Red Like Roses Pt. II (Acoustic/Orchestral)


My cover of Ruby’s second theme song from RWBY.

While the original is made with extremely strong and fast rhythms and electronic instruments, I wanted to make a version which conveys the same emotions, but without a backing rhythm, and using only acoustic instruments. I would have used a female voice but this is the only one I have.

I think it turned out quite well, the weakest link being my vocals which are a little wavery. I may redub this in the future if my vocals improve.

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The Watcher

Loosely inspired by: [WP] “A watched pot never boils”, as the old saying goes. Throughout all of history there has always been at least one set of eyes on the ocean. Today, for a split second, everyone looking at the ocean looked away at the exact same time.


His eyes were weary.

The rain beat down on the ruins of a once-majestic castle. It seemed to be hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old. It stood at the top of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. Once in a while, a rock would fall from the crumbling towers, to splash in the water far below.

He sat atop the highest tower, alone. Watching.

He was the last of the Order, now. Gerard had not arrived to serve his watch, and twenty hours had passed since. It had not been unexpected, really; the both of them had been close to eighty years of age. The prospect had loomed over their heads for twenty years. Ever since Michael passed away, the two remaining members of the Order had been forced to keep watch in shifts, neither of them able to leave to spread the cause. Not that it mattered. The Order was viewed as a cult by most of the world. Their teachings were so strange, so alien, that very few were inclined to take them seriously. Their last disciple, forty years ago, had left after less than a week.

But the fact remained that the Order was the key to the survival of the world. In ages past, during the first Creation War, the multitudes of demons had been first defeated and sealed in a prison of light. The prison did not hold, and evil was let loose upon the world. This time, the Authority sealed them in a prison of fire. But they absorbed the fire, rebelling once again, growing smarter and stronger. The Third Creation War had been hard-fought, and Good had nearly lost. But this time, the demons were sealed in a prison of rock and water, to fetter their movements and quench their fire. And finally, the threat was contained. However, the demons were powerful; given time, their flames would overcome the water that restrained them. And so the Authority made Man, to watch over the demons and ensure that they would never escape.

Once, the Order had been the pinnacle of mankind. They were the bearers of its purpose, the reason for mankind’s existence. But over time this purpose had been forgotten, the Order shunned.

He was the last of them all.

And his eyes were weary.

He had not slept in thirty-two hours. The rain helped. The cold kept him alert, and each drop was a reminder of his duty.

He knew he could not keep this up forever. He was nearing the limits of his endurance, and even if he did not sleep for the rest of his life, he would eventually die of starvation, or old age.

He thought of the people he was protecting. All around the world, people were continuing with their daily routine, unaware of the great terror that would soon befall them. Somewhere out there, children were playing. Somewhere, lovers held each other under the shade of a tree, whispering to each other. Everywhere, people were living.

Mankind was doomed. But he was determined to hold out for as long as he could. Even for just an hour. Even for a minute. Although humanity had forsaken him, he would give all he had just to buy them another minute of blissful ignorance.

His eyes began to close. He knew it was happening, but try as he might, he could not get them to open again. His mind felt… looser. Unfocused.

His vision grew darker. He could see it happening. He could feel it. He hated it. But his mind was splintering from his body. He could almost feel them pulling apart, the loose threads of his consciousness stretching…

…thinning…

…breaking.

His head slumped forward. His eyes were closed.

For a moment, nothing happened.

There was a deep rumbling from below. The ground shook. People stopped what they were doing and glanced at each other, confused and fearful.

And the oceans began to boil.

Equal

The men’s rights movement (MRM) has had a significant amount of bad press. Men’s rights activists (MRAs) are routinely labelled toxic misogynistic nutjobs, and are commonly silenced by feminists, disrupted without the chance to even state their case.

Granted, there are blatant misogynists hiding under the banner of the men’s rights movement. These misogynists are responsible for most of the vitriolic attacks on women and women’s rights. However, these misogynists are just a vocal minority of those calling themselves MRAs.

The majority of MRAs hold substantiated, reasonable views, which are in line with the core ideals of feminism. Moderate MRAs’ views are distinct from those of the fringe MRA misogynists, and should not be treated as equivalent1. Generally speaking, while moderate MRAs agree with core tenets of feminism, they may disagree with specific aspects of its theory or implementation.

To illustrate this, I will enumerate two of the core issues the men’s rights movement raises.

Domestic Violence

Many feminists (or at least, those who influence policymaking) believe that domestic violence can only be committed by men against women, or else they believe that it constitutes the vast majority of cases. As a result, there are very few shelters accepting men compared to women. Shelters for men have been refused funding, and battered men have been ridiculed and blamed for the violence they suffered, or even accused of being the assaulters.

Although many studies show that a similar number of men and women are victims of domestic violence, many cling to the narrative that domestic violence is due to a patriarchal desire of men to exert power over women, and that women are incapable of committing similar violence. The Duluth Model of rehabilitation, the one most widely used in the world, assumes this from the outset, attempting to “re-educate” all men, and only the men, involved in domestic violence cases.

The MRM’s position is that although feminists have done a good job fighting domestic violence with regards to women victims, the flawed narrative around domestic violence discriminates against men2. Male victims are blamed for their partner’s violence, and are not provided safe refuge from their abusers. MRAs argue that this narrative must change, in order to protect all victims of domestic abuse, not just a subset.

False Rape Accusations

Rape is a horrible crime, and rapists should be severely punished. At the same time, being falsely accused of rape is also a terrible experience, whether or not it results in a false conviction. Feminists have pushed for rape law reforms, arguing that alleged rapists’ identities should be revealed, rape victims’ identities protected, and cross-examination of victims limited, in order to protect the victims from reliving their trauma. These policies would certainly increase the probability that rapists are convicted. However, implementing these policies necessarily also increase the probability of a Type I error (false conviction), in the event of a false accusation.

False accusations of rape can be extremely damaging to the accused. Terry Brown was forced to move his family into a tent in the woods, after suffering prolonged abuse by the public, even long after charges were cleared. He says he had rocks thrown at him while walking in the street, and could not go to the shops without being called a rapist. Although true accusations outnumber false ones3, the proportions are not so small that the possibility can be ignored altogether.

This sort of “guilty even though proven innocent” mentality is not isolated. Emma Sulkowicz continued her “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)” even after her alleged rapist had been cleared of wrongdoing twice over, and her allegations continued to be supported by many people, among them Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

The danger of false accusation increases on college campuses. In all colleges in the USA who receive federal funding, a 2011 ruling:

  • reduces the standard of evidence required to only a “preponderance of evidence” (50% confidence), rather than “beyond reasonable doubt” or “clear and convincing evidence”,
  • “strongly discourages” male students being given the right to question their accuser,
  • allows accusers to appeal verdicts, subjecting the accused to double jeopardy.

In the hands of a sufficiently intelligent malicious accuser, even completely innocent people can be found guilty, because they are unable to cross-examine the accuser’s statements, combined with the low standard of evidence. The accused may not even be allowed to know the identity of the accuser, and as a result are unable to gather extenuating evidence. In 2013, an unnamed student at Amherst College was expelled for rape, finally clearing his name in 2015 when he filed a lawsuit demonstrating that his hearings had been unfair and evidence purposefully withheld.

If it is made excessively easy to convict, not only does this mean that a high proportion of innocent people may be found guilty of rape, this may also result in an increase in false accusations. If false accusations become easy to pull off, and there are insufficient checks against it, more people will use them for their own purposes.

Rapists should be brought to justice, but this should not be at the expense of the innocent.

Silencing as a “Standard Response”

You may not agree with the above arguments. Perhaps the statistics I have read are misleading. Perhaps my facts are correct, but I have drawn incorrect conclusions. But are they so wrong, so offensive, so innately destructive that they must at all costs be silenced without even being heard?

It is true that misogynists masquerading as MRAs cause trouble online and in the real world, derailing discussions and disrupting discourse. Wanting to completely shut them out is perfectly understandable, and may even be the only viable course of action.

But, when a professor at the University of Ottawa tried to hold a lecture on men’s issues, what was the rationale behind silencing her? She was not disrupting an existing discussion, merely presenting her views on her own time, in her own venue. Shutting down her lecture was purely out of the desire to prevent her arguments from being heard. 

Were the protesters so insecure that they felt the need to parentalistically insulate the community from all alternate arguments? Did they think that current feminist ideology is flawless? Just because the protesters refuse to listen to others, doesn’t mean that their professed view is likely to be right. Silencing opposing viewpoints passes over opportunities to discover and correct flaws in beliefs. Because of this, if those protesters were in the habit of silencing opposing viewpoints, then, all else being equal, their arguments are in fact more likely to be wrong.

Furthermore, even if opponents are known to be wrong, silencing opponents will not change their minds, nor that of anyone who wants to listen to them. The combination of the Streisand effect and the underdog effect will only entrench their beliefs, and perhaps draw more people to their cause.

If progress is to be made, and the divide between feminists and the men’s rights movement healed, silencing must cease to be the knee-jerk response to rational dissent. Feminists and men’s rights activists have similar ideals, and working together would save a significant amount of time and blood pressure. But before that can happen, they must first be willing to listen to each other.


  1. This is often misconstrued as a “no true Scotsman” fallacy, which it is not. There are usually fringe, radical elements attaching themselves to any given cause. Just as “kill all men” radical feminists are not representative of feminism, and ISIS terrorists are not representative of Islam, so too fringe misogynists are not representative of the men’s rights movement. 
  2. Not all feminists agree with the narrative. Nevertheless, this is the narrative employed in most government-sanctioned programs and the narrative believed by a significant fraction of the population. 
  3. Most reliable sources quote values between 2% to 10%, although some estimates go up to 17% or even 65%

Apprentice

He was an adventurer. An explorer. An archaeologist with a knack for finding ancient secrets, retrieving them — and coming back, alive.

And he needed an assistant.

I was but a lowly fruit-seller in the town marketplace when Ulric came calling. And I knew that this was the moment that would change my life.

So here I am, creeping through the entrance hall to the crypt of Aygairo. It is famous in the surrounding villages, not only for the storied treasures hidden within, but also for its lethal traps. Many a bold youth has made the trek into the mountains to try their hand at Aygairo’s puzzles. A thousand years ago, he had been a rich king, but at the same time cunning and highly intelligent. The few explorers who survive return without their original fervour, and usually at least one limb. I am apprehensive, but hopeful, for I have something they did not. I have Ulric.

Ulric pauses, and holds up his hand. “Stop.” I halt immediately, a chill running down my spine. I had not seen any danger.

“Do you see these diamond tiles on the floor? These are pressure traps. Some will already have been triggered by animals or past explorers, but no sense taking chances. Step between them, or you won’t be long for life.” Ulric points, and I can vaguely see the diamond tiles in the half-light of his torch. I can also see some larger mounds and long, whitish objects lining the sides of the passageway. The stench along the hallway suddenly makes sense.

Ulric strides ahead, seeming to pay almost no attention to the ground beneath his feet. But I can see the subtle positioning of his feet, angling away from each trap. I do my best to follow in his footsteps, but I am clumsy, accidentally stepping on a few. Thankfully, they seemed to have already been triggered, and do not move.

The passage ahead zigzags, but the pressure traps are still present. I am getting better at navigating them, which is just as well, because the stench is diminishing, and I doubt that many of the traps at this point have already been neutralised.

At long last, we reach a door, and the end of the pressure traps. Rather, Ulric reaches a door, while I struggle to catch up. He kneels down and examines the stone mechanisms covering the door, while I make my way through the last few traps. Finally, I pass them. Exhausted, I lean against the walls, without thinking.

I feel the wall move under my weight. Gears grind and shift. Time slows down.

Oh shit.

Ulric’s quick reflexes save me. Before I had even grasped the situation, Ulric had already leapt up, and thrown us both to the ground. I lie there, stunned, as crossbow bolts fly over our heads.

When things have quietened down, he pulls me to my feet.

“Seriously kid, try to think a little before you get the both of us killed.” He shrugs. “But I guess that’s not too bad. I’ve done worse.” He returns to his examination of the door.

I can’t help but notice that while I am sweaty, dirty, and exhausted, Ulric is none of them. His leather armour is clean and polished, and his cloak straight and smooth. His hair is immaculate, and his face displays no fear, no hesitation, only a detached concentration on the task at hand.

“Ah,” Ulric says. He begins to adjust the mechanisms, pulling vines from some gears, and repositioning others. “What do you know of the history of King Aygairo?”

“He was a king long ago,” I reply. “He and his brothers ruled the world, and Aygairo was king of this region.”

“Mostly correct. They didn’t rule the world, just the continent of Aviurre. The brothers divided up the land after their conquest, and Aygairo, as the fourth and youngest brother, obtained the poorest land in the centre, far from the sea. As luck would have it, however, Aygairo discovered an enormous deposit of gold and precious metals right here in these mountains. He shared it with his brothers, and the sudden windfall helped all of Aviurre prosper.”

“I see.”

“So, when Aygairo was on his deathbed, he decided that he would share his wealth once again. However, his brothers had passed before him, so he decided he would share it with any of their worthy descendants. And so…”

Ulric smiles, and from his satchel, he pulls out a golden cube. It is covered in intricate symbols, and on one face, has deep ridges carved into it. And on each face, there is a single symbol overlaying everything else.

“The Avire family crest,” I say, surprised. “So you’re the worthy descendant?”

“No,” he says, laughing. “I took this from King Ayheaor’s burial site two years ago.”

Ulric fits the cube into part of the door’s mechanism, and turns it slowly, like a key. There is a low whirring as mechanisms turn and grind. The door does not open, but the wall to our side slides away, revealing a hidden passageway.

“This is a secret passageway, only for descendants of Avire, which bypasses most of the traps here. It was hinted at in the tablets I found, but it only just fell into place when I studied the door.” Ulric laughs. “I’m not really who it was intended for, but this is just so much easier, you know?”

We follow the passageway, which is safe for the most part, other than the occasional arrow trap, rockfall trap, or unexpected flight of descending stairs.

The passage widens, and opens into a large chamber.

“The final chamber,” Ulric says, holding up his torch. In the dim light, I see a golden door at the other end of the room. Even if there is no treasure behind it, the door itself would be worth several hundred fortunes. I feel my heartbeat quicken. We are close.

Ulric notices my excitement. “Not so fast,” he says. “The pathway is trapped.” I look closely, and see that he is right. Beginning halfway across the chamber, the floor is entirely made of traps. Unlike the entrance hall, where there were still spaces between traps, the diamonds here are completely tiled together. There is no safe way forward.

“Don’t worry. It’s actually not difficult to pass this chamber, according to the tablets. All you need to do is go over there and pull that lever.” Ulric indicates a lever on the right side of the room. “I’ll let you do it. Go on.”

I jog over. Near the lever, the floor changes from solid stone to wooden beams with gaps between them. If I lose my footing here, I could fall to my death. Yet, Ulric was right; this task is still surprisingly simple compared to all the other traps in the chamber.

I reach the lever, give Ulric a thumbs-up, and pull

motion

confusion

impact

Pain. Dizziness. Darkness.

I groan, and open my eyes. I am lying on cold stone.

Where am I?

I try to sit up, but my right shin screams in protest. I look, and it is mangled. Halfway down, the bone has been bent to almost a right angle, and bone is protruding through the skin. Blood flows freely. I retch.

I hear footsteps from above, and find the energy to look up. “Help,” I croak.

Ulric looks down at me.

“As I thought,” he says, speaking more to himself than to me. “This was a trap of temptation.”

I don’t care what kind of trap it is. “Help me. My leg is broken.”

Ulric pauses. “I can’t. There is no way back up.”

I stare at him, confused.

“No easy way, at least. You see, the way this crypt was designed was that plunderers would be given a glimpse of the treasure to sap their spirit. Although pulling the lever would indeed disable the traps, they would be dropped into another series of traps. To get to the treasure, they will need to find their way back to the treasure room a second time.”

“So you’re coming down and we’ll find our way back? Together?”

“Well… I could, I suppose.” Ulric flashes me a terrible, terrible grin. “But this is just so much easier, you know?”

I sit in shock as Ulric began to walk away. I hear metallic clangs and creaks as Ulric opens the golden door and slams it shut again.

Then there is silence, and I am slowly bleeding out on a cold, stone floor.

And I decide to take matters into my own hands.

I am the apprentice of Ulric Lanhart. Although he has abandoned me to die, I will survive. I will escape. I will train. And I will have my revenge.

With newfound determination, I drag my screaming body toward the nearest wall.

I grab a small outcrop, grunting as I pull myself upright.

I feel the wall move under my weight. Gears grind and shift.

Oh shit.


Inspired by: [WP] “I didn’t hire you because you would be valuable to our team. I hired you to DIE.”


A/N: In retrospect, not my best work. Written without planning, it turned out long-winded and unfocused:

  • Awkward transition from past to present tense at the beginning.
  • Initial plans for the gold cube key artifact were not used in the end, making it redundant.
  • Backstory of Aygairo et al. not properly thought out nor utilised.
  • Rapport between MC and Ulric not established sufficiently to make the betrayal effective.

Stagnation and Chaos

Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m stagnating. I wake up, go to my computer, study some, read some, write some, and maybe watch some videos. But my creativity feels stunted, and my writing uninspired. I achieve nothing and I go to sleep, to start over the next day.

What an absolute waste of time. Not only is it boring to be stuck like that, but nothing gets done, and there is no foreseeable exit from the cycle — it doesn’t seem like my life is within my control.

Two weeks ago, I had been competing against one of my brilliant to-be classmates in a programming competition, and I learnt a lot over the course of the week-long competition. But after that, I began to stagnate. I made one song cover in the first three days, and after that, nothing much. I’d fallen into the cycle.

Until yesterday. I met with a friend, went out for lunch and had some conversation, listened to music… Nothing of consequence, but somehow it managed to shake me out of the cycle. So here I am, today, breaking out of the cycle and making something new.

And I think I can explain why, and reliably break out of cycles of stagnation in the future.

Dynamical Model of the Mind

The mind is complex. We have myriad thoughts about a plethora of subjects, and similarly with our emotions. However, the configurations are bounded — there are not an infinity of subjects to think about, nor an infinite number of mental states. This follows from the finite size of the brain and the finite maximum information density of matter. Certain thoughts also tend to lead into certain other thoughts, reasonably predictably — thinking about an apple tends to lead only into thoughts about a very small number of related concepts such as “red”, “tree”, or “Isaac Newton” and is very unlikely to bring up thoughts about “river”, “fragmentation”,”municipality” or the near-infinite multitudes of things that have nothing to do with “apple”.

This naturally (to me, at least — due to my physics background) leads to a mental model of the mind as a dynamical system, where the state of the mind is represented as a single point in a n-dimensional space, where n is the number of distinct concepts that the mind in question could be thinking about. This dynamical system should probably be modelled as chaotic, due to the highly nonlinear and unpredictable nature of the brain. The dimensions in mindspace can probably also be modelled as continuous, due to the aforementioned nature of thoughts to link only to close-by thoughts, leading to some degree of adjacency. A mind, given a certain initial position (which corresponds to an initial configuration of thoughts), will then tend to move along trajectories in mindspace according to what thoughts are likely to be formed next from the current set of thoughts.

Attractors in Mindspace

Boredom or stagnation, then, occurs when the mind falls into an attractor within mindspace. It begins to cycle, to orbit or otherwise stay within a certain trajectory or subspace within mindspace. There may be some variation between orbits, but ultimately the mind’s trajectory is locked within the attractor — there does not exist, or exists very few, trajectories that the mind can take within mindspace that will lead it out of the attractor. In the absence of sufficiently large external input, the mind is unlikely to exit the attractor. It will be stuck and will repeat the same or similar thoughts until it is either able to exit, or the mind ceases to exist.

This is a familiar phenomenon with people who are addicted to a certain thing, for example computer gaming. The game is a sufficiently attractive prospect that the mind is dragged into it. The mind may leave due to the exigencies of food and water, but ultimately thoughts will flow back to the game.

And that’s fine. People can be perfectly happy living their lives while their minds only inhabit small set of thoughts. But I, for one, would not. I would hate to be there. While I might be happy in the short term, in the long term I would still be there — there is no potential for growth, for development. There is no meaning for me to find in an attractor.

Exiting Attractors

How, then, to exit an attractor? The model of the mind I am using is a dynamical system, and in a dynamical system, the evolution of the point’s position in time is dependent on the equations of the system, which in this case would be the environment and surroundings of the mind. For example, the thing drawing gaming addicts away from the game would be the body sending signals of hunger to the mind, each of which will tug the mind-point towards the “eat” thought. In essence, an “eat” attractor is created by hunger signals, until the hunger is sated at which point the “eat” attractor disappears. To exit the attractor, the equations of the mind must be changed to create a new, more attractive attractor, or to weaken the existing undesired attractor, or both.

One way that this may happen is boredom. Sometimes the mind notices that it is travelling the same old path, causing it to become bored. The mind’s trajectory will change slightly, because boredom is part of the mind’s state. Eventually, sufficient boredom may build up, leading the mind close enough to the fringes of the attractor until a path out is found. It can also be imagined as the attractor becoming shallower, until finally it becomes convex.

This is why people like variety. By injecting a small degree of variety, people are able to reduce boredom while having the same enjoyment they once did. For example, Bobby Fischer invented Chess960 in an attempt to switch up the chess metagame, in part because he was bored of seeing the same old openings every time (also because mediocre Russians were memorising openings and performing disproportionately well). Games like Pokemon also change game mechanics or introduce new ones, to revitalise players’ interest.

Deliberately Exiting Attractors

However, for a person trying to avoid stagnation, waiting for boredom to run its course may take too long, sometimes on the order of weeks, months, or years. How can a person speed things up?

The mind is not an isolated system; interaction with objects or other minds can change the mind’s position within mindspace. For example, a writer may find their creative well running dry. They cannot think of any new topics or ideas. They may decide to take a holiday, meet new people, read a book, or otherwise jump to a new position in mindspace, from which they can start anew with fresh ideas. They may even encounter new concepts they have not considered before, which will have the effect of adding completely new dimensions to their mindspace.

So to avoid boredom and stagnation, do something new. Find some new input that will jumpstart your thoughts out of the attractor.

Reading a piece of writing, for example, will help. In fact, writing something is essentially recording down a position or set of positions in mindspace in a manner such that the position can be located by another mind. By reading it, the mind will be able to move to that point, hopefully exiting the attractor.

Still Bounded

There is a problem, however.

Mindspace is finite. No matter what you do, your mind is ultimately stuck within the bounds of mindspace. Even if you are able to escape small attractors, your mind is still necessarily bound within this “final attractor” that is the entirety of mindspace. You may be able to expand mindspace, but it is not infinitely expandable, so given enough time there will always be a point in mindspace visited again and again and again (pigeonhole). Even within a normal amount of time, most of our lives may be being lived in a large attractor, though different people will have different periods of reoccurrence.

This has unfortunate implications for people searching for the meaning of life. People tend to think of themselves as free, but assuming that the mind is physical (i.e. souls do not exist — a very reasonable assumption to me), then any living being is certainly bounded by the limited information density of space. Any pursuit therefore must end. There is nothing that can be done for all eternity without repeating oneself. Anyone achieving immortality had better find some way to entertain themselves, because they’re going to be oh so very bored.

But as a mere mortal, I don’t think exploring every point in mindspace is an option for me. So I am happy to settle for being restricted to an attractor… so long as it is functionally infinite.