Tempest of Fate
by Lendren Starfall
Cast (in order of appearance)
General Leosin, Hidden Steel ........ insurrection leader and tactician
General Asa Spring-Born ....... insurrection leader and would-be Vernal
General Phell Gatewalker ............... insurrection leader and empath
Daoshen, The Tempest ............................. tyrannical conqueror
Storm Sentry Quire .................... sentry of the Citadel of Storms
Storm Sentry Exentre .................. sentry of the Citadel of Storms
Major Domo Sheeana ........ functionary of the Citadel of the Star Rose
Scene 1: Revolution
SCENE Battlefield: Taking up most of the stage, a canvas tent has been pitched, evidently as a makeshift war room. A lantern hangs from the highest point over a lightweight, portable table, atop which lie maps and scrolls showing plans of war. Outside the tent, the stage is mostly bare, though occasional sounds of troops drilling or the passing by of small groups of warriors show that the tent is in the middle of an army's encampment. A painted cloth drop hangs at the back of the stage, depicting rising, craggy, sparse terrain leading to an imposing, well-defended citadel.
ROLE Leosin (M): General Leosin, Hidden Steel
COSTUME LeosinCostume (Leosin): Though he takes pains with his posture to stand tall and try to look imposing, ultimately Leosin is thin, wiry, and almost scrawny, at least for an orclach. His most pronounced feature is his large nose, bent in the middle from a prior battle, resembling an axe-blade that was broken and badly repaired. His armour is painted vermillion, but heavy use has peeled back and gashed through the paint in many places, revealing steel smudged with dirt and blood. A great battleaxe strapped to his back seems like another aspect of his attempt to seem mighty, but on someone so willowy it seems more comical than menacing. Though he fails to impress with bulk, his movements are tightly controlled, precise, and convey deadly efficiency.
ROLE Asa (F): General Asa Spring-Born
COSTUME AsaCostume (Asa): Though it is clear Asa is an orclach woman, there is something to her features that suggests the best and most noble traits of both her own and other races of mortal shards, as if her heritage is somehow mixed, or she were sculpted by an artist who couldn't choose what race she would be until the very end. She is the tallest in her company, and also has the most bulk of muscle, seeming somehow more noble and more divine than anyone around her. She has flowing golden hair and keen, clear eyes of ice blue which miss nothing. Her armour shows the dents and wear of recent battle, but the logo of a star-shaped rose, etched into the bare steel on her chest, remains unsullied by any mark. The same image comprises the pommel of the vast greatsword that is strapped to her back. As she moves and speaks, she projects the confidence of a born leader, one who leads not by choice but as an unavoidable expression of her inner self.
ROLE Phell (F): General Phell Gatewalker
COSTUME PhellCostume (Phell): In any crowd of orclach, Phell could blend in and be forgotten, so ordinary is her appearance. It is not even immediately evident that she is female, due to her bland features. Her bulky armour does nothing to mitigate the confusion, concealing everything about her perfectly average figure. Hanging from frogges on each hip she wears battle-hammers devoid of any design. The only thing about her that attracts notice is the openness of her eyes, and their tendency to turn to anyone nearby and drink in everything about them.
Leosin: ENTER SILENT
Phell: ENTER SILENT
Asa: ENTER sweeps from the battlefield into a tent, a fire in her eyes, and looks expectantly at the other two orclach present.
Leosin: (leaning over a map on the table) There is no way we can survive a frontal assault, no matter how many troops we commit. The terrain alone will halve the force, and the magical wards that the tyrant wizard has placed will destroy us before we can even engage the enemy.
Asa: (pacing within the narrow confines of the tent) Then what do you suggest, Leosin? You are our best tactician.
Phell: leans against the far side of the table, her eyes following the movements of the other two orclach.
Leosin: (pointing to a spot on the map) We could send most of our army to the north, looking to strike along the valley, drawing the defenses there, while a small force, only a unit or two, advance under cover of night to quietly seize the towers here, and here.
Asa: So the main force is a decoy?
Leosin: In part. If we can take those towers undetected we can reverse the wards. Then the army can advance and will have a good chance.
Phell: Such a tactic can never triumph against one with the gift of foresight. He will know it will happen before we do.
Leosin, to Phell: (turning to face the quieter orclach) Do you believe such a gift can be true?
Phell: I have heard that the Fates visit him and do his bidding, and the one time I met him, I sensed something about him I cannot explain any other way.
Asa: I cannot believe any mortal shard can subjugate the Fates when even the Elder Gods found them ineffable and beyond approach. The Fates are no one's handmaidens.
Leosin: Well, it would explain his triumph at Fury Ridge, and the impossible serendipity of that supplies cache that saved his army at the Battle of Three Rivers.
Phell: (thoughtfully) If you consider the history of his rise to power and his conquests in this light, many more things than those suddenly make sense.
Asa: There must be some other explanation. He is a cunning leader, there is no denying that. But the best source of his triumphs is how ruthlessly he will sacrifice any resource or any ally. Such is a tactic that falls only to tyrants.
Phell: There are tales of prophecies. I once met a traveller from a faraway basin surrounding a sea, who claimed to receive wisdom from the spirit of the moon.
Leosin: (laughing uneasily) How can a light in the sky reveal the future?
Phell: One might just as easily speak of how the planets in their spheres can shape our fate, and yet the wisdom of the Star-Seers is beyond question. There are many things in the wide worlds.
Asa: Then why did he not escape our trap at the Bellwalker Falls?
Leosin: As you'll recall, even his loss there turned out to be to his advantage, when his troops retreating from us happened into the mines from which they extract those humming crystals which now power the wards of the Citadel.
Asa: (exasperated) This is getting us nowhere. I do not accept that he has true foresight, but if he does, how can we proceed?
Phell: (in deep thought) I cannot see a way.
Leosin: (nodding sourly) Indeed, if he knows we are here, there is nothing we can do.
Asa, to Leosin: (decisively) Then we have nothing to lose by attempting your gambit. I will lead the main force, to make the ploy more convincing. Leosin, Phell, you will lead the units that will capture the towers. Hooooooo!
Leosin: (thumping the armour on his chest) Hooooooo!
Phell: May the Fates favour us.
Asa, to Phell: (shooting her a sour grimace) The Fates favour no one. We make our own destiny.
EFFECT Curtain (6): The curtain falls, and the stage sinks into silence, apart from the quiet movement of stagehands.
Scene 2: Revelation
SCENE ThroneOfStorms: Drops of painted cloth on all sides of the stage cast slanting shadows and gloom, using tricks of forced perspective to make the stage seem like a vast, empty chamber with high ceilings. A great pair of doors are painted on the cloth at the left end of the stage, opposite a tall, spindly throne, the only feature in the otherwise desolate room.
ROLE Daoshen (M): Daoshen, The Tempest
COSTUME DaoshenCostume (Daoshen): Though this orclach clearly shows his age in the slight stoop of his shoulders and the deep silver-grey of his hair and beard, he still manages to seem sturdy and healthy beyond what his frail frame could justify. He wears only heavy robes of slate grey, and leans against a gnarled wooden staff, moving slowly, as if weary from bearing the world on his shoulders.
ROLE Quire: (F): Storm Sentry Quire
COSTUME QuireCostume (Quire): Little of this sentry can be seen inside her full plate and heavy armour. She bears a pike in one hand and a shield emblazoned with the logo of a swirling storm in the other.
ROLE Exentre (M): Storm Sentry Exentre
COSTUME ExentreCostume (Exentre): Little of this sentry can be seen inside his full plate and heavy armour. He bears a pike in one hand and a shield emblazoned with the logo of a swirling storm in the other.
Quire: ENTER SILENT
Exentre: ENTER SILENT
Daoshen: ENTER sits brooding on the throne, staring into the desolate emptiness of the huge, empty chamber.
Daoshen, to Quire: Sentries, you are dismissed. Leave me in silence.
Quire: (glancing at her fellow sentry) But, your majesty, it is not safe.
Exentre: Even now, we have reports that rebels have captured the southeast and southwest towers. The wards are turning, your majesty.
Quire: There may be saboteurs and assassins within the very Citadel of Storm, your majesty.
Daoshen: (glancing to an empty space behind his throne) You have your orders, sentries. Do I need to repeat them?
Quire: (reluctantly lowering her pike) As you command, Great Tempest.
Exentre: (also lowering his pike) Fates watch over you, Great Tempest.
Quire: EXIT turns and leads the way out the doors of the great throne room.
Exentre: EXIT follows behind Quire, closing the door behind him with a thud.
Daoshen: (in a weary whisper) It is very nearly over. They approach. Soon I may rest.
Phell: ENTER emerges from a hidden entrance behind the throne, her hammers held at the ready.
Leosin: ENTER follows Phell, axe in both hands.
Daoshen: (without looking around) Welcome to the Throne of Storms.
Phell: strides to before the throne, watching Daoshen alertly.
Leosin: moves towards where the sentries stood, then comes up short, and sweeps the chamber.
Daoshen: Worry not, General. I have sent them away.
Leosin: Whyever would you do that, Tempest?
Daoshen: They were good soldiers. They did not deserve to die, and there was no need for them to die.
Phell: If only you had not caused the deaths of thousands of other innocents.
Daoshen: If only there had been no need.
Leosin: (turning to Daoshen) How did you know we were here?
Daoshen: (with a wry, secret smile) I could see the colour of your armour.
Leosin: stares blankly at this comment.
Asa: ENTER strolls in briskly through the main doors, sword at the ready, but soon puts it away.
Asa: The defenders fall back. The wards are down, and we are securing the Citadel. There has been little resistance and less bloodshed.
Daoshen: Would that there could have been none.
Asa, to Daoshen: After decades of vicious conquest and cruel oppression, why should you, in essence, surrender so easily?
Daoshen: Not in essence but in fact: I surrender myself to you three, now.
Asa: And why?
Daoshen: They only needed to hold this citadel until this day. This minute, in fact. The sole purpose was to deliver me into your hands, here, now. All of my efforts have led to this.
Phell: Then you knew this day would come?
Leosin: To what end? What could it profit you to be captured today?
Daoshen: No profit to me. You shall take me in chains to the Citadel of the Star Rose.
Asa: Perhaps I shall slay you on the spot for your many and heinous crimes.
Daoshen: Perhaps you could, but you shall not.
Phell: How can you know this?
Daoshen: I dreamed it. I saw in my dream the blue of her eyes, the brown of your hair, the red of his armour, the yellow of the dying sunlight.
Asa: Do not think to discourage us with more rumours of your impossible powers.
Daoshen: I have no need to do so, but I shall prove it just the same.
Daoshen: fishes a scrap of paper from his robes, scribes something on it, folds it closed, and then offers it to Asa, who accepts it dubiously.
Daoshen, to Leosin: Ask General Phell a question whose answer I could not know.
Leosin: looks questioningly to Asa,
Asa: shrugs and nods.
Leosin, to Phell: Tell me a secret you shared with your brother.
Phell: (after a moment's consideration) When we played hide and seek in the library, he would call me Fiction because he kept finding me amongst those shelves.
Daoshen, to Asa: Now read what it says on the parchment.
Asa: (reading the parchment) He called me Fiction.
Phell: (somewhat shocked) No one knew that but me and him, and he died while I was still a child.
Daoshen: I dreamed this day. Today is the seventh day of the Dolphin, and on the night of the third day, I dreamed, and in the dream, all of this occurred, in all of its colour.
Leosin: What about the colours?
Daoshen: I was born without the ability to see colours; the world is to me all greys. But on a day in autumn when I was two and twenty years old, an unfortunate error led to a visit to the Fates, and ever since, when I dream, it is in colour, and later, it comes true, precisely as I dreamed it.
Asa: (suspiciously) Then why did you not prevent your capture?
Daoshen: (with a weary sigh) You do not understand. My dreams come true. They cannot be averted.
Leosin: Simply being somewhere else would suffice.
Daoshen: Had I attempted to be somewhere else, I would still have been here, but I would have been here under circumstances not of my own choosing, of my own creation. The only way to control my fate is to create it, to make my dreams come true in a way that serves my greater purpose.
Phell: How can you create your fate if your fate is sealed?
Daoshen: By choosing moments that lead to the dream coming true, I can determine what the events mean when they finally happen.
Asa: (shifting weight from one foot to the other) That makes no sense.
Daoshen: Consider: once I dreamed of coming to a particular city on a particular day, soaked head to toe. Had I chosen to try to avoid going to that city, I would still have been there on that day, but perhaps it would have been because of a shipwreck.
Phell: (nodding slowly) Or being lost in a storm.
Daoshen: Exactly. Instead, I hired a horse, rode to the city via the desert way, and on arriving I dunked myself in a fountain to rinse off the dust of the road. The dream came true, and because of my choices, it was a pleasant and beneficial experience, not a disaster.
Asa: So you arranged for us to capture you?
Daoshen: No, you were always going to capture me. I arranged that your capture of me should happen in a way that will ultimately serve the best good and involve the least bloodshed.
Leosin: There you go again, claiming to care about averting suffering, and yet you have caused countless deaths, enslavements, assassinations, torture, ruthless suppression of rebellion...
Phell: You have not demonstrated anything approaching compassion.
Daoshen: You would be surprised how much I care. In fact, very soon, you will be.
Asa: Enough of this. Chain him and bring him.
Scene 3: Evolution
SCENE StarRose: Though similar in purpose and size to the throne room of the Citadel of Storms, this spacious, grand chamber is its opposite in all other ways. Painted drop cloths depict marble columns elaborately carved with vines and roses, regularly broken by bright windows. The great doors at the right end of the stage are similarly decorated with gold curlicues which culminate in star-shaped roses, each one a point of silver light in the inky indigo surrounding it. Opposite these doors stands a throne which resembles a great silver rose. glowing with cold power. its back growing into a pillar of starlight that reaches seemingly up into the sky itself, transforming somehow from a construct of silver into a thing of divine energy.
ROLE Sheeana (F): Major Domo Sheeana
COSTUME SheeanaCostume (Sheeana): Unusually slender and even mousy, this orclach woman seems to be perpetually squinting. Her emerald green robes are impeccably tailored and perfectly fitted, and yet still manage to convey an impression of being rumpled and in disarray, though it's hard to put a finger on precisely how or why. She carries a scroll which she almost constantly checks over, even while speaking.
Sheeana: ENTER walks into the grand throne room, for a moment taking her eyes off the scroll in her hands to glance reverently at the throne, her eyes following its back upward as it transforms into a beam of pure starlight bridging the gap to the heavens.
Sheeana: finally turns her eyes back to the scroll, then bustles about making the room ready.
Sheeana: (calling out to unseen figures off-stage) Double sentries at the north and south halls, the generals are returning with a prisoner!
COSTUME DaoshenChained (Daoshen): Though this orclach clearly shows his age in the slight stoop of his shoulders and the deep silver-grey of his hair and beard, he still manages to seem sturdy and healthy beyond what his frail frame could justify. He wears only heavy robes of slate grey, moving slowly, as if weary from bearing the world on his shoulders. Heavy chains connect iron collars around his neck and his wrists, which are held behind his back.
Leosin: ENTER SILENT
Phell: ENTER SILENT
Doashen: ENTER is led in through the main gates, his hands chained behind his back by crude iron collars, by Leosin and Phell.
Sheeana, to Phell: Thank goodness you've arrived. The wards at the frontier reverberate with some power, but the indications make no sense. Have the troops returned already with you?
Leosin: (shaking his head) We hurried back with this prisoner. The war against the tyrant is over!
Sheeana: (looking at Daoshen dubiously) This, then, is him? Surely we must prepare for celebrations!
Phell: (troubled) Before we plan any feasts, let us learn more of what the wards report. It may be nothing more than an effect of the lowering of the wards of the Citadel of Storms, or it may be more.
Sheeana: hands the scroll to Phell, who begins to study it closely.
Leosin, to Phell: (looking sharply to her) You don't think that the threat Gorob taught us about is already upon us? There have been no advance warnings, and we did not expect him for years yet.
Phell: (looking at the pillar of starlight reaching from the back of the throne) Yet Gorob taught us to be prepared should the tide of battle drive him near sooner. This is why Asa has been studying for years for the moment of ascension, and why we have imbued so much power into our Edifice now.
Phell: (tapping the scroll) I can't be certain, but this could be one of them, and if so, coming on fast. The insubsantial one whose very body is poison.
Phell: hands the scroll back to Sheeana.
Leosin, to Sheeana: (turning to her) Bring the scroll, and Phell's assessment of it, to General Asa Spring-Born. Bid her to prepare herself.
Sheeana: (nervously) As you command, General.
Sheeana: EXIT hurries out of the throne room.
Leosin, to Daoshen: (turning to stare at him) It cannot be coincidence if the Soulless finally come for us the very day we defeat you, thus sparing us fighting two wars at once. What did you dream?
Daoshen: Many things, but not this conversation. If I had, I might know if you were truly prepared for the scale of what comes for us all now.
Phell: Asa has spent the last few years training. She is as ready as she can be.
Daoshen: Indeed, she is not. She has spent much of those years leading battles against my generals.
Leosin: She could not have done otherwise. We could not have built this Edifice without our victories, capturing sources of power.
Daoshen, to Leosin: Verily. There are too many things for one general, however talented, to do them all. To have enough power to battle the Soulless, makes it impossible to dedicate oneself to study enough to be able to effectively wield that power.
Phell, to Daoshen: You'd best hope her training was adequate, as we all will be devoured together should she fail.
Daoshen: (placidly) Fate will lead us where it will.
Leosin, to Daoshen: What have you seen of the future? How will this end?
Sheeana: ENTER runs into the chamber in a panic, her eyes wild.
Sheeana: Generals! Asa has been slain!
Phell: Slain? How?
Sheeana: Struck down by poison, in her chambers, while she prepared.
Leosin: Poison! It is the Soulless of which we were warned, and somehow, it glimpsed our preparations and moved against us!
Phell: (aghast) Gorob warned us of their cunning, but we did not imagine it could be so precise.
Leosin: But how could it have known?
Daoshen: Perhaps it sensed the Edifice; that much power can be discerned by beings of power from some distance, and...
Daoshen: (eyes following the pillar into the heavens) It's not like you went out of your way to hide it.
Phell: (slumping downward) It was all for nothing. We cannot stand against the Soulless without her.
Daoshen: (smiling) Why not?
Phell, to Daoshen: (whirling to face him) Asa was our chosen. No one else has trained in the ways of using the power of the Star Rose.
Daoshen: (with silent calm) There is one other who can bear the burden.
Leosin: stares agape at Daoshen.
Daoshen: I, too, have been preparing for this, for decades, far more than had your Spring-Born. I have studied the harmonic theories of stellar convergence, the manipulation of forces both primal and refined, the synthesis of the arcane powers of creation and destruction.
Phell: How can we know this to be true?
Daoshen: I could recite for you the formula for calculating the resonant frequency of the planetary spheres, or discourse at length about the malleability of reality, but there is no time. Do you not recall how the forces were shaped at Fury Ridge to such precise effect? Surely that is proof enough.
Leosin: Why would you have prepared, secretly, for the use of our Edifice?
Daoshen: (with exaggerated patience) Because I dreamed this. My whole life has been preparation for this day.
Sheeana: (her eyes unfocused) The outer wards are falling. The outer wards are falling!
Phell: You are older than the construction, even the conception of the construction, of this Edifice.
Daoshen: Nevertheless, before you were born, I knew my story would lead to my ascension beneath this Edifice. And that, if I were not prepared to shape these energies this day, not just I would perish, but so would every living being in this land.
Leosin: Even the ones whose deaths you yourself caused by the thousands?
Daoshen: (turning to stare angrily at Leosin) Yes, even them. They would have died anyway, devoured in unspeakable agony by a Soulless, then their power used by that Soulless to destroy others. If this land is not saved, the thing that now approaches the Citadel will not merely devour all of us, it will be impossible to stop fifty years hence in a faraway land, and will eventually devour all life, everywhere.
Phell: You know this because you dreamed it.
Daoshen: Yes. What sacrifice is not worth stopping that? If I had it in my power to slay a million souls and thereby stop the Soulless from devouring all life, I would do it in a second. Would not you?
Sheeana: (growing more panicked) The north tower... it's gone. It has been destroyed by corrosive fumes. All inside eaten away, threescore orclach.
Leosin, to Daoshen: And you are prepared? You will triumph?
Daoshen: I do not know. My dreams of myself end here. I am better prepared for the fight than anyone alive is, but I do not know how it will end. You will just have to trust me.
Phell: Surely you cannot imagine we will trust you.
Daoshen: Surely not. But you can trust me better than you can trust the thing that even now licks at the edge of the Citadel.
Sheeana: The sentries are dying!
Phell, to Leosin: He's right, we have no choice. Unchain him.
EFFECT Poison (5): Sickly violet fumes begin to seep into the grand chamber, swirling with malevolent toxicity.
Sheeana: It comes, even here it comes!
Sheeana: EXIT flees in a panic, her eyes full of fear.
Leosin: (grudgingly unlocking Daoshen's chains) Be quick about it.
Daoshen: (hurrying to the pillar of light) Release the power into me, I am prepared.
Phell: moves to the pillar and touches it and Daoshen, carrying starlight into him.
Leosin: (doing the same) You had best not betray us.
Daoshen: fills with starlight, his body seeming to grow as it glows with power, leaving the pillar mostly drained.
Phell: retreats, leading Leosin with her, to the far side of the chamber to avoid the violet fumes.
Daoshen: rises into the air, casting waves of silver light that drive back the poison.
Daoshen: EXIT rushes in a blur of starlight out of the chamber, waves of energy before him causing reverberations of noise and thunder that shake the Citadel.
Leosin: I hope we have not made the gravest error of our time.
Phell: (tears in her eyes) Asa, dead, I cannot believe it.
EFFECT Battle (9) Shudders and flashes of light and darkness keep shaking the Citadel, signs of the clash of inconceivable forces happening just outside.
Leosin: (crossing to put a hand on Phell's armoured shoulder) One way or the other, your days in battle are ending, Phell. Take comfort in that.
Phell: Cold comfort, if I can finally lay down my arms only to be either devoured, or subjugated.
EFFECT Conclusion (1): With a last shudder, the flood of starlight washes over the whole stage and then goes out.
Leosin: (speaking into the silence) To think, it all came to this.
Daoshen: ENTER staggers into the chamber, bloody and broken, barely able to walk, though still flickering with guttering starlight.
Phell: What news, Tempest?
Daoshen: It is not slain, but it is driven off. It will not return here for many years.
Leosin: Years? How soon? How can we be prepared?
Daoshen: (tiredly) Long after your time. And there is but one sacrifice that is needed to be prepared.
Daoshen: stumbles towards the pillar of starlight, staggering and almost losing his way.
Phell: moves to help Daoshen.
Leosin: (suspiciously) What sacrifice? What do you require now of us?
Daoshen: (leaving both hands on the pillar) Nothing. I have fulfilled my purpose. I have no more dreams to see true. It will be a century before your descendants need this Edifice, but it will be two centuries before it has enough power, if I do not make the last sacrifice, my final purpose.
Phell: takes a step back.
Daoshen: screams as the starlight floods back out of him into the pillar, bringing its light back to half of what it was before, but leaving his body crumpled and in ruins.
Daoshen: May the Fates take pity on me for my crimes.
Daoshen: EXIT crumbles in on himself, leaving behind only a rose-shaped clump of charred flesh.
Leosin: What a curious turn of events.
Phell: (her eyes distant) The silence... the thing is gone. Daoshen spoke truth.
Sheeana: ENTER hurries in, her eyes strained with worry, and looks around at the tableau a moment.
Sheeana: Generals... we have captured the assassin that slew Asa. He claims he was sent by Daoshen. We found his poisoned dagger. What shall we do with him?
Leosin: Then... it wasn't the Soulless, it was Daoshen all along?
Phell: (taking a deep breath) To arrange that his dream would come true. In a way that led to the desired outcome.
Leosin: (staring angrily at the scorched remains) He slew Asa? He had even her killed?
Phell: If he had not, the dream would have meant that the Soulless did slay her, and gained her power. He probably was right, she wasn't ready.
Leosin: So he claims.
Phell: (turning to Sheeana) Set the assassin free. Tell him never to return to our kingdom, on pain of death.
Phell: He was only a pawn of Fate, moving to save us against our own best impulses, as were we all.
Sheeana: EXIT nods, puzzled but obedient, and turns to leave.
Leosin: What now?
Phell: Now, you must ready yourself for your crown. The people need a leader and need hope. You will tell them of Asa's battle against the Soulless, her victory, and its dire cost. You will tell them of our triumph against the treasonous efforts of the cruel tyrant, who sought to undo us.
Leosin: Why should I lie to them thus?
Phell: They would not believe the truth. And we have but a century to prepare for the return. They must be motivated to work, to bleed, to sacrifice, for us to be ready in time.
Leosin: Many of them will suffer because of this.
Phell: And yet is not their sacrifice necessary? Without it, how many more will die?
Leosin: (with a defeated sigh) May the Fates take pity on me for my crimes.