Chapter Eighteen The Emperor’s Regrets
“Where is she?!”
The presence of Emperor Z’Lé saw to it that many of the visitors of Jenh’s temple fled back to their homes. His fury echoed in the main hall until several priests hurried out to meet him, trembling and reluctant though they were.
Glaring at them, his eyes aglow with anger, her snarled, “Take me to my k’haarana!”
The priests hesitated. Although they normally respected anyone reference to their sacred life-mate, they knew how the emperor had treated Arialla of late. They looked at his boots, filthy with the mud of the training fields, and the gloves and sword that he still wore. Sweating, his midnight hair clinging to his neck and temples, he stared them down.
“Now,” he commanded, forceful and persistent.
“We cannot, your majesty,” one of them dared to say.
Z’Lé glared at him. “Is it this?” he screamed, tearing a pendant from his throat, a crimson thing that reflected no light. It represented his patronage to the dark temple, the honor that he paid to Métius, and he knew very well that it was not welcome around Jenh’s worshipers. He threw it onto the floor with the force of all his anger, and it shattered, leaving behind a powdery cloud of red dust.
“Métius has no command over me; I am not here by his will, but my own. You can take me to Arialla, or…” He gripped the hilt of his sword, daring the priests to defy him again.
They looked between one another, then conceded. The priests nodded to the emperor before leading him deeper into the temple, then down several hallways, saying nothing the entire time. They stopping before a door, and one of them passed through, speaking in hushed tones to those inside.
Having no patience left, Z’Lé pushed his way in. “Get out of here!” he cried.
The priests retreated hastily to avoid any further wrath. The then emperor glared at High Priest Yanve, and then the two strangers who did not leave. “What business do you have with my empress?” Z’Lé demanded to know.
One of them stood up and turned to meet the emperor’s gaze. “I was invited.”
Z’Lé stared down at the shaman, breathing hard, ready to remove him by force. Once he recognized Mearrk’hal, his eyes widened. “I never invited you.”
Mearrk’hal looked him over silently. He knew that if he gave him a moment, Z’Lé would figure it out.
“Did she?” Z’Lé asked, unable to keep from raising his voice.
“As she should have,” Mearrk’hal told him with a heavy sigh. “You have changed so much over the years, Z’Lé; you are no longer the man I gave her up to.”
“How dare you!” the emperor snarled, his through rumbling. His rage boiled over, and he leapt towards Mearrk’hal. He grabbed him, locking his arms around him as he whispered into his ear, his Draconic words thick with malice.
Mearrk’hal remained steady. “Threaten me as you will. Your empress nearly died this morning, and that was no fault of mine.”
Z’Lé cursed him as he let him go with an angry shove.
“I will not leave,” Mearrk’hal told him. “Besides, what do you want her for now?”
Z’Lé muttered under his breath and turned to hover over her bed. “Tell me what happened!” he demanded as he watcher her.
Empress Arialla seemed to be sleeping peacefully, tucked under a thick blanket and smelling of herbs, but he understood that she was in delicate condition. She was as pale as the winter snow, and nearly as cold. She was so weak that her breaths came slow and shallow, and her heart beat beat so softly that she scarcely had a pulse. The stillness of her body unnerved him, reminding him of why Métius was so reviled for his dealings in death.
Mearrk’hal shared a brief glance with Vincent and Yanve before telling the emperor, “She was bleeding. The priestess is not sure how, but she lost far too much blood. You almost lost her, Z’Lé. She is lucky that one of the maids found her before she left this mortal world.”
The emperor sat on the edge of her bed, and ran his fingers across Arialla’s pale face. “Keflay divan…” he whispered to her. “Are you all right?” In that moment, he seemed more docile, suddenly caring and gentle.
“My lord, I ask you not to wake her,” Yanve interrupted. “She needs time to heal.”
Ignoring him, Z’Lé caressed his empress, his eyes taking on a worried look.
“Your majesty,” the high priest pressed, “might I speak with you in private? For her sake…”
With a growl, Z’Lé stood and met Yanve’s eyes. He walked past him, out of the room, and waited in the hall. A moment later, the priest emerged and led him to another room.
Mearrk’hal watched them leave and closed the door before turning to Vincent. “He is so different!”
“Just like she wrote to you?” the bard asked.
“Not exactly…” he replied. “Still, he never looked so terrifying before. I swear to you, the last time he was regal and poised, not the crazed man you just met. Can you imagine what he does to her with that kind of anger?”
“I dread to think of it,” Vincent replied. “I have yet to see a man behave like that before, full of rage one moment, then to suddenly doting and worried.”
“So you noticed it as well,” Mearrk’hal sighed.
After a moment of pondering, Vincent added, “The words ‘keflay divan’ are Draconic. Do you know their meaning?” When Mearrk’hal shook his head, the bard continued. “I learned them in a play I did a few years ago. They mean ‘dear, sweet elf.’ It is as affectionate as the language can get.”
“Indeed,” the shaman said after mulling the notion over for a while. “Very curious.”
In the other room, Z’Lé paced in front of the priest, who had already asked him more questions than he was comfortable answering.
“No!” the emperor insisted. “I never hit her there. Why would I? I want a living child, not a lost one.”
“But you have hit her,” Yanve retorted.
His temper peaking, Z’Lé lunged at the priest. “What business is it of yours?”
“The blood was from her womb, your majesty,” Yanve told him. “The priestess worried that she had suffered a blow.”
“From…” The world turned gray for the emperor as the force of the words hit him. He grabbed Yanve’s shoulders and pulled him closer. “How? Liriel said that she was not pregnant.”
“That is why I am asking you.”
“Was it a child?” he demanded to know, his vision blurring.
“No.” Yanve’s answer was sure and final. “We are certain of that. Sit down, your majesty. You look pale.” When Z’Lé complied, he went on. “Has she been taking any sort of medicine? I know that she has been in bed a lot lately, feeling unwell.”
Like a whisper, a tiny wind, a voice blew through the emperor’s mind. “You must tell him,” it seemed to say. “If you love her, you must speak the truth.”
“Nothing,” Z’Lé told the high priest.
“Not even once?”
Z’Lé was staring at the table in front of him, his vision a confusion of shapes as he worried for Arialla’s health. The grain of the wood seemed to twist and move, then to reform in the shape of the goddess. She stared up at him.
“The truth, Z’Lé,” Jenh told him her voice ethereal but no less insistent. “Your lies are killing her!”
Startled, the emperor sat back. Yanve knelt without a word when he saw what had disturbed him, and the form rose higher.
“You have ventured too far from me, secretive one,” Jenh’s unearthly voice said. “Shall I take the Zeah from you and leave you in the hands of Métius?”
Z’Lé shook his head, his breathing hard and uneven. He felt cold, as though his life-force was being pulled from him. Golden-green light seemed to flow away from his body, as though pulled back by the goddess.
“Serve her for once, then,” she insisted. “Tell him what you did.”
“It was an herb,” Z’Lé admitted at last, no longer able to forsake the goddess before him. “It was intended to make her fertile.”
Yanve looked between Jenh and the emperor, and began to rise. She smiled to him, and came closer.
“You have been good to me,” she told him. “Look after Arialla; she is not ready to go yet.”
“Or course, my beloved goddess,” the high priest replied.
Jenh smiled contentedly. “When their times have passed, all those devoted to me shall return to my sanctuary. Take heed, and live long.”
Before fading away, her form clouded, re-emerging in the form of Neemie, the elemental of plants. Hers was a body hardly different from a tree, her hair its lush green foliage, her arms branches and the roots her feet. Symbolizing the fertile earth, she bulged where a belly might have been, her crest drawn upon it. She placed a small plant in Yanve’s hands, then disappeared without a word, never once looking at Z’Lé.
When she had gone, the priest whispered a prayer as thanks for such a blessing. Then he turned to Z’Lé, his eyes serious.
“You gave her this herb?” he asked, holding it up for him to see.
When the emperor nodded, Yanve shook his head. “I want you to leave this temple, Z’Lé. You nearly killed your k’haarana, and you have no right to be by her side. Do not return unless I send for you.”
Z’Lé was about to refuse, to scream his outrage at the priest, when shame came over him instead. Realizing at last what his obsession had led to, he slithered from the room and through the halls. As he made his way to the doors leading outside, the worshipers beheld a wounded man, a creature sullen and confused, a wretch if ever there had been one.
Back in the empress’s chamber, Mearrk’hal and Vincent awaited the high priest’s return. Eventually, he came into the room with a priestess at his side. The shaman recognized her as the disciple of Kearr who had kept Arialla from crossing the line between life and death. She had cleaned and inspected the empress, and left her with a compress of soothing herbs. Now she was ready to serve her once more.
“It was a complication,” Yanve told them, seeing the eagerness on their faces. “While she took our herbs to prevent a child, he had been giving her this, in secret, to promote one.”
Mearrk’hal took the plant that he was offered, and looked it over. “This is very effective for fertility. But if she was taking both…”
Nodding, Yanve said, “It seems that her body dealt with the contradictions for as long as it could before giving out. We have something gentler to purge them from her. In time, she should be able to heal and regain her strength.”
The priestess, who wore a veil decorated with azure feathers woven and miniature mirrors, sat beside Arialla, laid her string of colored beads in her lap, and uncovered the mixture in her bowl. She chanted a healing spell as she used a tiny platinum spoon to place a small amount of the medicine into her mouth. Seeing Arialla respond, she offered another taste, then another. When her eyes fluttered open, the priestess smiled and stood up.
“Please, give this to her every six hours,” the priestess said as the covered the bowl and handed it to Yanve. “She should make a full recovery.”
The high priest thanked her, and was seconded my Mearrk’hal and Vincent. She spent a few more minutes explaining the details of the medicine and how to administer it, then bowed shyly before departing. Mearrk’hal returned to Arialla’s side. and smiled down at her; a nostalgic, gentle smile that seemed to express both his own joy to see her and his preoccupation with her health.
“Welcome back,” she croaked, her voice weak. Her fingers reached for his, slow and weak, and he took her hand to save her the strain.
“It’s good to see you again,” Mearrk’hal said as he leaned down to lay a kiss on her forehead. “I’m relieved that you’re going to be okay, Arialla, but… do you know anything about what Z’Lé did to you?”
“I remember nothing,” she replied.
With a worried look, he told her, “Give it time. I am sure that your mind will clear and your memories will return once you have taken enough medicine. For now, I want you to meet one of the boys I helped raise.”
“I remember you writing to me about them,” she said as he beckoned Vincent closer. “It is lovely to meet you. Forgive me for not greeting you properly.”
“It is no trouble, your majesty,” Vincent replied as he knelt beside her. “The journey that brought us here has been long, but your gracious welcome heartens us. I pray that your blessings are many, and that your health returns with haste.”
Blushing, Arialla bade him to rise. “Please, pull up a chair. I welcome visitors. Will you tell me about your journey?”
As she listened listen to them explain leaving Ayafir, passing through the ashes of Shyal’In, and defending Jzamneh, only to arrive in Onsira to discover that her life hung by a thread, she felt disheartened and afraid. She could not fathom how Z’Lé had gone from a principled man who would protect her without fail, to a beast who could threaten her life in the same breath that he had professed his love for her. His unpredictability left her unable to make choices in how to deal with him, leaving her at his mercy even though she knew that he had become merciless.
“In the beginning,” she began, a memory surfacing in her mind. “He was gentle. He said how much he loved me.”
Vincent scoffed. “You cannot believe that, milady. Any man who would hurt you cannot possibly care for you. You do not care for him, do you?”
“Of course not.” Arialla looked up into Mearrk’hal’s eyes. “I should admit… it was my mistake to have chosen him. But once I chose him, I was bound to that choice.”
“How were any of us to know?” Mearrk’hal told her, trying to soothe the heartache and regret that she was feeling.
“Is there anything that can be done about him?” Vincent asked, becoming impatient, his irritation worsening with the knowledge that a lady had been harmed.
Mearrk’hal searched his mind for an answer, and finding none, he shook his head. “Perhaps once we know what changed him, why he has become so inviting to the dark pantheon, we will be able to decide.”
Vincent glowered. “He may hurt her more while we search for those answers, Father. I am glad to stay by her side and protect her while you look for answers, but I have a feeling that we have little time left before a greater change occurs.”
“Are you sure about that decision, Vincent?” Mearrk’hal asked him. “Z’Lé is fierce in both battle and anger, and would not hold back against you.”
The bard glared daringly. “I can manage.” He pulled a long, curved knife from his belt. The shaman recognized it as the one he’d trained with; a blade he knew as well as he did his harp and voice. He nodded and the bard replaced it.
“By your leave then, Arialla. Vincent is not one to let any lady suffer.”
The empress smiled to each of them. “You have my gratitude, Vincent.”
The sword, from the pommel to the point of the blade, Mearrk’hal estimated at some six feet long. The hilt was longer than the space needed for both his hands to grip it, so as to create some sense of balance with the weapon. Mearrk’hal remarked at how beautiful the Drramin Luar was, flawlessly forged, etched in regal design and ancient lettering. The blacksmith who had made it had to have been both skilled and powerful. He awed at how well the sword reminded him of the spear that Loracaz I had used.
“I would like to meet your blacksmith, my prince,” Mearrk’hal told Loracaz.
“That is no longer possible, Mearrk’hal,” the prince replied as he accepted the sword back from the shaman and sheathed it. “He died this winter.”
“He was old already,” Loracaz explained when he saw the look of shock on the shaman’s face. “Then he fell ill…”
The prince paused to watch as one of the squires prepared the area for practice. The practice hall was filled with the noises of other warriors practicing their arts.
“He should have an apprentice then,” Mearrk’hal suggested.
Loracaz nodded. “He did, and he knew the old man’s art well. However, nobody has seen him since the night of my coronation.”
“He just disappeared?”
“Indeed.” What more could he say of it? There was too little known, though he had his suspicions. He understood that although his father had commissioned the sword, he had come to regret it once he saw the result.
“Did you learn anything of the sword’s use from the blacksmith, Loracaz?” the shaman asked.
“Only a little. As I told you before, Zarrek was supposed to explain it further, but he only put it in terms of other weapons and styles. How was I to understand any of it? The rest I learned from Intehverr.”
The squire, having finished readying the area for him, bowed to his prince before moving to a bench near the wall to await further requests.
Mearrk’hal gave the prince a surprised look. “The elemental of knowledge?”
Loracaz nodded to the shaman, who now stood before him ready to spar, his own sword sheathed at his side. Before the prince was ready, Mearrk’hal drew the short sword and released a quick strike. Loracaz caught it by the sheath of the Drramin Luar, unable to draw it in time. He glanced down at their blades, and the shaman sighed and pushed him away. Loracaz fell backwards onto the ground.
“She did not teach you much,” Mearrk’hal noted. He replaced his weapon and offered a hand to the prince. “Did you never learn the stances?”
“Admittedly, my training in the art of fighting is limited,” Loracaz answered as he accepted the help up. “I began with archery… I practiced with different swords–”
Mearrk’hal appeared troubled by this. “Archery speaks nothing about the handling of blades. So, part of the reason that you cannot fight effectively is that your father has no patience for you. You’ve got to stay with one weapon, and it will be the Drramin Luar. I expect you be a great fighter after I’ve taught you what I know.”
“For that I shall be grateful.”
“I cannot imagine using a blade as long as yours,” Mearrk’hal went on, “but if Intehverr did give you her knowledge, it should help. The first thing I will teach you is staying on your feet. If you fall like that in a battle, you will not live long enough to regret it.”
Understanding, the prince listened to his elder. Mearrk’hal showed him how to plant his feet the right distance apart, one pointing forward, the other at an angle. He also demonstrated how to keep his legs bent.
“Practice with this stance until you can stay grounded,” Mearrk’hal told him.
When the prince nodded, he lunged at him. At first Loracaz resisted, staying his ground. But the shaman changed the angle of his force, and was able to throw the prince off balance.
“You are not grounded enough. Take off your shoes.”
Mearrk’hal gave him a serious look, and he complained no further. Sensing that the prince wanted to spar on equal terms, he too unlaced his own boots. The squire approached and took them from the men, and they continued.
“Remember your connection to the earth, to Tezanth,” Mearrk’hal reminded him.” You were born of the land, take your food from it, and dwell upon it. You shall return to it one day. Battle does not sever that connection. If you forget that, then your enemy will knock you down. Let your knees keep you low. Go back to the stance.”
As Loracaz complied, planting his feet on the bare floor, he began to understand Mearrk’hal’s words. He felt the energy of the earth flowing into him, as though he could grasp it with his feet. The shaman took the same stance.
“Stay like that. When your body gets used to it, your muscles will remember the style, and you will be able to enter it more easily. The position should become natural for you. In battle, you will have many other things to consider.”
The prince considered how best to word the question before asking, “You are supposed to be a shaman. Does that mean that you should know more about rituals and plants than about fighting?”
“There is more to life than rituals, Loracaz.” Mearrk’hal left the fighting stance to walk to the prince’s side, examining his posture. “I have traveled the continent, surviving however I could. There are few places where I have not visited. I have met many people, warrior, noble, and commoner alike. In my days, I have learned many fighting styles, and have used some of them in battle. It was sometimes a matter of necessity.”
“Necessity?” Loracaz asked.
“Just like you,” Mearrk’hal explained as he pulled the prince’s hips into a straighter position. “Keep your body forward.”
Loracaz nodded and focused his eyes forward. He gazed past the empty space where his teacher had been, watching the soldiers beyond. By the time Mearrk’hal appeared in front of him, he was so focused on the distant figures that the closeness of the shaman startled him.
“You see now,” he said with a sigh, “how important your focus is. Your mind and your body must both be ready for battle. Now, do you know how to draw the blade? Those latches are not as practical as you may think.”
The prince shook his head.
“Listen carefully then. To pull that blade free from its sheath, you will have to move your shoulders and hips, but not your arms.”
“Good. Grasp the hilt with your left hand.” Loracaz obeyed Mearrk’hal’s words, and the shaman continued. “Hold the scabbard with your right. When you pull out the blade, guide the scabbard away from it, and do not let the blade drag across it.”
Nodding, the prince tugged. When the blade hardly budged, he looked to his guide for advice. Mearrk’hal moved his right hand to the top of the scabbard, near the cross-guard.
“This will feel awkward for a while, but it must become natural for you if you are to use the sword. You need to start this way if you want to actually free the blade from its sheath: push the cross-guard away with your thumb to unlock it.”
Loracaz did so, and afterwards was able to pull the sword with greater ease.
“Better. This sword requires an arching movement to draw it, so it will feel very round to you. Draw the blade and the sheath at the same time, away from each other. As your shoulder pulls the hilt, turn your hips, where the sheath is riding, to pull it away.”
Following Mearrk’hal’s words carefully, Loracaz freed the blade from its scabbard. He smiled to his teacher. “It felt like I was opening up.”
“As it should. Englehart designed this sword around an older technique, as I have just taught you. It does not usually use swords this long, though.”
“Have you ever used a sword like mine before?” Loracaz asked.
“I have not studied this sword in particular, but I do know The Way of the Sword as it was written by masters of its older brethren. I have also read Englehart’s text on this design.” Mearrk’hal took the prince’s right hand and placed it at the higher end of the hilt, near the cross-guard; his left hand rested lower, near the pommel. “Grip it this way always. You need to stay balanced and in control.”
“This style, though…”
“It uses no shield,” Mearrk’hal told him, as though he had known exactly what the prince was thinking. “If you can learn to use it properly, you will not need one.”
Loracaz thought of how he must have looked, crouching in that fighting stance, gripping the Drramin Luar in front of him, his teacher perfecting his poise. His eyes ran up the blade’s length, from the hilt to the tip. Its power seemed like too much for him, something beyond his grasp, and he began to wonder if he would truly ready to handle it.
“Do not tense up now,” Mearrk’hal warned him. “Your movements must be smooth. Proper sword art flows like water, as unseen as the wind. You must stay grounded in the earth. With the right knowledge, your strikes will sting and burn like fire.”
Stepping away from the sword’s range of attack, the shaman went on. “Now, the strike. This sword art has three basic strikes: straight down, angled, and to the side.” He drew his own sword and took the same stance as the prince. “First, raise your arms. When you are ready to strike, bring the blade down swiftly. Focus the edge on what you want to hit.”
Loracaz followed Mearrk’hal’s demonstration, executing it several times. He felt the air glide past the steel, the whoosh of his attack gratifying him.
“Aye, lad. Keep practicing like that. Make every strike smoother, swifter, more powerful.”
As Loracaz continued his practice, Mearrk’hal heard a rustling behind him. It was so distant that he might not have heard it had the hall been more occupied that day. He turned around and discovered the cloaked figure of Zarrek behind him. The boy nodded to him, then looked with disinterest to his brother.
“So basic,” he commented.
“Do not try me, Zarrek” Mearrk’hal told him. “Your brother has to learn somehow. Even the mightiest warriors start out at this level.”
“As children,” Zarrek retorted. His words stung the older prince, who paused in his exercise.
Mearrk’hal gave the youth a scornful glare. “Leave us,” he ordered. “You have no business in a training hall.”
“That is so, isn’t it?” Zarrek grinned. “I could use that sword already.”
“Your arrogance is unwelcome here,” the shaman replied. “That blade is longer than you are tall; it was made for Loracaz.”
Zarrek scoffed. “A wasted effort.”
Loracaz turned on his brother. “How dare you!”
“Calm yourself, Loracaz. He is taunting you deliberately,” Mearrk’hal reminded him.
“He makes it so easy,” Zarrek said.
“Get out of here!” Loracaz shouted at him, his eyes aglow. “Go to your father, or to your disgusting temple! I do not want to see you here!”
Zarrek shrugged. “Spar with me first.”
“No,” Mearrk’hal cut in, knowing that Loracaz was not ready for such a trial.
“Then you,” the petulant boy said to the shaman, gesturing his sword towards him.
Shaking his head, Mearrk’hal replied, “Neither of us need that right now, Zarrek. Just go.”
“I insist,” Zarrek said, approaching the shaman to lay a hand on his. “Show me your sword technique.”
That was enough irritation for Mearrk’hal. With a growl, he hooked his arm around Zarrek’s neck and pulled the boy against his chest. He used his free hand to sheath his short-sword, and told him, “Prince you may be by blood, but noble must you be in action and good of word if you are to command the respect of the populace. That is the tenet of all kingdoms of Manastaecies. You have no right to act otherwise, regardless of which god you follow.”
Zarrek squirmed against him, trying to break free.
“You may have a great deal of fighting talent for one so young, but I am still stronger than you.” Mearrk’hal said. “Old as I am, I am not weak.”
“Release me,” the boy choked, pulling at the arm the arm that trapped him.
As he pushed and writhed, Mearrk’hal felt something metallic brush against him from just beneath the boy’s neck. He reached his free hand into his collar, only to pull back suddenly.
“What did you do?!” the shaman yelled as he shoved the young prince away. Zarrek stumbled, trying to put distance between them, and fell to the ground a few feet away. “What were you thinking, Zarrek?”
He narrowed his eyes at Mearrk’hal, refusing to grace him with an answer.
“What is it?” Loracaz asked, concerned by the dramatic reaction.
The shaman grabbed Zarrek by his collar, pulling him up, then moved aside the rich fabric to reveal the metal bars that pierced the skin of his neck. Loracaz gave him a puzzled look.
“You really do not know?” Mearrk’hal bit his tongue, not wanting to discuss the prince’s naivité in front of his brother. The best he could do was explain it. “These piercings bind him to Métius; they are a sign of servitude. Do you have any idea what you are doing to yourself, Zarrek?”
The boy still refused to answer.
“How many rings are there?” Mearrk’hal asked him, his tone growing even more demanding. “They say that the pain of them never ceases. Do you even know what Métius uses them for?”
“You’re saying he worships the Destroyer?” Loracaz asked, confused and afraid. “But his Zeah…”
Zarrek looked up at his brother and gave him a menacing grin. “You think we have to lose Jenh’s magic in order to visit him– to gain power from the Abyss?”
“They have ways, Loracaz,” Mearrk’hal said, in a tone of disgust. “Zeah is granted to all of Lorata’s elves, faeries, and dragon, and it isn’t lost as easily as walking into another god’s temple. There are some rituals Métius will share his power in exchange for something as simple as a few drops of blood. All Zarrek would have to do is let their priests cut him, without saying the rites or swearing to the Shadows.”
“Mearrk’hal…” Loracaz began, too wounded to say any more.
“Treachery abounds.” The shaman looked Zarrek in the eyes. “You have damned yourself, young prince. You cannot undo these scars, even if you cut out the iron bars and rings. You might have a little of his power, but you still gave Métius control over you. If the day come when you do not answer to him and obey his will, he can rend you asunder. You have gone too far for the sake of your father’s wishes.”
“And you have come too far for the sake of my mother!” Zarrek hissed back. He struck Mearrk’hal’s hand away, gave his brother a cold stare, and then left the practice hall. Loracaz watched his brother leave, his cloak flowing behind him like an ocean of shadow.