Daring Do looked out at the sea, the ship bobbing up and down underneath her hooves. The salty ocean breeze picked up, blowing her monochromatic mane into her face. With a sigh, she blew it away and returned to studying the horizon, thinking, and doing her best to ignore the bustle of the ferry. No matter what she focused on – the ocean, their destination, the horrid food – her thoughts always came back to one thing: her cutie mark, or lack thereof.
Ugh, why does everypony else my age have their cutie mark, but I can’t even get an inkling of what mine is going to be. I mean, it’s ridiculous for me to... no Daring. Remember what Dad said—
“Land ho!” yelled a reddish colt as he leaped on her back.
Daring Do chuckled. “Hey there squirt.”
He ran his hoof through her mane, throwing it back in her face. “Hey Dare, why don’t you come look at the island? It’s so much more interesting than this... water, and you haven’t left this side of the ship all morning.”
Daring Do stared off across the ocean at the imposing storm clouds that were barreling towards them. “Because Rose, I’ll have plenty of time to explore when we get to the ruins, so why would I want to see some little island? That’d be like seeing your birthday presents, and every day leading up to your birthday. When it finally got there and you could play with them, it wouldn’t be the same because you’d already know what they were.” She smiled and turned to face him. “So I’m going to unwrap the island when we arrive, and enjoy every moment of it, but until then I’m going to relax and watch the ocean.”
“I guess... Say, do you think Mom and Dad are gonna let us camp out on the island?” Rose asked as he tipped back his hat, pushing it a little too far and knocking it off his head.
Daring Do giggled as he scrambled to catch it. Leaning down, she picked up the safari hat and flipped it onto her head. “If you aren’t careful, you’ll lose this and then what would you do? You, the great Compass Rose, completely lost in the jungle without your hat!” She paused and adjusted the hat on her head so that it sat tilted back, like how Compass Rose had tried to wear it.
“Very funny,” he quipped, rolling his eyes. “I wasn’t the one who got lost on a five minute hike into Whitetail Wood of all places. Or in the lower streets of Oxford. Or in that one restaurant... what was it called again?”
“It was Saltgrass and the signs were very confusing!” she shouted in her defense. “Besides, not everypony can have a special talent in finding their way around like you.”
Compass Rose grimaced and nuzzled his sister. “I’m sorry Dare. I shouldn’t have brought that up... I’m sure you’ll get your cutie mark soon.”
“It’s fine. Just because you were the first to get a cutie mark in your class and I still don’t have mine doesn’t bother me,” Daring Do lied.
“If you say so...” Compass Rose slipped off Daring Do’s back, taking his hat with him as he landed next to her. “It shouldn’t be too long before we get there, whatcha want to do?”
“Well, I was just going to stand here and watch the clouds unless you had any better ideas.” Daring Do’s stomach rumbled, just loud enough for Compass Rose to hear.
“How about we grab some lunch?” he asked, beaming. “You must’ve forgotten the time while you were day dreaming about caves or temples again.”
“Y-yeah,” Daring Do answered, a light blush rising in her face. “Some lunch actually sounds really good... can’t explore an island on an empty stomach!” she trumpeted, throwing a hoof in the air dramatically.
“Sometimes I wonder how you take after Dad so much,” Compass Rose said with a sigh. “C’mon, I’ve still got the money Mom gave me to make sure you ate today.” Turning, he led her across the deck to the stern of the ship and the concession stand that served as the restaurant.
She walked next to him, as they wove their way through the small crowd. Every few moments, she cast her eyes up and looked at the storm as it passed overhead, slowly blocking the sun. It exuded an almost menacing presence in her mind, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that something about it was fundamentally unnatural.
“What can I get you miss?” asked the stallion at the counter.
Daring cocked her head, studying his white coat and light green mane.
“I’ll have the Watercress Salad, extra cucumber,” she mumbled, her eyes never leaving the pony.
“Do I know you?” she interjected, cutting off her study.
“No ma’am, I’ve worked here for years.” He paused, searching for what to say. “That’ll be twelve bits.”
Compass Rose levitated the bits onto the counter as Daring Do took the bowl of salad and trotted to a table overlooking the sea. Sitting down, she looked up at the storm clouds hanging above the ship until Compass Rose sat down across from her.
“You’re getting good Rose. It used to take a lot of effort to lift that many bits,” Daring Do said, picking at her salad.
Compass Rose blushed, but his expression gave away his glee. “Yeah, I’ve been practicing every day. Things get kind of boring when Mom and Dad are off working or something and you’re out at your flight lessons, so I just use that time to practice my magic.”
Daring Do smiled and took a big bite of her salad. “That’s really good! You’ve got to be one of the strongest unicorns in your class by now. I mean, at this rate you’ll rival Star...” she trailed off.
A large drop of water sat on the tip of her nose. Looking up, she saw that the storm clouds were right above the ship, casting a dark shadow that blocked out the sky all the way to the horizon. Daring Do sighed. “Come on Rose, we should get back to the cabin until the storm lets up.”
She stood and pulled her brother close, covering him with a wing and protecting him from the rain. The torrent increased until it was coming down in sheets, nearly blinding her as she led him along the guardrail to the side of the ship. Coming to the first bulkhead, Daring Do opened it and ushered Compass Rose inside before following him. She looked back out, straining to see anything through the darkness and the rain.
“Dare—“ Compass Rose was cut off as a large wave hit the side of the ship, spraying the hallway with water, sending him tumbling to the ground, and slamming Daring Do against the bulkhead door.
A sharp pain shot through her wing and her vision went black for a moment. As her sight returned, she stood and looked over at Compass Rose, who was laying sprawled out, but unharmed, on the floor. Suppressing her desire to fawn over her wing, she put on a smile. “Hey Rose, you okay?”
“Y-yeah,” he said as he stood and looked at her. “Daring... your wing is all... bent!”
Daring Do turned her head to look at it. Her right wing was bent out of shape and had feathers sticking out. As she flexed it, another sharp pain shot through her body, echoing with the previous jolt. “Don’t worry Rose,” she reassured him, “I’ll be fine. It’s just a sprain, happens all the time in flight training. In fact...” she trailed off, digging around in her bags for a moment before coming up with a roll of gauze. She wrapped it tightly around the wing, pinning it to her body in an all too familiar position. “See? All better!” she cheered.
Compass Rose walked up to her and poked the saddlebag. “What else do you have, huh? Nopony in their right mind carries around gauze and... Celestia knows what you keep in those bags.”
“A good explorer is always prepared!” she exclaimed, wrapping a hoof around Compass Rose. “You have to be prepared for—“
Another wave rocked the ship, cutting her off as they were swallowed by the water. The wave pulled them out, but Daring Do caught a hoof on the bulkhead, holding herself fast against the force of the water. The tide abated, and Daring Do lifted herself up, grimacing as her wing shifted against the gauze.
“Whew, that was a close one, eh Rose?” Daring Do said, brushing her wet mane out of her face. Looking around when he didn’t answer, there was nothing. The only things around her were the metal walls and the bulkhead door. “Rose!” she cried as she galloped to the rail and searched the surface of the water, only able to make out the shape of his hat bobbing on top of the waves as they battered the hull of the ship. A sudden crack erupted behind her, and the deck shook under her hooves. Without a single glance back or moment of hesitation, she leapt over the rail and dove into the water.
“Rose!” she yelled again, paddling towards his hat as fast as she could. The frigid water enveloped her, cold spears of icy pain piercing her coat. She struggled for breath, but only found water. Just as quickly as it had covered her, the water released her right in front of the hat. Grabbing it in her mouth, she looked around for anything, any hint of his brown coat or tan mane. Another wave hit her, the water dragging her down but she managed to stay afloat, riding the wave to its crest.
The only thing breaking the endless mountains and valleys of water was the small island a few lengths away. He had to have swam to the island, she thought, her legs automatically propelling her towards the beach. The island grew closer as the waves pushed her forward. She lost herself in the monotony of the waves and focused all of her energies on reaching the land in front of her.
After what felt like hours of swimming, her hooves hit the sand, and she waded the rest of the way to the shore. As she came onto the beach, her legs gave out from under her, and she collapsed, panting from exhaustion. She didn’t feel herself fall asleep. She didn’t feel her eyes as they drooped. She didn’t feel the rain let up. The only thing she noticed was the black taking over her vision as unconsciousness overcame her.
All that existed was dark water, an unending expanse of it stretched out before Daring Do. Numerous pieces of debris floated through the watery void, debris that she recognized. Chairs from the restaurant, pots and pans, the bed from her cabin, a large wheel that she had seen the captain use.
“Dare,” Compass Rose’s voice echoed through her mind.
Daring Do blinked and shook her head, attempting to clear out the darkness that filled the water. Various pieces of debris floated past her, another broken chair, a piece of wood so broken it was unrecognizable, a twisted panel of metal that could only have come from the hull. She struggled to move, the water resisting everything she tried to do but she found herself able to move enough to propel herself.
“Daring,” came her brother’s distant voice again, this time traveling through the water.
Daring Do twisted her head, looking in every direction but only finding the unending expanse of water. “Rose! Where are you?!” she called, pushing the shattered chair out of her way.
“Here, Daring,” he said, his voice coming from right ahead of her but still distant and cool.
“I’m coming Rose! Just hang on!” Daring Do called as she gathered herself and pushed off the metal. The darkness seemed to rush around her as she swam through the water following Compass Rose’s voice. “I’m on my way!” she called out again, reassuring both him and herself.
After a minute of frantic swimming, she reached a break in the darkness devoid of debris except for a small dresser that floated in the middle. Atop it sat a simple, tan safari hat. “Rose!”Daring Do exclaimed, darting towards the dresser and knocking it out of her way. “I’m here—“
Daring Do’s eyes flared open and she panted heavily. The brilliant sunlight reflected off the white sand, blinding her until she slammed her eyes shut again. It was just a dream... he is okay. The ship is fine, it was just a storm. I jumped overboard in a panic, could’ve happened to anypony. They’ll notice I’m gone and come looking for me in a day or two. I can survive until then, after all I’m an explorer! Her confidence bolstered, she cracked her eyes open, letting them adjust to the light and as soon as they had, she stood up and took stock of her surroundings.
From her point on the beach, she could see the edges of the island and guessed that it was no more than a mile wide, if that. A wide beach of white sand ringed the edges of the island, bordering the ocean and the dense jungle that occupied the interior.
Okay, I just have to survive for a few days until they find me. Daring Do sighed. “Rule number one: establish a base camp somewhere safe, that way you always have a fallback position,” she said, imitating her father’s gruff voice. Scanning the beach, she couldn’t find any noticeable landmark, just a flat expanse of indistinguishable grains of sand. She picked herself up off the sand and brushed it out of her coat.
Dragging a hoof through the sand, she boxed off a section of the sand several lengths from the tree line and sat down just outside it. “There, base camp.” She stared at it for a minute, simply absorbing the sound of the gentle waves rolling up on the shore. “Rule number two: make sure you have ample supplies before setting off too far from camp. Right... supplies. I should get some spare food, just in case.” She grabbed the safari hat and put it on without a thought and set off towards the forest.
As she approached the forest, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was watching her but she pressed on nevertheless. She bit into the grass growing at the base of the trees and chewed it slowly, enjoying the subtle sweet flavor. Nodding, she started pulling up chunks of the grass and tossing it into her saddlebags. The grass didn’t weigh much and after a few dedicated hours of working she had filled her bags to the point of bursting. She wiped her forehead with a hoof and looked up at the sky, which bled yellow and orange from the setting sun.
“I must’ve slept longer than I thought,” Daring Do noted as she started back towards her camp. Casting one glance back at the forest, the darkness casting it in a new, threatening light, Daring Do saw a pair of glowing, ice blue eyes staring at her from the bushes. She made eye contact, the pits of ice freezing her in place as they stared at each other for several long minutes, looking deep into each other. The bush rustled and the eyes disappeared into the forest, releasing Daring Do from her catatonic state.
Daring Do trotted back to her camp shivering and lay down inside the box, her eyes trained only on the sand underhoof until she reached the pseudo-camp and collapsed, falling into a fitful sleep in moments.
She found herself in the dark void of water that stretched out before her endlessly. Pieces of the cruise ship floated around her, never coming too close to her. Looking around, she wondered exactly where she was and why she wasn’t drowning.
“Dare,” Compass Rose’s voice echoed through the space. “It’s cold...”
Daring Do shook her head and covered her ears with her hooves. “No! You aren’t dead! none of this is real!” she yelled. A chunk of metal floated in front of her and, though it was dented and twisted out of shape, she could read the name of the ship on it. “NO!” she screamed. “It’s impossible. A storm like that can’t sink a ship. It was just a storm... just some wind and rain, maybe a little lightning, but nothing that would threaten a ship that size.”
“Daring... help me,” his voice pleaded, “it’s so cold here.”
“No!” Daring screamed. “You aren’t real! None of this is real! Do you hear me?! You aren’t Compass, he is alive and on the ship. They’re coming back for me soon, you... whatever you are, you’ll see!”
“NO!” Daring Do screamed at the top of her lungs, cutting off the desperate voice. “You aren’t re—“ Water flooded into her mouth, muffling her tirade. Daring Do’s eyes widened in fear as she gasped for air, pulling the water further into her lungs. All of a sudden, she felt the entire pressure of the water press down on her as her lungs strained for oxygen.
Daring Do shot up from the ground, her eyes wide open and searching the horizon frantically, looking for any sign of the cruise ship. Finding none, she forced herself to calm down and took several deep breaths.
“See Daring? Everything’s fine... they just haven’t found you yet. No reason to worry... everything will be okay,” she told herself. She paused for a moment, looking up at the white puffs of cloud that populated the sky. “Maybe...” She flexed her wing, wincing as a bolt of pain coursed through her body and drawing her wing back to her body. “Okay... I can’t fly out of here until that heals.”
Sighing, she looked down, thinking. I have a camp and supplies, what now? I can explore the island, but... after what happened last night... her thoughts trailed off as a glint of metal caught her eye. Buried in the sand in front of her was a deformed piece of metal. She pulled it free of the wet sand with a squelch and held it up in the sunlight.
It was a twisted piece of a steel beam, bent and torn so that it ended in a sharp point on one side. Daring Do inspected it carefully, making sure that she didn’t cut herself or even go near the point. She spent what must have been an hour bent over the metal, trying to figure out where it had come from. I can’t tell, but I know I didn’t see anything like this on the ship, she thought finally, picking it back up.
She turned to the forest and looked deep into it, seeing trees and bushes, but nothing that looked like the eyes from last night. Walking towards the forest, she looked up and down the tree line, searching for any sign of movement. Daring Do strode up to a tree on the outskirts of the forest and stabbed it. The metal slid through the bark easily, embedding itself halfway into the tree.
Daring Do stepped back, admiring the quivering blade for a moment before grasping it again. Grunting, she pulled it free of the tree and started picking her way through the underbrush. The dense trees made her travel slow, but also provided a degree of camouflage. Every now and then she would slice off a branch that barred her path. The farther she got into the forest, the less she could see; the sun penetrating the canopy less and less as she went. Her legs drove her ever forward, never tiring and never slowing. She walked for hours through the monotonous forest, following the ever increasing sound of water.
Finally, the forest opened to a large ledge overlooking a waterfall flowing down into a deep valley surrounded by the dense forest on every side. Light filtered in through the gap in the trees illuminating the entire valley in a twilight haze. Daring Do looked down at the valley floor in awe, watching small animals scurry back and forth and bird flitted from tree to tree.
“Wow,” she mumbled, awestruck. “I should move my camp here... this is beautiful.” She surveyed the valley, taking in the beauty of it all. Her eyes came to rest on the other side of the waterfall, trapped by the icy blue gems staring at her from the shadows. They leered out, staring straight through her to her very soul. Daring Do took a step back, breaking the paralysis and calling out, “what are you?”
The bush rustled and a gray paw, no bigger than her hoof, emerged from it, stepping into the light, but before she saw anything else Daring Do turned tail and ran back through the forest. She leapt over gnarled roots and dodged spidery braches. Throughout the mad dash, she could only think of one thing: You idiot! she scolded herself, you have no idea what that is! It could be some poisonous snake! Or a chimera! Or even a basilisk! Or a... young dragon! Before she knew it she burst out of the forest, her hoof catching on a root and sending her flying. She landed just outside of her ‘camp’, spraying up sand around her.
Daring Do twisted around and backed away from the forest, her eyes wide with fear. She stared at the tree line for a long time, waiting for whatever monster would mean her certain death to barrel out of it, but eventually she stood, gathering herself. Her twisted blade was sticking out of the sand a few hooflengths from her, and she retrieved it, sheathing it in her saddlebags. The beach was empty as she scanned it, her eyes glossing over the detritus.
Laying down in the box, she took a few deep breaths to control her breathing and closed her eyes. She shut out every thought, clearing her mind completely and willing herself to sleep. It took several minutes, but eventually sleep came for her and she drifted off into its blank vacuum.
Daring Do found herself, not in the void that had greeted her the previous nights, but in her cabin on the ship. The cabin she had shared with Compass Rose. It looked exactly as she had seen it last, except it was filled with water. She paddled her way to the lamp and flicked the switch. The lamp lit for a second before there was a sharp sound of electricity and the light bulb exploded.
“Of course,” Daring Do muttered. “I can breathe underwater, but Celestia forbid I be able to turn on a lamp in a dream. That just wouldn’t make sense.” Moving around the room, she took in all the sights. Her journal, the last entry bleeding a little in the water, but still readable. Her parent’s suitcase filled with what few formal clothes they had. Her mother’s favorite necklace, the diamonds shining in the dim light. Her father’s walking stick, scratched and worn, but still strong. Finally she came to Compass Rose’s safari hat, resting a hoof on it.
“Daring,” Compass Rose’s voice echoed through the room.
“You know, I always did wonder why you wanted this hat. There isn’t anything really good about it. It’s just a normal, bland safari hat. It’s beige coloured, cheap material, and there are at least a million of them like it in Equestria. But I think I realized why you wanted it so much, why you couldn’t live without it.” She paused, waiting for a response from the disembodied voice. Receiving none, she continued, “it was yours. It wasn’t special, it wasn’t amazing, and it wasn’t fancy. But it was your hat, and no one else’s. I know you aren’t really him, but I’m sorry for teasing you about it. You just wanted something to yourself, like me and my journal.”
“Thank you,” he said, his voice distinct and clear, a perfect imitation. “It wasn’t your fault Dare, it could have happened to anypony. Don’t feel bad about what happened to me, there was nothing you could do, and you certainly tried.”
“What are you talking about?” Daring Do asked, whirling around to face the source of the voice. In front of her stood Compass Rose, but not the brother she knew. His eyes, though open, didn’t look at anything, merely staring off into space with bloated pupils and bloodshot veins. His reddish coat was slicked down flat against his skin, his short orange mane and tail plastered on top of it. Even his cutie mark, a detailed map, wasn’t fully there, many of its former paths broken or missing altogether.
“Dare, you can’t keep running from reality,” his voice came, but his mouth never moved.
Daring Do took a step back, bumping into the wall of the cabin. “No... you aren’t dead. You can’t be... you are barely old enough to have a cutie mark, much less die. It’s just impossible!”
“Daring Do,” his voice came sternly. “You have to face reality, no matter how much you don’t want to. I am dead, so is everypony aboard the ship. I was ripped out of the corridor by the wave, and sucked underwater before I could even call for help. As soon as that wave hit, I was as good as dead. The ship’s engines were struck by lightning and exploded. The explosion killed most of the ponies on the back half of the ship, and it started to take on water. Some made it to the life rafts, but they were no match for the waves and capsized one by one. You know this Daring, they were all around you, just remember.”
Daring Do tried to shy away, but had no escape left. She looked at the pony standing before her, tears running down her face as she remembered. “I... I remember. They were everywhere, pleading for me to join them... and I ignored them all.”
The body took a step forward, it’s hoof gliding as if there was no water holding it back. “And you lived for it Daring. You survived. Out of everypony that died that night, you survived.”
“But... why me?” Daring Do sobbed. “There were lots of better ponies on that ship. Why did I survive and they died?”
“Daring, the why is for you to find,” the voice comforted. “The why is not what they could have done, but what you do with the life you still have, and they do not. Remember what Dad always said, ‘the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are.’ Go out and live life, Daring. You have to experience it, all of it. You know who you are, now go live life. That is what we would have wanted.”
Daring Do slumped to the ground, her mind racing a million directions at once as a flood of memories came back to her. She closed her eyes and covered her head with her hooves, letting her tears flow freely down her face. Eventually, the activity in her mind stopped, leaving her drained. The room disappeared, replace by a vast emptiness. No water, no cold, no voices. She was only dimly aware of slight warmth on her flank, but paid it no heed.
A twig broke; the sound echoed across the space between Daring Do and the bush. Her ears perked up and her eyes flashed open, searching the area for the source of the sound. A bush in front of her moved a little, barely enough to shake the leaves but she saw it. She launched herself to her hooves, and was galloping towards the bush, blade in mouth. Then she was there, the offending bush right underneath her as her hooves came down upon it, smashing through the thin wood easily and hitting something soft. Whatever it was squirmed underneath her hooves, and she pressed down harder. The animal squealed in distress, pleading for its release. In one motion, before she realized what she was doing, she lifted the blade and brought it down, meeting little resistance as the squealing ended.
Something warm splashed against her face, coating her mane and eye. She looked down, the broken limbs shining dark red in the moonlight and the ice blue eyes staring up at her. Ignoring the warm, sticky liquid on her face and hooves, Daring Do dropped the blade, that had acquired a flavor, like iron. She staggered out of the bushes and onto the beach, collapsing under her own weight and fatigue. The moon lit the sand in front of her an eerie white as her vision faded to black.
Daring Do shifted her wings to a more comfortable position as her mind slowly returned to consciousness. Sand gritted against her stomach and she moved a little to alleviate the annoyance.
“Hey, I think she’s waking up,” a concerned voice called out.
Daring Do flicked her ears and pressed her eyes shut, willing herself to fall back asleep.
“It’s all right miss,” the voice cooed in her ear.
Daring Do sighed and opened her eyes, squinting as the light momentarily blinded her. As her eyes adjusted, she could make out a gray stallion standing over her, his maroon mane falling over his shoulders. She pushed herself up from the sand, and her legs buckled under her, sending her plummeting towards the hot sand. A gray aura appeared around her and she jerked to a stop.
“Don’t push yourself too hard, you’ve been through a lot,” the stallion said, helping her stand. “My name is Red Cross, and that’s my friend Triage.” Red Cross pointed towards a white unicorn stallion with a similar, though lighter, red mane and was reading from a file levitating in front of him. “So, who are you?”
“The survivor,” Daring Do stated, staring at her hooves.
“Well... that much is obvious, but don’t worry about it. We’ll get you all fixed up quick enough.” Red Cross led her over to where Triage was standing, keeping an eye on her the entire time. “Hey Tri, you got a tan mare with a gray scale mane and compass rose cutie mark?”
Triage rolled his eyes. “Red Cross, I’ve told you before, my name is not, and never will be, ‘Tri’. It is Triage. But no, there is nopony matching that description on the passenger manifesto. Closest I can find is a Miss Daring Do, but she is listed as not having a cutie mark here.”
Red Cross glanced at her flank, looking at her new cutie mark. “Hey miss? Do you remember getting your cutie mark”
“No,” Daring Do answered.
“Do you remember who you are?” Red Cross asked again.
Daring Do looked up at him, expressionless. “A survivor; the survivor.”
Triage sighed and brushed Red Cross out of his way. “Ma’am, what is your name?”
“Daring Do,” she replied, shuffling her hooves.
“See? Not hard at all,” Triage said as he turned to Red Cross and made a mark on the paper. The two of them walked a few lengths from Daring Do, talking under their breaths about something.
Daring Do sighed and lay down in sand, cradling the safari hat in her hooves. The warm sand burned against her underside, lulling her back to sleep. She looked around, examining the all too familiar beach. It was just as she remembered, perfectly identical with no distinguishing features on the coastline except for the pieces of debris that littered the outskirts of the beach and the small ship docked just offshore.
“Daring?” Red Cross said, helping her up. “Do you mind if I call you that?”
“No.” Daring Do stood, leaning against him for support as he started to lead her towards the ship.
“Daring, me and Triage are going to take good care of you. We know you’ve been through a lot, but now it’s time to go home,” Red Cross comforted, draping a blanket over her as they walked.
Daring Do boarded the ship with him, Triage following shortly after and helping her sit in a chair at the stern of the ship. She stared out at the island, her island, and in a way, it stared back at her, the ice blue eyes etched into her consciousness. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she heard the engine fire and the boat start to glide away from the small atoll, but she only stared at the dot on the horizon until it disappeared completely. Sighing, she turned her head down and let herself slip away. I will do everything, Rose, for you, she thought as she fell into a peaceful sleep.
Special thanks to my reviewers and editors: