The Hardiest Flower

It was an unspoken rule in the Sector 5 Slums.

Never deface the Church. Nor its surroundings.

The Church was a relic of the city that became what was known as the Sector 5 Slums. Back when people had religion in their lives and used to believe in the power of Higher Beings. Back when people had faith, had something to lean on when hard times comes by, had a place to share their joy in being alive.

But now that the city was overshadowed by the result of its residents' decisions, the people there couldn't step back into the Church's sacred halls. In their foolishness in thinking they were doing the right thing, they had forsaken their privilege in seeing the sky.

The sky that represents their hopes and dreams. It's vastness and seemingly infinite reaches that reflects what the Goddess'magnificence is.

But they don't have the heart to take it down to use it for their own purposes. Their own history with the sacred establishment was too strong and heavy in their hearts for them to forsake it. The skies they had took for granted wasn't in their reaches anymore, they couldn't let the final remnant of their history be taken away.

That's why the Church had stood for almost a century ever since it was built. Its stained glass windows and majestic chandeliers up at its ceilings stood the test of time. Everything in it was preserved, locked away, by the residents of the city when ShinRa, the deceiver, started to build the humongous pillar in the city's center.

Everyone wept because they all realized that the promises ShinRa made won't come true after they started demolishing historical buildings to build the foundations of the Plate. ShinRa promised their city grandeur, economic upheaval, improvement in quality of life and more. But ShinRa actually planned to create a different city, a city built ontheir cities.

They couldn't complain because all ShinRa asked was to own certain parts of their city under the company's name. Specifically, some of the lots on the city outskirts and a single large lot where an old mansion from the Edean Inquisition era. It was all a part of their big and archaic plan to compartmentalize entire city, creating a 'framework' of sorts for their grandiose Plate.

So when the Plate was completed and the entire city – the name was forcibly removed from the records and even its residents subconsciously forgotten as well – was plunged into darkness, all of its people clung to the remnants of its glorious past. One of those remnants was the Church.

Thus the people living in what was now called Sector 5 Slums, teach their children and any prospecting residents about the unspoken rule. Never deface the Church, for it is the only remaining part of its history. Never said out loud, always in whispers or showed through their actions.

Some phenomena that instigated Aerith's curiosity when she was a child. Leading her to become the unofficial caretaker of Sector 5 Slums' Church.

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For almost… 10? No, it's actually 8 years. For almost 8 years since Aerith found – more like stumbled upon – the Church in near her and her mother's house, she had used it as a sanctuary. Her mother, Elmyra, told her of stories about the Church when she was young, back when she was still plagued by the nightmares.

She still has them but she could now manage it, dealing with them became a test of endurance and willpower for her.

Elmyra said that when she came with her husband to the Slums of Sector 5, she was approached by an old lady saying she shouldn't touch the Church. At first she was curious as to why she was told about it, maybe her husband's job and origin must have prompted the old lady to tell her. Her late husband was a high-ranking general in the Infantry and came from the Slums of Sector 4.

But she discovered why later on. People revere the place, a sort of symbol of what was before ShinRa came to their city. She would love to visit and check out the place but Elmyra hasn't got the strength to step inside an establishment revered by its people. She said it was like intruding into a place she clearly has no right to enter.

Aerith was fascinated about the stories that she went out and searched for it. She had seen the monsters that roamed around the area at the labs of ShinRa that she knew how to avoid them. Especially with the mountains of scrap metal and other plastics around, she had a perfect hiding spot until the monsters would left.

Searching for the Church wasn't that hard. In fact, the Church doors were open and the entire place was still in pristine condition. There were cloths over the wide chairs and a wide hole in the ceiling. Somewhere at what she assumed to be an elevated platform lies a broken table. Well, something that looked like a table.

The ceiling, Aerith noticed, was broken when something fell from above. She heard stories from her mother and their neighbors – friendly but they gave her weird looks once in a while, strange – about how people above the Plate throw things over the cracks and holes of the entire metal pizza slice. That's why the houses in the Slums have metal bars and sheets as roofs to protect themselves from any falling objects the people of the Plate throws over.

Aerith experienced it once and she didn't like it. Not a single bit. But the object that hit her on the head that almost caused her to faint was beautiful, a pole that has strange but appeasing etches of flowers and vines and birds, it even has handle on it. Her mother said once she brought it to her was that it was probably a weapon by some person who came outside of Midgar and threw it over the Plate, because Midgar have SOLDIERs and the Infantry for their security, unlike outside Midgar where monsters roam and people must have some sort of weapon to protect themselves. Aerith found those stories interesting.

The hole was so large that Aerith could see the underside of the Plate from where she stood. At the wooden floor – which was weird because its wood, all she ever saw was cement, steel and dead ground – there was a large machine-like thing. The more she looked at it, the more she realized it wasn't just a machine-like thing. It was a TV, her mother had one in their home just a few blocks away.

Just as she was trying to drag the large broken TV – the glass screen was still intact, just like the screen her mom used to break with a chair – to a corner to inspect, Aerith realized she was seeing things clearly like she had a flashlight with her. Looking up, the green eyed girl saw light coming a hole at the underside of the Plate, shining down exactly where the hole of the Church's ceiling at.

She should have known it or at the very least guessed the reason why there was a large broken but salvageable TV at the Church. Based on the assumed trajectory of the TV's descent to the Slums, it must have come above the Plate and was thrown with enough strength to pierce the metal and cemented Plates. The TV must be made of super strong stuff to make the hole and arrive at the Slums in one piece.

The hole the TV made on the wooden floor was a crater about the size of her entire bedroom. Its impact was so strong that it broke the wooden floor and reached the ground, chunks of the Church's cemented foundations scattered around. Aerith honestly thought it made a beautiful scene. Especially with how the light above shone on the entire area of the impact, how the stained glass windows' light creates an amazing mixture of colors and how the slight breeze coming from the holes and the doorway she had entered pick up the dust off the floor.

Everything in the Church was supposed to be sad and with the destruction of its roof and the crater in it, the sight was supposed to make her feel sad about it. But she wasn't. Instead, it made Aerith smile. Her mom's stories of how destruction was meant to signal the start of reconstruction, how she had met her father in an accident which led to her, and how the ground must be dug up before a tree could grow from.

…She still missed her mom but Aerith knows she's with her dad now and she got her mother with her. But maybe… Just maybe…

Her mother has kept a couple of seeds, flower seeds, in their cupboard. They were meant to be some sort of memento of her mother's parents outside of Midgar. Well, that's what she said.

Aerith has memories of being taught by her mom about using the special orb of magic on her ponytail tie and how she could use it for her own use. Aerith could remember her mom wanting to see the trees she used to watch before she was born. Aerith could remember her mom whispering to her, saying things of how to use her magic, her special ability that ShinRa wanted to use for themselves, to do things she wants to.

She remembered so clearly how Ifalna – she had memorized her mom's name when she realized she had left in order to remember her – desperately tries to teach young Aerith – she was about 6 then – how to use her magic discreetly. And her mom succeeded.

Maybe… Just maybe, she could grow the flowers. Maybe she could grow them, for her mom, for her mom who didn't got to see trees before she had left. A way to remember her.

And the Church would be the best place to hide it. She could clearly remember her mom clutching her tightly that she couldn't breathe, saying things of '…hide, my light, close your eyes, change, change, change your hair, change your eyes, hide, hide, it's going to be all right, mom is here, you'll be safe, close your eyes, you'll be safe, don't be scared, we're there, hide…'. Aerith knew that she was being searched for. And it scared her, so bad.

She has lived with her mother for almost a year now but she still longed for her mom. Maybe her growing the flower would help her?

Aerith hoped so.

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And she wasn't mistaken. A bit of magic here and magic there, channeled through her fingertips, through every shovel she did on the hard ground, through every sweat she dropped, and the flowers grew and bloomed. It sure did took some time to make them grow because the ground when she touched it felt dead to her.

Dead like the cold hard steel of the scrap metals she had to hid under when monsters larger than her came to usual path home, dead like the same monsters that the Infantry soldiers shot down when they heard of the shard cries of the beasts, dead like the small flower which died in just a few minutes after she had transferred outside from the church's interior.

She tried using the same trick she did inside the church on the church's grounds, clasping on the white bauble on one hand and channeling her magic on the other to the grounds, but it was nothing. She felt like her magic being poured into a very large drum that had a big hole in the bottom. It doesn't stay. Unlike in the Church.

Aerith have no idea why she the flowers could only grow inside the Church so she tried to bring a flower to her house, which surprised her mother because she had a flower inside a plastic pouch with and it was a flower she almost forgotten its appearance. There, a few a meters from her house, she discovered they could grow as well.

Maybe it's because she lived there? Maybe because she also spent a lot of time in the Church that they grew there as well? Aerith always wonders about it, writing it all down in a small notebook she had scavenged from one of the piles in the Slums. Her mom taught her how to write, read, and talk while being kept inside the metal room.

Elmyra was shocked and angry at her because of the flower and the realization she had been escaping from the house without her knowing. However, Aerith wasn't scolded much, only reprimanded, and was let to go at the Church. It was near, so near to their house that Aerith could stay there for long as she wants.

Her mother still reminds her to go back and sleep at their house. Aerith just smiled at her mother.

Both of them knew even before Aerith turned 8 that weren't really a family. Elmyra took her in because she wanted to have a daughter, her husband died in the Wutai War, and Aerith went with her because her mom left already to her dad. They tried to connect but it was better not to force it.

Aerith could tell that her mother tries to be a mother but being not her actual and real daughter had made both of their attempts in being a family collapse. Being there for each other was a better set-up for Aerith and Elmyra, it gave them both a semblance of normalcy.

That led to Aerith spending almost all of her time in the Church that she was practically living in it. Not to mention that with her presence, the flowers and other plants that were hidden below the ground, lived.

The green eyed girl efforts on becoming independent she was already one, ever since she realized she and her mom was inside a metal room for almost 5 years – was met with their neighbors' questioning looks. But many didn't bother in the end, almost every kid in the area learned how to be independent. With how the Slums works, with how poverty seemed to be the norm around and with how many people seemed to starve when they have no money, Aerith learned to deal with being a resident of the Slums.

Scavenging bits and bobs on the piles of wrecked cars, machines and even trash, Aerith got herself some useful materials to help her brand new home in the Church. The flowers she grew inside the Church was also being sold to the people in Sector 5 Slums, which were met with some tears and grateful expressions. She soon discovered why the people let her be, let her have free reign over the Church and how many seemed to be giving her a big deal of respect when she visits the shops in the Sector.

To them, she was a miracle. A Flower Blooming in the Slums. She made the flowers bloomed again in the Sector 5 Slums. The place was known before for its gardens and wide varieties of flora that because of it, the small town became a city focused on exporting flowers, according to an old lady who gave Aerith an old-looking bag full of seeds.

Aerith couldn't help but to thank the old lady, who seemed to be unofficial leader of the Slums in Sector 5, for their help. After she started giving out the flowers she grew in the church, the people around her tend to help her out by giving her some of the things they think she would need. A bit of cloth here, a bottle there, a bag here, a bowl there.

In the end, the Church was filled with several bits and bobs from the people of Sector 5, people who apparently preserved the Church in their vain attempts to cling on the used-to-be-city's history. The Church that started out as a secret hiding place for her flowers, became a home for Aerith, her mom's memory making her feel secure and the people's gifts reminding her she was being cared of.

Her mother, who was working up as some cashier at the Plate now that Aerith found something to keep her busy, would always welcome her back to their house with food and water for her to use; despite being not an actual family at all.

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To the people of Sector 5 Slums, Aerith was a Flower Blooming in the Slums. The title also wasn't specific to what kind of flower because Aerith could be either a sweet smelling flower like the Climbing Roses that would make you smile with her charming looks and pleasing personality, or a beautiful but deadly Poison Queen that would kick you in the balls or struck you in the neck with staff she carries. A flower she may be but she's from the Slums.

So when a newcomer to Sector 5, most likely someone up from the Plate who decided to check on the rumors of the people there eating rats, people feared they would face the wrath of the most sweet and innocent Aerith. And the newcomer did.

Almost everyone in the Sector 5 Slums heard the loud crash and boom followed by a soul-chilling cry of 'Stop! I won't do it again! Don't! NOOOOO!'.

No one in the area would try to invoke the wrath of Aerith after she made a perfect example of one of Don Corneo's stooges in manhandling her to supply flowers at the Honey Bee Inn. The stooges cornered the girl to the Church and also locked the door from the inside. The kids that waited outside for their usual scavenging trip with Aerith called for help when they noticed someone threatened the girl.

They were all pretty much indebted to the young woman for her successful attempt in making the Church as a symbol of hope in Sector 5 that many of them went to rescue her, consequences be damned. Aerith was Sector 5 Slums' treasure, their flower and no one was going to take here away.

But when the men armed with metal poles and other metal knuckles equipped went to rescue her, they found the stooges limping away with a strange look in the faces. And Aerith was smiling the entire time the stooges limped their way to the Sector 6 Gate.

Her smile was unlike her previous smiles that reminded them of a sweet tasting poison, fooling you to consume with its sweet taste and would then kill you once consumed.

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'I miss doing this,' Aerith mentally commented as she smacked the stupid worthless good for nothing son of a chocobo that took a piss at her flower garden in the Church. She doesn't close the door because occasionally some kids in Sector 5 Slums got tired or was kicked out from their home – it happened once with Martin – and she lets them sleep on the bit dusty pews of the church.

She was sleeping on the 2nd floor of the Church, a floor, which holds all of her collected treasures from the people, that she discovered after she investigated the entire place thoroughly. The brunette was startled from her slumber when the large doors of the Church was banged with a loud noise. Martin and his friends wouldn't nor couldn't close the door with enough force to make such a noise so that would mean they weren't the one inside her Church.

'…Since when did I claim the Church as mine? Hm… Something I would think on later,'

Picking up the staff she had found years ago – it was sturdy and with a couple of magic balls she found amongst the scrap piles, magic was just a simple point with it -, Aerith peeked through the hatch. There, Aerith saw a man who was stumbling over the pews as he looked around for something.

'He isn't a Turk… Why am I even thinking of them? They won't even think of approaching me, just watching from the shadows. This guy,' she thought, 'must be new here.'

The man slowly made his way to her patch of climbing roses on the left side of the Church and leaned on… Oh no.

'D-Did he… Did he r-really?!'

She saw green.

Scrambling on her feet and hastily stepped down on the very sturdy and well camouflaged wall ladder Rossean made for her, Aerith made her way to the man who was taking a piss on her well-tended patch of flowers! The man was shaking, probably from the release of urine, when she hit him on the back with her staff.

The man quickly turned around after she attacked her. "What the hell woman?! Can't ya see I'm taking a piss here?! Bugger off!" He then went back to continue but Aerith wasn't having that.

With a frown, Aerith activated the Fire Materia equipped on the small holes in the pole guards and lit a part of the man's clothes. Now that the man noticed it, he scrambled away from the wall, trying to pat away the flame.

"Why you!"

"No," she murmured, readying her staff. "How dare you!"

A swing from her staff and a fireball appeared, blazing its way to the man. "I worked so hard for these flowers to grow and you took a piss at it!"

"Do you know how hard it is to make these grow?! Blood, sweat and tears were spent on planting on them!" She rushed towards the man who was scrambling away from her, remembering the times where she had to fight against the wannabe muggers on her first visit at Wall Market at Sector 6. "You wouldn't know how hard it is to carry 5 buckets of water all the way from my house to Church, would you?!"

The man struggled to get out of the Church, slamming the ancient Gongagan doors to let him out, but he had locked it and it seemed to Aerith the man forgot there was a lock. Fear can make you forget such simple things; though how much of a man the man was when he was faced with a young woman scorned. Something the brunette had found out in only a span of 2 minutes.

"Piss is not a suitable replacement for water!" A hit at the ankles. "It is acid!" Another at the kneecaps. "How about I get some Flouroantimonic acid from the ShinRa tower and pour it into your face?!" An ice here. "HUH?!" A bolt there. "Tell me!" Another at the kneecaps.

"I won't do it again!"

'Not quite yet. The specimen's reaction isn't the desired result. Restart the entire thing. Crank up the variables more. It may need a bit stronger stimulus.'

"I can't hear you!"

Even with a shattered ankle and a frozen leg, the man limped his way towards the ladder. The ladder to the second floor. A slab of ice stopped him on his tracks. Aerith walked slowly to the man, memories of how she resisted against the three stooges.

At the very least, those three were something. They weren't as a coward than this man. What a shame.

"NOOOOOO!"

Aerith stopped in her walk as the man fainted right there. She wondered she was even making her way to the man. It's not like he would be doing any pissing after she froze the place between his legs with her Ice Materia. Sighing, she picked up the man and slowly made her way to the Church's doors.

"Wow."

A young man's voice resounded the entire building, causing Aerith to turn around in a vain attempt to search for the voice's origins. Was the man a-

"Hey, look up. I'm right here! Hey! Here on the roof!"

Aerith looked up and saw a black-haired young man hanging from the Church's roof hole. He had spiky hair – that amount of gel must be so heavy on the head – and wearing a sleeveless hoodie with a white shirt underneath. The young man, maybe around her age of 14 or 15, was wearing jeans and a pair of shoes that seemed to be worn already. He also had a backpack on his back and a pouch bag of sorts around his waist.

"I don't want to be the same as that guy so uh, could I drop down on your flowers? Not that I'm planning to take a piss since I saw you already kicking that guy's ass but you know how things happens so. Anyway, do you mind?"

"Um… You sure you'll be okay?" Her flower patch could soften the fall of the young man but the fall would still hurt him. "I could call for some help?"

"Nah, I've got a Restore Materia here. I could patch myself up! Also, my friend and his brother should be coming down soon so…. Could I?"

With how things turned out, Aerith could only agree to the teen's request. "Okay..."

"Yes!"

And with that, the teen fell down on her flower patch. But before he could reach the ground, he clenched his left fist and something glowed on his bangle. A green glow shone and the black haired boy's descent slowed down until he came to the ground in a very slow fall.

"Booooyah!" the boy with dark blue eyes cried out, turning his body to an upright position and jumped. The green glow then disappeared from his bangle. "Hey, nice to meet you. Sorry for the weird entrance. My friend, his brother and I were being chased up at the Plate because we got lost so we jumped into this hole but Cloud tripped so I was the one who first jumped in. What's your name?"

"Um… Aerith. You?" she answered slowly. She walked towards her flower patch and looked up. Since she was only taking a nap for that afternoon, which is hard to keep track in the Slums unless you have something to keep track with like a clock or a radio, the light coming from the hole at the Plate was shining bright. It grew larger than the last time she looked at it. Most likely the people at the Sector 5 Plate didn't bother to fix it.

"Zack! So…" the boy named Zack trailed off. "Should I help you bring that guy out? I know the feeling of working so hard on something then only to be destroyed afterwards by someone but in your case, only to be peed at, so I can relate to."

"…Yeah. You could help me." Aerith did another look up and saw two figures descending. "Are those…?"

"Huh. Yeah, those are the two. Well, let's bring this guy out."

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As Zack helped her dump the unconscious man – he better not show his stupid ugly mug at her Church or else an ice to his crotch won't be the only thing he would be receiving – at some of the scrap piles in Sector 5, which was just a few block away, Aerith and her new companion witnessed a blond kid falling from the sky with a… cat with makeshift paper wings on its limbs.

The white cat was flying towards the blond kid and created a gust of something to the blond, making him float, just like Zack did a while ago. The cat then slowly descended towards one of the pews near her flower patch and it-

'He's here. Friend. Family. Survivor. Help. Protector. Brother.'

She closed her eyes and kneeled. Aerith sometimes wished The Planet would let her know when She would talk to her. Ever since she was little, she could hear voices. Her mom told her it was The Planet but since they were way up above the ground, they couldn't hear her well. The voices began to coalesce into a single voice the moment she managed to successfully grow a flower in the Church. After that, it seemed to be a constant chipper to her.

Aerith would then take a few hours off just to talk – more like listen to the cranky old lady, that's what Aerith thinks of her – to The Planet. She would always tell her how to properly channel her magic to the ground to make the flowers grow, albeit she has to find a way first on how to understand the gibberish The Planet was speaking to her. The white bauble on her ponytail tie always helped her to decipher the gibberish.

Concentrating on activating the white bauble on her ponytail, she communed with the Planet. It all then slowly being translated to her mind: 'Survivor like you. Lost family beyond the gates. A friend for you and the others. Help him and help you he will. Like a brother. Wants to protect you. For you are his Family.'

That surprised Aerith. Ever since she was little, she was told by her mom that she was the last of her people. But now she wasn't? Wait, The Planet said 'lost family beyond the gates'. What did that mean? They were lost? And She said he was a 'survivor' like her.

…Aerith took a look again to the cat… Except it wasn't a cat anymore, the cat was now a kid a bit shorter than her with black hair. The kid turned around and smile the moment she and him made eye contact.

The kid smiled and shouted, "Hi! Nice to meet ya!" The kid climbed up on the pew and cried out, again, "I see you met Zack! Was he good with you? Did he cause any trouble for you?!"

"For GAIA'S SAKE! VER! HELP ME GET DOWN HERE! I CAN'T CANCEL YOUR FLOAT!"

All three of them turned towards the still floating blond kid. Good thing Zack closed the door behind them because it would be a very weird sight for anyone to see a floating blond kid.

"Sorry Cloud. Hey Zack. Would you help me?" the kid, whose name was Ver, voiced out.

"Cloud could help himself up after you cancel the Float Ver. He has a Master Magic Materia with him. He has Gravity," Zack remarked beside her.

"No no no. Don't you dare Ver! Don't you dare!"

The kid with a chocobo's nest for hair waved his hand and the floating boy fell down to her flower patch, bottom first.

"Ow." The blond kid glared at Ver and growled. "You'll pay for this Ver!"

"Well it was your fault for getting us into trouble first! Zack and I told you not to go into that factory because we still have to find a place to stay but noooo~" The kid jumped from one pew to another. "You had to go in and stare at the bike."

Aerith sat down on the pew beside her and Zack did the same. "Watch them have an argument. Best thing I've ever seen. I swear," the dark blue eyed teen told her as the blond and the black haired kid keep on talking.

"It was the latest model of the Hardy Daytona Motorbike Series! I heard they were the latest.!"

"Yeah, but your 13 and I'm 11. You can't even ride that thing even If you want to."

"I'm allowed to look at it even if I can't ride on it soon."

"At a distance! At a distance Cloud! The guards were giving us these looks because they thought we're going to steal it!"

"And why would you know what they were thinking? Besides, it was your fault that they chased us. You just had to short circuit that console panel."

"Excuse me, I have no papers on my name and yours is outdated! I was listening to the old man at Asgard telling us to renew your papers at Midgar the first thing we get there and have me to get registered."

"Hmmph. Maybe getting arrested would be the fastest thing to get our records."

"…Have we forgotten Corel and the Black Chocobo?"

"Shut up!"

"See," Zack said beside her. "Entertaining."

Aerith smiled lightly. "You're right."

The Planet has been telling her for almost 2 years of a change but She couldn't tell Aerith about it. So to think the change was actually a lost member of her people and 2 more companions was something she wasn't expecting.

"So, you got any place for the night?" She asked. "You three seemed to have travelled to Midgar for something."

"Yeah, we were searching for a cheap place to stay at the Plate but the train tickets to Midgar from Asgard ate our wallets, alive. We can't afford the hotels above so yeah, we really don't have a place to stay."

"Hm…" Well the Church is a place of charity and selfishness so… "That means you three just have to stay here then!" Aerith said with a clap of her hands. "Now that's settled, let me get some stuff at my house for you guys."

"Wa-wait a minute!"

Standing up and striding towards the doors, she asked, "Oh? You want to help me?"

"Y-yeah but, wait, no no no, I mean-"

She ignored his second thoughts. "Great, follow me then. I know my mom will be quite disappointed in me staying at the Church again for the night but she understands why."

Besides, The Planet was vehement in Her assertions that the kid was a one of her people. He also could turn into an animal, like the Gaelicat. So this 'slumber party' would be the best way to learn new things about the three.

"Hey, you two. Stay here okay? You three are going to stay here for the night! No, it's non-negotiable. You three are staying here! Okay?!"

A resounding 'Yes' answered her question. With that done, she carried the staff on one hand and pushed the door. The three seemed to be a group of nice guys and The Planet vouched for them if She didn't make any qualms on her decision. Aerith had a bunch of things to request to her mother.

And maybe some stuff to buy at Wall Market.