Our Story So Far: Following Yu Yevon's defeat, Lulu, Auron, and Wakka and Rikku's family enjoy a much-needed respite in the strained hospitality of Yevon's capitol.
Lulu was knitting herself back together as methodically as she used to repair lace-embroidered sleeves before the campfire.
Auron saw it each morning when they awoke in the cramped chill. The shreds of dream that fled her eyes at first kiss were human now, most of the time. Her nightmares were fewer. The red marks at her wrists and throat had faded to ghostly white. On good mornings, he would wake to find her tangled in his arms, instead of brooding at the window or curled up coverless and apart, stiffly facing the wall.
She had dismissed the disquieting tug of the pyreflies, almost convincing him that she could not sense their insidious pull. When he pressed his doubts, she parried with a brief lecture. "Sin, the aeon that bridged the Farplane and Spira, has been eliminated. Pyreflies seek to close that breach, calling home souls who stray beyond their time. Of course, I need not fear that youwill answer that summons."
Outside of their private chamber, her eyes were acclimatizing to daylight. She readily joined Rikku and Wakka's family in their games of catch and toss around the fountain, honoring the memory of the High Summoner who had so treasured laughter. Lady Yuna's statue presided over the chaos, suspended in the spray while Al Bhed chatter and giggles disrupted the cloister's hushed decorum. Not that Lulu laughed often. She moved with mute grace among the children, allowing herself to be teased and targeted. Soon she was evading their throws, pivoting out of a missile's path with belled white skirts and braids swinging.
Vidina kept trying to teach her the rules. "You're supposed to catch the ball, not dodge it!"
Two handfuls of fluffy snow materialized above his head in answer. Then all the children had wanted snow, and the lawn around the fountain had nearly become a bog before the abbot stormed out to forbid black magic's use in the garden. Auron caught Zuke's tolerant smile as he returned to chambers, head shaking in slow wonderment.
Auron guarded. From the shadows of the colonnade, he watched those of Yevon who cast glances at the Al Bhed family sojourning in their midst. Not all looks were friendly.
Sometimes Wakka absented himself from play to watch as well, scratching the back of his head and staring at Lulu as if trying to solve a puzzle in the Cloister of Trials. Auron was occasionally implicated in that scrutiny.
Father Zuke's lessons were proceeding well. Wakka had softened enough to permit his daughter to attend their sessions, after he had extracted a firm promise from Lulu that little Yuna would hear no word of summoners, aeons or pilgrimages. The girl would play on the floor of the abbot's cell, amusing herself with bowls and marbles and her shoopuf doll. Sometimes she pretended to heal the doll's limbs while Zuke talked Lulu through white magic visualizations. During their work in the training sphere, Yuna would lean against Lulu's legs, head propped against her knee, waiting for the adults to stir from dream-trance. She never disturbed them. Lulu confided to Auron that the child's presence made it easier to enter and exit the pyrefly simulation without losing focus.
"She won't be with us in Zanarkand." Auron said.
"I know that." The mage's retort was emphasized with a hard smack of water.
Lulu and Auron had taken to drilling on the roof. There was ample room for swings and lunges, and a stray spell would not ignite the grass nor imperil passersby. At least she usually refrained from fire spells, since her borrowed robes had no magical shielding against combustion. Auron was mostly inured to frostbite by now.
The little white magics she was learning made practice easier. They were mere self-indulgence, however, as he told her bluntly. A feathering of silken magic that soothed away hurts was pleasant enough, sometimes distractingly so. But how much power could she afford to fritter away in the thick of battle?
Auron's boots skidded on wet gravel, striking the stone curb at the roof's edge. He swung his sword out and around, forming a horizontal barrier at her back.
Lulu halted, one hand raised in the claw-cast that meant Blizzara. Exhaling, she lowered her arm and pivoted slowly, gaze dropping to the the balcony on the level below and the vertiginous plunge beyond it. Bevelle's mountain-city leapt away in steep tiers, spires cutting through wisps of morning mist. Far below, the harbor was a pool of fog. Masts poked up through its soft golden surface like tiny pins. Enameled towers blazed with bold colors in the morning sun.
Bevelle. Once Auron had been proud to guard the holy city.
"Oh." Lulu smiled. "Quite a view, isn't it?"
He stared at her until she rapped the blade with her knuckles and moved away from the brink. She had not shared Auron's fondness for heights in the old days, but a decade as Sin had clearly left its imprint.
He resumed without warning, throwing his weight into a swing. Lulu lurched sideways, white robes now scored with dark stripes from his blade. A mask of ice caught his face on the blind side. He came dangerously near to hamstringing her on the backstroke. They were not pulling punches now.
"Gravity control was Sin's," he said, an oblique rebuke. "If you still have it, we should test it."
"No." She scattered hard, round ice-nodules at his feet, causing him to stumble. "No more flying. Just Ultima, and I won't risk that here."
Ultima. That devastating spell had come to her late in the pilgrimage, during their final battle with Seymour. Always her new magics had manifested in the grip of a bitter rage, raining down blast after blast with a force that left her friends awed and somewhat guarded around her for the rest of the day. He regretted that there had not been a chance to test Ultima upon Yunalesca.
"Anything else?" he said.
"Aero." She leaned away from his next swing. "Brace."
Auron set his feet and crouched as a burst of shearing wind slammed into him like the downdraft of a Garuda's wings, pistoning the air from his lungs. Gravel and slushy ice peppered his face and bare arms.
"Use on Gagazet," Auron rasped. "Knock down foes."
"Only if we're back to back." Lulu stepped neatly over another scything stroke. "Hold."
He straightened and racked his sword against his shoulder, catching his breath. Lulu gathered a handful of fire to herself for more subtle work, diffusing it slowly and pacing the open space around them. Ice chips and puddles steamed away from the rough surface.
Auron observed her steps closely. Her footwork today had been almost flawless.
It was time.
"When do we leave?" he said.
Her movements arrested. He hated his imagination, that for a moment interpreted her regal, straight posture as that of a statue. Then she banished the illusion with a roll of shoulders and a suppressed sigh. Her eyes lifted to survey the northern horizon where the Calm Lands spread out in a green haze. "Three of my pilgrimages have ended there. On two, I lost my summoners. And you..." Her fingers caressed the air in a straight line that followed the scars hidden under his breastplate. "Those accursed plains gave you no luck either."
"You said you can't fly any more."
Her eyes flashed irritation. "Auron, don't be dense!"
He considered and discarded the disagreeable prospect of chocobos. "An airship?"
"Why not? Surely your Al Bhed merchant friend will ferry you on one last journey."
"Maybe." The corner of his mouth twitched. "He'll expect payment."
A light patter of footsteps was coming up the stairwell.
"Then perhaps we should adjourn to Macalania Woods," Lulu said. "Time to test my spells on real fiends again, hmm? We should collect some hunting spoils to cover expenses."
"Oh, no you don't!" Rikku's head popped out of the hole in the roof. "There you are! Come on, slowpokes! Blitzball tournament today, remember? Good grief, Lulu, you're a mess!" She covered her mouth in mock-horror. "I can't believe it. Is that an honest-to-gosh speck of dirt on you? Get down here and change, pronto!"
Auron took in the games with resigned boredom. His thoughts drifted to two old friends from Zanarkand who might have enjoyed the spectacle, assuming they did not make one of themselves.
Strange to think how long it had been since he had last attended a blitzball tournament outside his duties to a summoner. Isaaru was there, of course, but Auron had declined the graciously-worded invitation to join Bevelle's new icon in the maesters' box. He could just discern three wavering forms on the far side of the sphere pool: the High Summoner arrayed in Yevon's vestments with no concern for hypocrisy, a stumpy warrior monk in dress armor, and the new Grand Maester wearing an unorthodox cut of robes, trim to the hip and split to allow the illusion of a rider's chaps. For all Lucil's prudence, Auron was not convinced that it was progress for the military branch to assume supreme command from the priesthood. Happily, Spira's affairs were no longer his concern.
Lulu, at least, was enjoying the game, childhood memories sparked by the athletic forms darting through the water. Even here, she could not help analyzing.
"There. The Goers' right defender. Watch his off-hand. When he cocks it by his ear and thrusts, so, it's a Blind spell." Lulu moved only her arm to point, trying not to rouse the girl dozing in her lap.
"Ha!" Wakka winked up at Rikku, seated beside Lulu on the row behind him. "See? Lu was always good at spottin' the sneaky stuff."
"That's because Lulu's sneaky," Rikku said, elbowing the mage. "I still haven't forgiven you for that Lightning Eater, you know. You about gave me a heart attack."
"What's a Lightning Eater?" Vidina said, not peeling his eyes from the match. "A machina? A fiend?"
"A shield against electricity," Rikku said. "Lulu's favorite spell. Meanie. She sent it to me as a little reminder of what we were in for, when we went to rescue her."
"Zap zap zap!" Etta said, bouncing on his father's knees.
Yuna stirred drowsily. "Thundara?"
"Not here." Lulu brushed her cheek. "Too many people." To Rikku, she said, "I knew I'd answer to Wakka if anything happened to you."
"Damned straight," Wakka said.
Auron stretched out his legs to block Mbela, who was crawling stealthily towards the aisle. Almost he lifted the urchin by her ankles, but her parents might be less tolerant than Jecht. The girl squeaked and scrabbled back to her mother.
"Hey!" Wakka said. "He did it again! I saw it, that time. You're right, Lu, look. The shooter can't aim."
"Or swim." Lulu shook her head as the Ronso plowed into the opposing goalie. "So, are you going to explain why you've enlisted me to help scout?"
"Uhhh," Wakka said. "Who says we're scouting? We just thought you'd like to see a blitzball tournament. You've gotta be going stir crazy, cooped up in that stuffy Yevon temple!"
"Wakka. Aren't you getting a little old to be coming out of retirement again?"
Wakka reddened. "I'm not that old, Lu!"
"Shhhhh!" Rikku's eyes creased with laughter.
Lulu arched an eyebrow.
"I'm just coaching," Wakka said, lowering his voice. "Rikku's a pretty good midfielder, though. We're rebuilding the Al Bhed Psyches."
"Yeah, Pops went ballistic when he found out Rin was betting against Team Al Bhed," Rikku said, sticking out her tongue at the sphere pool. "Rin's been backing the Luca team. They get the best training, the best free agents... you know, just like the old days. We've promised to bring the Cup back Home."
"I see. So that's how you convinced Cid to leave you in Bevelle." Lulu's soft chuckle transformed into a gasp, quite lost in the crowd's roar.
"Lulu?" Yuna sat up. "What's wrong?"
"Ow!" Rikku said. She rubbed her arm. "Yo, prickly lady! What was that for?"
Lulu shook her head, abruptly collecting Yuna in a quick hug and depositing her next to her mother. "Excuse me." She stood and moved towards the aisle, face spasming in another grimace. Auron rose and moved with her, scanning the crowd behind them.
There. At the top of their section stood a solitary Guado, his crest of forking hair singling him out from the other spectators. The man's arms were uplifted as if anticipating the "wave" cheer rippling around the stadium, but his attention was riveted upon the Al Bhed family clustered in the front two rows. Even at this distance, Auron recognized the fixed hostility radiating from that elongated figure. Auron gently pressed Lulu's forearm down as she raised it for a spell-cast. Her skin felt clammy.
"I'll deal with him," he said. Exiting their row, he began to stalk up the stairs.
Stealth was impossible, and Auron's prey saw him coming. With the eel-slippery speed of his kind, the Guado wheeled and dove into the nearest access tunnel. Auron followed, breaking into a run as he passed the top tier of seats. Bevelle's architecture helped him gain ground, since the steps were designed for human proportions, but his quarry had a formidable head start. Fortunately, the guard at the bottom of the stairs heard them coming and stepped out into the fugitive's path.
"Hey, you! Halt!"
A thunderclap jarred the floor. The passageway was illuminated in in an electric white flash as the guard staggered.
The Guado had pulled up to cast the spell, and that was all the opening Auron needed. He barreled into the gangly figure, ramming him against the wall with bracer pressed against the nape of his neck. "Don't try it," he growled, as his victim struggled to bring his arm up for a spell.
Seizing spiky tufts of hair, Auron hoisted and spun him around. The long, bilious face was unknown to him, but the sullen recognition in the stranger's eyes was plain enough.
"Sir Auron!" The guard came up in a wobbly salute. "What's this man done, sir?"
Ignoring the question, Auron pressed thumb and fingers around the Guado's neck in a loose throat-hold. "Who was your target?"
The answering croak was full of spite. "Whom do you think, guardian? She who destroyed my race."
"Sin is dead." Auron's face hardened.
"A lie," the Guado hissed. "You know the truth! Her form is changed, but the spirits of my murdered kinsmen howl for justice!"
A whispered argument at the top of the stairs alerted Auron to more witnesses. Before he could recalibrate tactics, he realized that one of the voices was Lulu's. Glancing up, he saw Wakka's orange crest silhouetted against the sunlight. The man was feebly trying to block her way, a futile effort since he lacked the will to hold her. Lulu evaded him and descended, coolly appraising the stranger pinned in Auron's grip.
Out of the corner of his eye, Auron caught an upward movement: a furtive spell-cast. Without thinking, Auron punched that wrist hard against the wall. He felt bone snap. The Guado jackknifed and began whimpering in pain.
"Sir Auron!" the guard said, pressing a button on the wall. "Please leave this to security. I don't want to have to arrest you."
"What did he do to you?" Auron growled as Lulu drifted close. Her pallor seemed more pronounced, although perhaps his imagination was playing tricks on him.
"Only Bio. Rikku had an antidote. Auron, it's all right."
"She's a fiend," the Guado said.
Wakka, following, gazed at him in mild loathing. "Look, I don't know what your problem is, man—" he started.
"The Guado have a grievance against me," Lulu said, expression remote. "Remember what happened to Guadosalam."
Wakka blanched. "Well, yeah, but..." He spread his hands. "But that wasn't you. You didn't want to do it."
"Didn't I, Wakka?"
Auron remembered: the great primordial forest reduced to blasted stumps, broken lumps of glass and slag, an opaque miasma of death issuing from the yawning chasm where the Farplane Portal had been ripped asunder. Nearly every Guado, holed up in mourning following the death of their insane leader, had been killed as the first victims to inaugurate Sin's return. Rumors claimed that there were not enough breeding individuals left to preserve their race. Even Seymour's genocide of the Ronso had not been so thorough.
Which made Auron no more inclined to mercy at the Guado's next words. "Were Lord Seymour still alive, this traitor to Yevon would have been executed for the murder of my people and my lord's lady wife, High Summoner Yuna!"
To a stranger, Lulu might appear unmoved, but Auron saw pale lips tighten, the lowered lids that meant some part of the garbled taunts had struck a mark.
Wakka's belligerent, "What?!" masked the sound of the Guado's choking.
"Auron," she said, a gentle remonstrance. "This isn't important."
He heard only the raw fatigue in her voice, not her meaning. A surge of rising bile swamped rational thought. He found himself jerking the prisoner roughly from side to side, ignoring the clawed hands scoring his arms and the feeble kicks pecking at his shins. It took an ice-cold spill of water inside his collar to snap the world back into focus. All but snarling, he lowered the Guado to the floor. Lulu's wet palm glanced against his knotted shoulder.
"That is enough." Juno came jogging into view, her sword halfway out of its sheath. "Release him."
Clamping down on the Farplane whispers urging fiend's violence, Auron pried open his fingers and stepped back. His victim slid moaning to the floor.
Juno and the guard exchanged quick nods. "Sergeant. Tend him. Sir Auron, you are under arrest for—"
"Hey!" Wakka burst out, in spite of himself. "Auron got a little hot, ya, but that Guado attacked Lulu first. He magicked her with poison. I think he was trying to kill her." His outrage was tinged with incredulity.
"Is this true?" Juno glanced to her subordinate.
"I don't know, Captain," said the guard, slinging the limp Guado's arm across his shoulder and lifting. "Their dispute began in the stands; I intercepted them here. He did cast a spell on me. Sir Auron was pursuing."
Juno pursed her lips. "All right. Sergeant, escort our guest to the healers. Lulu, you will return to Yuna's Cloister and remain there. Sir Auron may accompany you, provided there are no further incidents. Of anykind." She fixed the mage with a pointed look. "If you run into trouble, alert the city guard. There should be one within earshot all along your route. Do I make myself clear?"
"Quite clear, Captain." The mage raised a finger to stopper Wakka's protest. "Wakka, please stay. Reassure the children. You must let me know how the tournament comes out."
"But, Lu!" Wakka balled his hands into fists, eyes tracking the shambling Guado being led away. Finally, he gave Auron a grudging nod. "Look after her, ya?"
The swordsman grunted.
Lulu turned and glided off, trusting him to follow. Captain Juno waited with her hand on her sword's hilt until Auron's stiff back disappeared around the corner.
"Man, sorry," Wakka said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Never seen Sir Auron go off like that before."
Auron was stonily quiet on the long hike back to the citadel. Lulu said nothing, but the pressure of her hand tucked in the crook of his arm hinted that she was more concerned by his lapse than the assault itself. Chastened, he settled his mind with tactical exercises, evaluating their surroundings for cover and potential risks. Pedestrian traffic and hawkers' carts provided minor problems to solve, as did the wide open streets with too much exposure and too many blind alleys, doorways and windows. Now and again the glint of a warrior monk's helm turning in their direction told him that Juno's orders had traveled quickly— unless, of course, she had issued them earlier.
Lulu did not speak until they were more than halfway back to the cloister. "Remember that I can defend myself. Rikku and I had a rather... exciting... shopping expedition, the other day."
Auron rumbled. "You didn't mention any trouble."
"He wasn't much," Lulu said. "Although Captain Juno may guess who put one of her monks in the healers' quarters with a blistered face. Rikku's powders confused him enough that I hope he doesn't remember what happened, but," she shrugged, "I can hardly fault them."
He quickened his tread. "If Gippal isn't here in three days, we go."
St. Bevelle, the holy city. The holy terror, he thought dourly. Long ago, he had pledged his life to guard it from Sin. Considering life's ironies, it was no surprise that he was guarding Sin from Bevelle.
Auron's dark mood was improved somewhat by the gift they found waiting in their cell. Two satchels marked with Yevon's official crest had been placed upon the bed. A sealed scroll was tucked into the straps of one of them. Lulu broke the wax and read:
Defenders of Spira:
To those who undertake the sacred duty of pilgrimage, the College of St. Bevelle is honored to donate these offerings. We pray they may ease your hard road. All glory and praise to you, our brave saviors! Rest in the knowledge that you walk Yevon's true path. The hopes of Spira rest with you.
Thus far the traditional wording, or so Auron gathered. Braska had received neither note nor gifts on his departure from Bevelle. However, a different hand had added a personal note at the bottom of the official scroll:
I will pray for you, friends, that you find what you seek. It is your deeds that have ensured no other will ever be so provisioned. If you need aught else, ask.
Zuke, Abbot, Yuna's Cloister.
Lulu settled onto the bed, shifting the heavy pack and peeling back the oilcloth cover. "He knows my fear. Oh, Auron, this could outfit ten pilgrimages. When I think of those little gifts the villagers brought Lady Yuna when she left... why, this could pay for a whole new temple in Besaid."
He lowered himself and placed his hands across hers, hearing how abruptly her voice died away. "Let's sort through this and decide what we need."
They had just finished repacking when the chirruping clamor of voices in the hallway outside alerted them to their friends' return. Auron upended their bed's shared blankets onto one of the two cots and lifted the other, propping it against the wall as if it were not in use. Rikku burst in a moment later carrying a thick bundle of folded fabric. Wakka stumped in to drop a sack and a pair of ladies' boots, then retreated to the passage outside with the children bobbing around him, miming passes and catches.
"They're done!" Rikku said, dumping her parcels onto the remaining cot. "We stopped by the tailor to pick up your new clothes. Auron, shoo, out!" She swatted him as he turned to leave. "Wait, hang on, this one's yours. With a few modifications." She thrust his old red coat at him, mended, pressed, and shockingly clean.
"Thanks," he said. He moved to join Wakka in the corridor. There Vidina began regaling them with a dramatic play-by-play. Watching the boy's antics, Auron almost smiled, feeling an irregular hard shape in one of his coat pockets. It was a pair of Al Bhed sun goggles, almost the same shape as his Zanarkand glasses.
In the room, meanwhile, Lulu was inspecting the large pile of clothes that had been deposited on the bed.
"Okay!" Rikku said, shutting the door and advancing on Lulu. "Time to de-nun-i-fy you!"
"Rikku, you two shouldn't have paid for all these things."
"We didn't!" Rikku grinned. "I said to put them on Sir Auron's tab and send an invoice up to the Cloister. After all, we were picking up his coat."
Lulu shook her head. She drew a fur-lined cloak from the bag, turning it to inspect the silver sheen of its pale gray fabric. "I don't recall ordering this."
"That's for when you visit the Ronso, of course!" Rikku said, a little too brightly. She threw her arms around the woman's waist and squeezed hard. "I'm not loaning you any more fire marbles to tuck down your corset."
"Rikku." The mage lowered her voice. "Thank you."
"Off, off, off!" Rikku shoved at the baggy folds of the novice's habit. "I hope everything fits."
Admiring, adjusting, and lacing Lulu into a new bodice took time. The noise in the hallway soon abated. Wakka must have removed the children to the garden before they started trying to play blitzpong in the hallway. Rikku had forgotten none of the mage's vanities, and had bought a sampler of make-up, lip gloss and nail polish for her to try. They were waiting for her nails to finish drying when a low, steady throbbing in the air cut conversation short.
"Gippal!" Rikku said, jumping up. "He's back!"
The whine of airship brakes seemed to pass right through the ceiling. Lulu picked up the cloak, refolded it and started to tuck it into the top of one of the packs.
"Hey, what are you doing? Leave it. Come on!" Grabbing her wrist, Rikku dragged her towards the door and out into the hall.
Gippal had not arrived yet when they found Auron, Wakka, and the the gaggle of children in the garden. Rikku sauntered over to Wakka and mimed pulling back a curtain as Lulu approached. "Ta da!"
Gaping, Wakka nearly took a blitzball toss from Vidina on the nose.
Auron rose from the bench where he had been meditating. Taking the mage's measure, he was drily aware that he normally reserved this sort of exacting inspection for weapons, enemies or terrain.
She had girded herself again in a stiff corset whose scalloped neckline had probably caused Wakka's distraction. The matching gown was an extremely dark burgundy like the shadowed folds of Auron's coat. Her former outfit's mesh of leather belts across her legs was echoed vaguely by twisting layers of textured brocades, furled like the petals of a closed blossom, slashed between panels to allow freedom of movement. A subtle pattern of rosebuds and leaves was picked out in eddies of dark green, purple and navy threads twining along hems and edges.
Rikku must have done something to Lulu's face, but Auron's practical experience in such matters limited his observations to: Violet lipstick. Still odd. Hairsticks, earrings and necklaces of lacquered wood picked up the subdued hues of her gown's embroidery, supplemented with beads of purple shell and malachite. He was careful not to let his eye wander down the spill of necklaces to her full curves and the textured fabrics inviting touch.
Not for the first time did Auron wonder what alien race had deposited Lulu to be raised on simple backwater Besaid.
Wordless for more reasons than usual, he inclined his head, covering his minute bow with a hmph. Lulu raised her chin, accepting the subtle homage as her due, before turning away to face the children's uncensored critique.
"Why's she still wearing a dress?"
"'Cause she's the Lady."
"Frydc y dress?"
"The dye looks like blood."
Rikku snapped her fingers in front of Wakka's face. "Beep, beep! Eyes up!"
"Sorry," he said, blushing. "Lu, you look great. You look like you."
"Thank you, Wakka."
"Where the heck is Gippal, anyway?" Rikku said, scanning the sky.
"Oh, hey. I got a commsphere." Wakka fumbled in the pockets of his overalls and tossed an oversized blue marble at her.
"Duh!" She caught it in her palm and shook it. "C'mon, work."
There was a shrill pop. Gippal's voice filtered through static. "Wakka, come in. Wakka, come in. Pick up the frickin' sphere, you big..."
"Yo, Gip," Rikku said, holding it close to her mouth.
"Ow, not so loud! Rikku, find Auron, quick."
"He's right here, Gippal. What's up?"
"Uh..." There was a weighty pause. "Shinra, tell them."
The young man's scratchy voice cut in. "My sensors detected a massive energy node coalescing over Mt. Gagazet. The wave form is unstable, but consistent with an extremely high concentration of fiends."
"And that means...?" Wakka said, frowning.
"Our foe." Lulu raised her eyes to meet Auron's. "Sin is reforming."
To my few indomitable readers: I adore you. I love you. You motivate me. I sing hosannas to you. I also have a teeny favor to ask. If you're really excited by one of the plot twists or surprises that happened in a chapter, please try not to post major SPOILERS in story reviews, which new readers check before reading a story for the first time. You want them to be stunned, surprised, and tortured, er I mean entertained by the wild ride, just as you were, right? Thanks and thank you so much for staying with me!