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jakegenebarnes
September 6th, 2014, 08:01 PM
PROLOGUE

Nathan Tul breathed a flowery scent carried on the gentle, Spring breeze that morning in the great city of Raziel. Fortunate there was an overabundance of smell to mask the ungodly reek of human body odor in the marketplace. He held it in, a concoction of flowers, perfumes, baked goods, sweat, and smoked meat, appreciating the exchange of coin it represented, before exhaling in a sigh. Having collected his thoughts, Nathan spoke, "Lord Saldev, Talin was a poor investment, I can see that. He made a stupid decision and that reflects on me, I know, believe me, I know."

Lord Devin of the House Saldev, guild master of the Dark Sail Guildhall, was balding to the point that, Nathan felt, he should just shave it. Allowing those ugly, thin patches of nearly orange hair to exist was representative, in Nathan's mind, of Devin's inability to let things go. Stubbornness was a trait that the stubby lord was known for. He walked in time with Nathan, keeping with the leisurely pace, hands at his sides, clenching fistfuls of dark-green robe. An exquisite and expensive robe lined in satin with finely embroidered trim that contrasted with the man's unkempt hair and leathery face. "Yet you protect him," Devin said, "the boy deserves to answer for his crime. No service is done for the boy in hiding him away. He will learn nothing."

"What boy his age hasn't stolen something? You were young once, Lord Saldev. Have you forgotten what it was to be fourteen?"

Devin raised his chin in defiance to the question. "I remember years of hard study and even harder work. I had boundaries and knew better than to cross them. I never stole," he said with pride.

The corners of Nathan's mouth curled into a slight smile. "And I would not dare to call you a liar, but surely you can understand the severity of punishment does not fit the crime. The Dark Sail still has its decorative dagger, after all. Talin did not get away. He was caught and the dagger returned to it's display. You lost nothing, but the boy would lose a hand if the City Watch had its way."

"That is the law. It is meant to deter thievery. Now tell me, what good is an unused deterrent?"

"What good will Talin be without a hand?"

Devin shrugged. "He has a spare."

Nathan gave a breathy laugh. "What trade could he learn with one hand? It would cripple him in more ways than one. He'd likely steal again to feed himself if he couldn't find work. Being removed from my employ is punishment enough for that child."

"I don't believe it is. His dismissal from service was expected of you, Nathan. That's not a proper punishment."

Nathan arched his eyebrows. "Oh, but it is. He comes from a poor family. His parents are dead and his younger siblings rely on him for support. Who will clothe and feed these children? Talin must now work twice as hard to account for his besmirched name. Work that pays much less and demands far more. A lesson to learn. On the other hand, loosing a limb will only teach him to hate those that took it."

Devin rolled his eyes and muttered to himself.

Nathan savored this small victory as he scanned the market mile. The streets teemed with people and their voices mingled into a chorus of rolling tongues. Many wore clothing that breathed in the fair weather. He could see an artist painting the beautiful, white-stone buildings that dominated large portions of Raziel. There was an acrobat that spit fire, a bard that sang while playing a lute, performers came by dozens to the market mile. Groups of people gathered around these men and women to catch a bit of entertainment, tossing coin into a hat or jar. They would clap and laugh and dance and eventually tire of the act and move on, being replaced by new waves of onlookers. Merchants peddled wares from carts and stands all along the stretch of road, and people lined up to spend. Vegetables, sun dried fruits and meats, tanned animal hides, furs, tunics and trousers, dresses and jewelry, hard-leather boots, most anything one could want was sold here. Nathan was proud to be a spoke in the wheel of the market. A bustling marketplace was a good sign for the Kingdom of Saidor and its capital, Raziel.

As if he could read Nathan's mind, Devin said, "the market mile is packed with patrons." His voice cracking a bit as he spoke. He cleared it.

Nathan nodded with a smile. "I can feel my purse growing fatter as I watch them."

"Yes," Devin said, "I suppose that being invested in most businesses on the mile- well- I understand this must be exciting for you." Devin sounded envious.

Nathan chuckled. "You don't share my excitement?"

Devin shrugged. "I understand it," he said, scratching the scruff on his chin. "But I can't say that I relish in it as much as you. My purse is no heavier for it, and I'm not a fan of crowds."

"No, you prefer the solace of a lonely guildhall and the company of old men wearing funny, little hats."

Devin huffed. "I don't wear a funny, little hat."

"Perhaps you should," Nathan retorted with a smile, "you might find that it suits you."

Devin gave him a sidelong glance. "You think you're so clever, Nathan Tul. You think I don't recognize when I'm being made fun of?"

"I think you take yourself too seriously."

Devin waggled a finger at him, "you should take life more seriously, Master Tul." The word, "master" had a bite to it. "I've been telling you to use your influence. A man like you could do a lot of good for the city."

"I promote the health of the mile. This market is the life-blood of Raziel and the single most profitable. This city is wealthy. It is wealthy because men like me recognize that the true seat of power has never been the throne."

Devin shook his head. "What will you do, I wonder, when King Yan Al'maed castrates the city, removes its sack and drains that life-blood?"

Nathan burbled his lips with incredulity. "Nonsense," he said.

"I know you think me a fool, Master Tul-"

"I would not say that-"

"-but, you would do well to heed my warnings. The knife you don't see is the one that slits your throat. Continue to ignore these happenings at your own peril." Devin punctuated his remark with a finger jab to the air.

"You have a flare for dramatics, Lord Saldev," Nathan forced his expression to appear friendly. You can hide many things in a smile.

Devin rolled right along. "This reign will bankrupt Saidor. Yan Al'maed is determined to annex the southern kingdoms. This will mean an increase in taxation-" .

Nathan was hardly listening as Devin kept prattling on about current affairs. A sound had steered his attention away. "Well, Lord Saldev, you know more about it than I do," he said flatly, his eyes searching up the road. He was locating the source of that noise which distracted him. The sound of a distant ruckus, a crowd in frenzy.

"Oh," Devin dropped his hands in frustration, "you're not listening. Worse than my nephews."

Nathan held a hand up for silence. "Do you hear that?"

Devin's mouth drew tight, his eyebrows furrowed, and he said, "nothing out of the ordinary."

Nathan pointed up the street, through the throngs of moving people, and said, "it's coming from that direction."

Devin listened intently. "Just the normal marketplace chatter," he said. He squinted his eyes at Nathan, "what are you playing at?"

Nathan didn't answer as he continued to scan the crowded street ahead. There were so many people- the road so flat- he couldn't see more than a hundred or so paces out. The street was a sea of bodies between buildings and tightly packed carts, crates, and stands on either side. He heard the shrill shriek of a woman from beyond the crowd. Many others noticed it too and necks craned to look for a cause.

Nathan's stare switched to Devin and he asked, "surely you heard that?"

Devin's face was painted with concern now. "Indeed."

Nathan's gut was shouting. His intuition was burning. Change was coming down the mile. He could feel it. Something big is happening, he thought.

Laughter rippled through the crowd ahead.

Nathan heard a man, shout, "forgot somethin' when ye stepped out!?" More people laughed. The cause of commotion was nearer and people were beginning to part in its approach. He snorted a laugh. "Well, now," he said.

Devin's eyebrows drew together, bunching the skin between, and he said, "…all the gods."

Tall, muscled and naked as a newborn, a man walked with purpose, unperturbed by leers and jeers. He was in his mid to late twenties. Sinew rippled under olive skin that glistened with beads of sweat in the sunlight. He was strangely hairless for a man of his apparent age. His dark eyes were focused, his sharp stare stern, the rest of his face was relaxed and beautiful. His manhood swung to the rhythm of his step.

“That man’s insane," Devin said.

Nathan was no longer amused. His gut began to direct him again. The voice in his head that guided him in all matters. It told him to wait and see, assuring that this was important. "We should watch," he said.

“The loon will be arrested," Devin said.

Nathan wasn't so sure. "Perhaps," he said distantly.

As the man neared them, Nathan could hear calls from every corner of the crowded market.

"Have you no shame," a woman yelled.

It didn't appear so. The man's gait dripped confidence.

A boy scooped a pebble from the cobbled street and threw it. The blow landed the man's temple. He didn't flinch or blink, as if nothing had hit him at all. An apple hit his back. He didn't react. That lack of response egged the crowd on. A flurry of objects flew at him as others joined in. Stones, fruit, bars of soap, small trinkets, but nothing altered his path. Nothing moved him.
The people ceased when someone shouted, "City Watch!"

Nathan glanced over his shoulder and saw them. A group of four, a squad, with an officer leading the enlisted men. Recognizable by their sky, blue cloaks with the emblem of Raziel woven into the fabric, and silver, steel-plate armor over gold colored ringlets of chain mail. They wore helmets that displayed their faces, but only the officer had a tuft of blue, dyed feathers on top. They each wore leather baldrics that carried long swords. Many people began to clear out of the market place, fearing the Watch, those adventurous or curious enough to linger, moved as far to the sides of the street as they could. Nathan and Devin followed suit and stepped back.

"Perhaps we should leave," Devin suggested in a hushed tone. Nathan ignored him.

The leader of the squad had a ragged scar across his throat, as if someone had attempted to slit it and failed. His face was chiseled like granite and his grey eyes belonged to a much older man, though he couldn't have been a day over thirty. He walked directly into the path of the naked stranger, his men right behind, and held up a hand. "Stop right there," he said calmly but firmly. No trace of humor could be detected in his voice, just a slight rasp in an authoritative tone. His other hand rested on the hilt of the sword at his hip.

Nathan was surprised to see that the man did as instructed, halting just a few steps before the officer. The naked man smiled. It was an eerie, emotionless grin that showed no teeth. Tight-lipped and displaying dimples in his cheeks, his eyes were blank and unreadable. The smile didn't feel genuine. It hardly felt human.

Devin said, "We should go before anything bad happens."

Nathan was transfixed on the scene. "I don't think anything is going to happen to us," he said.

Devin gripped Nathan's shoulder, leaned in and whispered, "this man is not right. If the Watch has to put him down we could be brought in as witnesses."

"What's your point," Nathan asked absently.

"I'd rather not deal with this right now, Master Tul," Devin kept his voice low, but heat was seething from it.

"I'm staying, Lord Saldev." Nathan added the same bite to "lord" that Devin had been adding to "master". "You can leave," Nathan finished.

Devin released his hold on the shoulder, and huffed indignantly. "You stubborn ass," he said and mumbled more curses as he folded his arms. He stayed put though.

"Yes, yes," Nathan said, still watching the scene.

The officer lowered the hand, dropping it to his side, and took a deep breath before speaking. "I would commend your courage, sir, if I for a moment believed that you know what you do."

The stranger spoke then. His voice like honey, thick and smooth, his diction cut like razors. "You assume I don't?" The words fell together oddly, as if he were a foreigner, but there was no accent.

"Well," the officer asked, "what do you think you're doing, stark naked in the market?" One of his subordinates cracked a smile at this.

"My nakedness is the product of having just arrived," the man said plainly. "I was not made with clothing."

"Well," the officer said, "I can help you with that. Come with me and I'll provide you with clothes."

"You would provide rags and a holding cell," the man said knowingly.

The officer's face was composed, unreadable, professional as he said, "I am in a good mood today. You seem confused. Come with me and I promise we'll take care of you." He insisted with a gesture.

"No," the man said, unwavering.

"Then I have no choice but to arrest you, sir," the officer said without hesitance. "Corporal Kym, place this man in irons."

The man's odd grin dissolved. "Then I have no choice," he said with words like ice.

The Corporal stepped forward casually, walking as if he had done this hundreds of times, taking the iron cuffs from the loop on his baldric. His eyes never left their target. He held the irons up to be seen, two metal cuffs attached by a thick chain. He said, “if you don’t plan to run- then give me your hands- out in front.”

The man was still as stone.

Corporal Kym stopped within arms reach of the man and repeated, “give me your hands.”

The man remained defiant.

Devin looked on anxiously, “Nathan, we should leave.”

Nathan said nothing.

The Corporal heaved a sigh and said, “alright then,” before reaching out and grasping the man by his wrist. He pulled forcefully, but the man didn’t budge. He tugged harder, but it was as if the man weighed tons. Eyes angry, he released his hold on the wrist and went for the handle of his long sword, shouting, “no more games!”

The stranger extended the fingers of his right hand, and within the space of a blink, he drove it into the chest of the Corporal. He tore through chest plate like wet paper. It popped out the back with an explosion of gore. His fingers were still extended and drenched with blood, dripping shades of red. The Corporal couldn’t scream even as his mouth made the motion to. Instead of shrill sounds, terror and pain, there was only crimson. Crimson that spewed onto the bare chest of the stranger, splattered like art.

Nathan’s jaw dropped.

The few dozen people that stayed in the market to watch events unfold had apparently had their fill. Several screamed as they all scattered like pigeons.

Devin left too. He walked briskly away saying, “I can’t,” as he moved faster than Nathan had ever seen him move. Which still wasn’t very fast.

Nathan was the only person remaining in sight whom was not directly involved in the conflict. He was afraid now, but his gut told him to stay, and he always obeyed that voice. Not once in his twenty-seven years of life had it ever led him astray. His gut had never failed him- so far. He had to believe that it would not fail him now.

The Officer and the remaining two of his squad yanked swords from scabbards. Steel rung the air. But they did not move to attack for no order was yet given. The two enlisted men shifted nervously as they did their best to look unafraid, but Nathan could still see their fear, no doubt the stranger could too. Their leader, however, showed no fear. Only anger was present in his features, but it was controlled, boiling beneath the surface.

The naked stranger removed his arm swiftly from the chest, allowing the body to slump to the street before him. His dark eyes unknowable as he stood, patiently awaiting what would come next. Nathan was excellent at reading people, he thought, but he couldn’t see anything in the face of this man. The stranger exuded no outward manifestation of thought, emotion, or motive.

“1st Lieutenant Jaal Taryn,” the Officer spoke fiercely, “that is my name and title. What is yours?”

The stranger asked, “my name?”

“Yes,” Jaal said, “I prefer to know the names of men I kill.” His voice had an edge, but he remained composed.

“No need for a name until now,” the man said, “you may call me Father, projection of the unchanging one, avatar of what you would call, God.”

Jaal Taryn smiled sardonically then, saying, “no doubt- you are mad.”

“The ways of men are madness to mice,” the Father said smoothly.

“I’ve heard of this,” Jaal said, “men who think they are a god reborn. Tell me- which god are you?”

“None you’ve named,” the Father answered.

Jaal’s smile vanished. His grip tightened and turned knuckles white on the hilt of his sword. He raised it into a mid-guard and leveled the tip at the Father. “Men of the City Watch,” he called back to the other two, “let’s put this god to the test.”

Nathan couldn’t peel his eyes away if he wanted to. He was enraptured by this singular moment of intense apprehension. The feeling of his heart beating as if it wanted to escape from it’s cage of bones. The tightness in his stomach, the butterflies turning to mad bats that gnawed his insides. He had never experienced such a rush of sensation. The closest he had come to such feelings were the fist-fights of his youth. Those simple surges paled in comparison to this.

The men of the City Watch carried their swords at the ready, prepared to lunge as they closed the gap between themselves and the Father. The two enlisted Watchmen circled around to his flanks while the 1st Lieutenant came head on. Walking carefully, with knees bent in practiced combat stances, they surrounded the Father on each side, save his backside. Then, all at once, without any verbal command, they struck their blows simultaneously. The man on the right hacked sideways at the stomach. The man on the left chopped down between the neck and shoulder. Jaal Taryn stabbed at the heart with perfect precision. The swords did not sink an inch. Shock.

Nathan knew right then that this, “Father” would have nothing denied him. A creature that only looked human. One whom could not be killed by conventional methods. One that may never be stopped. A being that would alter the course of history. Nathan felt that intuitive voice burning his mind. This is the King of all, it said.

The man to the left was shaking as he dropped his sword and fell to his knees, looking up, awestruck as he said, “please, ma’lord, forgive me.”

Jaal, and his remaining man, reset into their stances. Jaal raised his sword into a high guard, lifted above his head, and brought it down in a flash. The blade whistled through the air and struck the Father’s forehead. That blow, which would’ve split the skull of any man, merely bounced off, the steel ringing as it shuddered from impact. The other swung his sword at the back of the Father’s neck with a similar result. The pair hacked and hacked again, steel glinting in the sunlight as their blades made contact and subsequently achieved nothing. Both men jumped back and resigned their attacks after seeing how worthless they were.
The subordinate was panting when he said, “I believe we’ll have to send for aid, sir.”

Jaal didn’t respond.

Nathan saw an opportunity. He began walking out to them and said, “yes, call upon the assistance of more men. Call for more steel that wont cut and more armor that wont hold. How foolish are you?” Nathan knew that he was betraying none of the fear he felt. He had learned to hide his emotion well in his dealings. He had to appear strong and certain of his words, regardless if he was.

The Father’s tight-lipped smile returned.

“You,” Jaal said, “why are you here, Tul?”

Nathan was not surprised that the officer knew his name, most in Raziel did. He continued, “this man cannot be stopped. Only an idiot would not recognize this.”

Anger flashed in Jaal’s eyes. “He killed Corporal Kym! He has broken laws of the King that I am sworn to uphold!”

The Father spoke then, “your king will die today.”

Jaal bore into the Father with eyes like knifes, but spoke not a word.

Nathan, heart in his throat, stood beside the Father and met his gaze. In those eyes were oblivion. “I am Nathan Tul,” he said, “I am Master of the Market Mile, I own part of most every business in Raziel. I would like to offer you my service. Anything I can do.” Nathan knew this was dangerous, but he had to do it. His gut demanded it.

The Father appraised him for a moment with those midnight eyes. Nathan had never felt so nervous or uncomfortable as he did then, but he kept those feelings secret. The Father’s smile widened to show teeth whiter than the stones of Raziel, perfect like pearls. He turned to the man that had fallen on his knees to beg forgiveness and said to him, “hand me your sword.”

Nathan felt waves of cold regret in his spine.

The man had been knelt in prayer until this command. He scrambled for his weapon and held it up for the Father to take. “Here,” he said, “if it please you,” and went right back to praying after it was taken. He dropped his head and interlaced his fingers. Whispering for the gods to grant him favor.

Nathan had to resist the urge to back away as the Father turned again to face him.

The Father held the sword out for Nathan and said, “take the weapon.”

Nathan hesitated for but a moment as he studied the blade and the face of the one whom offered it. He still couldn’t read that face. He slowly placed his hand on the leather wrapped pommel and gripped tightly. The full weight of it was felt once the father had let go. It was heavier than he would’ve imagined. He turned the blade in his palm and watched as light and shapes danced on it’s polished surface. “What would you have me do, Father,” he asked anxiously.

The Father pointed back at the man on his knees in prayer and said, “kill him.”

Nathan was stunned. He hadn’t expected this.

“You will do no such thing, Nathan Tul,” Jaal Taryn ordered.

The Father said nothing as he continued to smile in that perfectly odd manner. He gestured to the kneeling man.

“By the gods,” the kneeling Watchman swore, looking up with watery eyes.

Nathan stepped cautiously toward the soldier, holding the sword out in front of him as he did. He could feel sweat run cold as the sword seemed to grow heavier with each step.

“Do not dare,” Jaal shouted, “I will have your head for it, Tul! I swear it!”

The Father said, “he’s going to run.”

Nathan didn’t want to know what would happen if the man ran from him and got away. His instincts were telling him that he had better act now.

The soldier was no longer kneeling. He jolted up to his feet and feigned right to try and escape left.

Nathan put his long legs to work and within two fast strides he was upon the man. He hacked down with the sword and hit man’s leg. He heard an audible crunch when the blade made contact, the man cried out as he stumbled and lost his footing. Nathan hacked again at the man, hitting the helmet off his head this time. The man yelped, but was still alive and scrambling to get away.

Nathan heard Jaal scream with rage and quickening footfalls. “Stop, this instant,” Jaal shouted, but Nathan couldn’t stop. You have to do this, the voice in his head screamed, you must do this. You will be dead if you don’t. He didn’t look behind him when Jaal’s battle cry was silenced. He didn’t look back when he heard armored corpses clang on the cobblestone street. He didn’t look back to see what he already knew to be the truth. He knew that Jaal and his men were dead. He knew that the Father had killed them. He brought the sword down again and stove the armor covering the man’s shoulder. The man cried out in pain at the impact and fell to the ground with the force of it. Nathan struck again, this time against the man’s back.

The Watchman cried out again as he rolled onto his back and lay face up. He held his hands up. He was crying hysterically, snot running down his lips as he begged, “please, sir. Please, sir. I don’t want to die.”

Nathan could hardly hear him anymore, his vision had grown dark. He lifted the sword high into the air and focused on that blubbering face. He had to hit perfectly. He didn’t want to cause any more undue suffering. He just wanted this to be over with. The Watchman said, “please,” once more before the blow was struck. The sword cleaved into the side of his skull, caving in the area. Blood spewed from the wound. Nathan released his grip on the pommel and the man’s head fell with the blade stuck in it. He lay there, motionless and growing pale. The weapon sticking up like a banner of death.

Nathan’s senses, his vision, his hearing, his smell all started flooding back in. It was disorientating and made him sick. Nothing seemed real. The city had lost its color and his hands were trembling. He could smell the emptied bowels of these men. He could smell their insides. He felt ashamed. What have I done, he thought, why is this happening? He felt a wet hand on his shoulder, slick with blood.

“You will be useful,” came words like a balm. “There is no room in our future for men like these. Men like Sergeant Gerra.”

Nathan was afraid to look back into oblivion, but found himself asking, “Sergeant Gerra?”

“The name of this man you killed,” the Father said.

Nathan didn’t want to ask how the Father knew the man’s name. The man never once said it, nor was it spoken by anyone else, but Nathan thought it foolish to put anything past the Father. He knew nothing of this thing’s power or limitations. He knew nothing about it’s motives. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that his gut had- for the first time in twenty-seven years- led him into a pit. There would be no digging his way back out. There would be no escape. I should have left with Devin, he thought, I should have fled the city. It was too late. The Father had him. He had pledged his service. He would have to do whatever was asked of him. He had no choice.

Nathan was spun quickly around by the hand on his shoulder. His heart raced with the surprise of it. He held his breath in anticipation. He looked into the inky depths of the Father’s eyes. That unreadable face.

“There is nowhere to run,” the Father said, as if he had been with Nathan in his thoughts. “I will sweep the land in cleansing fire. Kings will fall and all lands will be united under new law. There is no escaping this. You are the first son of the Immortal Father, and you will be honored for this. There will be war and oceans of blood. Ash will fall from a thousand burning cities. But- when it is done- I will reign eternally, incorruptible. There will be lasting peace.”

Nathan felt helpless and his voice was weak. “I believe you,” was all he said.

Plasticweld
September 6th, 2014, 10:08 PM
WOW! this was really good, really enjoyed your dialog and story line. Reads very well except for a couple of places that I will blast you on because the rest of it is so good. The beginning is way to slow with too much description and considering the pace the rest of the story. I think you could feed in some of the detail a little slower, with out it appearing to be an information dump. The same with your description of the market and of the guards when you first introduce them. I mention those scenes only because it takes away from the tempo of the story. You have managed to write something that rips right long and really holds my interest...Bob

jakegenebarnes
September 6th, 2014, 10:12 PM
Thank you for the feedback, Plasticweld! Honest critiques are exactly what I am looking for. I appreciate the time you took to read my work. :-)

ak2190
September 7th, 2014, 07:27 AM
I enjoyed your writing! I'm going to disagree a little with the critique above me, and say that I enjoyed the imagery/description. I personally like to have the world set up a bit before I plunge into the action. However I do feel that a few things need to be tweaked.

A note of flowers <it's better to specify a flower if you want to use "note of" since it's usually used to call attention to a specific scent (ie "note of orchids/hibiscus, etc), otherwise you can just say "a flowery scent"> carried on the gentle, Spring breeze that morning in the great city of Raziel, breathed deep through the nostrils of Nathan Tul <Instead of using the passive voice, start with "Nathan Tul breathed deeply"?>. He almost couldn't<Feels like a double negative, use "he could barely"?> detect the flowery scent over the rancid smell <stench?>of commoners, many of whom bathed once a year it seemed. Fortunate there was an overabundance of smell to mask the ungodly reek of human body odor in the marketplace.


Feel free to ignore whatever you dislike. :D

jakegenebarnes
September 7th, 2014, 04:32 PM
Thank you for the advice, ak2190! I really appreciate the time you took to read my work. :-) I think I'll use "a flowery scent" because I don't feel that Nathan would know the exact type of flower it is. I do occasionally fall into the trap of the "passive voice," and I'm not always aware when I do, thank you for pointing that out. "He could barely" does seem to flow better, regardless of whether or not "almost couldn't" is a double negative, I think I'll change that as well. Lastly, "stench" is a more potent word than "smell", though the change is purely cosmetic, it does carry more impact.

Thanks again!