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Raindrops hurtle towards her, burst and stream down the glass pane. She stands on the inside, watching the cityscape languish into a bleary painting. The skyline is washed away under gray strokes, but whenever slashes of silvery fire fracture the sky, the skyscrapers unveil themselves fleetingly in the space between the raindrops. She is obsessed with storms. Here they are winds coursing through veins of a metropolis to purge defiled air and thunders convulsing concrete bones to quell urban dissonance.
She tears herself away from the window and crawls back into bed, sidling close enough to feel the warmth radiating from his body without rousing him – outside the city is getting colder. His chest swells and sinks to steady oscillations, she watches, synchronising her breaths to his, musing over each passing second.
An interminable journey chases, place to place, century to century. She is by now no stranger to the absurdity of her existence, but when circumstances necessitate the loss of a lover, or her life, old scars aggrieve into fresh wounds.
She recalls how the wandering swordsman swore to free her from the okiya. They had hatched a plan to elope, settle in the county up north, where he would open a dojo to teach kenjutsu and she would help him run the school. She entrusted him with all the gold and pearls her wealthy patrons had lavished on her, but at the riverbank, he never turned up.
Then there was the other time the emperor orchestrated her death. She was an offering to appease his army, a pawn in his elaborate plot designed to subjugate an impending rebellion. “It has to be you,” he said, with tears glazing his cold eyes. She was his favorite consort, he had claimed, but traded her life for the dragon throne.
The chain of incarnations stretches back too far for her to remember every name she had existed in. But storms spilling from the firmament smells like home. She remembers the roots of her existence: her earliest name echoing in soaring domes, the whitish otherworldly light in the atmosphere, the tenderness of feathers enveloping her body, her foray into forbidden love, and the excruciating pain erupting into her flesh when they severed her wings.
Pei Wen grew up in Taiwan and is based in Singapore. When she is not writing, she can be found watching Chinese dramas or reading ancient Chinese poetry.