"For your own good" is a useful but often badly thought out phrase,
This is one of those cases.
Events unfold including but not limited to:
If I shift the bilateral cooling array just three degrees to the left then I’ll have to rebalance everything again but it could improve efficiency by at least a factor of four in a sustained firefigh-
“Don’t touch him John.”
I paused for a second in confusion that words had just randomly come out of my mouth and a moment later I realised that not only was my left hand not holding my engraving tool anymore but it had also shot sideways to grab onto something warm in a death-grip.
Slowly my eyes trailed up my own arm and settled on a smugly grinning John who seemed rather pleased with himself for some reason as I held his hand just short of Bitey’s usual range of attack.
“I told you Sarah, she never changes. Just like in school, she’s lost to the world while she’s working but it’s like she’s got some kind of sixth sense for when someone’s about to mess with her stuff.”
He shot me a slightly wider, amused, smirk before turning his head to share that same look with just a touch more smugness in what I can only assume is Sarah’s general direction, eventually turning back to me again after a few seconds to really rub the look in naturally.
“Nice to have you back with us Han, how are you feeling?”
With an annoyed growl I dropped his hand and shifted in my seat slightly to get more comfortable for the conversation he’s now obviously intent on having for some powers-known reason.
“Don’t touch the plant; he’ll rip your finger off.”
Just because I have to accept talking over doing my work for now doesn’t mean I have to be nice about it.
Sadly my words only seemed to encourage him, having the opposite effect to what I was looking for, because John smiled slightly wider and wiggled his fingers teasingly at a point between me and Bitey as if trying to tempt us both into snapping at them.
“Oh come on Han the little guy’s harmless, look at him, he’s barely a sprout an- AH!”
John’s pinky finger waved slightly too far into range and Bitey moved with his usual lightning-fast precision, just missing said appendage due to John’s naturally boosted reaction times luckily.
“What the hell? The stupid thing really tried to bite me?!”
Sarah chose that moment to snigger and mumble something like ‘I told you so’ but I chose to ignore her in favor of setting my ever annoying friend right on the reality of the situation instead.
“Bitey isn’t a normal, cute little house-plant John-boy... early on I was trying to find a way to fix my core using my Golden healing diversion, a plan that failed spectacularly by the way, and part of that experiment involved me channelling the biggest sizable chunk of magic that I could manage from my core without passing out into a dead plant I found in one of Arista’s hidden grow-farms.”
I paused to take a breath and shifted uncomfortably in my seat, well aware that I was both far too sober and far too busy to be having this conversation right now in all honesty.
“I woke up after passing out from the pain to find my new roommate, Bitey, happily chewing away on a chunk of my hair that had fallen within range of his jaws… basically, as far as I can tell, he’s kinda some sort of ‘zombie-plant’ hybrid?...”
A look of horrified fascination spread slowly across John’s face as the seconds ticked by which was more than a little bit distracting.
Meanwhile Sarah seemed content to quietly stand as far away as she could from said plant as if he’d suddenly develop the ability to jump out of his pot and chase her or something equally stupid.
I stated, holding in a sigh of annoyance that THAT happened to be the part of all this he latched onto for some reason.
“-he was a dead plant after all and now he’s not, like you in a way now that I think about it?”
Judging by the glare that comment got John did not find the comparison in any way amusing.
“I don’t think he’s infectious at least, although to be fair I haven’t exactly tested that theory yet because finding a live specimen I don’t mind turning into some form of highly dangerous zombie if it turns out I’m wrong isn’t exactly an easy feat obviously…”
“…He’s a zombie, and you called him ‘Bitey’?...”
My lips twitched a few times before I gave in and smiled widely in response to John’s incredulous words.
What else was I supposed to call him really?
He’s too smart to be a ‘Darren’ and he practically threw himself off the desk when I suggested ‘Felix-two’, so now his name’s ‘Bitey’ and that’s that!
“You’ve been alone for far too long Han…”
My eye twitched at the implied insult in John’s almost hushed statement.
The fact I can’t exactly argue with him on that one when I’m sober enough to think rationally like this doesn’t help much either obviously.
Instead of dignifying his words with a response I turned around in my seat and picked up my wardstone again to get back to work before either he thinks of something equally as stupid as prodding Bitey with a finger to get my attention again or I get so far out of my rhythm that I need another dose or two of potion before I can carry on, an option which really wouldn’t be healthy at this point considering how close I am to overdosing on the stuff sadly.
“Han, how do we get Sarah’s suit off?”
For a moment or two the words spoken directly into my ear by an annoyingly familiar male voice didn’t really register in my head properly, but when his hand came down on my shoulder and shook me gently a few seconds later I jerked away in surprise, practically throwing my chair away in my rush to step away from the unexpected contact.
John’s hands instantly shot into the air in the universal sign that he meant no harm and he eyed me like a cornered animal for the few crucial heartbeats it took for my creating haze to fade enough that I could get my bearings properly at last.
“Sorry Han, didn’t expect to startle you that badly.”
I sighed and rolled my shoulders slightly, trying to ease some of the tension that had suddenly formed in them, its times like this that I REALLY wish mages could pop our joints properly!
“Nevermind, I was just a bit out of it, what’s up? Something about Sarah and a suit, right?”
John shot Sarah a slightly worried look which she shrugged in response to before he turned back to me with a blatantly concerned look on his face this time instead.
He shifted his feet a little awkwardly and after a few seconds of studying my face for some reason he continued speaking rather than questioning my reaction like he so obviously wants to do now.
“The invisible, skin-tight hazard suit you made for Sarah. How do we take it off?”
Oh… this again?…
“You don’t take it off John, I’ve got one on, Sarah’s got hers now, there’s one for you and Eris somewhere around here too. They’re necessary John, I’ll agree that it takes a bit of getting used to but they’re self-cleaning, no sweat, no bathroom breaks, no monthly annoyances for those of us who face that joy-”
For a long moment I hesitated, the words sticking in my throat slightly as flashes of that horrible day so many months ago came back to the forefront of my mind with little-to-no provocation, but I had to carry on despite them.
Of all people John was there and he’ll understand if I can just explain things properly...
“-you saw Wizard Island John, you saw what happened there, you saw the destruction a battle of wills between me and Arista caused.”
Slowly I trailed my eyes up to meet his slightly widened ones with as much seriousness as I could.
“We’ve been at war since the moment you forced my second awakening John, longer than that really thanks to a load of loud-mouthed seers through the years, I stumbled my way through it all and most of us survived that horrible mess… but not all of us…”
My head twitched towards Sarah for a second automatically as my mind turned to guilty thoughts of Mum’s untimely end at my own frost covered hands but with a force of will I pulled them back up to face John again, not that he missed the motion in the slightest of course.
“I’m an Enchanter John, not a warrior. Runes are an art, not a weapon.”
Without conscious effort a heavy breath left my lips in frustration as I shifted my feet uncomfortably under their confused stares.
“I can’t AFFORD to assume that this is all over, just because the tumor-bitch in my head is gone now; I can’t afford to sit back and get comfortable again… Runes aren’t a weapon, but if I’m proactive, if I plan, and build, and work HARD to protect what’s important then maybe next time a war comes to call on me I’ll have a fighting chance at stopping things before they can all go wrong and I end up with more blood on my hands again.”
An almost excruciating silence rolled out after that painfully true statement of intent from my own lips.
My feet shifted awkwardly again and after a moment’s pause I turned away from them both to go pick up my chair again so I can get back to work at last.
I glared defiantly at my desk, a wave of my hand cutting off his words before whatever stupid platitudes he was planning to let loose on the world could leave his lips for once.
-for once John just DON’T!
Let me have this, I need this, I’ll accept cutting back on the potions if that’s what it takes to get everyone off my back but I’m not stopping this now. I’ve worked too hard, hurt too much and gone too far towards insanity in this stupid quest to save everyone to stop now!
It’s an empty bid for redemption from someone whose actions are irredeemable at best but it’s all I’ve got now...
“Just don’t John, I know you, I know what you’re going to say and I know that you’re going to be right too because you’re an asshole like that at times… just this once can you let me live with the consequences of my actions in exchange for all the good I can do from accepting them?”
Slowly yet another awkward silence fell over us all once more.
I’m getting pretty sick of awkward silences at this point, even the dr-
“What happened to you in that crater Han?... What aren’t you telling me, telling everyone, that you think is so damning?...”
With a gasp of outrage I spun around to glare harshly at the stupid bastard who’d dare just openly ask me like that in front of Sarah as if i-
The rage in my eyes died out quickly at his command, shoved sideways into my straining head as those damn hypnotic eyes of his registered to my body before my conscious mind could even realise what was going on.
“You son of a bit-“
Before I could finish cussing him out, the world grew dark as my eyelids got heavy all of a sudden and I found myself falling forwards into his arms before it all faded away into a mercifully blank nothingness instead.
“She’s been exposed too long, the only options left are this or we let her go into withdrawal, which is more than likely going to just outright kill her from her body going into shock if nothing else.”
Part of me wanted to groan or growl as John’s voice came into focus but I clamped down on that urge viciously in favor of staying still and listening intensely instead.
“What about the cure? You said if you could get a sample of what’s effecting her you could neutralise it in her system and-”
An impatient growl from John stopped Sarah’s almost desperate question in its tracks as the warm shoulder-shaped object currently stuck in my gut from the ‘fireman’ carry he’s apparently using to move me somewhere tensed in aggravation.
“It’s not a potion Sarah, there is no outright cure, Hannah… she should be dead? There’s no magic to the ‘potion’ she was drinking, it’s just a carefully balanced mix of high-strength narcotics and hallucinogens.”
Vaguely part of my mind connected the dots and belatedly it became clear that the ‘Koo-ya-ore’ that John was talking about before he left Sarah to keep an eye on me was not only English but something as simple as a ‘cure’ that he stretched out the sounds of to confuse me in my drugged state.
“Have you ever heard of an ‘upper’ and a ‘downer’? In essence they’re two types of drugs, one brings on a sense of euphoria and the other depression, Han managed to make a cocktail of those sort of drugs which brought her into an almost perfect state of equilibrium, robbing her of most emotions and impulse control but leaving her in an advanced form of that stupid mental rut she likes to call her ‘creating haze’ for hours at a time… it’s insane, it’s stupid and idiotic, and so NOT Hannah that there’s nothing I can do but this to help her.”
“You’re sure it will work?”
“No, obviously, this is untested ground after all... but if anyone can pull it off then its Hannah. I just need to get her riled up and angry enough to pull it off, than pray to the Powers that she doesn’t kill me in the process, I guess?”
So that’s your plan is it John-boy?
Get me angry then see what happens, how predictable of you!
“You’d better not die, you melodramatic idiot, I only just started liking you. Dying on me now that I actually care what happens to you isn’t an option, okay?”
The humor in Sarah’s voice calmed my thoughts slightly for a moment but slowly the undertone of actual fear and worry underneath that humorous manner of hers struck me with more force then I’d expected.
When I was on the potions I’d suspected something was going on with the pair of them in my absence just from the way they spoke to each other now if nothing else, but hearing that worry in Sarah’s voice hurt a lot more then I’d anticipated honestly?
I’ve lost a lot of things to Sarah over the years, some willingly, some not-so-much… but I don’t think I can lose John to her too at this point.
I need him right now, even the idea of Sarah doing anything to him an-and.. and..
A growl rumbled low in my chest and I practically shot to my feet in a heartbeat sending John stumbling backwards from the force of me kicking off of his shoulder in my bid for freedom.
My eyes cut between the pair of them and Sarah flinched for some reason, taking several guilty steps away from me which I took as an invitation to focus back on the real source of my rising anger.
“Han, it’s not what you thin-”
My hand waved up towards Sarah’s face to cast a silencing spell on her automatically.
I saw her flinch once more out the corner of my eye but nothing happened surprisingly and, after a long confused pause, my eye’s widened in fear.
For the ambient magic around us to not do my bidding, that could only mean one thing…
“You took me out of my realm?”
A shudder made its way through my whole body and the air itself felt suddenly so cold as the idea that we weren’t in my realm anymore finally hit home to that deep, primal-fear section of my brain at last.
“What the hell are you THINKING John?! I’m defenceless out here! My core’s ruined, what if something happens? What if it explodes and kills everyone, what if someone attacks us, what if I-”
Our eye’s connected and a wave of numb calm fell over me like an oppressive blanket as those damn hypnotic eyes of his did their thing once more.
“Calm Hannah, I’ll protect you and keep you from harming others.”
’...I’m calm, he’ll protect me and keep me from harming others...’
“Your core is safe as long as you don’t reach for it, so don’t reach for it.”
'...My core is safe, I shouldn’t reach for it...’
“We are going somewhere safe and I’m going to help you, trust me on this?”
’...I trust him...’
John’s eyes drifted slightly off of mine towards Sarah and for a moment the power of his magic dropped in response before he tightened his gaze upon me once more with slightly widened eyes full of worry.
“Sarah, set up the ward like I showed you, I can’t break eye-contact at the moment, Hannah’s too angry for the effects to linger. Set up the ward and activate it, tell me when you’re done, okay?”
Part of me registered his words but their real meaning escaped me as the seconds ticked by, like water through my fingers when faced with the warmth of John’s eyes.
For the next few minutes I stood in a blissful stare-off with John, who was apparently having to fight hard not to blink for some reason while I focused on his words and the feelings they inspired in me.
...I trust him...
“It’s done, are you sure this is necessary? It’s her realm and-”
Sarah glanced away from us for some reason and her eye’s widened in fear.
Eris’s happy little voice rang out from behind me and even John’s hypnosis couldn’t suppress the bright smile that formed on my lips at the sound of her so happily calling out to me.
Instinctively John’s eye’s left mine for just a moment but that was all that was needed for reality to reassert itself for me, my head whipped away from his and my eyes squinted down as much as I could while still being able to see Eris as she sprinted towards us with a happy little skip in her step.
As she got closer I reached my arms out to snag her up onto my hip like I’ve longed to do for months now, while irrationally fearing that exact same outcome because I’m such a fool!
Just the sound of her voice was enough; I could never hurt her, my Eris...
Not even my stupid broken core would DARE to harm her when-
She’s almost reached me, but something isn’t right?
The world seemed to slow around us as her eyes trailed across me without recognition at all and she continued running past my outstretched arms as if they didn’t exist.
Slowly, almost mechanically, my body turned to watch as she flew by and folded herself against Sarah’s legs lovingly in a way I remember her once doing to me, so many months ago, before she discovered that being carried was much more fun of course...
Sarah’s head moved upwards, seemingly at a painful crawl, until our eye’s met and a silent conversation flew between us in twin-speak twitches that burned my chest even harder than my already rebelling magic ever could.
Apologies, that’s all her eyes could offer me?
Apologies and fear for what I might do next as Eris obliviously moved herself behind my sisters legs in a painfully familiar motion she used to do with me whenever faced with strangers…
Strangers like… me?...
John’s frantic yell broke the moment of horrified staring for me as the world sped up and my magic flared in outrage, hurt and every other emotion I could feel bubbling under my skin from my confusion and the growing pit of dreadful, rolling anger forming right along with it.
Before I could even move a muscle he surged forwards and tackled me around the waist heavily.
We didn’t even have a chance to fall before my vision bleached out to the annoyingly bright blue of a forced warp and the world fell away as he dragged me off somewhere despite my best efforts to escape his magic’s grasp.
We landed in a tangle of limbs which quickly separated as we both tumbled down the unstable side of some sort of sand-mountain that we’d appeared on top of.
Eventually we came to a stop, and with a jerk I came out of my wild defensive roll to glare at John from across the few meters worth of sand dividing us, my rage growing cold just from the calculating look in his eyes that reminded me so much of Max at his worst.
“Where are we?!”
There are so many questions, so many accusations, so many… so many EVERYTHINGS I want to throw at him right now but the only one that made it past my lips was that enraged war-cry of a question.
“Middle of nowhere, in Death Valley, I needed a safe place for you to explode and this is it.”
“Explode?! Why the hell would I ex-”
Even as the words were leaving my lips I could already tell that they were redundant.
Magic, thick tendrils of it, rolling in the every shade of color and elemental power imaginable were forming up around me, pouring out of my skin itself as my already terrible control slipped even further with my growing panic.
My core pulsed in my chest horribly, beating a rhythm into my magic itself which my Locus point was apparently more than willing to return with interest.
Slowly the pain registered as, with each pulse, my core pushed itself ever closer to its already stretched limit that I’ve been trying desperately to avoid for months now.
The shaky hold I had over my leg muscles gave out as yet more magic lashed around me wildly and my head sunk practically to my chest as I tried fruitlessly to focus on putting the storm back inside the bottle when in all honesty it’s already long since escaped my grasp at this point.
After a few seconds that felt like a lifetimes worth of me running into a proverbial brick wall of magic, something warm wrapped itself around me as a pair of gentle hands encircled me in a tight hug.
My eyes flew open almost as quickly as my head snapped up to stare at John’s smiling face in horror.
“What the hell are you doing?! My core’s breaking John, RUN!”
He didn’t even twitch at my yell; if anything all it did was make his grasp on me feel somehow even tighter despite his lack of actual movement.
“John! You were right, it was too much. I let my anger get to me and it’s too late, let go and run for powers sake, I can’t hold this all in for much longer!”
His arms shifted slightly and somehow he managed to scoop me up onto his lap despite the magic waving around us violently, yet somehow managing to not hit him in the process.
A warm smirk played across his lips for the second I got to see them before his head came down and he settled his chin on the nape of my neck comfortably.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“John, don’t do this, you don’t understand, my magic’s going crazy and its gonna-AHH!”
A scream pulled itself from my lips and my back arched harshly forward as something deep in my chest, most likely my core, snapped like the most terrible of broken bones.
By the time I came back to myself from the pain my breath was coming out in pants and I’d sunken back against John’s chest like a limp sack of potatoes.
“Please John, leave me here and run. My magic, it’ll... it’ll kill you?”
He shifted once again but, for some powers-known reason, the stupid bastard wouldn’t let me go!
“I’m guessing you heard at least some of my conversation earlier, you’re terrible at pretending to be asleep, and considering the circumstances I should probably cut to the chase-”
One of his arms stretched out to fully encircle my waist leaving his other one free to reach up and gently work its way into my hair in a way that felt surprisingly nice, and more than a little distracting.
“-this isn’t quite what I was planning but we’ll work with what we can here. I’m not going anywhere and your magic isn’t going to kill me any more then it will kill you Han, despite how it feels, there’s still a chance for us to both walk away from this mess unharmed.”
My jaw tensed as he shifted his head slightly and rubbed his chin into the tiny ticklish spot on my neck just next to my shoulder that he somehow seemed to know exists without me having ever told him about it in the slightest, probably a secret he learnt from Arista or Ari like so many others he’s known lately.
“Calm your thoughts Han, your body is weakened from the drugs you’ve been pumping it with, your core is damaged seemingly beyond repair from your fight with Arista and your mind is-”
My back arched violently again as the pain in my chest spiked once more and a scream ripped itself from my lips before trailing into an angry roar of ‘Get on with it!’ which he actually seemed to listen to for once.
“Use your diversion Han... It can heal anything, bring back the dead, and fix bloody-broken walls. When you have THAT as you’re trump card then you USE it as much as humanly possible!”
Not another word was needed between us at that point.
I’ll admit that I felt immeasurably stupid for not having thought of it before now, but in my defence I’ve gotten out of the habit of using the strange Golden ability Edith gave me ever since I knocked myself out trying to use it and accidentally created Bitey.
My magic’s beyond control at this point but luckily a diversion doesn’t need control, it’s practically an automatic process set to a mental trigger after all, almost entirely out of my control after I’ve set it to work.
That being said, I focused for a moment and almost instantly the multi-colored tentacles of magic waving away from my body started to bleed gold, the power inside them not being forced out like when Arista took over my body but seemingly being converted in the same way that this mysterious golden power inside me spread itself through the Hub unhindered, despite Mavens best efforts to stop it.
I found myself letting out a long breath of relief that at least something had gone right for once.
The way John lost what little tension was left in his form beneath me and the fact that the evil idiot decided to place the lightest of kisses on a rather sensitive spot above my exposed collar-bone didn’t help either obviously.
“Not out of the woods yet Han, but good work all the same, pull this next bit off and I’ll kiss that spot just below your ear that turns you to jelly, okay?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Joh-AHHH!!”
I couldn’t even get my denial out before my core surged again, making my throat burn from the agonised scream that burst forth from me in response to its efforts.
The stupid broken slab of metaphysical magical containment didn’t even give me a chance to catch my breath before it started all over again in its attempt to apparently tear itself apart and take my sanity with it!
I’m not sure how long I screamed for but eventually the pain DID subside, even if it didn’t completely go away in its entirety.
“It’s okay Han, breath, hold my hand and breath, you’re going to be okay I-”
“My magic’s trying to kill me John-boy; I’m not having a bloody baby!”
I couldn’t see the look on his face after that rather exasperated yell left my lips but I can guess and, honestly, I even had a rather muted sense of his feelings from his magic too which was a pretty odd sensation to have after months of isolation and intentionally avoiding my mage senses for fear of setting off my core once more.
“What’s the last step John? I’ve got a load of gold floating around me like a horny squid and if my guess is right we’ve got at most a minute before my core goes into meltdown again.”
He hesitated for a few seconds before answering me at last, which with John is usually a pretty bad sign in my experience, but nevertheless he still answered me eventually even if his response wasn’t the most reassuring thing that I could have hoped for.
“There’s nothing I can do about your core Han, I don’t know what happened to it but it’s broken beyond anything I’ve ever seen before and your leaking more magic then should physically fit inside you every second that we sit here, it wasn’t noticeable in your realm but ever since we got outside I’ve been feeling it and it’s pretty damn terrifying honestly...”
A little smile made its way onto my lips at the awe in his voice but that died away pretty quickly when my thoughts shifted to the ‘why’ on that one and all the people I killed to achieve this ‘impossible’ level of magical power that’s tearing me apart.
“If we survive this John-boy, I’ll explain it to you properly, now what’s the next step I need to fix my core?”
Despite my best efforts a rather frantic sounding breath pushed itself up my chest and past my lips as the pain in my core increased by an almost unnoticeable amount as if it could understand what I was planning to do and wasn’t too keen on it in the slightest.
“Han… there’s no way to fix your core...”
“I’ve been studying up on Arista’s past attempts at making a stable Locus point and after reading Arthur’s diary on Excalibur, Arista’s first successful attempt at making a Locus point of any kind, from what I can see there’s a step in the creation process she perfected that you haven’t reached yet.”
“Your core is holding you back at this point, it’s not yours to begin with, I don’t know where she got it from but Sarah’s core wasn’t the only one she transferred into you and if her methods held true over the years than the one you have currently imploding inside your chest is doing exactly that because a magical core CAN’T co-exist with a true Locus point. The power involved is just too much for even the greatest core ever recorded to handle.”
“WHAT?! What the hell are we gonna do the-AHHHH!!”
With impeccable timing my core decided that NOW would be the best time to show its nasty little crack-filled head yet again.
The pain was horrible, objectively not as bad as the pain I went through fighting Arista months ago, but then that was months ago and this is now which happens to bloody HURT!
My vision split between the real world and the part of my mindscape that houses my lines without any input from me, as if my magic had a flair for the dramatics and enjoyed having an audience as it seemed to wait for me to be watching before literally shattering the crumbling remains of my core into nothingness.
In the real world my magic went crazy, massive waves of golden light cresting and letting loose from my body in all directions which seemed to grow taller and wider with each successive pulse of power that left my body as that strange feeling in my gut that I’ve come to think of as my ‘Locus point’ in general started to beat in an almost steady rhythm which drowned out my hammering heartbeat from its intensity alone.
My lines, on the other hand, had become a wild tangle of threads flapping loosely from the location where they used to center themselves around my now destroyed core.
I watched on in a state of pain and bewilderment as the lines began to organise themselves once more and, as they moved, so did my viewpoint which resettled itself on a pit within my mindscape housing an endless void of swirling blue power around a seemingly tiny spec of golden light at its ever shifting heart.
All the loose lines around me sorted themselves out with almost methodical precision, forming up constructs and shapes that I remember clearly from the lines that once surrounded my old core.
When they had themselves in position they almost seemed to hesitate for a moment to make sure I was watching, like a child showing off for a bored parent or something equally stupid, before they all surged forward as one and connected violently with the storm swirling away inside the glowing pit of power in my gut.
I don’t really know what happened next, it all happened so fast.
The world exploded, my inner world disappearing into a golden light and the real world doing pretty much the exact same thing as a practically solid blast of golden light forced its way out of my poor aching body.
It left me no other option but to give in to the inevitable and collapse into oblivion from a mix of pain, relief and the overwhelming power rushing through my body all at once as if time itself would bow its head to this impossible force of nature given form inside me at its whim a-
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