Hi, everyone, and welcome to Victory!
Full Summary (background on each of the important characters):
Cinder: Cinder is one of the most wanted criminals in all of Azaluna. She fights the desperate fight of a peasant as she strives to provide for herself as well as Peony, who is practically a younger sister to her. And to do so in a harsh and unfriendly world, Cinder has had to thieve, often breaking into places violently, for the last two years - and hasn't been caught. Nothing will stop her from protecting herself and those for whom she cares.
Kai: Kai (Kaito) is the leader of a bloody revolution against Queen Levana of Azaluna. He has led the Zanyah, an ancient term for 'warriors', as their unofficial leader for the past few years. The existence of Zanyah was only discovered about two years ago, when Kai led a horrifyingly unsuccessful raid on the royal palace itself. Since then, he's matured, gradually developing those around him into formidable warriors as he strives to put a more deserving leader on the throne.
Scarlet: Scarlet is Kai's right-hand. She's a second-in-command, like a sister to Kai ever since an early age. Scarlet excels in archery, and will never miss her target, making her truly deserving of her respected point at Kai's side. Both she and Kai are known as the leading figures of the Zanyah to the royalty, and have been constantly avoiding soldiers and guards on wary lookout for them. But she's determined to succeed, and nothing will stop her.
Wolf: Wolf is the Captain of the Royal Guard, a title passed down for generations. Thus, when his father passed, he filled the respected position at the age of twelve. Though young, he proves himself more than worthy of the position, practically forged of rock and stone when it comes to eliminating those who stand in his way. Wolf knows his responsibilities, and will try his best to follow his duty no matter where his heart tries to lead him.
Cress: Cress (Crescent) is the Crown Princess of Azaluna by birth. Her mother passed when she was young, and her father - the king - remarried to a well-born lady named Levana - the new Queen. The king passed years ago, leaving Cress's foster mother to take over the kingdom with her own harsh ways. Cress is quiet and reserved before others - though fully against Levana - but alone, she sets herself free. She holds something inhuman in her hands that could be either a blessing or a curse.
Thorne: Thorne (Carswell) is a soldier in the Queen's Army. He was forced into the position by his parents - now deceased - against his will, yet proved himself to be a worthy and adept soldier - ranked fifth best in all of the royal soldiers. But his heart pulls him out of the castle, urging him to break free of the harsh bonds burning into his wrists. Deep within, he is utterly disloyal to the queen; and over the years, he has been working up the courage to desert - a crime punishable by death, if he were caught.
Winter: Winter is the royal food taster, and the last thing that she wants is to be dragged into all the revolution mess. She has a hopeful, sweet personality that warms the darkest of hearts, but she keeps herself reserved save for a few friends. She just wants to lead a simple life, stick to her duty to Queen Levana, and nothing more. But life can never be that easy, and throws a twist in her path. Winter finds that she is torn between her duty to Levana and where her heart aches to lead her.
Jacin: Jacin is one of the Zanyah, having worked up his physical abilities over the years. He's one of the most trusted and dutifully loyal fighters of the revolution, as well as one of Kai's closest friends. But something within him calls him outward, not to somewhere, but to someone - and soon enough, he learns that not everything can be heard with his ears - many are heard from the heart, and part of his duty is to follow his heart.
Levana: Levana is Queen of Azaluna, the sole ruler of the kingdom for the past few years. She wasn't born into royalty, however; when the true queen passed, the king remarried her in order to fill the spot. In doing so, Princess Crescent became her foster daughter; and although Levana can sense that Cress is against her, the two stay out of each others' way. And then, the king himself passed, leaving her to take over the kingdom. Levana is harsh, and will turn the knife on anyone who attempts to take her throne.
Without further ado, then, let's get started!
Kai lifted his head from where he crouched in the bushes, watching Scarlet ascend the wall with feline grace, her red hair blowing behind her as she remained motionlessly perched atop the wall, waiting for four other men to climb up, two on each side of her.
Scarlet tilted her head to either side, checking to see that the four other archers had kept up with her. Kai ran a hand through his dark hair before meeting the gazes of other Zanyah with a definite nod, masking the apprehension he felt inside.
Kai drew in a breath as Scarlet turned directly to where he crouched and met his gaze. She put both hands to her chest, then moved her right arm outward in a wavy motion, followed by her left - the practiced 'ari' signal, known by all of the Zanyah.
Kai jumped to his feet, a swift motion that called for the others around him to rise as well.
Looking up, he saw that Scarlet was already moving, a single arrow piercing straight through the royal gatekeeper's left eye before the middle-aged man realized what was happening. Kai grinned to himself. Scarlet never ceased to impress him with her skillful aim as an archer.
Kai raised his right arm, forming a fist and revealing to those behind him the tattooed mark stretched across his upper arm - the flag of the Zanyah. The blue and gold were now a legendary symbol of the revolutionaries, worn on any exposed skin of all the Zanyah.
The flag was up, now, too, as Kai turned the rotating crank mechanism and let the gates slide open. Kai breathed in as he turned to face the Zanyah as the unofficial leader of the revolutionaries - yet a well-known icon, along with Scarlet.
These were his people - those who believed that he could do it. Those who believed in him.
But he had felt the same way two years ago, when he first led the Zanyah out into the castle - a brutally unsuccessful raid. They'd been all but destroyed, leaving what was left of the Zanyah to run for their lives. Kai hadn't given up... and had spent the past two years training new Zanyah.
Stars, he hoped the same thing wouldn't happen again.
He still hadn't forgotten the effort it took to move his feet away from the scene that day, leaving all those limp, broken, all-too-familiar bodies behind him. He'd wanted nothing more than to just burn the scene down, then and there - if he'd had the power. Those huddled shapes on the ground, twisted and broken in unnatural ways, well beyond recognition, eyes clouded and glassy, the spirits leaving forever...
Kai shuddered at the memory.
No. It was not going to happen again. It was different this time, Kai told himself. They'd trained hard, and they were more than just half-starved peasants. They were the Zanyah, at their strongest, having built themselves up. That had to count for something, didn't it?
But it could also replay the incident from two years ago. Kai tried to force away the harsh cloud that shrouded his senses with bitterness, but it came anyway, filling his mind until all he could see were the bodies of those who stood at his side.
There had been someone in that raid, someone important. A girl, with dark skin and hair that poured wildly over her shoulders, making her appear stronger and fiercer than she truly was. She was just something with a tough outside, that could be snapped without a second thought. Something that was snapped without a second thought.
They'd been friends longer than they could remember. It was always Kai, Scarlet, and Sana, ready and eager for anything that stood in their way. Whatever one faced wouldn't be faced alone, on their part. Sana. It hurt for Kai to recall the name, a pang burning into his throat.
I couldn't save her.
They were supposed to be in together. They were supposed to face the royal resistance as one. They weren't supposed to find such an unforgiving world.
Kai couldn't forget the way Sana had battled to the end. Though an untrained savage, like the rest were at the time, she had just been desperate to survive that madness, to find a safe way out of a dark cavern with no doors. It was sheer desperation, the way fire had burned at her eyes as she went utterly wild against two trained royal soldiers, knowing that she wouldn't survive it.
Sana had called out to Kai, and he had turned. But he was too slow, too far away - though he ran, anyway. There was still a hint of a sad yet sure smile across her face as the sword slashed through her chest, her eyes raging as she fell.
Kai shuddered. I'm sorry.
He couldn't lose anyone else. He couldn't watch the Zanyah fall again, ripped apart until the blood of those whom he grew alongside painted the ground. He couldn't see familiar, yet hauntingly empty, faces line the ground, again. He had to live to see Scarlet, Jacin, and all the others remain standing.
But they believed he could do it. They put their fully unflagging trust in him, and would die for him without a second thought. They thought he knew what he was doing. The believed he would lead the Zanyah to victory. He had to try again. For Sana. For all those whom he had lost, whom the Zanyah, as one, had lost.
They had nothing to lose. This battle wasn't for victory. It was to satisfy their selfish pang for revenge, to make up for the lives that were lost two years ago. Every past life for another, they would claim. They were one with the past, and would have to face the future together.
Kai turned and gave the ari, his arms moving in the signal's practiced movements before he realized it himself.
Looking up, he saw Scarlet release another arrow from where she crouched atop the gate, presumably hitting its mark somewhere beyond Kai's line of sight. Almost as if she sensed him watching, the archer swung her head around to meet his steady gaze with a crooked grin.
A single wordless call from Scarlet, her head tilted upward to face the skies. Slowly, the voices of the Zanyah mingled in. Jacin, then Evelyn, then Ashe, then so many others that Kai recognized yet didn't recognize at the same time... all as one collective call, calling victory to shine down upon them and guide them forward.
I am the Lion, leader of the Zanyah. I will fight with all of my soul.
Kai followed last, his dark eyes gleaming with intensity as he, too, turned his head to the skies. This is for you, Sana. And for everyone who fell beside you. His voice shook, then steadied, as he lifted his head in a savagely commanding call.
And hell broke loose.
As the steady beating of drums went off in the familiar pattern that signaled an alarm, the words 'Invasion. Silver Platoon, Red Platoon, White Platoon - all to Castle Front' thundered in the air, the familiar voice of the announcer ringing in every room of the royal palace.
Thorne watched as the soldiers in his platoon - Silver Platoon - didn't waste a moment as they sprinted, single file, each no more than a foot behind the one before, into the palace. He was supposed to go, too, to run down the passageways of the royal palace and emerge at the Castle Front to ward off the invasion. As the soldier ranking fifth best in all platoons, all of the royal army, Thorne was a major part of the Silver Platoon. Sure, it was okay to be a part of the best platoon in the royal army, but it made him feel less 'okay' that his platoon was the best at brutally killing and dismembering attackers at the slightest cause.
That was all the soldiers did. Train. Hurt. Kill. He'd hated it all his life. He never wanted this position as a soldier in the first place... and now, he was bound by law to leave.
Thorne had been planning to desert.
It was a crime punishable by death if caught - which it always was. But couldn't even death be better than a life like this? He had to take his chances, as he'd decided a year ago, and had drawn up everything into a plan that he was almost sure would work.
An infinitely complex plan - all proudly constructed by Thorne - that involved a year of manual digging holes, locating caves, and a twisted trail he would follow. And that was a statement... considering it was foolproof in the eyes of the fifth-ranking soldier in all of the imperial army. He'd just never imagined that it would be so soon... but opportunities like this were too good to waste. It was rare that he would come across such an opportunity - and he'd realized it the moment that the announcement went off.
Thorne turned away from the direction where the soldiers had gone, stripping off his armor and throwing it to the ground. There was absolutely no one in his sight as he removed his weapons, one by one, save for two wicked-looking twin daggers, which he kept sheathed at his sides. He could make his move, and - hopefully - not be caught. He could desert, like he'd always wanted to. Thorne scaled the back gate of the palace - behind the soldiers' training area - with deft ease, using everything he'd ever learned to keep himself undetected by the guards at the bottom.
Looks like all that training came to some good, after all, he reflected, as he slipped down the other side, pressing himself flat in order to remain hidden. He counted to seven, keeping his timing precisely perfect to slip past in the exact moment when all four of the moving guards where facing away from him.
Thorne grinned to himself, breaking into a steady jog through the trees. Perfect.
As soon as the alarm drums and the announcement went off, Cress - or rather, Princess Crescent Moon - had relayed her excuse to her maidservants, leaving her quarters with the lie that she had to go to check on her foster mother, the Queen.
No, there was no way that she was going to even bother to check on Queen Levana. She didn't care for her - in fact, was against her - but it was the only way to leave her quarters. And oh, she hated it. But she knew that burning sensation deep within her like the back of her palm. She knew that it called for a quick excuse to leave the palace before she burned over.
Cress ripped her skirts - the blazing things she always had to wear - to her knees so that she wouldn't trip as she darted past the guards down the passageway, already fabricating an excuse in her mind for that. She turned down a familiar series of hallways, only stopping once she reached a door - the door that led out the back side of the palace.
She didn't stride out of the gate as a princess might; instead, Cress turned to the side and raced across the field, beyond where the palace structure ended. The burning sensation within her twinged sharply, pulling on her heartstrings until they ached. Cress could see the East Gate of the palace at the edge of her vision, but it was past this vast, empty expanse of green meadow that had never had any true purpose for the imperial system. Yet another luxury which Levana wished to boast of, probably.
As she neared the gate, Cress scanned the ground before her as she jogged, slowing down slightly to find her marker. There. The familiar silver arrow was driven into the ground, marking what looked to any ordinary eye like a darker patch of grass, or a simple shadow, blending in with those of the East Gate. But Cress knew it to be something entirely different, had trained herself to feel for it from well inside of her.
Cress stopped short, then dropped to her knees, scanning the empty area around her to make sure that she was alone. At her mental confirmation, Cress slipped up next to the silver arrow and pushed aside long tufts of grass to reveal what she was looking for.
A hole. Nothing cozy, just a dark, shapeless hole that was barely enough for even a five-foot girl like Cress to fit into. But beyond that, it opened up the slightest bit, its walls growing smoother and less of a pain on Cress's bare knees as she pushed her way through.
After three years, Cress knew her way through with her eyes closed, knew every rock that jutted out from the dirt.
It had been three years ago when she first discovered a hole in the ground that went five or six feet down, but just stopped, without a purpose to it. And a plan had formed in her mind, a plan to release her unnatural power in a place where it would never be discovered by those inhabiting the royal palace. It had taken an entire year for her to put it to use.
She hadn't dug up the entire thing - even with her resolve, it would probably have taken her a total of three years or so. No, more than half of it had already been constructed - in fact, the majority of it - and her sole job was to bring it back up to level ground in a simple ramp. Cress always assumed that it had been used for the soldiers, but had caved in on itself years ago - but she couldn't say for sure.
Either way, it had taken her small hands a year to dig an angular ramp on the other end, at the point where it stopped, a good seventy or eighty yards on the other side of the gate. She didn't mind that her hands were now peppered with a few small scars, here and there. Everyone bore them - she told herself that they shaped whom she truly was.
Cress kept her head low as to not hit it along the dirt roof of the tunnel as she crept forward.
She gritted her teeth suddenly as an ache flashed through her, almost caving her body inwards, as the fire inside her called, pulling so harshly that she winced visibly - or what would have been visibly if it weren't pitch-black. Almost there, she told herself, her nails digging into the dirt to steady herself as she ascending the ending ramp. The burning had never pulled this much before, this strongly. Probably because it was the longest time she had ever restrained from unleashing herself outward: three months.
She winced as the blinding sunlight blatantly struck her face, and Cress turned to see the guards back at the fence - not paying attention to her, the same way as always. Cress dropped flat amongst the tall grasses, creeping away from the palace gate, toward the familiar small cluster of trees a few yards away.
It was always a relief when she reached the trees. Cress collapsed against an oak, gasping for breath as the burning sensation clawed at her again, viciously. All right, so she was never going this long without unleashing her power again. Ever again.
But the balance was so hard to maintain. There had been times when she came out here each day, releasing her power into the air. And... well... it had shown up. She had been exhausted, physically - didn't wake up for two days, and couldn't let out any power for the next month.
Which was a good thing, but she never knew when she would need it. Though she definitely was set on keeping it from Levana, who would probably use it somehow.
The ache vanished as quickly at it had come, and Cress drew in a breath before jogging through the trees. She raced across a clearing, then hurled her small self over a short fence - short even for her - before finally dropping to the grass in the midst of a fully deserted meadow. The 'secret meadow', she liked to call it - in her head, of course, for she could tell no one. Doing so would involve bringing up the concept of her power, her inner self.
And besides, no one really knew who she was. She'd always been reserved and within herself, in the eyes of everyone else, she was just... well, abnormal. She just meant a blank figure to the Zanyah, and nothing more than a placeholder, someone to rule instead of Levana, because anyone was better than the current queen. The people all thought she was abnormal, strange... and Cress didn't honestly care. Let them believe that she lived in a cave in the castle, filled with bats and gnomes. And besides... she was already abnormal, inhumanly abnormal, just not in the ways that everyone thought.
Cress rose, slowly, to her feet, and lifted her right arm directly above her left shoulder, the exact position from which she began each time. Sure, she often moved off of whim, her arms dancing as of themselves, but she always began the same way, like she was mentally readying herself.
And swept her arm downward in a graceful curve, creating an arc of fire.
Living, burning fire, that she could maintain as long as she wished. Well, as long as her power didn't collapse from her exhaustion: a fire-loss, as she called it.
Her other arm moved up, creating a simple halo of flames around her hair, that would not burn her unless she commanded it. Which she was not going to do. Each hand cupped a small flame as she spread them up, wide, then spun, in a simple, fluid movement that left her wrapped entirely in fire.
It just made her feel so... alive - so different from what everyone thought she was. She let the burning flames disintegrate and vanish, then swept her arm out to let her fire ripple outwards against the grass. Though she tried her best to control it, as she always did, Cress saw that most of the grass was singed brown - in some places more recently than others. She always held back from actually destroying the grass, but her power usually leaked through.
She didn't know why someone like her would be given the power to destroy things at whim. Cress could just wave her arm outward and set something on fire with that simple movement, if she so willed it.
Her hair was ripped from its tie, draping down her back and pooling thickly at her feet. The haze of fire around her flickered out, and she set the ends of her ripped dress on fire as she spun again, arms out. She was just a star of fire, a flash of light in the midst of nowhere. Flames shot from both hands, but vanished as quickly as they came.
Her arms spread wide, forming a circle around her that hovered for a few moments before vanishing.
Cress brought her arms down, drawing in a breath. She'd always made it a point to draw her power out as long as she could - that is, each time she came to the 'secret meadow', she kept a simple flame burning as long as she possibly could... to strengthen what she could do. As if it weren't impossible enough already.
All other flames burned out instantly as Cress turned her attention to a small flame cupped in her palms, raging upward as she kept it contained to its size. She would keep it as long as she could, her eyes for nothing but the single, flickering flame. Cress could control it without her arms and hands... but it often helped her to use her arms to visualize the direction and overall image of the fire before she created it.
Her mother - her true mother - had known about it from the moment she had been born. Cress only had vague memories of her mother, helping her to control this raging fire at a young age... but she had died when Cress was four - before Cress could really get to know her. Since then, she'd often wondered what it would be like to have a real mother instead of a harshly tyrannical figure like Levana. After that, her father had helped her with the same thing, but he, too, passed when Cress was only nine. Fortunately, her father had promised her to keep the fire a secret... meaning Levana still didn't know. After that, Cress released her flames on borrowed time: in the washroom, in the dressing room, in the closet... wherever she could find time alone - for the year that she spent finishing the tunnel. And now... well, here she was.
Sometimes, it hurt to let the fire burn like that; sometimes, she just felt it seeping at her energy; sometimes, she felt nothing at all.
Today, Cress felt like she had too much energy, as if she could go forever if she tried... but also that she would explode into flames any minute, sending fire raging uncontrollably all around her. It... well, it terrified her, but she set her jaw and kept burning, her eyes glittering. She burned and burned and burned.
Cress started as she glimpsed a silhouetted figure jog silently away, passing her without a second glance, in the opposite direction of the palace.
Flames forgotten, Cress stood, watching as the figure jogged away at a decent pace - seemingly have run a long way. The well-built structure definitely belonged to a male, a man who had much physical experience before, from the look of him - even from behind. His pale blonde hair shifted under the breeze, his muscular arms tightly clenched at his sides. Cress watched, awed, as he lifted a hand to run through his hair.
Her arms fell limply at her sides as she watched, unable to tear her gaze away, as the figure dropped into a crouch to the ground, running his hands through the dirt as if he was searching for something.
Cress's legs were moving before she knew it, adrenaline rushing through her as she ran, trying to keep her footsteps as silent as possible as she tried to catch up to the point where the figure crouched. She didn't even gasp for breath as she finally paused, a few yards to the side of where he crouched.
The face was familiar. She'd seen it projected in many posters, charts, and screens before: one of the top five soldiers in all of the imperial army. This figure was fifth, if she remembered correctly - judging from his blonde hair. Cress's face flushed as she recalled that she had found the face handsome from the posters... with a square jaw and startlingly blue eyes.
If this was the same soldier... well, first, he would be achingly handsome, and Cress wasn't entirely sure if she was ready for that; and second, he was just a boy. Oh, and third - what in the stars was he doing out here?
Deserting, the answer tumbled and tossed in her head, though she didn't want to believe it.
Cress frowned. Although imperial law required anyone to report a deserter - if not try to apprehend him or her - Cress simply didn't want to take away the opportunity of freedom from anyone. He could possibly have a good life, somewhere out there, if he was never caught.
He's a deserter, the voices thundered, growling in her head.
But he's just a boy, Cress retorted.
He's breaking imperial law.
But he could be free if he manages to leave.
Almost as if he sensed her presence, the boy's head whipped up and met hers, startlingly blue. Cress blanched, feeling her soul drain from her as she tentatively took a step forward. She forgot she was the Crown Princess for a moment as he stared at her.
For a moment, something like guilt flashed across his face, though it was quickly replaced with defiance. He opened his mouth to speak - presumably an angry flow - but Cress spoke first, almost wishing she hadn't, as her voice dried on her throat.
Stars, you're more handsome than anyone I've ever seen, Cress wanted to tell him, but the words that came out were quite different. A soft whisper. "Go. I won't stop you."
"Please... just go." Cress managed a weak smile, flushing pink. "I... uh... well... I hope you... uh... do well out there."
The boy stepped toward her, reaching out one hand. "Thorne."
"I'm... uh... Cress. Well, Crescent, but... well... you can call me Cress."
He grinned, a flashing smile that made Cress just want to vanish. She was sure her face was blossoming red, by now, as she tried to stare somewhere else other than those eyes that kept drawing her back. And he was nearly half a foot taller than she was, making her feel suddenly awkward, like a bumbling child.
"Well, then, thanks, Princess." He took her hand, gently, and planted a soft kiss against her fingers, curiosity radiating off of him, probably once he saw the scars on her hand.
He raised an eyebrow, still maintaining that grin. "Princess. You know, you're the princess." The left side of his jaw quirked up in a half-smile, and Cress hated herself for thinking he was so handsome. Of course, Cress, you stupid girl. He wouldn't be calling you his princess.
"Oh... um... right. I... shouldn't be out here, either, so..."
"It was also because of my dashing good looks and great charm that you're letting me go, right?"
What? How had he guessed that she thought he was handsome? Well... many girls probably told him the same thing... Cress saw his joking grin, and let out a breath through her teeth. "Uh..." What in the stars was she supposed to say to that?
"I'm joking. Relax." He grinned. Oh, that grin was going to kill her. "Well... thanks again." He touched her shoulder, making her look straight into the depths of his eyes. "I mean it. Not everyone would do that."
Cress loosed a breath. "I... wish you well, Thorne. I hope our paths cross again."
Her arms moved out in a fluid wave, her heart moving freely with it. The resistance salute. The Zanyah'ssymbol, well-known to everyone. The silly, lovesick smile fell from her face as she realized, as a Princess, what she was doing. Her arms dropped, and she did her best to rearrange her features into nonchalance... though she was sure it wasn't working.
"Thanks... uh... Cress." It was clearly an effort for him to not say 'Your Highness', or anything of the sort. "I hope to see you again, soon, too. Everything you've done, keeping this a secret... it really means the world and stars to me. Thank you."
And he was gone, Cress staring longingly after him, until she finally forced herself to tear her gaze away.
She gave me the Zanyah salute, was the first thought that went through his head.
She gave me the freaking salute of the revolutionaries.
Did that mean she agreed with him, too?
Thorne cast a glance back over his shoulder to see her still staring after him, her unusually long hair blowing back in the distance. She was beautiful, not in the way that everyone thought a princess might be. She was... well, sweetly, innocently beautiful.
It took him only a few seconds to deem that everything he had heard about the Crown Princess was absolute nonsense. There was no way that this girl could live in a bat cave and talk to trolls and ghuls. That just couldn't be. This girl was... entirely unexpected for what he thought a princess should be. He didn't even recognize her through the ripped clothing and wild hair until she told him her name.
If the Crown Princess was really against Levana... well... that would make a big difference, wouldn't it? She seemed... too fragile... to have such a heavy load on her.
Thorne counted his steps as he kept up his steady jog, thoughts flashing at him from all directions.
Left. Just get the hell out of here, and don't look back.
Right. She was so small, so delicate... hopefully, nothing would happen to her if she was found out.
Left. Good riddance. They're all just pompous, arrogant royals or royal-supporters who don't deserve a second thought.
Right. But not her.
Left. Maybe you can find the Zanyah and join them.
Right. If that hell-invoked queen does anything to her... I will seriously bring the entire resistance to repay the favor.
Okay! First chapter done! This one was just more words because of the beginning - all the summaries of each the characters. Okay, and the actual content was a lot of words. The next ones will hopefully be shorter. But no promises.
I wish I could get Cress's abilites. I'd be playing with fire all day. Anyway, Cress/Thorne has already begun! Yay!
I hope you liked it so far. Please review!