Preface: Greetings, all! This is the fifth chapter of the tale that began with “Not Alone – Chapter 1,” comes immediately after “Not Alone – Chapter 4,” and is the second story in a series that began with “What You Don’t Know,” also located on this site, although it features a mostly-different cast of characters.
As always, my standard disclaimer: The monster girls featured in this tale, and many elements of the setting, are based off of the works of Kenkou Cross, and as such this work is intended to be a tribute to his creativity. The characters, however, are my own. Pray neither sue nor steal; I have very little to take, but I love that which is mine.
Chapter 5 – Temptation
Clay chimes rang out as the door to “Pots and Stuff,” announcing the first customer of the day. That ringing sound penetrated the pointed ears of the store’s proprietor, and Mari Muckflinger staggered from her cot, rubbing blearily at her eyes as she struggled to change into her daytime clothing. “Gimme jus’ a momen’” she mumbled, staggering from her room and banging her horned head on the doorframe in the process. That collision did no favors for the headache beating deep drums within her skull, and for not the last time she swore to herself that the previous night would be the last time she tried to outdrink her sister Miri.
Sudden sobriety gripped her, however, as she saw the nature of the day’s first customers. The first was deeply familiar to her: the chemist Roger, whose dark hair and brooding manner always contrasted with his youthfully-handsome face. The surprise, however, was the woman behind him, an orc with pale brown hair, curiously gazing about the store as she hung close to Roger’s side. At the sight of her, Mari’s face split into a sharp-toothed grin. ‘Well, well.’
Her headache falling into a backbeat, Mari crossed behind her counter and climbed the stairs to the platform that allowed her to look face-to-chin with her customers. “Welcome back!” she cried eagerly, her ruthless smile refusing to vacate her lips. “I see you brought a guest with you today. Tell me,” Mari glanced at the orc, “can I interest you in something? His and hers chamberpots, perhaps? A nice decorative vase to celebrate an occasion?”
Roger glared broadswords at the goblin. “We’re just here to pick up my order, Mari.”
“Come on, you have to introduce us, at least!” Mari wheedled, giving the orc a once-over examination. The other woman was distracted by something else: a tanned hand that had emerged from a jug behind Roger. When the fingers took on the curl of an impending pinch, aimed precisely at Roger’s right buttcheek, the orc’s eyes widened in outrage, and she swiped at the hand. The offending limb retreated into the pot in a flash, and the orc hesitantly lifted the lid once more, shock painting her face when she discovered it to be empty.
“Mari, meet Priscilla, my roommate. Priscilla, meet Mari, a goblin that needs to remember she owes me for the last time I gave her advice on her love life.” Roger’s stare was intense, but the goblin was unfazed.
“Nah, we’re even, by my accounting. I hear you’ve been helping Meri, too.” Mari turned to lean back against her counter, inspecting her nails, as Roger yelped in pain from a pinch that had come from a pot on the other side of him. She glanced back to see him rubbing his sore left cheek, and the orc behind him was slightly crouched, looking wildly all around the room, her gaze checking each and every pot. “But I do have your order ready. Two dozen Diffudozers, three measuring cylinders, ten new flasks, and twenty new vials. Sounds like business is booming!”
Roger’s face was aghast at the nickname she had given his invention, leaving him oblivious to the mayhem behind him as the orc pulled a handle from a butter churn with determination gleaming in her eyes. “Don’t call them that, please.”
“You break it, you buy it!” Confused, Roger turned to glance at Priscilla, who hastily hid the wooden rod behind her back as the hand she had been dueling disappeared back into a nearby ceramic box barely as big as a fist. “My sisters loved that name at dinner last night,” Mari continued. “So did everyone else at the tavern. I bet that name takes off, wait and see. Oh, and I fixed these like the others, so hopefully they work for longer.”
Roger nodded in gratitude. He had explained to her that his first batch of diffusers had spent the dark lavender oil way too quickly, especially the ones he had used to put the knights to sleep in the town square. Together they had adjusted the devices to have far lower settings instead, which also kept the mist from being potent enough to keep its user asleep in case of a fire or other emergency. Roger had kept the original, more powerful diffusers for himself, and Mari was willing to bet he kept them loaded after they had saved his girlfriend from the knights. Instead, the weaker versions had been selling very well; it seemed that their disastrous first application had been all the advertising Roger had needed.
“So,” Mari said, her voice lowering enough that Roger stepped up to the counter. Behind him, Priscilla was distracted by her crusade against the jinn, whose hand had emerged from a flowerpot hanging in front of the orc long enough to give Priscilla a decidedly rude gesture. “Am I wrong, or is this a date?”
“Mari,” he replied stiffly, his expression torn between stern and pleading, “she came out to help me carry supplies, alright?”
“Mm-hmm.” Mari glanced back at the orc, who was now struggling to pull the end of the churn handle from the grasp of the jinn. “Just save me a seat next to Mithy-Poo at your wedding, okay?” She reached down to pull a hefty box from beneath her counter, presenting it to the chemist.
“Here’s your love advice for the day: don’t ever call him that.” Roger chuckled, taking the box from her. He turned back towards Priscilla, whose head was rapidly turning from side to side as she sought her enemy once more, having finally disarmed the hand. With the box before him, Roger didn’t see the hand extend from a nearby water jug, just at his waist-level. He did, however, notice said hand when it firmly cupped his most valuables. “H-hey!” Before the hand could retreat back into the jug however, still rolling his stones in her palm, the butter churn handle descended furiously onto the wrist. Djennifer’s yelp echoed from all of the pots in the room simultaneously.
Moments later, as the chemist and the orc walked out of the store, he nodded back to the cheerfully-waving goblin while Priscilla bowed slightly to her, awkwardly. Before the orc could leave, however, the djinn’s hand emerged from a nearby pot one final time. This time, it offered her a salute. After a moment, Priscilla grinned and returned the gesture.
Mari smiled as she watched them go, resting her chin on her hands. “Ah, young love,” she sighed, then laughed. “She’s going to eat him alive.” Grinning, she hopped down from her counter, ready to get to work. After all, she had her own man to win.
“Sorry,” Roger began as they walked down the road, his purchases from Mari’s store now resting under Priscilla’s arm. The morning traffic of Goslar flowed gradually around them at that hour; they had missed the rush of miners traveling to and from the mountain roads since they had overslept, not to mention Priscilla taking a long time choosing exactly which of her tunics she had wanted to wear. Still, already the air was rich with the cries of hawkers, and a medley of aromatic scents wafted from roadside foodcarts preparing their wares. “Mari can be a little… much, sometimes.”
Priscilla smiled at him. “I like her. You said she is trying to get your friend Mithal? Also, what was that in the jar?”
Roger chuckled, dodging around an ambling troll and waving off a lamia merchant extending a skewer of meat towards him. He did catch Priscilla glancing at the skewer lustfully, however, and paused, reaching for his coinpouch. “Yeah, she and all of her sisters. Mithal is really in over his head on that one.” He handed the coins to the lamia, who handed him a skewer heavily-laden with sauce-glazed meat cubes. He promptly extended it back to Priscilla, who took it with a grateful smile. She bit into the first dense bite, sighing in ecstasy as it released its juices in a rush into her mouth.
Swallowing, she savored the warmth of the meat flowing down into her stomach, trusting Roger to guide her through the maze of streets without a clue to their destination. “Yeah, but about that jar…?”
“Djennifer is always like that,” Roger admitted with an uncomfortable laugh. “She’s a jinn, so she can’t hurt anyone. Unless you look into her jar, that is. Just, don’t look into her jar, okay?” Priscilla nodded to this, looking increasingly concerned as she gnawed on the next morsel on her skewer.
“So, where are we going next?” she asked, shaking free from her alarm after a long moment. She didn’t recognize the street they were traveling, although that was hardly a surprise. Goslar was a sizable community, and she rarely strayed from the path to Bronda’s smithy and the Forked Blade’s encampment outside the town.
“Well, I was thinking we could pick up a few supplies for dinner tonight. There’s a new dish that Mithal taught me that I’ve wanted to try, so I need to buy a few groceries-”
“Then you have come to the right place!” exclaimed a high-pitched voice from nearby. Both of them glanced over to see a larger booth built into an alcove, with a long banner with grinning goblin faces hanging over the main storefront. “Veggies for Your Table!” the sign proclaimed, and the green-haired goblin girl beneath that banner offered them both a wide, shark-toothed smile as she spread her hands, indicating her wealth of cucumbers, eggplants, and other assorted produce.
“Let me guess: Meri?” Priscilla hazarded.
“No, she’s the tavern girl. Muri?” Roger prompted.
“She’s the one that works at the smithy,” Priscilla corrected him. “Miri?”
The goblin’s smile decayed into mush, and she rested her face on her counter in defeat. “Mori Melonchucker,” she introduced herself, her voice muffled by the countertop. Her two prospective customers shared a grin before stepping closer to her shop, their eyes scanning over the vegetables.
With their business secured, the goblin producemonger was soon distracted by another customer, so Priscilla and Roger returned to their previous topic. “After this,” Roger admitted, hefting a cabbage and inspecting it carefully, “I’m not really certain. I figured we would eat lunch at Mithal’s, if you wanted.” He glanced at her surreptitiously. “I wanted to introduce you to Mithal. I think you’ll like him.”
“I would like that.” Priscilla’s cheeks glowed a deeper pink.
“Other than that, the only other place I need to stop is-” Roger froze, paling drastically.
“Where?” Priscilla asked, concerned.
“Ah, it’s nothing,” Roger hastily assured her, but her flat stare dragged the admission from him. “I need a few plants from Rosa’s,” he confessed, his voice breaking a bit as he found a basket of carrots in front of him immediately worthy of his entire attention.
“Oh, then we can go there next,” Priscilla responded, the suspicion in her voice making it less of a suggestion than a statement. Roger swallowed uncomfortably, remembering all too well the proposal Rosa had made one of the last times he had visited her.
Soon, the pair presented an assortment of vegetables to the green-haired goblin grocer, who took no time in stacking them neatly in a basket, moving with practiced efficiency. As she placed the carrots and celery, her eyes lit up. “Ah, let me guess: making a mirepoix for a meat dish?” She held a hand to her small chest. “I always think it gives just the right flavor to the mix, but I’m biased.”
“Sounds to me like someone is studying to be a sous chef,” Roger teased, sharing a knowing glance with Priscilla. Mori didn’t deny it, preening under their looks.
“They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Unless the man is a cook, I guess. Then it’s, like, other people’s stomachs?” Mori paused, looking extremely confused. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“Well, thanks, Mori. Good luck with him,” Roger offered, placing the coins in front of Mori and taking up the basket of vegetables. The goblin waved at them enthusiastically, and Priscilla waved back, albeit in a less whole-armed fashion.
“So,” Roger started, glancing around himself to get his bearings, “We might as well go to Rosa’s next.” He hid his gulp, swallowing ‘and get it over with,’ before he could utter it. “We can come back for lunch afterwards.” He hoped that would give his delivery enough time to arrive; that had been the original justification for this mutual outing, though he felt it had changed into something else already.
Their path sent them down several winding streets, until they found the main causeway headed for the north exit to the town, a road that was more familiar to Priscilla. As they walked, she pointed out the distant encampment being used by Lacerta’s mercenaries, and she showed him places she had mentioned in her daily stories to him. There was something atypical about this stroll, something that loosened both of their tongues, or perhaps it was the events of the previous evening. In any case, Roger found himself talking to her openly, more comfortably than he had with anyone in years aside from Lacerta and Mithal.
Once they made their way clear of the city, he noticed her swinging her right hand close to him, and noticed she had shifted the box of vials to her left arm, an absolutely-innocent expression on her face. Smiling, and without pausing in their conversation, he moved the vegetables to his right hand, leaving his left at his side. A moment more, and their hands brushed, and again, this time their fingers intertwining as they unconsciously matched their paces together.
From there, as they made their way up the gradual incline towards the looming, shadowed forest, their topic changed to things more personal to them both. Roger started by discussing his life back in the barrier city; how growing up in a noble family had given him opportunities to enjoy things the poorer people never would, but also led to the fact that he was almost invisible to his parents and older brothers, a mere result of the Church encouraging the believers to have more children. He told her of his time in school, and of his strange friendship with the young eccentric inventor Valerian Metius, and of his relationship with his closest brother Richard, who had been only a year older than him. He told her of how his parents had died, and the change in the way his eldest brothers had treated him and Richard, which is what had led to his self-imposed exile. Throughout it, Priscilla asked him to explain some things she didn’t understand, but she allowed him to direct the conversation, listening intently and with compassion.
One topic in particular drew her interest. “So, you said you left the city when your oldest brothers took over the estate. What ever happened to the brother you got along with, Richard?”
Roger paused for a long moment. “Richard was a lot like me: he preferred reading to roughhousing, and he thought our older brothers were witless thugs. The big difference was that Richard was… ambitious. He wanted to prove himself better than them, and he wanted power. The only way for a third son to get that is through the Church. He could have joined the clergy, but he was never that big on scriptures or sermons. So, that left the Holy Orders. When I spoke to him last, he had just been accepted as a page to one of them, though he didn’t say which.” A moment passed as Roger looked off into the distance, as if trying to perceive his brother’s well-being. “I hope he is doing well.”
After he lapsed into silence, having brought his chronology to his arrival in Goslar and the mountainside meeting that had brought them together, Priscilla took her turn. She told him about life in her original tribe, far away in mountains less settled than those near Goslar. As a monster, the majority of the tribe were women, with the few men that lived there serving as communal mates to whole groups of orcs. The younger women tended to be half-sisters, and their mothers were very proactive in raising them and valued them greatly, though they encouraged roughness in play and teaching. In time, they tended to associate more with their sisters, forming social groups that tended to be stratified by strength. Priscilla had been one of the strongest of her sisters, and the shrewdest, so she was a leader of their age group. However, once she and her sisters had reached adolescence, they had been encouraged to move on and seek a new place to settle, to find a man of their own as mate and to claim a hunting ground. Their departure had been influenced by the arrival of a young high orc, a peer to Priscilla and the others, and that high orc had taken command of their group.
Roger stopped as he heard that, facing Priscilla directly. “Why was she leader? Weren’t you the strongest?”
Priscilla’s smile was sad. “She was a high orc. Following her just made sense. And she was strong, really insanely strong. Just not…” She sighed, and irritation tightened her face. “Berala was stupid, and stubborn, and a bully. I couldn’t stand her.”
There was something in her voice that gave Roger pause, something that reminded him of the fights he had once had with Richard. “She sounds like a sister as much as the others.” Priscilla nodded at that, a conflicted smile tugging at her lips.
As they made their way into the forest, Priscilla continued. After Berala had come to lead their group, they had wandered, until they heard of a mining town nearby that was fairly rich. They had hoped to set up shop there, to raid caravans coming out of the town and to snatch up a man to serve as their tribe’s mate, but they had been foiled more often than not by the guards the town used. Only foolhardy merchants unable to afford guards – like him – had been easy enough targets for them. In time, they had accumulated a great deal of wealth, but had only managed to capture monster merchants, or older married men, and the tribe began to grow restless, craving the mate they had been promised.
“And I told them that, if they followed me instead of boarheaded Berala, I would get a man for them.” Priscilla sighed, shaking her head in exasperation at herself. “Berala took it personally, and I was serious, so we handled it with a duel. I lost. I was drinking at the time, and a little sloppy, maybe overconfident…”
Roger directed a flat stare in her direction. “I can’t possibly imagine that.”
“It was a close fight, at least.” Priscilla shrugged resignedly. “Berala knew she couldn’t have a second-in-command that had stood up to her like that, so she banished me. I had grown up in a big community, had always had someone to watch my back, so… I didn’t do well on my own.” She swallowed, her throat tight. “It wasn’t a good time for me. But then you showed up, and here we are.” She smiled in his direction, the sunlight piercing through the clouds of her remembered depression. He returned the expression, squeezing her hand, running his thumb over her knuckles, and she leaned against him a little as they paused at the edge of a tight ring of trees.
The pair stared at each other for a long moment, hesitant to step away from the closeness they felt at just that moment. Roger swallowed, feeling a heat burning within himself, and shifted his stance, his pants suddenly feeling uncomfortably tight as a pink haze began to settle on his vision. Not thinking, he leaned forward, his eyes on Priscilla’s lips-
“What is that smell?” Priscilla demanded, turning her head to look at the trees nearby, utterly unaware of what Roger had just been about to do. She released his hand and stepped away, sniffing loudly as she followed the trail of the fragrance deeper into the grove next to them, leaning Roger staggering as he came back to his senses. As he did, his stomach began to tie itself in knots as he realized the flaw in his plan: every time he had visited Rosa, mentioning Priscilla had served to fend off the alraune’s advances. He had not wanted to bring Priscilla here because he did not know how Rosa would react now, but he had a few ideas, and not many of them ended well for him.
He entered the grove just in time to see Rosa emerge from her flower, Priscilla standing close to the immense bud, her stance implying battle more than civil introduction. As the petals descended, Rosa emerged with a toss of her mint green hair, standing upright defiantly in front of Priscilla, her posture revealing absolutely everything. She placed one hand on her hip, her bared chest thrust forward imperiously and her violet eyes gleaming in the sunlight. Priscilla glanced back to find Roger looking away with a florescent blush, and her eyes narrowed at the alraune.
“So,” the alraune purred, her eyes dancing over Priscilla’s form, one predator taking measure of another. “You must be Priscilla, the piggy princess herself.”
“And you are naked, and need to fix that.”
“Is that so? Would you be willing to give me your clothes, then?” Rosa’s eyes flicked to Roger. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind at all.”
Priscilla’s eyes narrowed. She instinctively knew a dangerous opponent when she saw one. “Sorry, no. Listen, we’re here to pick up something, and then we’ll leave, alright?”
Rosa didn’t respond at first. Instead, the flower that she was a part of leaned forward, bringing her closer to Priscilla, and Rosa leaned in further, until she was nearly face to face with the orc. “Oh, my dear, I know exactly what you need. But since you insist…” Priscilla and Roger noticed a couple of vines at the edge of the ring of trees holding bundles of flowers aloft, the supplies Roger had come to purchase, but their eyes widened as the vines snapped like whips, flinging the precious bouquets beyond the grove. “Oh, clumsy me; would you be a darling and fetch those, Roger?” Rosa’s eyes glowed as she stared unwaveringly into Priscilla’s. “We’re just going to have a little girl chat, alright?”
From the edge of the grove, Roger shook his head. “Listen, I don’t want you two to hurt each other-” A vine interrupted him by coiling around his shoulders, lifting him from the ground just enough to spin him to face the opposite direction, before releasing him and shoving in the direction of the exit. Roger sighed and glanced back, finding the girls were still locked on each other, unwilling to blink. Resigning himself, he hastened out of the grove, praying both girls would be there when he got back.
The second Roger was gone from sight, Rosa’s eyes narrowed. “I want him.”
Priscilla was just as blunt, crossing her arms before her chest. “No.”
“Oh, my,” Rosa said, recoiling in mock surprise. “Imagine, an orc unwilling to share. What has the world come to?”
“He’s not even mine to share.” Priscilla glowered at the alraune, unwilling to be shaken.
“Please.” Rosa laughed, the light sound like birdsong echoing in the forest. “He will be, darling. And I am okay with that. But that does not change what I said.”
Priscilla frowned, feeling as if she was being pushed back somehow, afraid the implied compliment had been a feint for an attack yet to come. “Even if he was, that’s his decision.”
Rosa didn’t reply immediately, instead raising a moss-colored eyebrow. “A man like Roger is like pollen: he can only drift in the wind and hope he finds the destination he seeks. Sometimes, it’s much more efficient to use… a honey bee, say, to get him to where he needs to be.”
“A honey bee?” Entomology was not Priscilla’s strong suit, and floral metaphors were, so far, also lost on her.
“He needs a push, dear, before he can make any decision. A decision for you, or for me.” Rosa smiled, the expression less hostile than before, as if she could sense her words softening Priscilla’s defenses, like roots penetrating dense soil. “And I could give you just what you need for that push.” Another vine lifted from behind the alraune, this one holding something very different: a thin, capped carafe nearly-full of a glistening golden fluid that oozed slowly in the snake-like grip of the vine. “Alraune nectar is a natural aphrodisiac. Roger is quite weak to my pollen; my nectar would leave only one need on his mind, and that need could be you, if you were the one to serve it to him. A sip, or just a little dribbled on his skin, and his aching lust will not end until he is spent inside you. Maybe not even then.”
Priscilla’s eyes tracked the wavering vessel like a rodent hypnotized by a dancing cobra. She tore her gaze away, however, to focus back on Rosa. “If you know Roger is weak to your pollen, then why haven’t you given him the push he needs for yourself?”
Rosa’s expression was as unguarded as her own emerald flesh: a soft, sad smile. “I know better than to stand in the way of love. I am content to wait my turn, instead.”
Priscilla looked away from Rosa, a dark cloud emerging to overshadow her heart. She remembered the nights she spent worrying that Roger would soon evict her from his life. She wasn’t ready to believe he loved her. Not yet. But, he might, if… Her eyes darted back to the vessel of nectar.
“What do you want from me, then?” she asked, her voice coarse.
Rosa’s eyes widened in triumph, and she grinned deviously at the orc. “Why, my dear, there is only one little thing I will need, when the time comes.” She leaned closer, whispering two words into Priscilla’s ear. With her request made, she leaned back, a waiting smile on her lips, prepared to hear her rival’s response. Priscilla met that gaze, her breath held as she considered the alraune’s offer.
A moment later, Roger burst into the grove, panting as he clutched the bundles of plants Rosa had sent flying into the forest. He was covered in stickle-burrs, and scratched from what he had imagined to be a dryad’s clutching grasp but was more likely just a stubborn root, but he had finally found the prizes he had sought. To his immense relief, he spied both girls, now standing apart from each other, their expressions unreadable. “Was that really necessary, Rosa?” he demanded, his chest heaving for breath.
“My apologies, dearest,” Rosa replied, covering her breasts lightly with her hands. “I simply slipped. But, at the least, it gave me a moment to get to know your friend much better.” She smiled down at Priscilla, who did not reply, mutely striding to Roger’s side. “I will see you soon, I hope.” She gave Roger a gentle wave, swaying her hips and biting her lip as she did so, leaving her chest bare once more until the petals of her flower curled back heavenward. The last Roger saw of her was the haunting smile on her lips as she stretched, raising her arms above her head as the petals embraced her, as if she were seeking to take hold of the sun.
“Sorry,” Roger apologized as he led Priscilla from the grove, having left Rosa’s payment sitting on the ground inside the ring of trees. “I wish that I could say that she isn’t always like that, but…” He shrugged helplessly. “I’ve learned to keep a safe distance.”
“Good idea,” Priscilla mumbled, her eyes on the path in front of her. Her quiet was a marked contrast to their earlier conversation, and it drew a worried frown to Roger’s face. He watched her for a moment as they walked, before returning his eyes to the path ahead. Whatever Rosa had said to her, he decided, he could deal with that later.
“So, want to get something to eat?” he prompted Priscilla as they neared the edge of the forest. To his relief, she looked back to him with a broad smile, and it felt to him like the sun had emerged after a storm.
“That sounds really good,” she replied, and, a moment later, when his hand brushed against hers, she held his hand once more, drawing strength from his touch, and from the way that their shoulders would brush together as they walked.
It distracted her from the weight of the vessel of alraune nectar she carried strapped to her side opposite Roger, hidden from view.
Continued in “Not Alone, Chapter 6“
Author’s Note: Good evening, all. I return again with a chapter for your enjoyment. Once more, as is my habit, I offer my humble gratitude to those of you who offer comments or ratings. Some comments I’ve gotten have fired my engines enough that today alone I finished two scenes of chapter 9, and hope to have it done before I post once more on Wednesday. Once more, I thank you.
Oh, but there is one thing I need to note, concerning a bit of a mistake I made in the previous chapter. I’ve made a few mistakes here and there in the editing process; I am working on two different computers, and emailing back and forth in order to transfer the master file from my work computer to my home one. Tragically, this, when combined with my tendency for constant editing of previous chapters, has led to a few changes lost in the process. One in particular is important to the later stories, something of narrative importance instead of simply stylistic concern. Specifically, as I have done further research on the MGE, I’ve had to shift around the names of a few of my characters, including one that is obliquely mentioned in chapter 4. I fixed this, twice, only to somehow botch and post the unfixed version pretty much everywhere. I’ve corrected it, but for the sake of everyone’s memory, in case you read the chapter before I made my correction: the character the kunoichi names as ‘Mistress Nina’ has been changed to ‘Mistress Mephis,’ so things work out with the current naming scheme I’m working with. Mephis = Nina, simple as that. Sorry for the confusion.
Now, though, as I prepare to get up early for a decidedly-long Tuesday, complete with tests and basketball games and hopefully, maybe, possibly, writing… it is time I get rest while I can. Let me sleep…