The ship is on fire. It’s plummeting through the atmosphere. Everything is heating up and the back half of it broke off two minutes ago. The fact that it’s not in a lethal-gee tumble is a minor miracle but it’s not going to matter. The ground is rushing up fast… but probably not so fast that this fragment won’t burn up before it gets there. Death by fire it is then. Hunter can smell his own fur starting to smoke…
The grey colored wolfen gasps as he comes to and pitches forward. He’s in the same dark room they’d found shelter in after they’d made the upper levels. He’d sat down to get a little bit of rest and… nightmares. Always nightmares.
The wolfen checks his chrono. 40 minutes. He’d been asleep for 40 minutes. Blinking, he looks to see where the others are. Penelope is seated not too far from Ardul, eyes closed. Sophia is, as expected, not far from Kaji. Eyes glued on him whether he’s awake or not.
“Steady, my Lord…” that’s Ardul’s voice as Hunter pitches forward, her arm going around his shoulder to settle him. “Another dream?” Had she slept? It’s hard to tell right at the moment but possibly not. It’s likely she’s kept watch whilst the others have tried to doze.
Or gazed at their hero, as the case may be.
“I’d say you’re safe but … we’re still in the tunnels in Vanished Point. I have water if you need it, Lord?” She still calls Hunter that, despite his reminders. “The others are resting, I believe…”
His head resting against his arms that he has folded over his knees, Kaji’s own sleep has been light, fitful, but then he expected that more or less the moment he tried to closed his eyes. He’s not sure when he might have actually fallen asleep, sure that he must have, but not feeling like it.
At least his own nightmares have not surfaced lately. Now and then they come, but he’d never miss such sleepless nights. Most of the time his dreams are abstract, strange bits that make no sense in different ways than dreams usually seem to. Memories, he thinks, but the thought always vanishes with the dreams once he wakes up.
Hearing voices, he rouses from his nap, which feels more like he’d just been closing his eyes for a time. That might have been the case. Who knows anymore? Still, Kaji rubs at his eyes, squinting a bit before he looks around. Where was he again? Oh, right. He stifles a groan as he stretches his arms out, then his back and finally his legs. Not the most comfortable position to sleep.
“…it time to move again..?” he asks, rubbing at his neck.
“Nightmares.” Hunter nods to Ardul. “I’ll take that water, thanks.”
After a drink the wolfen stands, nodding to Kaji. “Yes, time to get going.” Sophia stands when Kaji does. Penelope seems to come awake almost instantly and pulls herself to her feet with her oak staff.
“How far is it to where we’re going?” She asks.
“Not very.” Hunter walks to the doorway of the building they’d sheltered in and peers out. The upper levels here are bathed in sunlight but otherwise they look like the lower levels, at least from the ground. Towers everywhere, really. And fog. Well, clouds, but they’re like fog when you’re in them.
“We’re just going over there. Not too far. Big tower, see it? The trouble is… we have to go up it… and we don’t know if the tower is running.”
“It is, Kaji, yes…” Ardul says at the same as Hunter, rising smoothly to her feet and stretching a bit. It’s not hard to imagine that she’s used to this type of trek, the way she just seems to flow with it. “How are you doing?” Her concern for the youth is obvious. “And yourselves, Penelope and Sophia?”
As they look out the door, she squints a little into that sunshine. It’s almost unexpected after the gloom of below. “If it isn’t running, Lord?” she asks quietly “I can lift myself up and maybe able to take you, one at a time, but … so many trips will … be exhausting.” Meaning if they get into a fight, she might not be any good.
“I’m okay. Not sure if I really got any rest, but I’m not feeling tired or anything,” Kaji assures Ardul. He gets to his feet, curving his back in a final stretch before he tugs his jacket straight. He smiles briefly at Sophia, then looks out to the building that Hunter is.
“Power out here seems hit or miss. Uggh, why’s everything we need to go to always upstairs?” he sighs. “I guess at least they’re still standing straight up.” He can’t help but think of that one movie with a monster rampaging through New York while a few friends went up a badly tilted building looking for someone. …having no giant-sized monsters to deal with is a blessing, at least. Smaller ones, well…
“We’ll just have to see how it goes and figure it out from there. I mean, if it comes to taking the stairs, then…” He shrugs, then smiles lopsidedly, pumping a fist. “Ganbatte ne! We’ll do our best.”
Hunter looks at Kaji like he’s sprouted a second head for a moment and then looks at Sophia – who clearly thinks that is the most adorably heroic thing she’s ever seen – then at Ardul. “Right. If the power isn’t running we’ll take the stairs. I prefer that to you being exhausted. Now. Come…”
The short distance between the tower and the shelter make for a quick crossing. Hunter is still wary of open sky – of which there is a lot up here – but oddly there seem to be fewer flying demons. Perhaps that’s because all the prey is below this level. Whatever the reason they make the tower and are quickly… forced to take the stairs.
The two nature spirits bear the climb with rather silent grace. There’s a pretty good view, whatever the case, since the stairwell passes repeatedly by large windows that run down the side of the tower. It’s quiet in here. Clean too. The only issue, really, seems to be the fact that the air is getting a biiiiiit thin. They are, now, after all near 3500 feet up and still climbing.
Finally Penelope holds up a hand and glances around until she sees a door that goes from the stairwell into the tower proper.
“It’s in there. Well, it’s that way. I can sense another power, though…”
Hunter walks over to the door and quietly opens it. “Oh… my…”
Light filters into a cavernous room with a huge window on the far wall. There are absolutely massive spider webs everywhere. It looks like Ingerhast’s office but… writ large. The angles call into mind the architecture of a cathedral. All wide opens spaces with high, vaulted ‘ceilings’ formed by webs. It smells musty in here but not, as one might fear, of death and rot.
At the far end there’s a pedestal on which there appears to be a small wooden case, such as one might hold something valuable and fragile in.
“Gambotte what?” Ardul asks, blinking at Kaji as he punches the air. She notices Sophia’s adoration and suppresses the smile that rises. Kaji wouldn’t appreciate that, she’s sure.
The stairs, for the most part, don’t pose a problem for the blonde. She’s fit and this is really mostly just another for her. She does keep an eye on the others, though. “Charming …” her lips twist as she see’s the spiderwebs. “And it’s through there we have to go?” She doesn’t draw her plasma blade just yet. She’s sure she’s going to need it in not too long – even if it’s just to slice webs away.
Not even taking the stairs up alongside the escalators in that movie-themed amusement park on the West Coast was this torturous! It hadn’t been so bad the first how many flights, but the fatigue really hits the legs rather abruptly, even for someone in fair shape. That the view outside is amazing is but one of the few things that help make the journey less tedious.
“…my legs…are going to fall off…” Kaji he mutters, here and there pausing to catch his breath and make sure his legs aren’t feeling like gelatin when he takes the next step. But they do finally make it, even if by the time Penelope signals for them to halt, he’s got a hand on the railing, half hauling himself that way.
Spider webs aside, it’s pretty amazing how they’re structured. There’s gotta be some fancy spider up here, and he doesn’t think their name is Charlotte…
Blinking, Kaji looks across the way. “Seems like it,” he says quietly, frowning a little. “…um…by another power, what kind exactly…?”
Sophia, dagger in hand, sticks close to Kaji as the whole group moves into the wide, well lit space. Penelope moves off to Hunter’s left, pointing her staff like it’s a weapon. Hunter moves beside Ardul, his pistol out and pointing.
“I’m not quite sure but it feels… familiar…” Sophia says quietly.
“Most guests knock before they enter.” A woman’s rather sibilant voice says from above. Looking up Hunter sees a massive hunting spider crawling down one of the walls. It’s thirty feet across if it’s an inch and still fits quite comfortably here.
“Well, no, they don’t. They’re demons. They don’t have manners. But I live in hope.”
“Arachne…” Sophia breathes.
The spider comes down to the floor, standing behind the pedestal and it’s treasure. Too close for comfort. It’s many eyes gleam.
“I came up here so I wouldn’t be bothered. What is it that you want? A wolf, an angel, a pair of spirits and… the Breath of Kazue. Interesting.”
As the others take up position, Ardul loosens the cylinder from her belt and holds it. Her wings furl tightly against her back and she’s alert. “What is an Arachne …” she asks Penelope, garnering at least from the inference, that this is something related to them. She thinks.
“Forgive us, Lady…” she starts in response to the rather eloquent spider that presents itself. “… we were not aware this level was occupied but we come in search and were told that what we seek is in here. I am Ardul.” She doesn’t argue the use of ‘angel’. That seems to be a thing that happens here.
Anymore than what she gives. Kaji and the others can fill in.
Kaji’s hand hovers by the curved hilt hanging at his belt as they step inside, and his eyes can’t help but drift upwards to marvel at the webwork. “Familiar?” he whispers, glancing at Sophia. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing…”
And then they’ve been discovered. Not that it’s a big surprise, but he could at least hope that they didn’t run into trouble. He gulps as he watches the giant spider come down, both fascinating and terribly creepy. “Er…guess it’s too late to go back and knock? Eh heh…”
Managing to stand his ground only because this isn’t the first giant spider he’s been in the company of, the young necromancer watches as the spider settles by the pedestal, brow ticking upwards at the title Arachne mentions, if it hadn’t already been arched when Sophia had spoken the spider’s own name.
“Wow, Arachne? Wonder if Elpida would flip out or make friends…” he murmurs. “-wait, you know Kazue?”
When Ardul steps up to speak, Kaji looks over at her, nodding along in agreement. “Yeah, um. Sorry for the intrusion? We weren’t given much instructions when we were told to come out here,” he says, glancing briefly at Penelope and Sophia before he looks towards the spider, trying to figure out where in that mass of eyes he should be focusing upon. “A-anyway, yeah. I…think that’s what we were sent here for? A…what was it? Tears? Can we have it? …please?” It never hurts to be polite to a super huge spider.
“A being that’s been around for a long time in our spheres.” Penelope murmurs quietly in answer to Ardul’s question. Hunter steps aside slightly. Spreading out. It’s kind of an aggressive move but then… spider.
“The Tears. You mean Cassandra’s Tears?” How the spider can speak is not clear. It’s not really moving it’s mouth. Perhaps it’s telepathic. “Ah. The spirits have led you here. What did they tell you? That the tears would lead you to your hearts desire? No. Turn back. You do not want them. Nothing good can come of them.”
“They told us that they would provide a clarity of vision needed to avert a disaster.” Hunter speaks up.
“What could be so important that you would risk the poor girl’s curse to see it?”
Curse? That might be of interest to Ardul and Kaji. There was no mention of a curse.
Ardul doesn’t risk giving Penelope the flat look she’s feeling. Beings of power are always … enigmatic. Hunters movement gets the faintest rustle of the blondes wings, she approves. This is dangerous and could mean trouble.
“What curse? And who is this Cassandra, who’s tears we’ve been told to collect?” Someone might need to … explain the classics to the Avian warrior. For now though, she’s here as hired muscle. So to speak.
“Yeah, that,” Kaji says, nodding at Hunter. “I mean, before that, we wouldn’t have known about them or why they’re even here, really…”
His attention then shifts towards the dryad and nymph. “Waaaait, wait wait. You didn’t say anything about any curses,” he says, frowning again. Maybe it was implied? Dealing with the Dodekathon sure seemed to be ridden with such things if one went by those myths, but he hasn’t really read them since elementary school.
Sighing, Kaji scratches his head. “Should’ve figured…”
“It wasn’t important…” Penelope sighs. “You weren’t going to be taking it. We just wanted, needed, help getting here.”
“I see…” Arachne looks at Kaji. “Yes, I do know Kazue. Many of us do. She’s been around for a long time. Forever, really.”
What… does that mean? And why is Kaji her breath?
“I will let you take the tears on one condition. You must return them here when they have served their purpose. I brought them away from people for a reason. They’re dangerous.”
As Arachne is talking a trio of winged forms – winged forms with FEATHERED wings – heave into view, casting shadows over the room from the outside – and make a beeline at high speed right for the window.
Ardul will know the armor they’re in.
“Then who is going to be taking it?” Ardul asks. It might seem a strange question from her but … they wanted help and now they be cursing someone else. As to Kazue, the blonde does risk a look at the youth, it’s not a name she’s familiar with but here isn’t the place to question that.
Later… Her head snaps back as the shadows fall on the room and her blade springs to life as she positions herself in front of Hunter and the others. “‘Ware Lady. Foul deeds are awing …” Trio’s. They always come in trio’s lately.
As that trio make the window, they’ll see her. Armour glinting as the light hits it, blade ablaze.
That’s still a lousy reason Penelope gives, if Kaji’s frown is anything to go by. Ardul asks a key question, and Kaji only continues to look to the two to see if they’re going to answer.
Arachne’s response about Kazue isn’t really anything helpful. “Well yeah, I kinda figured that much, but what’s with the ‘Kazue’s Breath’ title…” he asks, even if he doubts he’ll get a straight answer. He is however very relieved that they won’t be having to fight the giant spider. The terms set forth seemed fair enough, even if it’s not the most fun trip out, but Arachne’s reasoning seems solid, and quite frankly, Kaji doesn’t see any reason why he’d disagree about such a thing being dangerous. He starts to nod. “Sure, okay then. That’s fine, right Penelope? Sophi- uh?”
The movement out of the corner of his eye draws his attention to the window, and when it becomes clear as to what they are, he’s still not sure whether to be relieved that they’re not demons or surprised that they’ve managed to find them out here.
“Crap, looks like you’re getting more unwanted company, Arachne. Sorry about this!”
He turns towards the window, tugging his almost tooth-like hilt from his belt to grasp in hand.
The three Commandos shatter the window on the way in, expertly. They light their blades even as the glass showers to the ground and two of them raise weapons that fire small cylinders into the ground near Hunter and Ardul.”
“Look out!” Penelope shoves both out of the way as a black mist rises up from both of them. It dissipates quickly but it didn’t look good. Ardul and Kaji won’t have much more time to think. They’re pounced on by blade wielding warriors. The third flies right toward the case on the pedestal.
“Go my Lord …” Ardul growls watching the Commandos as they come through the window and the canisters bounce at their feet moments later. More nanites? Probably. Aimed to subjugate her and the Wolfen. She stumbles as Penelope shoves at her, recovering quickly enough.
Just in time to parry the blade that comes whistling for her. “Back to back …just like we practiced…” she grunts to the youth. She’s not trying to protect him, particularly, or telling him to get clear. He’s a warrior, just like she is. And Hunter has a gun. She hopes he uses it.
No other truly conscious thought passes through her mind as she lets her training overtake her, thrusting and parrying and waiting for the moment she can end this lunacy.
The others will have to worry about that case.
Having been a second away from igniting his plasma blade, Kaji’s suddenly thankful he hadn’t as Penelope shoves them aside. He stares at the rising mist. “What is that??” Aside from not good?
With the two winged warriors making to attack, the necromancer doesn’t hesitate a moment longer as his own blade blazes to life, and he brings it up to meet the oncoming blade as he braces his position behind Ardul. The movement for the pedestal catches his eye. “Watch it!” he shouts, hoping someone can intercept.
Hunter opens fire on the winged warrior diving on the box and clips him in the wing. He turns, pulling up… and gets snatched out of the air by a spider. The wolfen doesn’t watch to see what Arachne does. He snatches the box and turns to see if the others are doing okay.
And then gets smashed in the face by Penelope’s stick. It sends him (and the box) flying into one of the webs. The Dryad turns to face Kaji and Ardul. Both will see the black lines crawling up her neck, paling out her color.
“Penelope!” Sophia yells, for once concerned with something other than Kaji. Kaji, unfortunately, is under attack by a very skilled fencer and even 2 on 1 (Sophia is helping) this is going to be tricky.
Ardul… might actually recognize the one attacking her. Thanks to being back to back with Kaji she can’t be attacked from behind but she’ll know now that this is one of the Royal Guard. One of Nina’s… compromised loyalists.
Is this the threat that Penelope was warning against? Or part of it? Had Ardul’s people been drawn into something … more than just a civil war? Well, she knows they have but she hadn’t thought it would be so … bad.
Recognising her assailant, the blonde draws in a breath. It doesn’t get any easier, the more they come at her. “Sarah! Why are you doing this? What do you hope to achieve? Letting a tyrant like that, take the throne and stealing a relic from these people…” beat “You can fight it. I … did. With help. Put down your blade and let me help you …”
She won’t hesitate though, to put the woman down if the opportunity presents itself. She knows how Sarah fights – she trained her.
Being a little busy trying not to get his head or something lobbed off, Kaji doesn’t quite see what happens with Hunter until he’s on the floor and Sophia shouts. His eyes flick over towards Penelope for a brief moment and he gasps. What is…. Oh no.
He turns a glare back towards the winged one he’s trying to fend against, swinging his blade up, out, pulling it back. It’s not working out very well and he can tell that he’d be in real trouble if he weren’t teaming up with Sophia against him.
“…go!” he suddenly shouts, but it’s not to Sophia or the guy in front of them- but rather a squadron of little paper jets that stream out of his pocket, marked with tiny Kanji insignia on the wings of the explosive kind. No one said he couldn’t fight dirty!
Kaji makes the area suddenly the focus of an origami based carpet bombing which rather throws everyone’s fencing off. Ardul’s. Sarah’s. Everyone’s. When the smoke – and there is smoke – clears Sarah has dropped her sword and is on her knees though wounded or fighting her nanites is unclear. Kaji’s opponent is… charred and down. And Penelope…
Smacks Sophia hard enough to send her flying and then swings at Kaji with that clearly magical oak staff of hers.
When Ardul is clear of this fight she might congratulate Kaji. No one had said he couldn’t fight dirty and even though she’s a Knight, an uneven battlefield is clearly preferred.
Right now though, she’s coughing and recovering from the stumble, streaks of what might be soot on her cheeks. “my Lord!” she turns to find Hunter and assured he is well, holds her blade at Sarah’s throat. Down, injured or not, the blonde isn’t taking chances …
Until Penelope swings that club of hers. Whether Kaji reacts or not, doesn’t matter, the blonde moves in almost a poetry of movement, bringing her blade down towards that staff. Kaji might well beat her to that … which is fine.
And she hasn’t considered what damaging a magical weapon might do. Oops – perhaps.
The outcome’s a little more messy than Kaji had anticipated, and for a moment even he’s at a disadvantage as smoke fills the area. He coughs, waving a hand ineffectually as he keeps his weapon up. As it starts to settle he feels a bit better to see that it was more or less effective.
Sophia suddenly goes flying, and as he turns, he finds Penelope’s staff blurring towards him. He knows he won’t be quick enough to really brace himself, but he bends his arm up and angles the blade over his shoulder, barely catching the staff as it’s swung at him. That’s about all he manages and he isn’t even sure if the dryad’s staff will hold up against his blade or not- but if it is, he’s getting knocked off his feet, even with Ardul moving to try countering.
The answer is… it doesn’t break. It’s enchanted. It can stand up to technology like this. Kaji gets tumbled though not seriously. Which is to say he isn’t knocked flying, just down. Ardul finds herself locked in a bind with the Dryad as Hunter pulls himself free of the webbing he’d hit. He’ll be a minute.
Penelope is gritting her teeth. Black lines are spreading up her jaw and cheek. She looks up to Ardul.
“Kneel to Lord Hyfil and the Superior Iyesgarthian Peoples.” It comes gritted out.
Ardul can’t spare a glance for Kaji though she knows he’s been tumbled as well. The blonde sets her feet and holds the blade in the bind, letting the surprisingly strong Dryad strain against her. It’s not easy but she was trained by master. “I shall not. My loyalty is to my Lord and no one else.”
That’s a nasty effect of the nanites she received. And the reprogramming seems to have to had an effect.
The Winged Warrior doesn’t try to step back and remove the bind, keeping the pressure, just so. Her arm moves though, using the locked blades to try and move the Dryad, there’s an art to disengage and she’s setting up for it. If Hunter doesn’t act before hand.
“Fight it Penelope. Your Lord is Lysander. You told me that – fight for him and your freedom…” Her wrist twists, just a little more, forcing the blades to start moving in a circular motion. Just … a little bit more and she have the advantage.
Kaji’s blade retracts as he loses his grip when he falls, the hilt thunking on the floor. Shaking his head, he looks over to see Penelope and Ardul with weapons locked against each other. Those nanites are a problem! Too bad they didn’t have that supposed neutralizer!
He pushes himself to his feet, hand reaching for his plasma blade, his eyes upon the two women and the weapons keeping each other at bay. That staff’s no ordinary wooden staff, that’s for sure. But… it’s still wood. Magic wood, but maybe if he tries to mess with it, it’ll unravel some of its enchantments? He’s…not sure if that’s how it works, but he doesn’t see a better option without throwing himself directly into things again, and that doesn’t look like a good idea given how tightly the two are situated.
Just a few cracks to get Penelope to think twice about direct engagement with her weapon, give Ardul an opening?
Kaji runs up against the magic of the dryad herself and its… very strong. Very very strong. But he does manage to do something to the wood staff. Not crack it but enough to make Penelope look over at him suddenly.
Which is when Hunter tases her in the back. It’s not enough to incapacitate her but it probably is enough to scramble the nanites… a bit. Ardul well knows they can cause permanent damage. And she still has to disarm the woman.
That’s all the blonde needed. As Penelope is distracted and Hunter tases her, Ardul twists her wrist in a professional move. It might look she ‘flips’ the club from the spirits hand, but she doesn’t really. It takes a lot of effort even now.
The club skitters off, in a clatter on the ground as the Valkyr steps in to catch the woman. “It’s alright, Penelope. We have you.” she speaks softly. “Your Lord, Lysander, will be pleased with you.”
She’s not taking any chance that the nanites are still at work and she’ll try to give the woman what she can of her life. Maybe Lysander can fix her instead of Ardul.
“Is … everyone alright? And did we get the box we came for? Arachne. Please forgive this trespass on your sanctuary.”
Well, something happened, at least! Kaji mops his brow with the back of a hand, breathing a sigh of relief as Hunter steps in for an assist and Ardul handles the rest. “I-I’m okay here… Think Penelope had the box.” With another glance at Sarah and the other downed Iyesgarthian, he then moves to go see how the nymph is.
“Sophia!” he calls, jogging over to wherever she’d been thrown. “You all right?”
“Uuuuuugh… Kaji…” Sophia blinks blearly. She’d taken a bit of a wallop from her erstwhile companion. “KAJI! OHMYGODAREYOUOKAY?!” She springs up and hugs Kaji well… it’s like being very energetically searched or… not quite accosted but yeah. She’s checking him to see if he’s hurt with no conception of personal space at all.
“Lady… Ardul…” Penelope murmurs. “Shrine… to my Lord…” She’s in trouble. The nanites have done a number on her and she’s asking to be brought before her patron deity.
“I’ll take care of this. Take the tears and go. And do not forget to bring them back.” Arachne says as she grabs the Iyesgarthian bodies to drag them away. Except for Sara who does not seem to be dead or incapacitated. Her she leaves to Ardul.
Hunter looks around and makes a face. “Gather everything up. We can’t stay here long.”
“Of course, Penelope…” Ardul smooths the hair back from the Dryads face and glances to Hunter. She told him of the shrine they need to visit. “Kaji, when we get back to Saren’s Rest, I’m going to need you to look after things. My Lord and I must take Penelope onwards…”
which means the youth is going to have to caretake the small contingent of Iyesgarthians that Ardul is amassing and look after Sarah for a short while.
Leaving Penelope with Hunter, the blonde checks the other Iyesgarthians’ over, collecting things from their bodies before Arachne drags them away. She gets the box as well.
“If you’ll carry Penelope, I’ll carry Sarah, my Lord. It won’t be easy getting out of here, but … ” a glance for Kaji. “We have Kaji to help with that.” Sophia? The blonde isn’t sure of her.
“Agh!” He should have expected that. Kaji finds himself ending up on the floor again with Sophia’s forceful hug and subsequent patting down o make sure he’s okay. “Yeah, I’m fine, I’m fine..!”
Once he’s able to extract himself from the nymph, he gets up again, looking worriedly at Penelope. “Oh man… We needa hurry.” He glances at Sophia before stepping towards the others again, a nod given towards the massive spider. “We’ll bring it back, Arachne,” he promises.
He’ll help Ardul with whatever needs be, and when they’re ready, he gives the Valkyr a nod, keeping his plasma blade in hand. He’ll do his best, anyway. Hopefully they don’t run into any trouble getting back, but you never knew around here. And then once they’re back in Saren’s Rest, well…
It’s not going to be just Ardul’s collection of Iyesgarthians… it’s also Sophia presuming she doesn’t insist on following Penelope. Hunter might not let her. She’s enough trouble as is.
“Sure, Hang on.” It takes a minute to do the comatose passenger switch. Penelope winds up being rather boneless in Hunters arms. Sarah nearly so in Ardul’s. It’s going to be a long road back.
And Hunters’ going to push them hard. Kaji will get in his cardio at least. Maybe Sohpia will bless him with… vigor.