SINS OF THE DAUGHTER, SINS OF THE SON
Chapter One: Discovery
Giancarlo Batistelli braced his feet wide apart, knuckles white where he gripped the handrail as he squinted into the driving rain. The world pitched steeply as his cherished Bravura was lifted bodily by the seas heaving beneath her, and then dropped steeply into the trough beyond. He could hear the schooner's timbers groan under the hammering of the seas, the sails straining at the rigging as though they were wild horses tethered against their will.
He loved it. Never did he feel more alive than when sailing in weather like this. Batistelli had been a man of the sea all his life, a sailor from a family of sailors, and to his mind this was what it was all about: looking sea and storm in the eye, and seeing who blinked. Being able to judge when one had to blink was the key, a skill that had kept him alive through fifty years of storms and high seas. This storm, he knew, had all but spent itself; his crew and his ship were more than a match for it. In a few moments they would round Cap Corse, the northern tip of Corsica, and reach safer waters in the island's lee.
Which meant that he had time for other, less pleasant, considerations. Catching the eye of his first mate he beckoned the man over.
"Looks like we've bested it, Gianni!" Marc Rousseau shouted as he made his way across the swaying deck with the easy grace that marked everything he did. Batistelli grinned at him, nodding assent as the Frenchman joined him on the quarterdeck, "Not bad, Marc, we'll make a sailor out of you yet!"
Rousseau grinned back, brushing unruly locks of black hair from his face. "Not likely," he shot back, "I still prefer women to boys!"
Batistelli snorted a laugh, "In that case my young friend, I have just the task for you."
Rousseau's expression shifted from amusement to curiosity, the new mood lasting barely a second before transforming into alarm. Raising his hands before him he edged away, "Ah, no no no-"
Batistelli clapped him heartily on the shoulder, nodding sagely over the younger man's protests. "Ah si, my friend. The lady was quite clear on the matter; she was to be told as soon as we rounded the cape."
"Send one of the men-"
"For shame, Marc, would you insult our noble passenger by sending her a deckhand?" Batistelli tutted, enjoying the moment, "No, that will not do."
Rousseau's eyes narrowed as he caught Batistelli's smirk. "Well, then why do you not attend her, Gianni?"
"Why?" Batistelli chuckled as he turned back to the rail, "Because I am as unmanned by her as you are, of course. Fortunately for me, I am also the captain – and so it falls to you."
Rousseau had no answer for that beyond a scowl and a heartfelt curse. Muttering further imprecations about the captain's sexual preferences, family tree and general character to himself, he stumped down the companionway to what was usually the captain's cabin. He managed to derive some minor satisfaction from the thought that Batistelli himself had surrendered his personal quarters to their passenger, albeit for a handsome fee. As the door loomed before him, however, the comfort the thought provided was fleeting.
Come on, Marc, he berated himself, she's just a woman, for the love of God. Combing his fingers through his damp hair he squared his shoulders and rapped smartly on the door.
A moment later he heard the bolt snap back. Hesitantly he edged forward, pushing the door open. His voice sounded much more confident than he felt as he called out, "Madame? Excuse me?"
As he opened the door fully he espied the room's occupant facing him over the map table which dominated the far end of the cabin. The only light came from a single lantern above her, a pool of illumination which cast her face into shadow under the snow-bright gleam of her impossible hair. Several bulky tomes were spread across the tabletop, her quill scribing notes in one while her other hand traced slowly across another. Hesitantly he advanced, his eyes flickering across what little he could see of the rest of the room, his mind suddenly filled with memories of the crews' whispered gossip about strange noises filtering through the ship in the night. He had been quick to laugh them off, assuring the men that they were allowing their imaginations to run wild, but alone in the gloomy cabin with the swaying lantern casting crazy shadows across the walls he felt a good deal less cocky.
He was halfway across the room when the quill ceased its scratching and he felt her eyes upon him. He froze in his tracks, feeling absurdly like a small animal confronted by a watchful serpent. For a long moment the only sound was the groan of the hull and the distant thunder of the seas outside.
"Well?" Her tone was irritated. "Are you just going to stand there?"
"Ah, no, Madame, please excuse me," Rousseau bowed apologetically, "but you asked to be told when we passed Cap Corse. Uh, and we have." He winced at the clumsy phrasing, but she merely nodded before lowering her gaze to the pages before her. Her reply was brisk and dismissive: "Tell your captain I will speak with him shortly."
Rousseau bowed again and turned to leave, doing his best to conceal his relief. Barely had he closed the door when he heard the bolt slide home. The young sailor stared at the closed door for a moment, then turned and with considerable effort managed not to run back up the companionway to the stairs. All the effort he could muster, however, could not erase the conviction that the Englishwoman had still been sitting at the table as the bolt worked of its own accord.
Rain and seawater greeted him as he emerged on deck, a distraction for which he was immensely grateful. The storm was losing strength rapidly, he noted, making his way to where Batistelli was speaking with Mancuso, the helmsman. The captain turned to greet him, grinning tightly.
"So you return from the den of the wolf, Marc." He cast an appraising eye over the younger man, "And you seem well and whole."
Rousseau returned the smile a little halfheartedly, "Whole at least," he muttered, "I swear there is something unnatural about that… woman."
Batistelli's grin faded and he glanced sideways at Mancuso, but the burly helmsman appeared not to have heard the exchange. With a tilt of his head he signaled Rousseau to join him at the railing overlooking the main deck.
"The crew makes enough rumours without you adding to them," the captain said, barely audible over the crash of the sea. Rousseau shifted uncomfortably.
"I apologize, Gianni, you're right. But still…"
"I know," Batistelli sighed, "but she pays very well, and what has she really done? Kept out of the way in the grand cabin-"
"And come up on deck on clear nights," Rousseau interjected, "I think that is what really scares the men - I mean, a woman using an astrolabe? Who has ever heard of such a thing?"
Batistelli smiled grimly and nodded, but did not reply. Unlike Rousseau he had seen the instruments in question at close quarters one evening, and they were far more intricate than a navigator's astrolabe and quarter. He had approached a little closer for a better look and she had turned to him, her expression faintly challenging as though daring him to ask what they were; he had not, and she had turned back to her work with a scornful smile. He had not spoken to anyone of his observations; better his crew believe her interest in the stars was that of a dilettante navigator rather than… whatever it was.
"Who indeed?" he agreed, "It is strange, yes. But not dangerous."
Rousseau shrugged reluctant agreement. A moment later he grunted in surprise, stiffening. Batistelli followed his eyes and tensed slightly as he made out the cloaked figure emerging onto the deck. Two crewmen at work nearby edged away as she swept past them, casting furtive glances at her back. The first mate chuckled humourlessly.
"I forgot, she said she would come to speak with you."
Batistelli sighed and straightened as the woman ascended the steps to the quarterdeck, bowing stiffly as he greeted her, "Good evening, Signora."
The woman acknowledged him with a slight tilt of her hooded head. "Captain Batistelli," she replied neutrally, "I understand that we shall arrive in Bastia shortly."
"Yes, Signora, that is correct. We should put in within two hours."
She nodded, then raised her head to study the stormy sky. Batistelli and Rousseau exchanged glances, the captain dismissing his first mate with a slight twitch of his head. As the Frenchman moved away Batistelli turned his attention back to his passenger whose face was still uplifted, her expression unreadable, and waited patiently.
Perhaps a minute passed before she spoke again. "I should need to be ashore for no more than four or five days, Captain," as she spoke she lowered her gaze to his face, "however, my business may take longer than anticipated. In that event-"
"We shall wait for you as I have already agreed, Signora." Batistelli said gruffly. Though he could not deny that he was intimidated by the Englishwoman, he had his pride; he did not like his word being questioned. "You do not need to concern yourself with that."
She did not speak in reply, merely nodding again and turning to look out over the deck.
Batistelli opened his mouth to speak and then closed it, half-turning away. He took a step towards the wheel, where Mancuso was watching the two of them while trying not to look like it, and stopped again. After a moment he turned back to the woman, his expression determined.
"Forgive me Signora Valentine, but if I may trouble you once again?"
Her only response was a slight turn of her head towards him. Taking the gesture as an invitation to continue he did so doggedly.
"Signora, Corsica can be a dangerous place, especially Bastia. I… would not feel comfortable allowing you to venture ashore unescorted. Please, Signora, if I might send some of my men to escort you while ashore?"
As he spoke the woman stiffened and turned the full weight of her attention upon him. Batistelli folded his arms across his thick chest and met her gaze pugnaciously. If she laughs, he thought, then she laughs. I have said what I felt I must. It was ironic, he knew – even absurd - to offer an escort to a woman who was, he felt sure, more dangerous and perhaps more malevolent than any of Bastia's dockland thugs. The Englishwoman was almost of an age with his eldest daughter, however, and his conscience had stirred from comfortable apathy as it occasionally did. He could not leave the matter unvoiced.
After a moment she seemed to relax, if only slightly. In the reflected lamplight a faint, bitter smile touched her lips.
"Your offer is very kind, Captain," she replied, her voice strangely neutral. Turning away again she continued, her tone once again cool, "but do not waste your concern upon me; I neither desire, nor require it. All I need from you is some information."
Though stung by her tone, Batistelli nodded curtly. "I will tell you what I can."
"Oh, it's simple enough. I will need accommodation ashore."
"There is an inn, the Red Hart," Batistelli replied promptly, "It is popular with the wealthier merchants and nobles who pass through."
"Very good. I shall leave a trunk by my door when I go ashore; have it delivered there. Now more importantly, I want to know how to find the dirtiest, cheapest, most scum-infested excuse for an inn in Bastia."
Batistelli blinked. Was she mocking his concern?
"I'm quite serious, I assure you," she continued, as though reading his mind, "I assume you possess this information."
"Si, I know," the captain said slowly, "I suppose the Albatross, in the Terra Vecchia, is perhaps most… qualified, in your terms. If you are seeking danger, that is where you would best begin. But the Albatross-"
"I know," she cut him off irritably, "It is precisely the sort of place a lady should avoid, yes? Again, captain, spare your concern for those who need it. Just direct me there."
Batistelli gritted his teeth, his mind made up. If she would not accept his offer he would do what he had to do without her knowledge.
"Of course, Signora."
Alastair Mackay was having a bad day.
The young Scot considered himself rather an authority on the subject of bad days – having had, in his life, what he considered to be an overabundance of them – and this one was, in his personal opinion, rather high on the scale and thoroughly deserving of the title.
It had started promisingly enough, waking alongside a pretty local lass named Benvenuta, but had rapidly devolved with the appearance of the girl's irate (and large) family and her large (and irate) husband-to-be. The resulting fracas had ended in his rather hurried departure from the family home, leaving most of his clothes and money behind.
His flight had been successful in that he eluded the sound beating the family had intended for him, but in his haste he had stumbled into a part of the Terra Vecchia district which was currently contested between two rival criminal gangs. There had followed a rather tense meeting with a half-dozen heavies who were convinced he was a spy for their enemies – why a spy would be running around in a half-fastened shirt and little else was apparently not a question that troubled them – which had perhaps inevitably resulted in more running for his life, interspersed with periods of hiding for his life. A lifetime's experience with such activities had stood him in good stead, though, and by mid-afternoon he had crawled safely into his room at the Albatross.
In the weeks he had spent in Bastia he had come to rather like the Albatross, as inns went; it was very cheap, and the man who ran it didn't ask questions. Indeed, he seemed eager to have as little to do with his patrons as possible. It had its problems; his room was ill-smelling, squalid and leaky and the bed could double as a louse farm, but to Mackay these were minor considerations. It was a place to sleep and it was cheap, leaving him more money for the important things - such as last night when he had wined and dined young Benvenuta at the much more elegant Olive Tree.
Unfortunately, with most of his wealth abandoned in his hasty flight that morning, he no longer had that luxury. Nevertheless, refusing to let the setback stymie him for long, he had swiftly determined an appropriate course of action: a skilful application of his card-playing talents should rebuild his fortunes. Eager to begin, and mindful of his limited means, he had decided to start by fleecing the patrons of the Albatross.
Looking back, he supposed that had been his real mistake. He knew what sort of patrons the Albatross attracted; he had seen and had dealings with their type in every town and city he had passed through in his travels, from his native Edinburgh to Marseille. The men who frequented the inn were not the type to take losing in their stride, particularly to a stranger, but he had been so smugly pleased with his winning streak that he had blithely ignored the early warning signs and kept right on winning until one of his opponents accused him of cheating. It was then that he realized that in his eagerness he had left his pistols in his room.
He had protested his innocence vigorously. That he was now backed up against the wall with a brawny forearm pressed across his throat and the tip of a dagger tickling his belly was, he felt, a clear indicator of the locals' ingrained prejudice against outsiders… perhaps bolstered by indignation at finding an inordinate number of face cards on his person.
Yes, Mackay thought, darkness starting to dance across his vision, it's been a very bad day.
His hearing was fading too, or so he thought when the murmurs of the onlookers faded. It was strange, he thought detachedly, that he could still hear the harsh breathing of his captor quite clearly. Not until he heard the clear jingle of coins from behind the Corsican did he realize that there was a different explanation for the sudden silence.
His assailants had also noticed. The pressure on his throat eased and the pricking of the dagger vanished as the man pinning him – Arnolfo, one of the others had called him – half turned. Mackay craned his head even as he gulped for air, catching a glimpse of platinum hair - the first really welcome thing to have happened in the long day.
"What the hell do you want?" That was Mateo, the man who had first accused him – a lean, hawk-nosed Sardinian with a scarred face and a smile that never reached his eyes.
"I want my servant back." Her tone brooked no argument; to Mackay she sounded like an angel, come to deliver him from evil. Arnolfo's grip loosened further in instinctive obedience.
Mateo, it seemed, was not so easily handled. "I'm not done with him. Now-"
Coin clattered on wood and Mateo stopped in mid-sentence. Arnolfo released Mackay completely and took a step away, his eyes – along with those of the rest of the inn – on the table they had been playing at. Mackay, edging past him, couldn't blame them; the half-dozen coins the woman had thrown onto the rough wood were worth six months' earnings to any of them. Mateo's tongue flicked across his lips as he eyed the coins, but as Mackay moved into view the Sardinian's gaze flicked to him and his expression hardened.
"He cheated us," he said flatly. Mackay's heart sank; he recognized the man's tone. This would not end without violence.
Lady Isabella strode forward past the rather dumbfounded Arnolfo to stand before the Scot. "Did he." she murmured frostily. Mackay looked up at her – he had forgotten how tall she was – and, shrugging, gave her his best sheepish smile.
He just had time to notice her lips curl into a sneer before a gloved fist smashed into the side of his face hard enough to knock him off his feet. Barely had he hit the floor when a boot slammed into his midsection, folding his body around it and driving every scrap of breath from his lungs.
Lady Isabella wrenched her foot back as Mackay, curled into the foetal position, gasped for air. He heard her hard-soled boots click on the floor as she stepped away.
After a moment's silence Mateo burst into laughter. Mackay was sure that for once the Sardinian's smile did reach his eyes. "Most satisfied, my lady." Wood creaked as Mateo sat down heavily, still laughing. Even from his position the Scot could feel the tension easing. "He is yours, with my compliments. Arnolfo, pick him up."
Mackay was hauled upright, a stance he found some difficulty in maintaining.
"He looks a little unsteady, signora," Mateo chuckled, "Perhaps you would care to share a drink while he recovers?"
"I think not." the woman replied coldly. "You two - make yourselves useful."
Rousseau started as the Englishwoman looked directly at him and Mercolino. For a moment he wondered if it was simply a coincidence, but her next words extinguished that hope rather abruptly.
"I do not like to be kept waiting, Mr. Rousseau." She spoke softly, but the menace behind the words was unmistakable. Rousseau glanced at Mercolino, who looked a little pale in the lamplight, and nodded reluctantly. The two sailors picked their way through the crowd to face her and she indicated Mackay with a toss of her head before drawing her deep hood over it. Rousseau in turn signaled Mercolino to help the man - who was looking decidedly queasy - preferring to remain unencumbered with his weapons in easy reach. Although he had to admit that the woman had handled the situation with rather deft brutality he knew that the crowd's mood could easily shift again. From Raoul's wary glances he could see his shipmate knew it too, and he did not doubt that the woman was equally aware; dealing with thugs was evidently not a new experience for her.
She did not wait for them, sweeping towards the door while they struggled in her wake. Rousseau let Mercolino pass with the injured man and brought up the rear, doing his best to be casual about it. So intent was he on the crowd that he almost didn't notice the other men stop abruptly.
"What's wrong?" he hissed, feeling every eye upon them.
"He wants us to get his bag from his room," Mercolino whispered urgently. Rousseau rolled his eyes unbelievingly.
"Forget it! He should be glad he's getting out at all!"
"I need m'bag," Mackay mumbled faintly, his Italian heavily accented though clear enough. "Something… lady's gonna want something in it."
Rousseau shook his head and withheld a curse. A glance around the room told him he needed to act quickly, if at all. "Where is it?"
"Upstairs… first door on your left," rasped Mackay, some of the strength back in his voice.
Rousseau made a dash up the stairs, mentally crossing himself as he went. I must be out of my mind, he thought wryly as he tugged the door open. Even in his hurry he couldn't help but be taken aback by the squalor of the room, but he gritted his teeth and swept the few belongings on the bed into the bag on the floor, shouldering the lot and hurrying back downstairs.
To his relief his passage through the barroom was barely noticed; the entertainment over, the patrons had gone back to their tables and their drinks. There was no sign of the others, and he hastened out the door into the rain and the darkness.
By the time the small party reached the end of the street Mackay had recovered enough to walk unassisted. He probed his face gingerly, wincing as his tongue found a loosened tooth which would probably work free in the next day or two. He supposed he should feel lucky that the punch hadn't smashed his jaw, which he knew from personal observation she was well capable of. On the other hand, she hadn't hesitated to give him the point of her boot when she kicked him. She had no doubt saved him from a much worse beating – if not death – but he rather wished she had found a less painful way.
Straightening, he gave a nod of thanks to the heavyset man who had been supporting him and thrust out his hand. "Alastair Mackay."
"Raoul Mercolino," the other replied, shaking hands briefly.
"Marc Rousseau," said the third man, drawing level with them and tossing Mackay his battered leather shoulder bag. Mackay nodded thanks, taking the opportunity to assess the man. French by his accent, a sailor by his garb, and too good-looking by half, was his initial conclusion. Still, the fellow had gone for his bag, so that counted in his favour. The other, Mercolino, was bigger and heavier but clearly deferred to the Frenchman – who in turn deferred to Lady Isabella, but that was hardly a surprise.
That thought turned Mackay's attention to the lady in question, striding ahead so swiftly that her heavy traveling cloak billowed behind her. Fumbling in his bag he hastened to catch her up, his fingers closing about what he sought just as he reached her.
She did not slow her pace, forcing Mackay to keep trotting to keep up with her.
"I do not want to hear your excuses, Mr Mackay. I pay you for information; I do not pay you to get yourself knifed in a tavern before passing your information on. This had better not turn out like Mont St Michel."
Mackay winced; of course she would bring that debacle up. This was his chance to redeem that mistake, he reminded himself… assuming he hadn't gotten it wrong…
Shaking off the momentary doubt he proffered the cloak-pin. She swept it from his hand, stopping in the pool of light streaming from a nearby window to examine the piece. The polished silver sparkled in the soft light as she tilted and turned it, before closing her fist about it.
"Where did you find this?" Her irritation was tempered by curiosity, which Mackay took as an excellent sign.
"It was pawned here in Bastia about six months ago," he replied, trying valiantly not to sound too smug. "The fellow it belonged to lives in the hills not thirty miles from here."
She opened her fist again, the cloak-pin gleaming in her palm, and regarded it for a long moment before turning to him.
"Well," she said softly, "It appears I was right not to break your jaw after all. Go on."
"He came ashore in Calvi… uh, almost a year ago now. Headed straight up into the hills, lived up there ever since. I couldn't find out a lot, but it seems he just keeps to himself. Guess he hunts some, because sometimes he comes down an' sells pelts, sometimes firewood. He's pawned a few things too, weapons and such. Spends all the money on booze. They say he's a bit out of his head, though. Dangerous. Say even the local brigands won't go within ten mile o' his cabin any more." Mackay grinned weakly as he finished his report, waiting nervously for her response in spite of his certainty that he had found what she wanted.
Abruptly she nodded. "Very good, Mr Mackay." Turning away she tossed a small pouch to him, its jingle comforting music to his ears. "I assume you can find this cabin you speak of. Arrange mounts and a cart and attend me at the Red Hart in the morning. As for you two, thank your Captain Batistelli for his concern and perhaps suggest he send nobody else after me that he is not prepared to lose." With that she swept away, leaving the three men silent in her wake.
Mackay turned to the two sailors, his spirits buoyant. "So lads, what do you say the three of us find somewhere we can put our feet up and knock back a few?"
They looked at him as though he were out of his mind, but he didn't care; he was alive, he had money and best of all, he was more or less back in the Lady's favour.
It had been a good day.
Wakefulness came grudgingly to the man, one eye cracking open only to flinch shut again. Late morning sunlight was filtering through the larger gaps in the rickety wall and roof to dapple the floor, or at least the debris that littered it. Sometime during the night the rains had stopped, leaving only a few puddles on the floor in silent testament to the dubious state of the roof.
Reluctantly he half-rolled onto his side, reaching the edge of his narrow cot. The movement brought his face into the sunlight and even with his eyes closed it sent bright daggers of pain lancing through his skull. Groaning, he raised one arm to shield his face, wondering blearily just why he kept doing this to himself.
He knew the answer, of course, even before he asked the question; when he drank, he did not dream.
He tried to shuffle the thought away, but it lingered as it always did. In his introspection it took him several moments to identify the snort of a horse outside, and even longer to process the implications.
He was still working through the latter process when the door smashed inwards, the old wood splintering. With reflexes honed by grueling experience he rolled out of his cot only to find that all the experience in the world can be overcome by sufficient application of alcohol. His legs folded beneath him and he dropped heavily to the floor, the world spinning about him.
A hand closed on the back of his shirt and he was half-carried, half-dragged across the cluttered floor and out into the light. He tried to resist then, struggling in an effort to escape the pitiless brilliance of the sun, but his captor was relentless and he was still too hung over to make much of a fight of it.
His progress forward came to a halt ten feet past the door when the other released him abruptly, depositing him face-first in a puddle of muddy rainwater. Choking and sputtering he flipped onto his back, grimacing as the sunlight hit him full in the face and rolling further onto his side.
He was vaguely aware of the light crunch of footsteps circling him, the light dimming as a shadow fell across him. He let one eye open a crack, taking in the figure as it stood above him.
"It is time to awaken, Herr Schtauffen."
The voice was cool, disdainful and horribly, horribly familiar. It was a voice he sometimes heard in his darkest dreams, when memories his own and yet not his own held him writhing in their irresistible grasp.
He scrabbled backwards, ignoring the pain in his head as he tried again to get to his feet only to have his legs falter yet again. "Nein!" he croaked, crawling desperately away from her, "No! Stay away! It's finished! I am done with that cursed blade, done with all of it!"
She paced after him unhurriedly, effortless in her superiority. One gloved hand drew something from under her cloak and he stopped in his flight, staring at the object in peculiar fascination in spite of his fears. It was nothing – a small lacquered box, no larger than her palm, fashioned in dark wood with a strangely carved surface– but it caught his eye as though it were a priceless jewel. As she knelt beside him he whispered, "What is that?"
In response she snapped the box open and-
The voice roared in his head, louder even than the screams, drowning out the world. He was blinded by the sound, fire blazing through his veins, power coursing through his body. He opened his eyes and before him was a wasteland ravaged by his own hand. He surveyed the scorched land with horror and hideous exultation even as the terrible power coursing through his body wracked it with pain, twisting bone and melting flesh to remake him in its image; he was screaming, screaming soundlessly, the sound lost among the roar of the fires he had set consuming the world -
As suddenly as it had begun the vision – memory – faded and he slumped nervelessly to the ground, every muscle in his body aflame. By contrast his head was oddly clear, his senses sharp and alive.
Ivy straightened from his side, slipping the little box – now closed again – back into its pouch. She was little more than a black silhouette against the sun, her hair a brilliant halo as she looked down at him.
"You may wish to be done with it, Herr Schtauffen" she said softly, "but - clearly - Soul Edge is not done with you."
Author's Notes: This fic has been knocking around my head in one form or another for about three years (since I got Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast, anyway). I'm delighted to be finally putting it onto (virtual) paper. It was inspired by a single piece of art from the game's Art Gallery…
The story is, at its heart, a romance (Ivy/Siegfried), but as you can probably tell it's going to take a while to get there and it's not going to be an easy road. Not all of the game's characters will appear, but several have important parts to play (can you tell an Ivy story without Cervantes?).
In any case, I'm probably just talking to myself by now, so I'll wrap up. Hope you enjoyed, and as anyone who's ever posted a story will know, feedback is the stuff of life. Take care, and hope to see you next chapter!