The Dryad of Terranür – Part 1

The rain fell heavy against her leaves, tracing its way down her coarse branches in thin rivulets.  The water calmed her, eased her aching joints as it flowed between the cracks in her ancient bark, moving ever closer to the earth.  Always towards the earth, pulling the dust of many ages down with it.

The dryad let out a deep sigh, startling the dozing warblers in her canopy.  The sound was more of a creaking; a great release of pent up energy.  Her head hung low today, heavy with the rainwater that coated her thick mane of greenery.  But this was not all that caused the ancient woman of the forest to droop.  The knowledge of what was to come also weighed upon her like a drenched woolen blanket.

The days of mirth would soon be at an end.  She was getting old.  Too old to count.  Too old to remember.  She had seen many generations of ironwoods come and go.  She had seen the maple saplings grow a hundred feet before finally cracking in half, only to watch the entire precession over again.  Her roots had penetrated deep into the earth, cracking boulder and limestone in search of drink.

But now the time of mirth would soon come to a close.  These were dreadful days.  Terrifying days ahead.

As the clouds began to relent and the pounding of the rain became exhausted, the dryad was left to ponder her next course of action as her leaves dripped rhythmically upon the forest floor.  The forest of Terranür was ancient, far older even than the dryad.  The debris that lay damp at her feet had witnessed countless dryads come and go as it pilled ever higher.  She was not the first of her kind, that much was certain.  What was uncertain was whether or not she would be the last.

The sun poked its head out at that moment and bathed her foliage in life.  Washed her skin in warmth and kindness, igniting the fire within her core.  She could not postpone any longer.  With the rays of sunshine came the strength to perform her final act upon this earth.

She knew exactly what must be done, but that did not make the task any easier.  With a massive stretch, she shook the remaining raindrops from her leaves, straightened her aching trunk and blinked open her sepia eyes.  These wet, sad eyes had seen countless springs, witnessed untold seasons, but today they focused upon something new.  Something unsettling.  As she looked from the forest floor towards the azure sky above, the dryad could see the plumes of acrid smoke rising in the south.

This was not the smoke of any fire she was familiar with.  While it was true that other trees feared the flames which came racing through the night to extinguish all life in the forest, the dryad of Terranür had witnessed them many times before.  She had seen her friends eradicated by the will of Chênoras, the Undoer, and had survived to tell the tale.  But this new smoke, waving like a black standard above the canopy, these fumes made the dryad shudder.

This was no smog produced by nature.  This was the fire of industry.

Unable to bear it any longer, the dryad lowered her eyes and called out for the Guardian.

Unspeakably loud, the tremulous call of the dryad split the serene forest air, penetrating even the deepest, darkest corners of Terranür.  It was the sound of a hundred tree trunks splitting asunder.  The sound of a thousand root clusters being ripped from the ground.  It was the sound of a forest dying.

The Guardian would not be able to ignore the dryad’s languished call.  Patience was all that remained to her now.  Soon enough the Guardian of the forest would arrive and the dryad of Terranür would be at peace.

It was not long after her mournful cry that the warbler began to sing.  As if feeling the pain of his host, he began quite softly.

As summer sweetly burns the hours,
The morning’s dew will heal our pain.
Not oft the bee forgets the flowers,
Nor sun forgets to dry the rain.

Stilled by the echo of the ghost,
Chilled by the winds beneath our wing,
We have tomorrow at the most,
We have today to feel the sting.

Can you imagine moving past,
The hours that hover through the air?
Can you discern the trumpet’s blast,
That tolls the end to nature’s prayer?

With winter clawing at our backs,
The Guardian presses close at hand,
The mourning lark lets drop the axe,
The timid song turns from the land.

The dryad let but a single tear fall from her round eyes.  She would not be defeated just yet.  With the Guardian came hope.  The forests must survive.

To be continued…

Please take the time to comment on this piece if you enjoyed it. I am hoping to perfect my art and wish to use this blog to receive feedback on the style and substance of the narrative. Any constructive criticisms or editing comments will be appreciated and considered. Eventually, I hope to have a novel published based on the world seen in these short stories.  Thanks in advance for your help with this!


Tracking the Wind – Part 4

Continued from Part 3

“You should have come to me sooner,” the elderly man dressed in tattered woolen robes scolded.  He poked and prodded and pulled Orion’s arm in all directions while attempting to decide how badly it was damaged.

“That hurts, you know,” Orion cried out after several misplaced finger jabs sent a new spasm of pain shooting up his elbow.

“Of course it does!”  The healer looked upon Orion as if he was completely mad, then proceeded to jam his fingers into the younger man’s sore flesh again.  “You broke it quite thoroughly.  I will need to prepare a potion of hornwort and secure the forearm with a splint.  You won’t be able to use it properly for at least another month.”

Orion knew that this would be the prognosis, yet he could not help but be disappointed by it.  As the haggard old wizard tottered off to his supply room to fetch the ingredients for the potion, Orion felt a twinge of defeat once more.  He knew that a month in this little hamlet would be enough to drive him towards lunacy.

He resolved on the spot to do what he could to resume tracking the wind as soon as the sun rose the next morning.  His arm had not helped him much the first time he encountered the wind, why should he need to use it now?

“Drink this twice a day for the pain and try not to fall again.  You really should have come to me sooner, the swelling is quite out of control.  No matter,” he said, tugging harshly on the strap he was using to secure the splint and causing Orion to howl in pain once more, “I suppose I will just have to tie the bindings tighter.”

With that, Orion paid the healer and was on his way.  Determined not to let his injury slow him down, the young adventurer returned to The Blooming Heather to nail down his strategy.  He would not allow the wind to overcome him a second time.

*              *              *

He awoke at the crack of dawn, awkwardly stuffing his few possessions into his canvas backpack with his one good hand.  The pain in his broken arm had not diminished as he had expected, but rather had grown considerably.  He had avoided the healer’s potion up until this point, worried that it would make him groggy, but now decided that he needed to focus on the journey ahead and not the throbbing in his arm.  He took a small sip of the potion and grimaced as he swallowed the foul liquid.

As he closed the door to his room and moved down the staircase he was already thinking of his plan to capture the wind.  While he was meditating the day before he remembered a crucial piece of advice he had received from his mentor near the beginning of his training, several years ago.

You cannot merely hold the wind in the palm of your hand, like a grain of sand.  No, in order to hold the wind you must open your lungs, spread your arms  and intone her beauty, as the red robin might do in spring.

Orion was beginning to think that he had discovered his error the previous time around.  Up until now he had assumed that if he presented himself to the wind as someone of pure heart she would be convinced of his worth and allow him to make contact.  But in so doing, Orion had exposed himself to all of the Elemental’s scrutiny and rendered himself naked under her piercing gaze.

He was beginning to realize that what he needed to do was to entrance the Elemental.  Ensnare her with his charm and grace.  Evoke the wind to come to him, by softly lulling her into a position of serenity.  He needed to use the magic of charisma to draw her in to his embrace.  Orion would sing to the wind and in this manner win her affections.

The minutes turned to hours as the road dwindled away to a small animal track.  Orion turned to survey the progress he had made so far and could just barely see  the small town nestled in the valley below.  He was quite satisfied with the pace he was keeping and had almost forgotten about his broken arm.

He had yet to see many signs of the wind herself, but this did not trouble him too much.  He knew that she was in the vicinity and he also knew that she preferred the crest of the mountain to its trough.  He was nearing an altitude where  she could be  expected to appear just as the sun began to set.  He would set up camp here, and resume his search in the morning at first light.

As Orion settled down into his tent and closed his eyes the throbbing in his arm began once more.  He riffled through his canvas bag for the potion and took another swig of the rank concoction.  Despite its vile taste, it did seem to help with the pain.

Just as the young man was beginning to drift off to sleep he noticed that his tent was swaying vigorously around his head.  At first he thought nothing of it, but soon he began to worry that one of the spikes used to secure the tent had come out of the ground.  It was true that he was fairly high up the side of the mountain, but the wind should not have been that strong.  Soon the sides of the tent were whipping back and forth with such ferocity that he began to wonder if it would be ripped right off of the ground and hurled down the mountainside.  Orion decided to investigate, and stuck his head outside the tent.

There she was, the raging wind Elemental, hovering outside the entrance to his tent.  Her eyes glowing a deep emerald color, the wind opened her mouth and produced a sound that turned Orion’s stomach upside down.  The Elemental had apparently tracked him down and had worked herself into a furious rage before the young adventurer had a chance to prepare himself.

There was no time to consider his next move, he needed to act.  He already knew what he needed to do, so he quickly jumped from his tent and ripped open his flannel nightshirt, exposing his chest.  He held his arms out wide, sucked in as big a breath as he could afford and began to sing a lullaby to the wind.

“As the stone skips o’er the water,
She believes her lover found.
Moving past the broken altar,
To the shelter underground.

“How the leaves betray the motion,
How the song betrays the sound,
She has lost her one devotion,
To the shelter underground.

Orion could see that it was beginning to work.  The storm before him had at first thirsted for blood, but now it seemed as if she was listening, contemplating the sound.  The wind still howled around his head and his tent still threatened to lift off the ground, but the look held in the eyes of the Elemental had softened.

“What the morning dew despises,
Where the mists have lain their crown,
Our dear daughter soon arises,
From the shelter underground.

Seemingly mesmerized by the sound, the Elemental began to creep towards Orion, ever so slightly.  Her eyes began to glaze over and her lips parted as if to join in Orion’s sad lament.  Not daring to stop now, he continued with his lullaby hoping only that his excitement would not show upon his face.

“Since the age of dreams found broken,
Since the dawn when he was drowned,
Slowly fall the tears unspoken,
To the shelter underground.

“As the breeze moves past our daughter,
She deceives that he’ll be found.
But he is lost under the water,
He is buried underground.

As Orion finished the last verse of his song he realized that the Elemental was within his grasp.  The  giant sapphire upon her brow shimmered in the moonlight as the maelstrom continued to howl around the unlikely pair.  He knew that if he could just touch the sapphire, even if only for a moment, they would become fused to each other forever.  He needed only to close the small gap left between them and he would conquer the wind and become a master of her mysteries.

Afraid to break the spell that his song had cast upon the wind, Orion hesitated for just long enough to see a teardrop roll down her shimmering cheek.  Overcome with an overwhelming urge to comfort the beautiful creature before him, he moved his hand towards her ethereal face, reached out and wiped the tear from her skin.

“You are the one,” she whispered to him.

Orion was left stunned by the soft caress of the Elemental’s voice and did not know how to respond.  Unable to think of anything else, he dropped down to his knees and bowed his head in reverence to the tempest before him.  When he raised his head again he saw that the Elemental had removed her tiara and was holding it out to him.

As he reached out to take the precious jewel from her outstretched hands, he could not help but shed a tear himself.  He had finally convinced the wind of his worth.  He had bared his soul to her and offered her everything and in return she offered him her greatest gift.  The gift of the wind.

The End

Please take the time to comment on this piece if you enjoyed it. I am hoping to submit this short story to be included in an online Magazine and would like to use this blog to receive feedback on the style and substance of the narrative. Any constructive criticisms or editing comments will be appreciated and considered. Thanks in advance for your help with this!

Tracking the Wind – Part 3

Continued from Part 2

Orion had precious little time to react.  The sorcery came to the tip of his tongue almost unbidden.  He had one option at this moment and that was to slow his fall.  The wind Elemental had taken him over a hundred feet into the air and if the young adventurer was not able to cast his spell in time, he would certainly die.

Forcing his lips to mimic the song of the meadowlark, Orion spun his magik through the tapestry of the empty spaces before him.  Summoning the wings of the heavens, he managed to lighten his weight just enough to feel the rush of wind against his cheeks slow.  The spell would have almost worked had he not slammed into the ancient oak tree, the upper branches smashing his jaw and tearing at his palms.  He bounced once, twice then cracked his head off the trunk of the massive tree before landing hard at its roots and losing consciousness.

*              *              *

The moonlight pierced the fog of his scattered brain.  As he blinked himself awake, Orion slowly became aware that he had been unconscious for most of the day and well into the night.  Shivering, he tried to retrieve his bearings and piece together the events from the day before.  He knew that he had failed in his quest, but he was not entirely sure why.  The cold, snow covered roots which he lay upon numbed his body and dulled the ache in Orion’s back, but could not help to diminish the sadness in his heart.  This was not the way he had envisioned his first meeting with the Elemental.

Of course, he had known that the Elemental would present a challenge unlike any he had ever encountered, but somewhere deep down he had hoped that the herald of the winds would see that his mission was pure and his heart was true.  He had secretly wished that he would be able to convince the Elemental that he was worthy of the power to call forth the storms.

But obviously this was not so.  The guardian of the wind had seen right through Orion and judged him to be a threat, not an ally.  She had turned upon him faster than he could have ever imagined and her wrath was terrifying.

Full of self-loathing, Orion decided it was time to carry his broken body back to civilization.  He rolled onto his side and made to push himself up onto his knees, but collapsed in a pathetic heap instead.  The pain that shot through his arm caused him to cry out into the unforgiving darkness.  He knew instantly that his arm had been broken in the fall.  He was lucky to have survived it at all, but this fact did not improve his mood any.  He felt utterly beaten when he realized that it was going to take a significant amount of time to recover before he could attempt to track the wind again.

Without his permission, Orion began to weep.  The disappointment of the day turned out to be too much for him combined with the new found pain coursing through his arm.  Perhaps he should just give up now and let the cold take him.  It would not be such a terrible way to die.

It is curious how the wind always settles as the sun completes its journey across the sky and nestles itself to bed in the west.  It is as if she is intrigued by the departure and pauses to admire the beacon that shone with such intensity throughout the day.  Like the setting sun, you will only command the wind’s respect after your have inspired greatness and suffered much along your journey.

The words of his tutor found their way once more into Orion’s thoughts.  He knew that he could not give up now, not when he had come so far.  If there was one thing that the old monk had stressed to Orion during his long hours of training, it was that the wind would not be cowed so easily.

Despite the pain it caused him, Orion forced himself to stand.  He would make the journey back to town and find a healer if it killed him in the process.  This battle was not over yet.

As if to cheer him on, a stiff breeze rose up behind him and helped to push him down the side of the mountain, away for the cliff face where he had suffered his temporary and slightly humiliating setback.   Before long the lights from the town below could be seen in the distance.  Orion allowed himself a feeling of mild satisfaction for the first time since gaining consciousness in the snow.  His legs were still strong and his heart was set upon its mission.  The wind had not seen the last of this adventurer.  But first he would have to do something about his arm.

When he finally arrived in the small hamlet at the bottom of the mountain the only establishment still open to him was the local tavern.  The Blooming Heather was nearly empty at this late hour, but the fireplace had a few logs on it still and the bartender was still pouring, so Orion was pleased enough.

“Are there any rooms left?”

“Aye, there’s one.  Two coppers for the room and another for breakfast,” the barkeep answered hesitantly.  The old man looked skeptically at him and Orion could tell that his face was not a pretty sight.

“How much for a pint?”

The bartender did not so much answer as grunt and point to the crudely painted signboard on the wall with the prices marked out plainly.  Orion ordered a heavy brown ale he had always favored when visiting the northern mountains and settled at a table near the fireplace.  His joints were aching, not only from the fall, but from the cold walk as well.  The warmth of the fire was refreshing, yet it was the ale that provided the real comfort, helping to numb the throbbing pain in his broken arm.

After three or four more pints, Orion tossed the bartender a handful of copper pieces and staggered up the stairs to the single bed that awaited him.  He would have to find the healer in the morning, but for now what he needed was a warm place to rest his battered shell.

To be continued…

Please take the time to comment on this piece if you enjoyed it. I am hoping to submit this short story to be included in an online Magazine and would like to use this blog to receive feedback on the style and substance of the narrative. Any constructive criticisms or editing comments will be appreciated and considered. Thanks in advance for your help with this!

Tracking the Wind – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

At first the wind hesitated, staring through Orion with its piecing blue eyes.  He knew that he must maintain his composure under her scrutiny.  He could not allow the Elemental to see what he was planning upon his face.  He instead held his features in a mask of awe and admiration, hoping that they would not betray him.  The elements despised the Callers and considered them to be their greatest foe, for good reason.  It was the goal of every to Caller to dominate the elements and bend nature’s will to their own.  If Orion was to have any hope of making contact he must convince her that he was not a threat.

After a pause which felt like an eternity, the Elemental finally began to draw closer.  Orion felt his heart skip a beat; the moment had arrived at last.  After years of studying the ways of the elements, this would be the culmination of everything he held dear.  The thought made his lips curl ever so slightly into a crooked smile.  It was a fatal mistake.


The sound was but a whisper, but the effect was that of a cyclone.  In an instant the once inviting face of the wind Elemental dissolved into an expression of pure hatred.  Her skin lost the translucence of crystal and instead took on a smoky charcoal luster.  Her eyes now glowed crimson and her hair sprayed out in all directions, creating a terrifying image.  The wind at her feet began to swirl in tight circles, picking up debris from the ground around Orion and whipping it in every direction.

Orion’s eyes widened in fear as he realized his mistake.  The storm that stood before him would surely crush him if he did not act fast.  Instinctively reaching for his dagger, he drew the long razor sharp blade and held it out in a defensive position.  Upon seeing the weapon the Elemental opened its mouth and let out a high pitched, dizzying scream.  The weapon would be useless against her, but it made no difference.  The aggressive act caused the wind to shoot towards Orion in a maddened rush with murder in her eyes.

The young man attempted to turn and flee but the tempest was upon him before he could respond.  Everywhere around him there was evidence of the storm and its awesome power.  The sky had turned black, the sun covered by thick ominous clouds.  The trees that hung to his left began to bend perilously towards the ground, large branches snapping off and rolling away at high speed.  His leather jacket flapped against his legs and his sunglasses were ripped from his face.  As he turned on his heel and made to run away from the storm the wind’s ethereal hands wrapped around his feet and sent him toppling to the ground.  Smashing his chin upon a rock, Orion felt suddenly sick to his stomach.

This is the end, he thought sadly.  He had worked so long, travelled so far, only to be defeated by the object of his desire in the final moments.

Orion tried to right himself when a heavy branch smashed into his back with a painful thud.  The Elemental was howling again, its fevered pitch burning in Orion’s ears.  He tried to cover his head as he was pelted with rocks and stones, but to it was too late.  The wind grabbed him again, wrapping her arms around his waist and began pulling him upwards.

This was his greatest fear.  If the Elemental took him too high into the sky all would truly be lost.  He could not survive a fall from too great of a height.  Yet he could not escape her grasp, either.  At this point he could not even tell which way was up and which was down.  The wind was spinning him in circles as she dragged him ever higher.  One second he would catch a glimpse of the ground below him, the next he would be starring into the face of the beast, her blood red eyes revealing the anger that lay behind them.

As Orion thrashed against his opponent in an attempt to free himself he could sense that he was quickly losing this battle.  The wind would not let go and was tossing him around like a child’s doll.  He was still being pelted by debris large and small as branches struck his body repeatedly.  Orion was losing hope quickly, the ground growing further and further away.

Suddenly he remembered something his tutor had said to him, many months before.  At the time it had seemed obvious to Orion, but now, in the pitch of battle, the truth within the statement could be seen clearly.

If you struggle against the wind you will only enrage it further.  The key to calming the beast is to calm your heart.  Only then will its effects upon your soul be diminished.  The wind is first and foremost a follower.

With this, Orion closed his eyes, said a silent prayer to any God that may be listening and allowed his body to grow limp.  At first the Elemental was not satisfied.  She howled in his ears, threw stones in his face and continued to take him higher.  But after several long moments of berating his wilted body she began to grow bored.

The delirious rush of wind that grasped him began to dissipate.  The sky above him lightened ever so slightly as the sun evaporated the clouds.  The Elemental quieted her furious howl and slowed her vicious flight upwards.  Satisfied that she had destroyed her pursuer, she finally released her grip upon the young adventurer.

Orion’s relief lasted but an instant, as he realized that he had been liberated from the winds mortal clutch; free to plummet back towards the earth below.

To be continued…

Please take the time to comment on this piece if you enjoyed it. I am hoping to submit this short story to be included in an online Magazine and would like to use this blog to receive feedback on the style and substance of the narrative. Any constructive criticisms or editing comments will be appreciated and considered. Thanks in advance for your help with this!

Tracking the Wind – Part 1

The crisp air spilled over the jagged cliff as the sun reached its zenith in the sky, sending shivers down his spine. He was not dressed for the weather, but rather he dressed in a way that foiled it; he dressed to impress his quarry. In a long, sleek leather jacket the color of slate, Orion adjusted his studded fingerless gloves and straightened his jet black sunglasses. The deadly sharp dagger that hung from his belt shimmered off the reflective snow.  He allowed himself a brief moment to run his fingers through his cropped hair, savoring the weak rays of sunlight that bathed his exposed skin. Cocking his head in the direction of the wind, he let out a brief chuckle and stared arrogantly towards his prey.

How does one entertain the thought of chasing after something as elusive as the wind itself? Where does one start, what does one even look for?

For Orion it was simple. He had been given the key, shown the secret. He had studied the ways of the Callers, mastered their techniques. The words of his tutor, the wizened old monk, ran through his mind over and over again.

The source of the wind is not in its current, be it the tow or the thrust, but rather in the absence of air. When tracking the wind, look for the residue left by these pockets of nothingness, for it is at these points that the wind will come rushing; if only to fill the void.

He had learned that taming the wind was as easy as making contact. All he had to do now was catch it.

Orion burst into a light jog and bounded up and over the stone outcroppings that had recently been exposed by the object of his desires. He could sense the presence of the Elemental he stalked all around him. The trail was not hard to pick up once you knew where to look. A fallen leaf skittered in ever widening circles to his left. A burst of snow picked itself up off the ground and sprayed the rocks before him. The hollow grasses, still standing after the first snows, bent and bobbed in such a way as to leave no doubt. Orion was hot on the Elemental’s trail. The source of the wind had surely been here recently.

What Orion saw all about him was evidence of the nothingness being resolved. The crow overhead signaled he was gaining upon the wind. Its call, at first piercing, was now pulled away from his ears by the rush of the stiff breeze. Its wings outstretched above Orion’s head twitched and fluttered against the wind, purchasing no ground, but losing none either.

Just a little further, he begged his aching body. The trek had been long and the terrain unyielding. Many times before as he thought he was upon her, he would realize that she had changed her course and eluded him again. But not this time. Now he was closer than he had ever been, he could feel it in his bones. The chill had become more penetrating, the air more electric, the gusts of wind more precise. Orion was nearing his objective and quickly, but he was also tiring.

But fatigue was not an option at this point. He must be at full strength when he finally confronted the Elemental. Any small sign of weakness and she would toss him away like a rag doll. For it was the essence of the hurricane he chased, the source of the tempest. Its mood was fickle and its temper unstable. In order to make contact with the beast, he would have to convince it he was worthy. He would have to transform himself with the confidence of a demi-god, an equal dropped from the heavens.

He caught a glimpse of her as he rounded a tall oak tree; her ethereal coat tails trailing around the bend. Despite the burning in his thighs and his wheezing lungs, he pushed forward ever harder. The final sprint would mean the difference between cornering his prey and losing her over the edge of the cliff. He could see that the ground was nearing its end, that he would soon be forced to take flight in order to capture her. With the final yards before him he pushed himself into his fastest sprint. He neared the edge of the cliff at full speed, then quickly forced his body to a halt. He skittered perilously to a stop on the rough gravel, teetering on the edge of the cold stone. Reaching out his arm to the skies and pointing directly at his rival, he let out a sudden shout.

“Stop!” He commanded in a tone that defied objection.

“I must have you!”

To this the Elemental paused and turned to inspect her pursuer. She hovered twenty feet away from him, floating in the nothingness beyond the rim of precipice. Orion was devastated by the image that presented itself to him. He had never seen anything so stunningly beautiful in all his life. The form before him both trembled in fear and demanded reverence. The translucent skin of her elfish face shimmered as if carved of diamond, scattering the sunlight in every direction. Her eyes, perfect almonds, emitted a radiant indigo light and her round lips hung open just wide enough to tempt Orion’s lust. Upon her brow sat a tiara wrought of the finest platinum wire, twisted in innumerable loops and featuring a giant sapphire at its center. This was the wind personified, both awesome and delicate, powerful and immaterial.

“Please, come to me. I will not hurt you. I must know your touch.”

Orion was sure that this was the moment, the time when his quest would finally come to an end. All he needed to do was touch the sapphire that rested upon her forehead and he would forever more gain control over the wind and all of its glories. Once contact had been made, Orion would become a Caller, a true force of nature, a summoner of the winds.  Once contact had been made, he would become the tempest.

To be continued…

Please take the time to comment on this piece if you enjoyed it. I am hoping to submit this short story to be included in an online Magazine and would like to use this blog to receive feedback on the style and substance of the narrative. Any constructive criticisms or editing comments will be appreciated and considered. Thanks in advance for your help with this!