"Urgh! Plaything this is boring! Your job is boring!"
"... Syndra... please..."
Sighing, Irelia's posture seemed to sag in her chair for a moment before she dropped the pen in her hand to her desk and turned her gaze towards the sovereign. Syndra was resting on top of a small mountain of pillows on the floor of the captain's office. The mage seemed oddly out of place, being surrounded by such fluffy items...
"Syndra, I told you that I had to return to work today. You didn't have to come with me if you didn't want to. Work isn't exactly something that is intended to be fun."
"No buts, Syndra..." Irelia interrupted, "I have a lot of things to catch up on. I was gone for months and Ionia has done much to change in my absence."
The captain's words earned a pouting huff from the sovereign, but Syndra finally fell quiet, leaving Irelia to think and ponder her own thoughts.
Realistically, Irelia's near obsessive return to the piles of work that awaited her was not much more than her own way of distracting herself from the matters that were truly bothering her. What were those matters? Keeping things simple, today was a very big day. Hours earlier, both Elder Kwan and Elder Karma had left to the summit of elders; an impromtu meeting that was called into session to discuss none other than the fate of the Dark Sovereign.
Irelia was worried.
She was extremely worried.
What was it that the elders would decide? Would they continue down the path of vengeance and demand retribution for the sovereign's actions? What if they chose to use Syndra as an example and seal away the powers that the mage was gifted with? What if they even came after herself for the things that she had done? Irelia did turn her blades against the people she had sworn to protect... What if-
"Ow!" Irelia abruptly yelped as a fluffy object collided with her forehead. Blinking, Irelia watched as a pillow fell to the floor beside her. It took the woman a moment to trace the object's flight path back to the culprit who sent the object whizzing into her face.
"You're doing it again, plaything." Syndra grumbled from her position on the floor. "Stop worrying so much."
Taking a deep breath, Irelia shook her head and did her best to shake the unusual amount of agitation plaguing her mind. It wasn't like her to be so worried and dwell over such a thing as this, but when it came down to the ones she considered to be her family... Things were quite simply a different story. She had lost her family once. Saying that she had troubles imagining such a thing happening ever again? Well that would have been an understatement.
"Can't help it." Irelia grumbled back rather gruffly, shuffling more papers as a means to distract herself.
Scowling, Syndra rose from her sprawled out position atop her mountain of pillows before floating casually over to the captain's chair and wrapping her arms around the warrior... Her warrior...
Pushing aside the mantle that floated behind Irelia's back, Syndra pressed her lips against the top of the woman's head; a rather subtle gesture of affection that nobody other than Irelia was likely to ever see.
"Well, plaything, you can always focus on me instead!" Syndra declared, her trademark twisted smile plastering her features as she grinned winningly at the captain. Clearly, the woman believed her logic to be the only reasonable path for Irelia to take.
Beneath Syndra's grasp, Irelia drew a long, deep breath as she allowed some stress to leave her body. Of course it didn't rid her of all her worry, but it was perhaps better than nothing. For now, perhaps the sovereign was right... Perhaps she should just focus on the mage and cherish the time she had with the sovereign. After all, who knew when the-
"-Hey!" Irelia abruptly barked, interrupting her own train of thought.
In the midst of her thinking, Syndra had conveniently taken the opportunity to make one of her hands slowly creep towards the captain's chest.
"None of that here. This is a working setting." Irelia stated in a blunt, almost commanding tone.
Of course Syndra responded by widening the grin on her face.
Sneaking down, Syndra lowered herself to the floor where she rested her chin on the captain's shoulder and snaked her arms around Irelia's stomach instead.
"All the more reason to do it, plaything~" Syndra teased with yet again rather uncharacteristic flirtatiousness.
Irelia sighed for what seemed to be the hundredth time before speaking up again.
"Syndra... I really just can't do this right now... okay?" The captain stressed with a look of exasperation on her face. Had the situation been any different, say perhaps in private with nothing to worry about, Irelia would have undoubtedly obliged at least a part of the mage's game. But here, when the fate of her loved one was dangling in the balance, it was all Irelia could do to worry and keep on worrying.
Needless to say, Syndra's playful mood dissipated rather quickly after that. She didn't quite know what to do about it either. To see her one and only beloved plaything worrying about her simply brought the sovereign feelings that she hadn't quite experienced before. Was it guilt? Or was it pleasure? Probably a mix of those and a few other dozen emotions...
It wasn't until Irelia shook her head that the sudden movement shook Syndra out of her thoughts. With a frown, Syndra reliquished her grasp on the captain and floated over to the woman's desk where she folded her legs and took a seat on the polished wooden table.
"Well I am taking this gamble based on the idea that those fools you call leaders will not make the same mistake twice!" Syndra huffed almost arrogantly.
And yet, unlike the other times Irelia might have rolled her eyes at the mage's words, this time she only tried to shove that lump in her throat back down into her stomach.
"... Here's hoping..." She murmured, "here's hoping..."
Meanwhile, at the Summit of Elders...
"Absolutely not! How dare you even suggest such a thing! Invite the Dark Sovereign to live among us in the Placidium? Absolutely absurd! Have you no idea how quickly she resorts to anger and violence? You of all people who have seen her in the fields-"
"Elder Akira, please. You need not raise your voice..." Elder Kwan interrupted with a soft, yet commanding tone. His words immediately drew a rather embarrassed clear of the throat from the younger elder. "We all understand your agitation, but please, we must do our best to keep things civil..."
"But he does bring a valid point, Elder Kwan." Came another voice, this time from a red haired woman sitting opposite to Elder Kwan. "How will the mage be controlled if she is within our walls? I dare say I would not enjoy awakening to half the city destroyed by an untamed magic..."
"Of the times I have seen the sovereign use her magic, a majority of the time has been more harmful to herself than to those around her." Elder Kwan answered neutrally, "But I do understand your concern... Regrettably, I myself must say that I do share in them, but regardless, I do not believe that controlling her is the term we should be using for this... We tried to control her once before, and look what that turned her into?"
"Then what might you suggest, Elder Kwan? Your stance on this matter is well known." Akira butted in rather brashly. A rather characteristic thing for him to do given his younger age in comparison to the rest of the elders.
"The solution is simple!" One of the other elders butted in before Elder Kwan could reply, "She must yield to our demands, dampen her magic to within normal levels, and then we can accept her as one of our own. We tried to teach her the path, we tried to show her the way. But her rejection of our teachings leaves us at an impasse. If she wishes to join us, she must yield."
"Perseverance is a virtue, Elder Rikuto... But stubbornness is a flaw." Karma spoke up for the very first time in the entire meeting.
"Then what might you suggest, Elder Karma? It is not as though we can simply allow this raging demon to reside within our walls where she may destroy us all at a mere whim!" Elder Rikuto argued back, clearly offended with the way Karma flat out rejected his suggestion.
Karma shut her eyes as she composed her thoughts before taking a breath. There was most certainly no simply solution to their quandary. Even if Syndra was allowed to stay, what would the populace say and feel about her? Would being around other Ionians only drive the sovereign's volatile temper into further explosiveness? And yet, if they didn't accept her, what would they do? Banish her? They had already driven the mage into isolation, and if they did it again, not only would they commit the same mistake as they did in the past, but they would also tear their dear captain of the guard clean into fragments.
"You continue to speak of Syndra as some sort of abomination." Elder Kwan spoke up with a visible frown on his face. "Does her actions of protecting both me and Karma mean nothing? She is hardly this witch that you speak of. She is only a girl who was driven away from the loving care that she needed. This is an opportunity to mend the mistakes we have made in the past."
"Mistakes?! You call those mistakes? Those were the only reasonable actions that were taken to begin with!" Elder Rikuto argued back, clearly quite livid with the direction Elder Kwan was going.
"And what, Elder Rikuto? If we were to force such restraints upon her once more, her bitterness and resentment towards us would only increase. No… This is not the time for a repetition of old, it is a time for a better path." Elder Kwan answered, his tone soothing and coaxing.
"Not to be mistaken for sure, the sovereign must face the crimes that she has committed, but the process of teaching her is one that must be taken slowly." Karma continued where Elder Kwan had left off, "But this is not the pressing matter. The pressing matter is that she is among us now, beside our Captain of the Guard-"
"-A position that is compromising to both Captain Lito and the image of our country!" Akira butted in yet again.
The younger elder's words drew a rather cool gaze from Karma; a look of disapproval hidden behind those wizened eyes of hers.
"Elder Akira…" Karma spoke up in a cool, soft tone, "Do you believe that you can control who it is that you fall in love with?"
The younger elder stiffened almost immediately upon hearing Karma's simple question. Of course there was no correct answer to the question, but the direction that it went clearly pointed only in one way. The simple answer to the question being no.
"Well…. I…." Akira stammered, "Uhm… well… no…"
"Then is it fair of us to look upon Captain Lito's actions as poor?" Karma questioned almost immediately, "For it was the captain who took the first steps and did what none of us ever tried to do… She took the steps and weathered the storm to break past the walls the sov… Syndra… set up about her heart. But not only that, she opened that heart; a heart so cold and calloused by actions that we have taken… And shown that heart a new warmth. A glimmer of hope for her to believe in once more."
At this point, the entire council had fallen silent as the enlightened one's words ruled supreme. Eloquence was one way to explain Karma's speech, but even that didn't quite seem appropriate to cover how easily her words seemed to come.
"You see, love is a force that is inexplicable. It compels us to do things that we never would have done before… Things that even transcend the bounds of mortality… It is a truth so universal, that we can see this throughout all of Runeterra… Why is it that we must put such a barrier between these two of our country? What right have we to deny them the love that they have both sought for so very long? Not only that, but the bond between our Captain and Syndra among the strongest I have ever seen. For it has weathered our doubts… our suspicions… our resistance…. And through it all it has persevered, stronger now than it has ever been."
Karma paused for a brief moment to allow her words to hang in the atmosphere for a moment before sinking in. When she spoke up again, her voice was of a calm, accepting tone.
"And thus… is it really fair for us to even attempt to separate them? Can we even separate them?" The elder questioned rhetorically, "Even if we banish the sovereign, what is to stop our captain from leaving the city to visit her? Suppose that we were to even banish the captain, the sovereign would follow with her. But that idea lone is preposterous to begin with. Ionia could hardly be itself without the captain… Which leaves us with the option of allowing the mage to integrate with us."
"But this time, there is a difference." Karma spoke over Elder Rikuto as he attempted to press in, "In the past, when we tried to teach the sovereign restraint and control, we had naught to encourage her… Her parents had forsaken her, the master she believed she could trust had been dampening her all behind her back… Betrayal… Distrust… But now, there is a difference. Syndra has a motivation now. She has the captain to love and protect, be that from the forces that wish to harm Captain Lito and Ionia… or perhaps even herself."
Another pause as Karma took a moment to catch her breath.
"Restraint and control is not something that any of us will ever be able to teach the sovereign. It is all we can do to show her the path. But now, there is somebody who can walk that path with Syndra… An encouragement for the sovereign and a goal for her to strive for. And thus it is not for us to guide the mage on her journey… It is for Captain Lito and Syndra herself to take together… Perhaps I may be alone in this belief, but with those two together, I do believe that their journey will be successful."
With that, Karma leaned back slightly into her chair and clasped her hands together on the table, signaling that she had spoken her mind and all she had wished to voice.
Silence followed the enlightened one's words, none of the other elders speaking for a while as they measured the weight and logic behind Karma's words. It wasn't until a few minutes later that the silence was finally cracked.
"… But… What punishment is it that we can administer?" Akira spoke up, his tone remarkably calm, for the first time in the entire meeting…
His words earned a resigned sigh from Karma, no easy answer coming to her mind as she considered the younger elder's questions.
"Perhaps…" Elder Kwan spoke up, pausing briefly as his words drew the attention of every other person in the room. "Well, there is perhaps a suitable… punishment…" He continued rather haltingly, seeming almost as if he was measuring the feasibility of his own idea.
"Perhaps…?" Elder Rikuto pressed, clearly desperate to hear this suggestion.
"Community Service." Elder Kwan stated rather stiffly, clearly expecting his suggestion to be met with heavy resistance.
Remarkably enough, there wasn't any… For a few moments at least…
"Community. Service." Elder Rikuto repeated, sounding almost dumbfounded by the suggestion, "HOW IN TH-"
"A lifetime of service to the people would be a fitting punishment for the lives she has ruined." Karma interrupted before Elder Rikuto could explode into an angry tirade. It seemed strange, such words as servitude being spoken from the lips of the enlightened one.
Again, Elder Rikuto seemed to hesitate for a few moments as he glance from Karma, to Elder Kwan, and then back to Karma again.
"Am I missing something here?" He finally sputtered furiously, "Or are you truly suggesting that we integrate the Witch of Ionia into our country? We have NO control over her! NO means of subduing her should she go rampant like every demon always does!"
"WE will not be the ones controlling her. Nobody will be doing any controlling of anyone else." Elder Kwan answered rather harshly. "Clearly, the sovereign will not listen to us. She will not listen to the people either. But who she will listen to is our own Captain of the Guard."
"So what? You want to allow those two to remain together? Allow the witch to pollute and corrupt the mind of one of our most celebrated warriors in all of Ionia?"
"… Well… Yes." Elder Kwan answered in an incredibly blunt reply, "Though I do disagree with this polluting and corruption. If anything at all, it is the sov-… Syndra… Who displayed such overwhelming resolve in the face of adversity. You have seen her memories yourself, Elder Rikuto… Or will you deny that which you have seen with your own eyes?"
Before Elder Kwan could pressure the elder further, however, Karma stepped in and relieved him of such an unforgiving torrent of eloquent words.
"Simply put, we have little an option in this situation." Karma continued, "Should be choose to banish Syndra, it isn't out of the option that our captain of the guard would follow her heart and join her lover in exile. Frankly, I haven't ever seen our captain of the guard even bat an eyelash in the aspect of love. Courted, perhaps she has done so once or twice, but fallen in love… It would be cruel for us to even think of separating them."
"Enlightened one, please… I implore you to see this in a different light!" Elder Rikuto pushed, desperation almost in his tone. "The witch of Ionia is but a time bomb that could explode at a moment's notice! Can you not see this? She is a threat!"
"And she will be even more a threat if we attempt to take away more than what we have already attempted to take from her." Karma answered cryptically.
"The Will of the Blades is ours!" The elder pressed even stronger, "It isn't the Dark Sovereign that is having something stolen from her, it is us!"
"So it is still thievery if it is Captain Lito who is the one to make such a decision to follow her lover?" Elder Kwan questioned, "Elder Rikuto… I do understand why you fear the dark sovereign so much, and if you have no intentions of attempting to right the wrongs we have committed, then perhaps just give this one chance for the Will of the Blades. So much she has sacrificed for our country… For so long she has walked her path alone. Doesn't she deserve this one chance to finally find the happiness that has eluded her for so very long?"
Silence followed the elder's words as nobody in the council seemed to find a fitting counter for the things that Elder Kwan has spoken. Indeed, it was as though any negative action they took towards the Dark Sovereign was very much an indirect assault on their beloved Will of the Blades.
"… Then perhaps it is time to bring this discussion to a vote…"
Back in the Placidium
"Plaything, I'm bored!"
With Irelia continuing to go about her work, Syndra finally scowled before floating up into the air and plopping herself down on one of the chairs that sat directly across from Irelia; the mage resting both her elbows on the table and resting her chin the palms of her hands. Nothing but a playful smile on the white haired woman's features as she idly swayed back and forth in her seat, watching Irelia as the captain continued about her work.
Of course with the mage being suddenly so quiet, Irelia's attention was inevitably drawn to the woman…
"Yes?" Irelia spoke up at last, finally answering the mage's call for attention despite a few minutes having passed.
"Hmm? Oh, me? Plaything?" Syndra grinned cheekily as she finally drew that bit of attention she wanted, "I'm just watching my captain as she works!"
"Right." Came the captain's one worded and rather curt reply, Irelia promptly returning to her papers.
Of course Syndra wasn't exactly willing to just let the captain go like that, as moments later, the mage's foot reached out beneath the table and ran up and down along the captain's shin.
At first, Irelia pursed her lips and continued about her work as though absolutely nothing had changed in her situation, but after a minute, the rubbing began to get… distracting… Then again, it only took a moment for Irelia to think up a way to get the mage to stop.
Gently laying the report in her hands down on the table, Irelia took a breath and stretched as though she were taking one of those normal mini-breaks she took ever so rarely. However, as she returned to her normal sitting position, her hands didn't quite return to the report in the desk…
Instead, the suddenly shot beneath the table and snatched Syndra by the ankle!
"Hey!- NO!" Syndra yelped, but she was far too late on the pick up to stop the captain at that point as Irelia immediately assaulted the bottom of Syndra's foot with a few tickling fingers.
"N- PLAY-NOO! STOP- HAHAHAH- Noo!" Syndra yelped and gasped, squirming and attempting to pull her leg free from the captain's grasp. Unfortunately for her, the captain refused to let the sovereign go, the tickling continuing as Irelia's digits graced all along the sovereign's underfoot, up to the mage's calf, then back to her foot until Syndra was wheezing and gasping for mercy.
"There!" Irelia declared, finally dropping the mage's foot, prompting Syndra to immediately withdraw her leg and curl herself into a ball on her chair.
"You cheat!" Syndra huffed, squirming slightly in her seat and scratching the bottom of her foot to make the tingling sensation of Irelia's assault dissipate faster.
"I do not cheat." Irelia answered evenly, "I simply needed a way to stop you from distracting me. I have work to do."
Syndra seemed to curl closer to herself, hugging her knees to her chest as she continued to pout until abruptly her eyes squinted at the captain. Was she planning something? Without a doubt.
"MY TURN!" Syndra declared as she leapt from her chair and floated in to the air, over the table and over straight into Irelia's lap. The sovereign didn't even make an attempt to stop herself as she went crashing into the captain, sending both of them to the floor, Syndra on top of the warrior as she straddled the woman and held the captain in place by the shoulders.
"Syndra!" Irelia exclaimed as she found herself blinking up at the mage. Of course by the time she had recovered from her surprise, the warrior only found Syndra grinning down at her with an almost predatorial gaze on her features. Definitely a hint of what the mage wanted in that particular moment.
Thankfully enough, or perhaps the exact opposite, there was a sharp rap on the door before the door to Irelia's office creaked open. Two familiar faces entered the room along with a yordle, all of which were met with the sight of Syndra straddling the captain while the captain was flattened on the floor.
With no context for the particular situation, the eldest leader of the trio merely cleared his throat and spoke.
"Are we interrupting?" Shen inquired, his expression completely neutral and almost as though there was nothing out of the ordinary. Akali, on the other hand, had a hue of red on her cheeks, while Kennen was grinning like an idiot as they stared at the way Syndra was sitting on top of the captain.
"YES!" Syndra interrupted the captain before Irelia could finish.
"We shall wait then." Shen answered in his eerily even voice as he folded his arms and remained rooted in the position he was standing in. Of course the gesture was one that merely meant that he was there on business and that he wasn't going to move until his business was completed.
When she finally realized that Shen wasn't going to leave, Syndra scowled and finally shuffled off of the captain, allowing Irelia to rise to her feet, only to be pulled back down immediately as Syndra used her magic to right the captain's chair, place the warrior in it, and then plop herself down on Irelia's lap; the sovereign wrapping and arm around the captain as if silently saying "she's mine!"
With both women finally seated, Shen took both women's attention as an indication that he could proceed. Reaching down, the Kinkou ninja pulled forth a letter from a case and unfolded a long document. Even without the ninja speaking at all, Irelia already knew what it was. It was easy to see the woman stiffen up and sit slightly taller in preparation to receive the news.
At last, Shen began to read.
To whom it may concern,
We, the Elders of Ionia, hereby find Syndra the Dark Sovereign, guilty of over one hundred accounts of murder, destruction of Ionian land, obstruction of justice, plotting against Ionia and her people, assault towards Ionia and her people…
As Shen continued along the list of crimes Syndra was convicted of, Irelia's heart seemed to sink lower and lower into her stomach. The knot in her throat was almost suffocating, and the grip to which she held onto Syndra seemed to tighten until it was strangling.
… In any normal case, there would be only one suitable punishment for these crimes which number so numerous. Capital punishment is reserved for only the worst of Ionia's criminals and is the only viable punishment for this case.
Unconsciously, Irelia swallowed in rare fear. Was Syndra sentence truly going to be the death sentence?
However, in light of recent events, the severity of this sentence has been respectfully reduced. We, the elders of Ionia, hereby sentence Syndra the Dark Sovereign to a lifetime of servitude to the people of Ionia until death or unfit to serve. Service to the people will be guided directly by Captain Irelia Lito….
The rest of what Shen said, however, seemed to fall upon deaf ears, as the surge of emotions flooded Irelia's mind, blotting out all other senses or feelings the captain could have other than an overwhelming sense of relief, dread, and everything else in-between.
Minutes later, a squirming movement seemed to bring the warrior's attention back to the world, but it didn't last. Nothing could shake the captain from the shocked stupor she had landed in. Though it wasn't said directly, the elders had given Syndra that second chance, and in effect, given Irelia the chance to finally have the family that she had missed for so very long. When at last, Irelia's ears decided to pick up on the snippets of noise sounding from around her, she would only hear Syndra's babbling on and on about something she couldn't quite understand at the moment.
"… All okay now, plaything! Just like I said it would be! Now I work for you plaything! That means that this is my office too! That means I get a desk and comfy chair and… Plaything?" Abruptly, Syndra's yammering stopped as her eyes settled back upon her lover. What was different?
Irelia was crying.
Though the captain sat stalk still in her seat, not a tremble in her body, tears were simply falling from the woman's eyes as she gazed up at the three Kinkou members that had come to deliver the Elder's verdict to her. She wanted to speak, she wanted to voice her gratitude, and yet words seemed to trap themselves in the knot that remained in her throat. And thus all the captain could do was… cry.
The captain of the guard almost never expressed such a degree of emotion in the workplace or anywhere at all for that matter, yet for the second time in the span of just a few weeks, Irelia had yet again cracked in that strong, stoic demeanor she always wore. All of her emotions seemed to drain from her form as those tears fell. All the relief, gratitude, and all the other emotions that had bottled up flowed free from their restraints as their burden was finally lifted from the captain's shoulders.
"Plaything!?" Syndra demanded, sounding strangely alarmed and confused as to why tears were streaming from the captain's eyes, "What's wrong? Does it hurt? Did they hurt you?! Why are you crying!?"
As she spoke, Syndra's thumbs reached up to the captain's face and made a sloppy attempt to brush those tears away.
At last, one of the captain's hands rose from its place, reaching up to clasp one of the sovereign's wrists and hold it in place with a vice like strength that seemed as though it would never let go. It was then that the captain's mind seemed to return to her body, her entire frame shook and trembled as the warrior drew a breath of air that was laden with pure emotion. When at last, her lips cracked open to utter a few words, her voice was hoarse and barely even a whisper.
"Thank you…." Irelia breathed before taking another shaky breath, "Thank you…"
With those words spoken, Shen bowed his head to the captain of the guard and all three members of the Kinkou order exited the captain's office; the door closing gently behind them with a light click.
But even their exit was almost invisible to the captain of the guard. Already, her eyes had finally returned to the woman she had fallen from the skies for.
For the longest time, Irelia merely gazed softly into those violet eyes which glowed with such an untamable power. No words were exchanged between the women as they gazed soulfully into each other's eyes. Seconds turned to an eternity as the two drew inexorably closer until at last, Irelia's eyes fluttered shut.
Though her breath was still uneven, and her body was still racked with emotion, this time, that emotion was one that was vastly different. Even Syndra, who didn't quite understand the moment they were sharing instinctively knew what it was she was supposed to do.
At last, their lips finally met together in a soulful kiss…
Their very first kiss together.
This chapter is being posted a very long time after I finished writing the majority of the text. Personally, I was very reluctant to see the end of this story come to fruition simply because it is the end of a story that I have dedicated so much of my own time to. Perhaps I've grown attached to the own characters and story because of it. I'm not too sure really. There are other reasons for delays and such, but I won't go into them as they are more of just an excuse at this point.
As this story is most certainly at its end, I believe that the next question is whether or not I will be posting more stories in the future. Unfortunately, the answer to this isn't quite so simple to me. For the past few months, I have kind of returned to the bad habit of simply writing stories that I myself enjoy and haven't really been posting them or sharing them at all be that on here or on tumblr. If there is an interest in those stories, however, I will consider uploading them here. Currently, I have a completely original story, a college themed league of legends story with way too much influence from my yuri goggles, and then a story based on the Tera universe. I will most certainly have to do some housekeeping with those stories should I decide to share them here though, I mean if I'm the only one reading/writing them, sometimes I get lazy with grammer or spelling or what not...
Regardless! I would sincerely like to thank you everyone who has made this story so popular, and another heartfelt thank you to all of you who have helped me grow so much as a writer. I hope for the very best for all of you, and I hope to see you in any stories in the future.
Until next time,