The Convent

As I secured my concealed weapons and got ready to leave site, an echo of footsteps came toward me.

“Ready then?” a familiar voice called out.

My CO has always seen me as the baby of the group, and I guess in a way I am if you count my being the only female in his team. I simply nod a turn to face what’s left of my team.

“Be careful – no man who has gone in there has ever come back alive.”

That last part brought back memories and images of David; the first of our team to go in. The first of six. We managed to find his head on surveillance one day, the others we’ve found nothing. I pulled myself from the images and locked the memories up tight. I can’t afford any sort of weakness in the hours coming.

“Good thing I’m not a man.” I bite out bravely as I can muster. I can see my CO’s lip quirk at that before I turn and leave the site. After all, why send a man to do a woman’s job.  It’s not like they could blend into the Convent.

The details of my mission are simple: infiltrate, recon, extraction. I wish I could say it’s just the latter I’m worried about considering the lack of success from my teammates, but they also got to go in for their recon with high tech surveillance and satellite equipment along with weapons. I have two weapons, thankfully, but knives wouldn’t be my pick if I had a choice, although that is it apart from the clothes on my back.

On approach to the large, old building, and eerie sense of silence settles over me. Our intel had the population of the convent around 300 hundred give or take but I get the impression of abandonment.

Though most Convents would be shut out from the rest of the world, the tall gates I pass through are wide open, though hardly inviting. I come to a stop in the courtyard and turn on my heel to study my surroundings. The silence continues and I can’t help but feel the ball of foreboding grow in the pit of my stomach.

I start to wander through the outside pathways, reasonable fear keeps me from trespassing any further inside. It takes almost an hour, but I am finally found by someone. Though she wears the clothes of a nun, something about it isn’t right.

As she takes me to another room and undresses me, confiscating my lesser of the two concealed weapons, I focus on trying to put my finger on it. By the time I’m redressed the same as she and lead to a large hall, my mind has failed me and instead I take in everything I can of the journey.

The room is filled with what I’d equate to the 300 nuns we’d accounted for in our intel. I read my vows and pledged myself to the convent and the divine cause in a daze before being led to dinner.

Every little detail of the events and rooms etch themselves into my memory and yet my mind continues to work tirelessly to find the fault in it all. Though I can’t see it, I can feel it and I know it is there.

During dinner, the hall is silent. It remains that way as the room begins to file out. I’m gestured to to follow and I do so silently. We travel to the far side of the lot and descend down a vast network of staircases. My mind begins to formulate exit strategies but I keep coming to the same conclusion: one way in, one way out.

We finally enter a vastly cavernous room at what seems to be the front. It is very old world, all stone with braziers alight. not too far in front of me there is a raised stage and at the center is a dais.

I’m huddled into the masses like cattle but take a moment to turn and survey the back half of the chamber. We were wrong. Our information was so very wrong. Before my eyes the population of 300 exploded in excess of a thousand.

Whilst my brain tries to process this my attention is pulled back to the front of the room where a small group of nuns are mounting the stage. One addresses us all and welcomes those of us who are knew, but I don’t hear anything else she says. Instead my focus is drawn to the two men being dragged out behind her to the dais.

Steve and Carter.

The last two men we sent here.

I stand rooted to the ground and force my eyes to stay open as the woman around me abuse and destroy my friend’s bodies. I force my stomach not to betray me as they begin to partake in their flesh. And I will myself to stay standing, for my face to not betray emotion as a cup of their blood is sent along the line of women in my direction.

I have five more days here without extraction. And extraction only comes once I’m outside of these walls. So far, I haven’t seen how that will happen.

Prompt: “Be careful – no man who has gone in there has ever come back alive.”
“Good thing I’m not a man.”

Ummm. Idk? Lol.

X.H.

I grew up never knowing my father. I can honestly say that I never missed that aspect of my life and I only remember a wonderful childhood with my single Mother. I was a little confused as to why she never dated anyone else, but it never concerned me until I was about nineteen. In the year leading up to my eighteenth birthday, Mum started getting increasingly skittish and paranoid, also pushing me to apply to universities and get my life onto a good path after high school. I just assumed she was being a normal, over protective Mum. That was until I found the boxes of postcards in the attic.

My eighteenth was just Mum and I. It was a perfect and quite day at home; but when morning came, she was gone.

It wasn’t until a year later when I was cleaning out the house of clutter that I found the postcards from a X.H. There was never anything written explicitly, but it was easy to tell he was bad news. Especially when most of the contents contained demands – one being that she join him once I was eighteen, no questions.

I showed the cards to the police but they did nothing, so I changed courses at university to give me more skills and resources to look into my Mother’s dangerous contact and disappearance. A year and a half later, I was still hitting dead ends but apparently, my digging had caught someone’s attention. Or rather, a whole lot of someones.

Which is how I came to be 26, and working for the NSA with my heart torn between bringing my Mother home alive and putting a stop to a man third on the most wanted list.

Prompt: Cleaning out your parents’ attic, you find a shoebox full of postcards from a person signed X.H. addressed to your mother that date back from the day of your birth to your 18th birthday.

A Thief in the Night

The thief stumbled down the steep forest slope, his lamp barely lighting his path. Envelope clutched in hand, he looked back towards the building he’s just escaped. Hearing enraged voices echoing down into the valley, he urged his legs on and headed straight for the river below. Reaching the water’s edge, he leapt into the boat he’d tied off earlier and pushed himself into the South running current. As he dropped his oar into water, he could see thirty-odd guards chasing after him. Little too late they reached the waters edge and the man slowly paddled his way downstream.

Once out of view, he pulled his oar into the boat and lay on his back, letting the current rock him gently onwards. He studied the shapes carved into the rock face that now lined his small vessel’s path; their familiar forms bringing him comfort.

Finally he released the envelope from his tight grip and began to read the contents in his lamp’s warm light. As the moon appeared from behind a cloud, a single tear escaped the thief’s blue eyes and when left to darkness again, the boat continued gently on it’s lonely journey to it’s destination unknown.

Prompt: Thief, envelope, forest, desk, and lamp.

It’s been a while since I’ve uploaded anything, so here’s a quick little piece I wrote up while in class. I have a feeling I’m not finished with it yet, but this is all I’m writing for now. :3
Amber. xx

Diary of Secrets

FOUR YEARS AGO.

12th of February.
Dear Diary,
Last night I had the most unusual dream. It felt so real, yet I woke up in the middle of it so I knew it wasn’t. It started off as a blur of images as though I was walking down a corridor of endless moving pictures. I felt the need to stop at one point so I did and then a door appeared beside me. I opened the door and walked into my step-mother’s study; she was talking to one of the guards. They were talking about the kingdom and some changes that she wanted to make to it. I walked over to the window realising that they either couldn’t see me or just didn’t notice me. The flowers were gone from the blossom trees below and the only colour left in the garden were those of the evergreens and step-mother’s personal flower garden that she kept flowering with her magic. I tuned back into the conversation just in time to hear the guard mention me. I looked at my step-mother and startlingly, she looked straight back at me with an icy glare and said, “well deal with her later”. I woke up covered in sweat and couldn’t go back to sleep. I didn’t know what to think of it – still don’t actually. I just hope I never have a dream like that again.

15th of February.
Dear Diary,
I’ve had that same dream again every night since the first. I don’t know what it means, but it feels so real and it scares me! I keep hearing more and more details of the conversation as each night goes by and I can’t unsee it. Every time I look at my step-mother I just see the hard stare she gives me in the dream. I don’t know what’s going on or what to do. Perhaps I should tell Father?

17th of February.
Dear Diary,
I had that dream again the night before last so I decided to tell Father yesterday. I told him everything I heard and saw in the dream and waited for him to respond. He was quite for a few moments staring off in the distance before he looked at me and asked if I’d told anyone. I said no, and he was adamant that I keep it that way. I especially needed to keep the information away from my step-mother. He said he’d explain why in a couple of days but for now I just needed to keep it to myself.

18th of February.
Dear Diary,
Today my step-mother wanted me to join her for tea. It was a somewhat odd request seeing as she usually didn’t acknowledge me these days more than was necessary. She asked about my studies and Father and then asked a lot about my magic such as: whether I’d been practising, if I’d developed any more gifts and many more questions like that. I remembered Father’s warnings and I didn’t tell her anything about my dreams but I’m so very confused.

19th of February.
Dear Diary,
I talked to Father today about Step-Mother’s little tea party with me and he seemed upset or worried. I assured him that I told her nothing about my dreams which seems to calm him a bit, but not entirely. I pressed him to tell me what was going on and he finally told me something. Only one little detail, but at least it was a start. He said my gifts were expanding and that I’m just coming into a new one. He wouldn’t tell me what it was – instead telling me once again that he’ll let me know soon. And also that I must keep this a secret from my Step-Mother at all costs.

20th of February.
Dear Diary,
Today the trees lost the last of their flowers and the wind turned cold.
Today I found out my Father died.
Today I was kidnapped.
And today I found out that with my new gift, I’d seen my Step-Mother plotting my Father’s death in my dreams days before it happened.

Thanks to a friend for this character development type prompt! These diary entries are in direct response to an older post of mine – the beginnings of a story that I’ve now decided to work on. In discussions about whether to write a novel or create a tv/web series. Amber. xx

SS: The Island – A Deal Struck With Pride

Cayn was lonely on the island. He lost his mother a few years ago and never really got along with his sister, so he’d lived the last few years in solitude. It was one of the reasons he volunteered to come to the island, no one would miss him and there wasn’t anything keeping him where he was. He didn’t think he could get any lonelier than he was already, but being on an isolated island with only six other researchers was in fact lonelier than sitting by himself in his old three-bedroom house.

He often wondered if the seven of them were chosen not only for their skills in the field, but also for their varying personalities. As though they were sent to the island not only to study the effects of global warming, but as an experiment. Each of the seven researchers had such different personalities that it was a wonder they managed to stay sain at all. In fact, Cayn thought, you could probably match everyone with one of the seven deadly sins. Clara, the oldest, would fit neatly under Pride; Kevin would definitely be filed under Greed; Mark can be quite unpredictable and he has quite a temper that would mark him as Wrath; Ingrid would be Lust for she is quite amorous and wouldn’t fit under any other sin; Nolan is the hardest to place, but he would best suited with Gluttony; Traiss for Sloth, purely because of how messy he is; and then there’s Cayn, who is definitely one of Envy.

No matter their flaws, they each had something Cayn didn’t: family, friends and love. Each time he watched his colleagues read their letters for the first or even the fiftieth time he would get an ache in his chest of both jealously and longing. They had been on the island for some time now and the deliveries every two weeks seemed to isolate the young researcher even more each time.

The day came when Cayn had just simply had enough. He couldn’t just sit there and watch their faces light up anymore, not for however much longer they were going to be on the island. So he hatched a plan. A plan that would hopefully bring him some happiness for once.

After dinner than evening he visited each Traiss, Nolan and Ingrid, thinking that out of the six researchers they would be the most giving, and offered to pay them absolutely anything if they would let him have one of their letters, randomly selected, and correspond with the sender from that day forth. The two men just laughed in his face and Ingrid, though she wanted to help him, just couldn’t bare to part with corresponding to one of her loved ones.

Cayn retreated to his room and collapsed on his bed, upset and devoid of any hope. Thoughts of loneliness filled his mind until a quite rap at the door brought him to. He opened it to find Clara standing there. He let her in and she started talking before he’d even closed the door.

“I heard you talking to Ingrid about this little deal you want to make. As far as I’ve heard from the others, your negotiating didn’t go so well.” Cayn made as face at this, they’d all been talking about him. “Oh, come now, I’m not here to make fun. In fact, I’m here to take you up on the deal. That is, if the offer still stands.” His eyes lit up.

“Yes, yes, of course! How much do you want?” He asked, excitedly.

“It is not money I seek. How about we just say that you’ll owe me? So the terms are these, you may choose one unopened letter of mine and from that day forth you are the correspondent and I am to see no further letters from that person, correct?” Cayn nodded. “I see. Well, meet me at the mail post when the boat arrives tomorrow and you may choose your letter then.” Clara started towards the door.

“Thank you, Clara.” Cayn said just as she was almost out the door. Clara simply turned to him with no expression on her face and then left.

Tomorrow. I will no longer be lonely as of tomorrow, Cayn thought as he sat on his bed, too excited to sleep.

In response to the new challenge, Story Spinners, on Chris Donner’s blog!

Inside the literary mind of a 12 year-old: The Pu Tuhs

A/N: Just before we begin, I thought I should say that this short story was written around my twelfth birthday. I’ve copied it to here word for word perfect, just so I could have it documented here as well as a single copy on paper. (: It was written in English class where we had to create a superhero and write a story about them.

This particular story was a practise exercise to precede the  final assessment – another short story about a superhero but.. better. Haha. (Hopefully I can find that one – as I’m rather proud of it – and show it as well. Although it did grow from a 500-700 word limit to a 2,114 word submission. ;D) Anyway! Enjoy.

The Pu Tuhs (Which is Shut Up backwards. Apparently I found this thoroughly amusing in Grade Nine.)

One fine day at Sommerset High, Ms Ellem was teacher her usual Monday period 5&6 english class.She enjoyed teaching this class as she had mostly lovely kids but unfortunately also many annoying little brats. Her favourite students were Monelica Amerthyst and Marie Roberts. Monelica and Marie were her favourites because they were polite, well behaved and also did all their work. There was also one other reason. One which very few people knew about. They had something in common that was superhuman. They all had super human powers. They all found out about each others when Ms Ellem caught them using their elemental powers and decided to share with them she was psychic and had an elemental power herself. But that was 2 months ago. Now they have mastered all their powers with each others help, and know where their power source is.

Twenty five minutes into the 35 minute lesson Monelica’s other best friend, Holly could see that the teacher’s desk drawer was glowing dimly and told both Monelica and Marie. Although they could not see it glowing they told Ms Ellem. Ms Ellem wanted to show the girls but couldn’t. Because by opening the drawer the classroom would glow a pinky-purple drawing attention to it from the students. So Monelica momentarily shape shifted the four of the to a space of nothingness while a hologram of them was created in the classroom.

Ms Ellem opened the drawer and inside sat a bright, shimmering pinky-purple stone. She explained to the girls that the stone was her power source. It was the scared stone, Pu Tuhs. It had been passed down through many generations. Monelica and Marie also had power sources which they could carry. Marie’s was a bright pink flower, and Monelica’s was a bright purple nova wand. They were starting to get warm and even brighter. Holly didn’t have a power source like theirs. Hers was in her mind. Ms Ellem then also explained why they were glowing and getting warmer. They were doing this because evil was looming. Coming for Ms. Ellem’s power source. Ms. Ellem knew who was coming from her psychic ability. It was the Nasty Wizard of Cicatidel.

Monelica returned the class to normal and they resumed the lesson even though the bell was due to go in 2 minutes. They were all scared of what was going to happen to Ms Ellem. They decided nothing was going to happen to her. They were going to make sure nothing was going to happen to her.

Suddenly a scary guy burst through the large windows of the classroom. At this moment Ms Ellem and the three girls knew it was the Nasty Wizard of Cicatidel. They all crowded around Ms Ellem and discussed what action they were going to take. As the wizard edged closer they decided they were going to fight but Holly was going to put a forced field around the class and Ms Ellem as Marie and Monelica fought him.

So the battle begun with the martial arts. Although unknowing to the Nasty Wizard, the girls also had super powers which matched his. After a good 5 minutes of fighting physically, the Wizard resorted to his super powers. He used both the Dark and the Earth elemental powers but Monelica and Marie could match it and rebound it. The fight started to get more fierce and they used all the powers they had and even Holly and Ms Ellem cam in to help. 10 minutes later they scared him off. The class came back in and cheered, although that didn’t last long because Ms Ellem erased that part of their memory.

When they all went to lunch Holly went to the Toilet, Monelica and Marie went to the Music block and Ms Ellem went to her staff room, leaving the Pu Tuhs in the class drawer. As Holly entered the toilet block se was interrupted by a man who she couldn’t see. He grabbed her and orbed her into Ms Ellem’s classroom where Holly could see it was the Nasty Wizard. He stole Ms Ellem’s Pu Tuhs. And he drove them off in his bomby car to his secret lair in a cave at the beach. (He liked the smell and sounds of the sea!)

Back at school, 10 mins after Holly had gone to the toilet, she had not returned. The girls started to worry and went looking for her. She wasn’t in the toilets, so they went to check the classroom. When they arrived, the classroom was trashed and Ms Ellem’s stone was gone. The girls sprinted up to Ms Ellems’s staffroom and told her. They realised then that it was the Nasty Wizard who had taken her stone and kidnapped Holly. Ms Ellem felt helpless as she knew if he has her stone he would use it for evil to rule the world. Ir destroy it. The girls also found a note which was left in the drawer. It said: “I have kidnapped your friend and you will not get her back unless you (Ms Ellem) come alone to my lair in the beach cave and tell me how to use your stone thingy!” Ms Ellem still had her powers and so did the girls! So they were going to find the Nasty Wizard of Cicatidel and defeat him in the process of getting back Holly!

As they crept cautiously through the damp, wet cave, they could hear a deep, muffled voice. They created a plan of what they were going to do and a course of action. As they crept closer, the girls hid in crevices along the cave so they were unseen. Ms Ellem went into the circular opening in which Holly was tied up and the Wizard standing behind a counter. “You’ve finally arrived!” he said snidely. “Yes, now untie Holly and leave her be!” she replied. “As you wish.” And he did so. “Now give me the stone to show you how it works!”

“I will not fall for that trick!”

Just give me the stone now, I want to get this over and done with!” She said getting slight angrier. He gave her the stone, and Ms Ellem laughed. The girls all stood in a line facing the wizard. Then the girls fired all their power at him and him to them in return. Sparks fromt he impact flew everywhere and the cave was getting brighter and brighter! Then all of a sudden the cave exploded and Holly quickly put a shield around the girls and Ms Ellem.

When the dust has settled all that was left was a little frog in a pointy hat that leapt away angrily. The girls laughed and then returned to school! Then celebrated with a block of chocolate Ms Ellem had in her staffroom fridge.

Amber. xx

So, after reading through this as I typed it out, I realised that much of it is actually rather painful to read it’s so bad. But, it was my twelve year old self and I shan’t correct this. Haha. Hope you enjoyed or at least, aren’t in too much pain. (:

IAWTW: It Had Been Years Since…

You get to fill in the plot and add a few lines to it.  Here is your prompt.  I’ve added some choices for you but you don’t have to use them.  You can take the plot anywhere you want to.  Unleash the creativity of your inner novelist / playwright / artist.  Write as much or as little as you would like.  Get outrageous.  Have fun!

It had been ___ years since I had seen ____________ (name), my best friend in (high school /college / university).  I hadn’t planned on spending all those years apart from each other.  Who would have thought we’d meet by accident like this, in a coffee shop in the middle of (nowhere / bustling city / planet Xandria)?  What were the chances of this happening?  Yet, here we are, strangers, together after all these years.  I still remember the last time we (met / spoke / wrote)….

It had been 12 years since I had seen Amelia, my best friend from birth throughout college. I hadn’t planned on spending all those years apart from each other. In fact, we’d always said nothing would ever tear us apart. But they were, I suppose, childish thoughts. Our careers after college had taken off and Amelia’s took her to far off countries whilst mine took me to the big cities. Who would have though we’d meet by accident like this, in a coffee shop – our coffee shop, in the middle of our old hometown. Really, what were the chances of this happening? Sure, we’d both grown up here, gone to school here and even attended college here, but we had each gone our separate ways and moved to opposite sides of the world. Yet, here we are, strangers, together after all these years.

I still remember the last time we saw each other. The day we said goodbye. It was a week after graduation, and we were both excited, thinking of our future prospects and talking of all the traveling we would get to do. That was until we realised it was the last day we’d see each other because Amelia had been offered a job over in Egypt, her plane leaving the next day.

We kept in contact for a couple of years, but by our fourth year out of college, I didn’t even know what country she was in let alone what she was doing with her life. I continued on with my life, and made new friends, but no one seemed to be able fill that hole left by my estranged best friend. I moved to three different cities before finally marrying, having two beautiful girls and coming back home to settle down with my young family.

Time seemed to freeze when I looked up to see Amelia enter Amara’s Cafe. Her surprise and shock mirrored my own and she made a beeline straight for me. We embraced tightly, and in those few short moments, years of emptiness and longing seemed to disappear and hole in my life healed by it’s creator. We have been here at the coffee shop for upwards of three hours now. Talking and gossiping as though no time had past. Except it had. We talked of our time after college, the sights we had both seen and the families we’d begun.

She had told me she just moved back a week ago, making the move as soon as she found out she was pregnant. And into the same house she grew up in no less. I moved back into my childhood home as well about a year ago, and had learned plenty about our old friends to catch her up on all of the towns latest gossip.

The Archaeologist and the Historian together again. Like no time had past.

The latest IAWTW Challenge from Chris Donner! I think I rambled for a bit too long, but that’s okay! Hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks challenge response! 🙂

Amber. xx

IAWTW: Characters

Last week I challenged you to come up with some plots off the theme “Pat always knew this day would come”.  Now I challenge you to pick the one you liked the best and describe Pat.

So pick your favorite plot, sit back, close your eyes for a moment and then tell us who Pat is.

My name is Hypatia Gwen Amira. I am 18 years old and I was kidnapped four years ago. I’m still with my captors in fact, though it is now by choice. While living deep in the Eastern Woods, I’ve learnt many things, including some harsh truths about my dear Mother, who my father truly was, how to control the gifts I was born with and who my handsome, masked kidnapped was.

I have spent the last four years in hiding with my captors, who I now call friends, in an old wizard’s manor that stretches far and wide beneath the ground – the door to which lay concealed by magic against the bark of a tall tree. Kalen, my handsome kidnapper, says that I’m loosely related to wizards. Very loosely.. Yet no one knows exactly what kinds of being my father was. Nor I for that matter. They do know one thing though, apart from having family resemblance, I also bare two strange markings seen only on my father before me: three small gold dots under my right eye and a swirly sort of circular pattern on my left arm that seems to get more defined the older I get, but is as yet, still indistinguishable.

Aside from those strange markings, I also have my father’s hair: raven coloured locks that are pulled straight by the weight of the hair that falls down to my waist, and his eyes: icy blue orbs riddled with golden flecks. My small frame and pale skin are where I resemble my Mother the most. But that is where my resemblance to her stops.

When I first made the decision to stay with those who stole me in the night, my name was changed. From my Mother’s maiden name, Lamira, we dropped the first letter to make, Amira. At it’s core, Kalen and the others told me that Lamira means evil whereas Amira means Princess. “A much more fitting name!” He said to me happily. And with staying close to my Mother’s name they said it would be a sign of challenge and mockery. Seeing as she married into royalty through my Father by use of magic and deception.

No one calls me Pat anymore either. That was my Mother’s nickname for me… I always hated it.

For now, I remain with my friends and teachers. Learning all I can, so that the day I return to the city with my identity known, I will be strong enough to challenge my Mother and anyone else that she has deceived over the years. She wants my gifts? She wants my power and my heritage? She’ll get it. Just, not in the way she’d hoped for.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this character description/extended plot from the second IAWTW Challenge from Chris Donner!

Amber. xx

IAWTW: Plots

Recently, blogger/author Chris Donner began a Weekly Writing Challenge called I Always Wanted To Write (IAWTW). My response to the first of the challenges, to write at least three different plots from a prompt, is below.

Imagine the person and what could possibly be happening.  Stretch your writer’s imagination a bit.  Your turn.

Pat always knew this day would come.

  1. The day a Mother’s child was ripped from her arms was the day the war started. Not just any Mother either, but Aisi, the Queen of the Eastern Lands. Only fourteen years old, the daughter was kidnapped by a masked soldier who barely made it from the castle with both the child and his life. But Pat always knew this day would come. For she had seen it, many years ago.
  2. Pat always knew this day would come. Seeing the feathers in her brother’s bed could only mean one thing. She had been hoping he wouldn’t turn out like her. He was too young, too out of control. He could never keep this a secret let alone understand what it meant, or the responsibilities for that matter. She would now have to teach him, try to explain and warn him. Their parents couldn’t help, they’d disappeared and unless she could control her little brother, they would disappear also. She couldn’t ask her Aunt for help either, but she had to do something. She had no choice, not now that her brother had sprouted wings..
  3. This was the last straw. Destroying her house, she could handle, having to move countries, she could deal with, killing her boyfriend, too far. No more would she run, no more would she hide from him. No more would she try to have a normal life – he had destroyed that anyway. It was time she finally stood up and fought back. So long she had been trying to deny her destiny, to deny the strength coursing through her veins. Today that all changed. Pat always knew this day would come eventually. Today, she began the hunt for her ex-husband.

Well I hope you enjoyed these completely spontaneous and very strange, random little plots. Haha. Stay tuned for this week’s challenge coming up soon. (:

Amber. xx