I thought,” she said.

From Ilsa rolled to one side and fired again. The bullet slashed across Melinda’s long gray sleeve, cutting the cloth without drawing blood as the girl darted the other way.

Ilsa glared and staggered up to her feet. Melinda turned as if to keep shooting but then hesitated. Ilsa lurched toward her. Another sniper round cut the air, which made Ilsa step to one side to avoid it. The bullet missed. She didn’t think the snipers were aiming at her anymore. A loud note resounded in the air. Melinda and Ilsa stood, breathing hard, guns extended toward each other.

The sound of the lyre drifted beautifully through the air. Melinda stepped back from Ilsa.

“Black Powder—Master!” She called.

Ilsa turned toward the strings. A man in a black coat stood between the strings, points a long-barreled pistol with a cylindrical silencer around its barrel in each direction. Each time he fired, the bullets rang another note. Henry Vel, Black Powder, played every note on the Central Lyre. He raised his head and smiled at Ilsa through his carefully trimmed beard.

“Thank you for the assistance in finding how to play the lyre,” he said. “It’s good to see you, daughter.”

Ilsa glared at him, eyes burning. She raised her pistol to aim at her father. He had this coming, as he had for a long time. He holstered his twin black pistols in slings designed for their silencers.

Her eyes ran with tears of rage. “I should kill you.”

“If you want, give it a try,” he said. “But the lyre is about to open.”

The ground trembled beneath her and Ilsa realized his words were true.

Tenlyres Chapter 16

Previously…
Ilsa and Blue have traveled across the plateau of Yr and found the Keeper of Tenlyres.
They and their allies have fought their way through the lines of the Red Lector, but allies have been left behind.
This is the final chapter of Part 1 of Tenlyres, but the story is far from over. Part 2 begins here on May 20th.

Previous Chapter

The strider’s wooly hair blew in the cold breeze, a breeze that carried the smells of blood and powder to Ilsa’s nose. Streaks of pink granite radiated from the edges of the Central Lyre’s base, and she followed one of them to the ramp that led to the inverted arch of the lyre.

Behind her in the saddle, Lemuel cradled his sister’s head in his shrunken hand. His other hand was pressed to her bloodstained side.

“How is she?” Ilsa asked.

“Her wound is serious.” Lemuel sagged forward so his forehead touched Ilsa’s shoulder. He spoke into her ear. “We need shelter, as soon as we can get inside.”

Her face flushed from the heat of battle and from having his hands pressed to her heart. She nodded, then turned toward the Keeper of Tenlyres. The veiled Oshomi woman sat in her horse’s saddle at the center of some thirty riders who had managed to break through the line.

The Keeper’s red eyes scanned her remaining comrades, then locked on Ilsa’s gaze, still fresh from her tears. Cass had been there for her this time. The Keeper said nothing for a long moment, then turned toward Blue.

“Mind eater,” she said in the steppe’s common language. “Let me join you.”

Ahead of Ilsa, Blue guided her strider to the strings that hung from the stone arch of the lyre overhead. Blue’s shoulder slumped with weariness, but she did not appear hurt beyond her fatigue. Ilsa rode to a stop beside Blue, under the arch. “If the Lyre really is hollow, how do we get inside?”

“The lyre will show us the way,” said the Keeper in her flat voice. “Have patience.”

Ilsa looked over her shoulder, past Lemuel and Tirica, at the lines of the Red Lector where the sounds of gunfire were beginning to diminish. Her eyes narrowed. She prayed Cass would survive, and Ferdinand too.

“Do not fear, priestess. I told my people to surrender once we broke through.” The Keeper craned her neck and looked up a the crosspiece where the lyre’s strings looped around rings of black stone. “Your friends will be safe, and soon we will free them.”

“Confidence,” said Blue. “I like that.”

“Keeper,” said Lemuel with sweat on his brow, “My sister is hurt.”

“I have eyes, scholar.” The Keeper said the words with her usual lack of inflection. “I will see to her once we are inside.” She reached out gingerly and touched a metallic string of the lyre. The string did not move, stiff and tough as the unbreakable stones around them. “Priestess.” The Keeper’s gaze moved to the submachine gun in Ilsa’s hand. “Your weapon.”

Ilsa frowned at the strings of the lyre. She reached out with the barrel of her gun and carefully flicked the fire mode selector to semi. The weapon’s barrel brushed a static metal string on either side, the two closest together on the lyre and pointed northward, away from the battle.

“Good,” said the Keeper. “Now hold it steady and fire. Once.”

Ilsa squeezed the trigger. Her tired arm shuddered with the recoil, but not so much she couldn’t hold the weapon steady. The bullet sailed away and the strings vibrated, to form a single low note. The note rumbled on as the sound of the gunshot faded from Ilsa’s ears. Her eyes flicked from one end of the lyre’s arch to the other.

All strings stilled, but the note of the two she had played with her gunshot lingered, echoed, thundered in the air. Ilsa’s heartbeat quickened. Behind her, Lemuel cried out in surprise. She looked back. He pointed toward one side of the lyre’s arch with his shrunken hand, jaw slack. The stone shifted, melted, reformed into a passage large enough for a strider to pass. The passage led downward.

“Now.” The Keeper’s voice contained no emotion. The riders guided their steeds through the tunnel in the stone. Ilsa and Blue followed the Keeper in last. The solitary note she had played on the strings faded completely from the air as they entered the passage.

And downward they rode on a spiraling slope of black stone. Yet within the tunnel, there was light. Veins of pale pink crystal glowed with weak illumination that cast the shadows of riders and horses along the walls. The air in the tunnel was warm. Weariness descended on Ilsa as they rode out into a vast cavern a few moments after they began their descent.

The ceiling ran with the same pink crystalline lights as the walls of the passage. Still, shadows stretched at the sides of the huge chamber.

The Keeper’s voice echoed from ahead of them. “We rest here.”

With care, Ilsa helped Lemuel carry Tirica down the climbing line from the saddle to the floor of the cavern. She was about to climb down herself when Hailek gave a grunt of exhaustion and settled onto his haunches. Ilsa slid down his back. The strider laid down his head.

Ilsa patted his side. “Rest, my friend,” she murmured.

Blue’s strider lay down beside Hailek. Blue dismounted. She walked over to Ilsa and Lemuel and Tirica. She looked back toward the tunnel they had come through. It gave no sign of sealing behind them.

“Someone needs to guard our exit,” Blue said.

Ilsa nodded to Blue.

Her friend put a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll do it.” Her eyes moved to Tirica’s pale face and Lemuel hunched over her. “Help them.” Blue turned to a few nearby Oshomi. “Hey, that door isn’t going to guard itself.”

The Oshomi exchanged glances, then dismounted, and followed Blue back up the passage.

“Stay safe,” said Ilsa, “Blue.”

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Blue sent back mentally. Ilsa halfway smiled at that.

The Keeper of Tenlyres walked over to Ilsa, moving slowly on foot. Her horse followed a short distance behind her, apparently just as eager to serve with the wound across its back as without. Ilsa looked at the Keeper’s red eyes, then motioned to Tirica.

“I’ll do what I can.” The Keeper unfastened a tie that held up her veil. When Ilsa saw the face the thin cloth had been hiding, she gasped. The Keeper’s features were Oshomi, clearly, but also strangely Dalite. She bore the kind of fine features Ilsa always associated with her mother.

Mother’s words returned to her from before she started this ride. “Beast daughter,” she whispered.

The Keeper’s red eyes met Ilsa’s, equally surprised. “Siuku has that meaning in my language. How did you know my name?”

“My mother has hallucinations—Visions. She sees a horse with a human face. Your face.”

“And she calls this spirit her beast daughter.”

“Yes.”

The Keeper knelt down beside Tirica. Her strange face fell into shadow and she spread her hands over the wound in the girl’s side.

Lemuel hovered over his sister, still crouched low. “Can you help her?”

“She is hurt deep. It will take time to heal.” The Keeper pressed her hands to the bloody wound and closed her eyes. She said nothing, did not appear to move, but light began to pour from her hands. Tirica shuddered and groaned. Lemuel hunched toward her. She opened her eyes at the same time as the Keeper.

“Lemuel,” she said. “Where am I?”

“Safe,” he said. “We made it.”

Tirica looked down at her wound. The Keeper’s hands remained pressed to the bloody coat.

“Tired,” Tirica said. She settled her head back on the stone and closed her eyes.

“Rest,” said the Keeper. “You will recover.” She took her hands from Tirica’s side and then stood up.

Ilsa frowned at her. “How did you do that?”

“The spirits of this place are not mysterious to me. That is what it means to be the Keeper of Tenlyres.”

“Siuku,” Ilsa said, “That’s your name.”

“Yes.” The Keeper faced Ilsa. She spread her arms and then wrapped them around Ilsa in a firm embrace. “Thank you for your help, priestess.”

“My mission isn’t over.”

“I know.”

“We will fight together again, Ilsa Barrett.”

“I want to know the truth. Why can my mother see your face?”

“Some things are mysterious, even to me.” The Keeper’s horse snorted behind her. “For now, we must survive.”

Ilsa put her arms around the Keeper and hugged her back. “Thank you. I’m sorry about the chief.”

“Duruko was a warrior. The spirits will guide him to his rest.” Yet there were tears in the Keeper’s eyes when she withdrew from their embrace. “Be kind to my people.” She walked away from Ilsa, toward the Oshomi who had made it from the camp to the lyre.

Lemuel straightened his back and turned to Ilsa. He said nothing but held his small hand in his ordinary hand. There were tears in his eyes too.

She walked to his side. “We must be the first city-dwellers to stand in a place like this in a long time.”

He looked at her with an exhausted but genuine smile. “It’s shame we probably won’t get out of it.”

“Don’t worry about that.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Right now, we have the present.”

“You sound like your friend.”

Ilsa frowned. “Blue talks a lot.”

“And she’s right a lot too.” Lemuel touched her hand. He sank down beside his sister.

Ilsa sat down beside him. “You think so?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“And you know what?” Ilsa shook her head. “I may agree with you.”