Magic Systems in my stories

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A considerable part of most if not all fantasy stories and science fantasy is magic. Whichever the form it takes, magic is part of the fabric of reality of the world where the story takes place. And usually magic takes the forms of ‘systems’, depending on how the author feels or believes that magic should work in their universe. Magic can be subtle like in Tolkien’s Middle Earth & Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire or can be pretty much weaponized like in Slayers or Final Fantasy. Some authors like Terry Pratchett went about equating magic with nuclear physics (which in my mind makes perfect sense, you will see why).

The most common form of magic used as well for role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons is the Vancian System, created by Jack Vance, author of the Dying Earth novels. Other systems are based on the equivalent exchange like in Full Metal Alchemist, drawing mana from the world (a few of the Final Fantasy games). TV Tropes has a decent summary of such systems here & here (the usual warning about getting stuck into endless hours of web surfing at TV Tropes apply).

Now, for my tow main universes where magic is part of the setting, I created two different systems, one more detailed than the other, given the nature of the stories, but more or less coming from the same ideas. I will start with the easiest one (and the one it has already seen the light, published in Tales of Wonder *shameless plug on my own website*).

The Magic in Kaana

Full disclaimer: Kaana as such is the proposed first chapter of a full-length novel I have in mind. Thus this system is liable to evolve a bit more. This part of the post has some spoilers for the story.

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Kaana is a science fantasy story taking place in the really distant future (close to the entropic death of the universe) in what is basically a supermassive Dyson sphere where the last survivors of the life in the universe struggle to find a way to escape inevitable doom.  Part of the world includes a group of beings named the ‘worldformers’ of which main characters Kaana and Quetz form a part. They are the magic users of the setting, using their magic to coax dead land into fertile one to grow food. Their magic could be described as ‘quantum alchemic elemental manipulation’ and of both systems described here, is the ‘least’ magical.

How does it work? Well, a worldformer has, since birth, special grafts inside their bodies that channel what they call ‘prana’: an elementary energy deep seated within the quantum realm and that mystics on Lost Earth called the blood of the universe. It’s something akin to using zero point energy or the vibration coming from quantum strings as the power source. Once they draw enough prana from the world around, they can order the matter at the quantum level to take any form or shape they wish, from dust to lava or from moisture to ice. Now to do so, the worldformer not only needs energy but a clear concept in their mind to order the matter around. Some of the grafts are embedded in their neurological system and act as processors to handle the translation from concept to transmutation. For simpler things, the process is tiring but easy. For bigger things, the process is more energy consuming and the calculations more complicated.

A worldformer can basically reshape the world around as they wish, providing they have the training and the endurance to do so. Since they are not creating something from nothing, but actually taking existent matter and transmuting it into something, there is no reality backlash nor paradoxes. Of course changing an element into another require a lot of prana.

The holy grail for worldformers has been the creation of auto sustainable energy like that of a star (which os part of the plot of the story, seriously, go and read it). It not only needs more prana than usual since it involves manipulating gravity as well but a higher computational power and more important, the key concept. This is where guardians like Aditi enter the picture: when they merge with a worldformer of the right kind, they can show the concept, make the calculations and draw massive amounts of prana and help the worldformer to recreate a singularity in miniature. However, the merging process and the actual transmutation is really painful and many have died trying it.

Pretty straighforward uh?

The Magic on Tempest Blades

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“Are you allergic to peanuts?” Alex asked.

“No silly. To magick energy,” Sam replied laughing.

This si the dialogue that kickstarts an explanation of how magic or magick with a ‘k’ is called in the Tempest Blades universe works. Of both systems this is the one I have been working the longer, probably since my first story in my teenagehood and is influenced by an old book on the history of magic that draws a lot from the treaties of Eliphas Levi, and ‘A Brief Story of Time’ by Stephen Hawking, both of which I read when I was a kid (have I told you that my reading choices during my childhood weren’t very common?).

Magick works like this: there is a fifth elemental force, akin to gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear force. This force has a particle, the ‘thaum’ that seems to be related to the axion of the dark matter, it seems to be generated by the interaction of stars and singularities with space-time, flows freely in ley lines across planets, specially inhabited ones and is basically part of the catalogue of dark matter particles that explain why the universe is the way it is.  It’s even related to the form of energy that powers mass transportation withing Theia, the planet where Tempest Blades takes place. Magick force thus forms part of the very fabric of reality and can be used to shape by strong users, providing they can deal with a few caveats.

As anything related to energy, you need a medium to conduct magick, be it a staff, a crystal or your own body. Then you focus the energy and think on a mathematical equation simplified in spell form and voilá, you created a magic effect. Sounds easy, isn’t it? Well, it isn’t.

For starters, the thaum acts like radiation, with similar ‘properties’. While it is not dangerous for regular bodies, in great quantities tends to warp reality and anything within it, including the bodies of those trying to use it. Hence the comment of allergies. In Theia, there is a species of near-humans, named the freefolk, that are naturally attuned to this radiation field and can withstand it longer than humans. Their bodies can act as natural conducts, but the longer they use magick, the longer its energies mutate their bodies, from something simpler as hair color or animal features to… well really major changes. Usually, the transformation last for a few hours, days, maybe a month, depending on the intensity of the spell. But sometimes the changes get permanent and alter the genetic makeup of the freefolk and those changes get passed into their children. There were documented severe cases when they end transformed into metallic statues or simply exploded.

Explosions are a common feature, even with talismans that help with the energy.

Humans can do magick as well, but it takes longer preparations as they don’t have the gift from birth, they have to basically build it up from scratch through constant contact with magic.

Now, if magick acts as a radiation field, it should follow the same rules of energy conservation, which means that you can’t create neither destroy energy or matter or reality, just change it. Thus, as my characters point, in the narration, there is not such thing as a disintegratioInstead. Instead it is actually just a teleportation spell used in a very creative way,” Sam smiled wickedly. “Except that you don’t teleport the whole subject at the same time to the same place.

Bottomline, a magick user is warping reality using high energies while they brain is calculating thousands of quantum states through a spell. Magick in my setting is a half sister of quantum mechanics.

And like quantum mechanics, magick has some ground rules deduced after many centuries of experimentation (and explosions). Magick works in rules of three: Three types of magic, three types of levels and three types of characteristics.

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Magick scheme as drawn and explained by Samantha Ambers-Estel.  Tempest Blades: The withered king.

Three types of magick:

Divine magic, the one that the believers of a faith use by asking boons from the Spirits Above, deities and nature. Summonings as well as some elemental and healing magic fit here. This magic calls upon the power of someone else through the power of faith and thus is ‘easier’ to do and requires less energy, but requires the right incantations and sometimes the user ends owing a debt to the spirits.

Natural magic, the one that draws from the magic field of the planet using spells or raw power. Most elemental magic, illusions, mirages, curses, attacks, defenses and reality warping fit here. Around 80% of the spells enter here. To use it you have to be attuned to the magick field or know the right procedures and have the willpower to control it. It’s the hardest way to do magick because it comes from the inner connection of the person to the world.

Daemonology (also known as Infinity pit magic). That’s self-explanatory. Similar to the Divine magick but works around deals done with the beings that inhabit the Infinity Pitt (Theia’s Hell). As it is easier to do (even more compared to Divine) and has faster results, it tends to be quite addictive, dragging the soul of the user more and more into the clutches of beings like the Pale King, the Crawling Chaos or the Dreaming Priest.

Levels:

First level (Cantrips): the entry level so to speak, especially for humans and freefolk without the natural inclination for magick. It requires massive preparations and rituals, study and most often than not, objects of power to focus the energy. A wizard in this level can do as many spells they have learned and if they have the raw materials (if required) to do so.

Second level (Incantations): the wizard internalizes the knowledge and ability required for a spell and draws directly the energy from the world and into them, using their body as the conduit and through words and gestures to cast the spell. The number of spells available to a wizard depends on their memory, training, and skills. This is the upper level for most wizards and the natural one for the freefolk of mature age. Some freefolk tribes and schools such as Ravenstone have even developed a form of hand to hand combat that combines movements from titanfight and kuni martial arts among others with casting gestures. The best combat wizard in this style earns the title of ‘Dragonking’ and is considered a leader and protector for most freefolk. This is also the level where more genetic mutations take place due to the use of the body itself as a conduit for the energy. Thus even if a wizard reaches this level, they will use a pendant or another item to help themselves and ease the strain on their bodies,

Third level (Visualizations): the highest level possible and the most difficult to achieve. In it, the wizard has become so adept at commuting with magick energies and directing them that just by visualizing something the change to reality happens. Wizards on this level still use helpers such as pendants, staffs or small gestures to focus their minds into their actions. To cast a spell, besides the energy expediture, the wizard’s mind must be able to understand, at least at an instictive level the nature of reality and the inner works of the spell. Thus if a wizard has to achieve this level, they have to study for decades or have great inner power, maybe both. This is the kind of magick that the akeleth taught to the first freefolk at the Dawn Ages at the behest of the Trickster Goddess. Only a handful since then have achieved such level. The most memorable ones have been Queen Khary of the Freefold during the Hero Age; the wizard Mekiri, who is the current custodian of the Maze and the fabled Ravenhall library and a rumored current student at Ravenstone.

True Spell (Special): Among the freefolk it is said that you can get on ‘True Spell’ when you reach the third level. This spell becomes part of your existence and can be cast almost at any time and without any restriction beyond the energy required to do so. However the wizard cannot choose the spell, but it is the other way: the spell choose them based on their own true nature, a reflection of their personality and/or place in reality.

Characteristics:

Spells have three main characteristics, derived from their interaction with space-time.

Range: most spells can cover only a determined area, a circle around the wizard. The larger the range, the more energy it requires to keep it’s strength and coherence.

Duration: most spells have a determined half-life, meaning that after a while they dissipate, once the wizard ceases to focus on them. The rate of energy consumption is proportional to the duration of the spell. In general, spells don’t last beyond a few minutes, perhaps a few hours. There are exceptions of course.

Intensity: also known as the ‘punch’ that a spell carries. It is the strength which the spell has to carry its purpose (e.g. the temperature achieved by a fireball and the explosion damage in its wake). The energy expenditure is exponential to the intensity of the spell.

A wizard can by general rule only focus on one, maybe two of those characteristics at a given time, even if they have reached Third Level. Only the aforementioned Queen Khary and Mekiri the Great, the akeleth and some Montoc Dragons were or are known to manage the three of them for shorter periods of time.

A regular spell at must last a few hours has a range of no more than thirty meters and the more intense is, the more explosive the backlash is. Reality doesn’t like being pulled around. Exceptions to these characteristics exist of course. Curses can last for ages, as they drain energy from its victims/places/objects. Teleportation spells do exist, but while the object being teleported remains at its new destination after the energy dispells, they only work if the caster has clear line of sight or clear image of the object and its destination (robbing a bank with one is possible, but most vaults have counterspells and other measures to avoid that). Disintegration spells are just randomized effect teleportation spells. The only know spells that have lasted for centuries are the ‘Sweet Oblivion’ spells cast by Queen Khary that consumed most magick energy of the planet for centuries to protect it from incursions and the spells involved in the creation of the Maze, Ravenhall and Ravenstone.

Dispelling spells by non-wizards is possible only if the subject has a stronger willpower (as it would work in conjunction with reality asserting itself), rare mutations or certain weapons such as the Tempest Blades or a few of the ‘god-killing’ weapons forged by the twins or the blizzard walkers during the earlier ages.

Magick as this is hard to use in deep space, as magick concentrates on planets with life and stars being the original source. Given the distances between stars and planets in the interstellar void, even with dark energy around the wizards seem to have problems keeping the spells characteristics coherent. Hence why there are few freefolk enlisted in the United Space Program. However earlier experiments within the stringspeed (as described here, have shown weird effects to the most common effects of a spell).

The above described is the most well-studied magick system on Theia. It doesn’t account for the shujenga of the demonhunters from the Kuni Empire (although it works under the same principles), the shamanism of a few errant tribes, some less known magickal creatures or the Samoharo.

Regarding this last one mention, the Samoharo’s magick is barely known because of their usual secrecy, however, a few principles are known given that they have been imitated by people from the Straits and the Colonies. Their magick is known as ‘blood magic’, due to the use of it as fuel, and incorporates elements of metamorphosis, transfiguration, dreamwalking and elemental control. The actual rituals are unknown but the use of ointments seems to be common.

Well, I just hope you have enjoyed this talk about the worldbuilding of my stories. Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome.

A bit or a lot of Worldbuilding

cropped-cropped-proposal-ravenhall5.jpgWhile my novel is being edited by a friend so I can start sending it to agents/publishers, I thought in sharing some notes on the world building behind it. Not all of this info appears in the novel or is stated like this. But it will give you if you wish so a sneak peak into the world of Theia, the planet (or the main planet better said) where my novel Tempest Blades, future sequels and most short stories take place. You will find them under the ‘Tempest Blades’ category and with tags that relate them to the characters in question. I hope you enjoy these notes as much as I’m having fun writing them.

 

The technology and curious data of ‘Cosmic Egg’

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Taking on the challenge raised by Leo McBride who depicted the amazing technology featured in his short story ‘Lazarus Soldiers’ in his blog, it’s my turn to do the same with my own story, ‘Cosmic Egg’. Now full disclosure, ‘Cosmic Egg’ is not exactly a pure, hard science fiction. It is more like science fantasy (if you have doubts what genre that is, think Star Wars or the classic cartoon Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors). That’s why some of the ‘science’ of the story veers more into fantasy/magic than hard science. That fact has made the story a harder sell, but what’s life without challenges? Also, the story is set in the same setting but a generation or so later to that my current work in progress – my novel Tempest Blades. Let’s say that ‘Cosmic Egg’ is a sequel of sorts that came before the actual story. With that say, let’s dive into the matter at hand.

A little context beforehand

‘Cosmic Egg’ features two of the three main species of my narrative universe: humans, which are more or less like you and me, with a few differences, and samoharos, a humanoid race of sentient lizard like people.

The samoharo are subdivided in two races that share common traits that allowed them to intermingle. The type A are larger beings, up to two meters tall, their reptilian features owing more to a humanoid iguana or gecko with long hair, long fangs and slit pupils. Their tails are strong enough to smash a tree. The type B is shorter, a mix between an iguana and a turtle due to the shell-like structure at their backs. They had also hair on their heads, but usually were shorter and traded the lack of long fangs with more humanlike eyes and blinding speed. Both types are warm-blooded. They have their own language (for which I’m inspired by Mayan), religion and are fond of humans, seeing the younger species as ‘younger siblings’.

There is a third species, the freefolk, who are near-humans (they can actually reproduce with humans), and whose genetically modified traits allow them to feel and manipulate the thaums (an elementary particle, akin to gravitons and bosons and that carry the force needed for quantum entanglements and other quantum effects) to manipulate reality in a way we would call ‘magic’.

Doing that alters their physiology and they don’t travel to space unless it is really needed because the methods used don’t sit well with their bodies.

The three species currently live (at least in the Tempest Blades universe) in a world named Theia (none of them are native of the planet by the way), a goldilocks zone planet, slightly bigger than our Earth and with a warmer climate. Its atmosphere is covered by a thick ionosphere, with a violent streak of electric storms that has posed challenges to both long-range telecommunications and launching ships to space exploration.

This is why a ship like the Firefox (renamed Fireraven in a new edition of the story) has certain characteristics that make it unique.

The Fireraven/Firefox: the titular ship of the story, one of the first of its class. It’s a long range exploratory vessel, built with the best technology of the three species. It was designed to explore the nearby galactic quadrants in an autonomous way, able to refuel itself without having to return home for years. It is powered by three massive energy cores, following samoharo design: the first two are fusion gravitational engines that provide power for the general functions of the ship as well as sub-light impulse. The third core is used mainly to feed the backup life support systems (which on their own have several redundant subsystems) and the Stringspeed device, ‘The Puncher’.

This core works through a system similar to a particle accelerator-collider of matter-antimatter. Its energy output is similar to the other two, but can’t provide it for extended periods of time, storing the surplus energy for the backup systems in regenerative batteries. The synergy of these cores provide the ship with modular artificial gravity for the crew (which is a good thing in case of a fire or to avoid ill effects from extreme g-forces) and to make the ship lighter than it really is when flying inside the gravity well of a planet – a sort of anti-gravity or repulsion system.

The propulsion is provided by ion thrusters (as in space inertia can get you anywhere with the right thrust), capable of moving the ship up to 45% of light speed. For FTL travel, there is the Puncher and the Stringspeed (see below). The hull of the ship is made of a series of alloys based on material modified at molecular level thanks to nanotechnology, roughly arranging the molecules of materials such as titanium into crystal structures similar to the diamond ones. Embedded in the hull, there is a wide array of sensory systems to provide the crew with as much information as possible of the surroundings, up to gravimetric waves and quantum interactions. The ship’s external form is modeled after the body of a giant raven with six wings (hence the name) and has no edges, everything is rounded. This is to avoid the internal atmosphere putting pressure on the structure.

The ship has a total mass of 500,000 metric tons, ten decks, and 187 rooms. It nominally carries a crew of 50 but can be operated with a skeleton crew of 8 and can carry passengers to a total of 200 very crammed beings in case of emergency. Among the rooms available are a cantina with a well-supplied kitchen, hydroponic gardens, meat growth vats, med bay (with equipment for both types of samoharo, humans, freefolk and near human races), a xenobiology lab, the Akash Archive storage room, a whole engineering deck, astrometry and physics observatory, viewing gardens, water and oxygen recyclers and generators, AI housing, crew rooms and living spaces to practice sports and other leisure activities. The command deck is in the upper levels, next to the captain and pilot rooms. It has as well four hangars: two for terrestrial and aquatic exploration, one for the midrange drones and one for the three combat fighters it has stored. It also has workshops and labs to give maintenance to all the equipment and the ship itself.

The Fireraven is a research and exploration vessel, but that doesn’t mean it is not capable of defending itself. Along with the combat fighters stored in it, it has a rudimentary cloaking system (can cloak almost everything but the third core signature energy residual radiation), railgun missiles with variable loads (ranging from thermonuclear to ions), coherent energy beam cannons and three main cannons that are for mining asteroids and planetary surfaces but under the right protocol can be used as a main weapon to obliterate most known materials. It also has a cryo-sleeping chamber for the whole crew and the main AI can be detached from the underbelly of the ship as escape means for the crew. Finally, it can deploy communication buoys to open a transmission channel to Theia. Its design is based on an earlier samoharo mining ship, modified for combat, named the Figaro (featured in the Tempest Blades novel), as well as the original generation arks of the samoharos. It adds all the combat features of the brand new human air fighters (as humans are more vicious warriors than even the samoharos who pride themselves on being a warrior race) and the advances in data storage and power coupling crystals of the freefolk.

Rumour has it that there will dreadnought class ships built by the time the Fireraven returns home to serve as a defensive armada for Theia. Just in case.

Stringspeed: this is the Faster-Than-Light method developed by the species in my story (it doesn’t mean there aren’t others though). Stringspeed parts from the idea that you can’t travel FTL in the regular universe due the well-known physical constraints. But the universe is formed by several upper and lower dimensions neatly folded and compressed like a napkin made of several planes. These dimensions or planes are the result of living in an N-string universe where the cosmic strings ‘vibrates’ at different frequencies. These planes, depending how high or low you go, follow similar but not identical physical rules and thus it is possible to transverse them to travel long distances in a few minutes. Accessing those planes however is tougher due the energy conversion and different rules.

What the Stringspeed engine in the Fireraven does is shunt the ship through a ‘puncher’, a device that punches a hole into time-space to allow access to what’s called the ‘travel plane’ while wrapping the ship in a bubble, similar to the Alcubierre cube with a portion of the local reality fabric. Since these planes are not exactly conductive to matter and lifeforms as we conceive them (but might possess their own version), generating the bubble is a necessity to ensure the viability of the travel, the integrity of the ship and the survivability of the crew. Once the ship is in the travel plane, which due to its proximity to our own plane of existence doesn’t differ that much in terms of rules, the ship maneuvers the bubble along cosmic string of lesser order, using them as tracks to reach point B from A, using the idea that quantum entanglement happens because these strings connect points of reality on the upper and lower planes of the ‘napkin’.

When the ship arrives at its point of exit, the puncher device uses the energy contained in the bubble to return the ship to our plane, reducing the risk of expelling gamma rays that are byproducts of the Alcubierre cubes. Traveling along these tracks is difficult due to the disorienting nature of the travel plane, the gravity shadows of massive objects such as stars and singularities and the quantum uncertainty properties of the cosmic strings that collapse once the pilot chooses one to follow.

There are navigational charts (generating new ones is one of the missions of the Fireraven) but most of the choices are carried out by pilots using their ‘hunches’ assisted by computers that do most of the logical, quantum calculations. To be chosen to be a pilot for stringspeed vessels means to have certain genetic traits that allow to ‘feel’ whether these quantum entangled cosmic strings end in the place one wants to go. Ships usually carry at least four or five crewmembers with such genetic traits. In the case of the Fireraven, Michael, Scud, Roanna and two more crewmembers possess such abilities. Still, doing it by feeling generates much stress on the senses of the pilots, thus the need for the Artificial Intelligences.

AI: The Artificial Intelligences used in the Fireraven are of two kinds: the regular ones that control most systems of the ship and are just highly developed software; and the main AI of the ship which  is a semi-empathic brain with quantum neural pathways of third generation. Sounds like a mouthful, even coming from Scud.

Basically, the AI is a quantum computer modelled after a human/samoharo/freefolk hybrid brain. The neural pathways are meant to emulate the way biological brains generate neuron connections.

This allows the AI to learn and improve, as well as to develop faster calculations than a biological brain in real time, while allowing it certain degree of ‘human guessing’. It makes it a more flexible AI than the ones used regularly for industrial purposes on Theia, as those more commercial ones are very limited in their applications (they are either limited in terms of usability and available actions or go mad, like the clockwork golems littering some parts of Theia after the Great War).

However, these features created an unexpected effect: the AI has personality. It acts similarly to what you would expect of a very schizophrenic brain trying to deal with multiple sensory inputs. In the case of the Fireraven AI, it has the personality of a child, a very eager child wanting to learn everything even if could get it into hot water, which is the crux of the dilemma posed by the story.

The first prototype of a semi-empathic AI was created by a human decades ago of the story, by mapping his own brain before passing away and the AI ended in the hands of a samoharo (both featured in my novel).

The samoharos used the concept and improved upon it with their biotechnology, mixing characteristics of human, samoharo and freefolk to allow the brain housing the AI to be able to process all the sensory inputs, mathematical calculations and other activities that a space travel might ask for. Developing these AIs is a long and expensive process, thus they are limited use only for space ships and special missions. So far, there are only five in existence.

Drones: the drones used by the crew of the Fireraven are not dissimilar to the ones we use today, except from a few differences. For starters, they are made of the same alloys of the hull of the Fireraven, with sensors embedded on their fuselages. They can measure and record different types of inputs, depending on the mission, including most of the full EM spectrum and under certain circumstances, quantum and particle interactions.

Housing all those sensors, the communication systems and the power source limit the capacity of data storage of the drone, reducing their range to that of a reliable transmission, as they broadcast their finding in real time to the mother ship. To allow for better handling, the drones are piloted through neural connections and feedback with the pilots. This means that the pilot, rather than controlling it with a yoke or a pad, controls the drone with thought. The pad used is only to register the intensity or the force needed for certain actions.

As a result, the drones are nimble and can improvise. However, this system has a drawback: the connection is both ways so if the drone is damaged or destroyed, the feedback is felt by the pilot. This doesn’t result in actual physical damage to the pilot, but can leave neurological and sometimes psychological trauma.

For example, there are documented cases where a drone lost a wing and the pilot reported losing all the feeling and response of the corresponding arm, as if it had been cut from his body, needing several years of therapy to correct that.

Stringspeed pilots in general and Michael in particular have showed higher resilience to block such feedback, at least to a certain extent, leaving them only with migraines and seizures. Drones can be used to attack too, but since the possibilities of destruction are bigger, to avoid injuring the pilots, their control is transferred to the regular AI of the mother ship, in extreme cases to the main semi-empathic AI.

Akash Archives: These are basically the compilation of all the knowledge and lore generated by the three species in Theia, compiled in data crystals through quantum engravings. In Theia, it’s usually resting in the Aethernet, the equivalent of our Internet. Since web connectivity in the far reaches of space is not exactly available, the Fireraven and similar ships carry a copy of the archives in the special databank.

This is all for now. I hope you liked this sneak peek to the world building I’m doing for the Tempest Blades universe of my novels and most short stories and may be be interested in more details about the setting. Thanks for reading. 🙂