From Humble Beginnings

Good dog

Morithes read the message again, even though it was short enough that there really was no room for misinterpretation.

Your presence is required by Bishop Haufren; return at once to the Temple of St. Cuthbert in Verbobonc City.

Shilgen Davers, Canon of St. Cuthbert
8th of Readying

Morithes found himself deciding between faith and desire. His faith compelled him to return to Verbobonc City as demanded by the bishop’s moral authority; he is the head of the church of St. Cuthbert. But his heart told him to remain here, with his new friends, and delve into the ruins near the village. They had barely begun their explorations there when they had been forced to return to the inn.

Morithes clenched his fist. Though nearly half a day had passed since he was poisoned, he was still recovering. The one hour walk back from the moathouse had taken them over two hours. He had assured them he was strong enough to ride, but in truth he had been uncertain of it. Lyn said she would have him back at full strength by the morning and had given him a unpleasantly sweet drink before they retired for the night.

“Why do they want to talk to me now? They weren’t interested in giving me the time of day when I was there.” How quickly they had brushed him aside still angered him. Though he was not an ordained clergyman, he had loyally served St. Cuthbert for over a decade. All that was worth not a copper when he had inquired of the priests if the symbol of a flaming eye was known to them. Not only had they quickly cloistered themselves away, but they hadn’t given him so much as a pat on the head for his efforts. “Spit dogs are treated with more consideration,” he reminded himself.

Morithes looked back at his new partners. They were heading up the street away from Kanley’s house in the opposite direction. He recited a prayer as he walked briskly along the street, “I place my fate and my faith in His just hands.” They seemed like good people, people he could trust. He turned right at the corner and toward the city center.

Five minutes of walking found him in front of the magistrate. A bas relief of Heironeous stood over the double doors at the entrance. Morithes entered, nodded to the town watchmen in the hall and went down the stairs on the side to the jails below. At the bottom of the stairs he was greeted by another guard, this one seated behind a counter.

“Evening sir. How can I help you?”

“Evening. My name is Morithes. Earlier today I apprehended a man for murder. He has since been tried and convicted. Before he goes to his fate on the morn, I would like to ask him a few questions.”

“Oh yes, I heard about that. If you could just sign the log book, sir.”

“Of course.” Morithes took the quill next to the book indicated and signed his name on the first blank line. The guard took the book, flipped back a page, and eyed something for a few seconds before nodding and returning the book. He gestured for Morithes to follow him.

The guard took a set of keys from a pouch on his belt, inspected them briefly, found the key he needed and inserted it into a keyhole in one of the metal reinforced oak doors in the back of the room. The lock opened with a deep, metallic click and he returned the keys to his pouch. He then opened a heavy iron slide bolt and pulled the door open. Morithes could tell the door was heavy by the obvious effort required just to pull it open. The light from the guard room spilled into the cell, dimly illuminating it.

Morithes’s eyes shot open so far he wondered if his eyeballs could actually roll out of his head. He rushed into the cell. “What in the name of all that is holy happened to him?”

“What do you mean,” the guard asked as he stepped from behind the door to see what had alarmed the young monk.

Kanley was lying in a heap with his legs on the bed and his upper body on the floor. Congealing blood had formed a small pool around him. Morithes leaned in and found the source of the bleeding. Kanley’s throat had been cut from nearly one side to the other. The cut was clean and smooth. It had been done quickly and with a very sharp weapon.

The guard gasped audibly as he took in the sight before him. “Oh Hells,” he spat as he turned and ran from the room.

“What else did you know that someone wanted kept secret,” Morithes quizzed the corpse. “How much trouble would it be to kill a man that was going to die in eight hours anyway? I’d shed a tear for you if you didn’t deserve every bit of what you got.” He stood and walked out of the cell. He could hear the sound of many boots approaching the stairway.

As he waited he thought of the irony of the term “dead end,” but the humor did nothing to lighten his dour mood.

It was past midnight by the time Morithes made it back to the Temple of St. Cuthbert. Though it had been his home for a decade, he often still felt like an outsider within its walls. He had been raised here by the clergy after his parents had been killed. He only had vague memories of his life before that terrible day, and rarely thought of them. “Nothing meaningful can come from idling away my time,” he reminded himself on the few occasions he found himself reflecting on those times.

Morithes passed through the public areas of the temple and entered the private living areas. He was headed to the room of Father Glendon, a priest particularly knowledgeable in religious and heraldic iconography. Morithes hoped the father could give him some insight into the unusual seals on the parchments they had discovered.

Morithes gave Father Glendon’s door three hard knocks, pausing slightly between each. He could hear movement within the room—a low mumbling sound, a sharp thump, and a colorful use of language that someone in Father Glendon’s position would feign ignorance of. “They’d give me ten lashes and a day’s fast to reflect upon my transgression if they caught me saying that,” he thought to himself.

The door opened with a yank followed by Father Glendon’s barked greeting. “What is it? What is it that is so important that you plot to have me injure myself stumbling around in the midnight’s darkness?” The older man peered up through bleary eyes at Morithes. Glendon was a sliver of a man back in his prime, and after four decades of Cuthbertine discipline he was little more than sinew and bone.

“Father, I am sorry to disturb you at this late hour. I have questions about some sealed documents I have found. Would you be so kind as to take a look at them?”

“You’ve already maimed me, you might as well come in.” He opened the door and waved Morithes in with his hand. After the monk entered he closed the door with a loud thud. The darkness in the small chamber seemed particularly thick.

“He’s going to make me pay for this, day by day, for a month at least,” Morithes thought.

Glendon intoned a magical phrase and light filled the chamber. The holy symbol mounted in the center of the ceiling glowed with a clear, bright light. “What are you waiting for? Are you hoping I’ll cripple a toe on the other foot too? Show me what you have and be gone.”

Morithes quickly retrieved the parchment from his pack and handed the closed scroll to Glendon. The older man squinted at the red wax seal while inclining his head back and forth, seeking the optimal angle from which to view it. He settled in on a position that gave him the best view and began to scrutinize the seal. He slowly rotated the parchment in his hands inspecting the fine details trapped in the hardened wax.

Glendon’s demeanor briefly became one of shock before he masked it with a passive facade. He cut his eyes at Morithes quickly. “Where did you say you got this?”

“A friend found it in the belongings of a dead acquaintance. Do you recognize the seal?”

Glendon’s brow lowered over his eyes but he did not answer. “Is he inspecting the seal or does he hear the deception in my voice,” Morithes wondered. While what he had said was not an actual lie, there was a world of deceit in the manner in which he had presented it—at least from a Cuthbertine’s point of view.

Glendon’s face fixed into a look of determination. “This is of no importance. Return to your chamber and get some sleep.” With that, he tucked the parchment into his robe and opened the door for Morithes. “Now go so that I can get some rest.”

Morithes stepped out and walked up the hall. He heard Glendon’s door slam shut. As he turned at the end of the hall he flattened himself against the wall and peeked around the corner at Glendon’s door. After a few seconds Glendon slipped quietly out of his door, glanced around, and proceeded down the hall away from Morithes at a quick pace. He reached the door at the end of the hall and knocked quietly on the door to the bishop’s chambers. He spoke briefly with the bishop’s aide and stepped inside.

“What does that symbol mean? What could be so important that Glendon would intentionally lie?”

Morithes placed the quill down on the desk and stoppered the ink. He would leave the note with Master Gundigoot for his companions.

He stood and began to pack his few belongings. He would return to Verbobonc, as was expected of him. To ignore the summons would be to turn his back on all he had learned at the temple, and he was not willing to do that. Quietly, he whispered a mantra to calm himself.

“To follow is to demonstrate your devotion.”


Vincent wearily walked along the weed choked pair of ruts that passed for a road in this remote backwater. He felt surprisingly strong given the poison that had been coursing through his system a mere half hour before.

He glanced back at Morithes. Though he denied it, the young monk was showing visible signs of fatigue. He was in remarkable physical condition, so Vincent attributed his current state to poisoning. Lyn worried Morithes might fall from his saddle so they were walking. He didn’t remember much about the battle that had so weakened the young man, but Lyn said that Morithes had certainly saved his life.

“What am I doing,” he thought to himself. His mother was home, alone, while he was out risking his life on what might prove to be a fool’s errand. The link between the book he had found and his father was tenuous. The odds that it might actually lead him to his father were slim, at best. Though his mother had no need for monetary support, his father had seen to that, for her to lose her son as well as her husband might be more than she could bear.

Up ahead he could see the “main road” as they called it in the village, though to him it looked like a pair of wide dirt ruts with just fewer weeds than the barely visible path he currently followed. They would be back to the inn in a half hour. He reflected back to the events of the last few days, so as to take his mind from questioning his actions.

Vincent had set out to Kanley’s house hoping for answers and expecting a fight. As fate would have it, he found neither.

As he approached Kanley’s home he was somewhat surprised to find someone else peeking into the windows of the nondescript cottage. She was tall, dark haired and armored – a set of light plate armor, to be exact. Vincent knew he could outrun her if it should come to that. She carried a spear, but no shield. “Could she be a town guard,” he asked himself. Unlikely, as she had no identifying marks, and while female adventurers are fairly common, they were unusual in the male dominated magistrate.

Vincent sheltered in the shadow of a nearby house and observed her for a moment. She attempted to look into the house again. Given the darkened interior, Vincent doubted she could make out much. The street, though lit by sporadic lamp posts, was quite shadowy which meant the interior of an unlit house would be just a hint shy of complete darkness. She abandoned the window, walked to the door, and tried the handle, which was unsurprisingly locked. She stepped back and eyed the front of the house.

No burglar would dress like that. Also, she was standing in the street openly, not trying to conceal her presence. “So, she’s not a burglar, and not a guard,” he thought. Vincent’s father’s words came back to him, “unlikely is not the same as impossible, remember that.”

“To heck with it,” Vincent muttered to himself. He stepped into the street and began walking toward the house. The woman paid little heed to his approach until it was apparent he was headed toward her. She pivoted back to her right to face him.

She was young, probably just past twenty years. She was tall and too pretty to be wearing all that armor, in Vincent’s personal opinion. Her face, though young, seemed to convey an unusual wisdom beyond her years. Vincent thought that if he had to translate his first impression of her into words they would be that she was an “old soul”. She wore a silver symbol on a cord around her neck, but Vincent couldn’t quite make it out in the dim light. Though not what he would call graceful, her movements were those of someone accustomed to wearing armor. Vincent had been trained to wear armor, but given the size and strentgh of some of the beasts his father had described to him he trusted his reflexes more than he trusted a metal plate, no matter how thick it was. “The ability to not get hit is superior to the ability to take a hit,” his father had told him.

“Evening. Do you know the man that lives here?” Vincent inquired.

“No. He does not appear to be home,” the woman replied.

Vincent paused briefly but before he spoke again they were interrupted. “Oh, he won’t be coming home again,” someone interjected from behind Vincent.

Spinning to find the source of the interjection Vincent noticed a man approaching from the far side of the street. Had he been there all along? Either he had snuck up on the two of them or he had been there all along and Vincent had walked right past him. Either way, he knew what his father would have said, “too careless—too careless by far.”

The stranger was tall and lean, nearing six feet. He had short brown hair, green eyes, and dressed in loose, simple clothes. He had a staff that had too many nicks and tell-tale scratches for it to be just a walking stick. It was a weapon and the man knew how to use it. The staff had an odd cloth wrapping around the top of it. His movements were graceful and crisp. Vincent doubted he could outrun the newcomer. If this man was trouble then he would have to find a different means of dealing with him.

Vincent listened to the exchange between the other two in the street while he sized them both up.

“How do you know he won’t be coming back,” the young woman inquired.

“Because he’s been arrested by the magistrate for murder,” the stranger replied.

“Whom did he kill?”

“A dock worker named Devic. Ever heard of him?”

“No. How do you know about all this?”

“I witnessed it. I disabled him then turned him over to the townguard. He hangs in the morning.”

“Very well, then it would appear my concern with him is done.”

“So why are you two standing in the street in front of Kanley’s home? A suspicious person might think you were involved with him in something improper.”

“This man, Kanley, had been harassing one of my people. His death will end that.” She said “my people” with great emphasis, as though she or they considered themselves separate from everyone else. “Who are her people,” he wondered.

The two turned and looked at Vincent expectantly.

Vincent’s training told him to be careful, that he didn’t know these two people. Two minutes was not long enough to make an evaluation of their intentions. His mind warned him to step back, slow down, and evaluate further before trusting them with any relevant information. His father’s voice came back to him, like a mantra. “When in doubt, trust your instincts son.”

Quelling his over analyzing mind, Vincent spoke. “I wanted to ask him about a book he sold. I thought he might tell me how he came by it. It belonged to a friend of mine who has been missing for two years.”

“Well, in the morning the townguard will be along to clear out Kanley’s house.” The stranger gestured toward the door. “Maybe we should see if there is any information inside that could help you before they ransack the place”

Vincent walked over to the door and knelt down. He briefly examined the lock. It was a simple one. He was no master burglar, but he had some skill with locks and knew this one wouldn’t take long to open. As he took out his tools he suppressed a resurgence of his overly-cautious, logical side. “Trust your instincts son.” Repeating the phrase made him feel calmer.

The front door creaked slightly as it swung open. The interior of the home was dark except for the faint reflected light that squeezed around the three forms in the doorway. They stepped in and Vincent shut the door behind them. “See if you can find a candle or lamp.”

The woman’s voice came to him from the darkened room. “Won’t that attract attention?”

“Not really, it’s unlikely anyone that would see the light will know that Kanley won’t be coming back,” Vincent explained.

“Shield your eyes, this will be very bright until they adjust.” With that a blazing light shone from the end of the stranger’s staff. He had removed the cloth wrapping and a ghostly flame silently flickered on the end. After his eyes had adjusted to the light Vincent realized it wasn’t as bright as he had first thought. The one room first floor of the house was well illuminated by the pale light.

The furnishings of the house were simple. One might even say they were beneath the neighborhood’s standards. They were roughly formed, practical items that wouldn’t look out of place in a much smaller, humbler home. A stone fireplace was centered on the right wall, opposite a small, round table and three chairs on the left. The window to the right of the front door was next to a set of shelves that contained simple clay crockery, some chipped, others apparently missing. To the left of the entrance was a padded wooden chair that sat in front of the window to that side. The back wall of the room had a stairway climbing from the back left of the room to the second floor. Just past the fireplace was a simple table with a shelf underneath. The shelf contained a pitcher and wash basin along with a wooden cup filled with several mixed pieces of cutlery. Underneath the stairway in the back of the room was a simple writing desk and chair.

The threesome drifted to different parts of the room. The woman moved to the shelf and was examining the crockery. The stranger moved to the back toward the stairs. Vincent took out his tinder box and lit a candle he found on the table. The light was small and wan, but the room was small enough that it was sufficient. The woman moved to follow the stranger upstairs.

After the light from the stranger’s staff had faded to a dull glow on the stairway, Vincent took one of the fireplace pokers and carefully spread the ashes in the fireplace out. Nothing appeared to be hidden there and the ashes themselves seemed ordinary. Leaving the poker laying on the hearth he stepped toward the table with the wash basin. It was cheap, and hardly worthy of notice. Proceeding on he moved toward the writing desk then suddenly stopped. Stepping back a pace he put his weight on the floorboard again. “Yep, it’s definitely loose,” he thought. Dropping to his knees he examined the floor. There was a loose board about a foot long sticking out from the front corner of the fireplace. Based on the way the floor boards were laid out, Vincent figured the entire board must be about three feet long with two feet of it under the fireplace. He carefully examined the cracks around the board. Definite signs of it having been moved were apparent. The corners of the board were slightly rounded and there was no dirt packed between it and its neighbors, unlike the rest of the floor. He saw no signs of it being trapped or rigged in any way.

Pausing he looked toward the stairs. The dull glow had faded even more. That plus the footsteps from above told him they had moved toward the front of the second floor. They would not be coming back down immediately. Working quickly, Vincent took out his dagger and carefully pried at the end of the board. Easily it pivoted up. As he got his fingers under it he could see that the end of the board showed signs of having been pried up many times before. He pulled the board up and out of the slot it rested in and gently set it aside. The hollow space it left was dark in the pale light of the candle. Vincent retrieved it and held it over the opening, careful not to drip wax into the hollow. Laying on the cold, damp earth under the house’s foundation were several rolled parchments and a small, leather bound book with a tie cord. Glancing toward the stairs again out of paranoia, Vincent reached in and withdrew the various contents. The parchments were of good quality and each was sealed with red wax. Pressed into the wax was a signet of a flaming eye.

He quickly placed all the papers in his backpack and began to put the floor board back in place. As he was sliding it back he could hear the other two’s footsteps returning to the stairs. He carefully returned the floorboard, moved the candle to the wash stand, stood up and dusted himself off. Hurriedly, he brushed his foot over the floor board to rearrange the thin layer of dirt he had disturbed around the board. It would pass a cursory examination, but any prolonged search of the area would reveal the floor board and that it had been very recently removed.

In a few quick steps he was at the writing desk. Setting his candle on a nearby shelf, he quickly searched the desk. He opened the hinged writing surface and removed several sheets of parchment and a vial of ink he found within. Carefully he placed them in his backpack with his own stores of each. He could see light coming around the staircase which meant his new companions were returning. He closed the desk, retrieved his candle, and returned to the round table opposite the fire place. He set his candle in the center and turned as the other two reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Nothing up there but a bed, wash stand and night table. There’s some old, broken furnishings stored in the back, but none of it looks like it’s been moved in ages,” the young man said. “Did you find anything?”

“Nope, nothing of any interest,” his rational side told him to say, but trusting to his father’s instructions instead he said, “Yes, I found some parchments with opened seals and what I think is a journal. They were hidden under the floor. I haven’t had a chance to look at them yet.” He removed them from his backpack and set them on the table.

Each of them took a seat. Vincent picked up one of the parchments and carefully unfurled it. His companions each inspected another. The parchment was mostly blank, with just a few short paragraphs neatly penned at the top. It was dated one month ago and it appeared to be a set of directions. They were short and precise, to the point of being terse.

Information regarding viscount’s socializing is of no consequence. Similarly, trade negotiations with Dyvers are of no consequence. Gossip of slavers of no consequence.

The river-folk are an untapped well of information — find a means of getting that information.

The final briefing of last report is considered of highest importance. Press informants for more information of this type. Dispose of informants that cannot provide the type of information needed.

The Master, 18th Sunsebb

The woman had a look of scrutiny on her face as she scanned her parchment. “These appear to be orders from someone called ‘The Master’.”

The young man had propped his staff against the wall so that its light bathed the table. He examined the seal as he spoke, “This one as well.” His brow creased as he squinted at the lump of wax.

Setting his parchment back near the center of the table, Vincent unwound the tie cord from the small leather book. He turned it over in his hands twice before carefully opening the cover. Inside were journal entries in a small, hurried style of cursive script. He thumbed through the pages and counted seven entries in all. Returning to the first page, he began to quickly read.

10th Ready’reat
I have taken a job as spy master for an unknown individual. All correspondence is with anonymous “Master” via blind drop locations. Must progress carefully — my instincts tell me the money is too good for the little that is being asked of me. Makes me wonder just who I’ll be serving.

19th Sunsebb
My job continues to pay better than my instincts tell me it should. I’ve discovered who picks up my reports — a traveling merchant named Venet. He appears to be a moderately successful merchant. He travels to Verbobonc on a regular schedule, so he would appear to have no need to hire informants here.

10th Fireseek
Venet also picks up reports from at least two others in Verbobonc. I’ve been able to identify these other handlers, but dare not approach them. The chance that they might report my curiosity is too great. I suspect that would be a bad thing for me.

21st Fireseek
“The Master” is paying a lot of money for spies in Verbobonc. Not “high profile” informants either, but accountants and laborers, cooks and maids. None anywhere close to the viscount, as one might expect, but rather on the docks and in the naves.

It occurs to me that anyone willing to pay so much money to learn information might also pay to preserve their secrets. I need to learn more about who I am working for. This is a dangerous game, but I trust my wits better than I trust the fickle favor of Norebo — if I must gamble to make my fortune then it should be on my own terms.

26th Fireseek
Venet has a two week trade route. He starts at Verbobonc, loads up on various foodstuffs and supplies, then travels to the outlying villages. His route seems to be first to Swan, then Kron, and finally Cienega Valley, before returning to Verbobonc. It doesn’t seem like that route should take two weeks. I must be overlooking something or there is more to his route than meets the eye.

2nd Readying
Why would Venet include Cienega Velley in his route? C.V. is on Gillendyl’s Run which is still navigable by river boat at least that far. How can he compete with river traders? Does he have some favorable trade agreements or is there another reason for him going there?

4th Readying
I have confirmed that Cinega Valley is accessible by river boat. I must make plans to follow Venet soon. I need more information before I proceed past the point of no return.

By the time he had finished the journal the other two had finished their examinations of the parchments. He passed the journal to the priestess and examined another parchment.

Rumors of yellow sailed ships of no consequence. Rumors regarding fate of “T” of no consequence.

Report contained no mention of progress regarding river-folk informants.

Activities of Cuthbertines of great interest. Seek for more of this type of information.

The Master, 4th Fireseek

Vincent returned the second parchment and retrieved the third.

Endeavor to get an informant within Cuthbertine circles. Information regarding missing canon of utmost importance.

Your report shows no progress regarding river-folk—if progress is not shown soon, other arrangements will have to be made.

The Master, 18th Fireseek

Vincent returned the parchments to the table and waited for the young man to finish his inspection of the journal.

The woman spoke first. “This explains why Kanley was harassing a young girl of my people, but it brings up new questions such as why this Master wanted a spy in the first place.”

“That’s the second time she’s used the term ‘my people’,” Vincent thought. Her accent, and mannerisms hinted at Rhennee ancestry, but her physical traits were not those of the river-folk. She was too tall and her hair straight, where they were known for their curly hair.

“Logic is a useful tool, but a tool is only as clever as its wielder,” his father had told him. Logic said she couldn’t be Rhennee, but that was apparently what she considered herself nonetheless.

“And who is this ‘T’ they refer to,” she continued. “And why is a missing clergyman of interest to them?”

“Well, I doubt we’ll be able to figure out more than Kanley already has,” the young man said. “So, rather than waste time covering ground he’s had weeks or months to investigate, why don’t we just ask him? He doesn’t hang til the morning. He might tell us nothing, but than again, he might.”

“You were the witness that turned him in. Maybe the guards will let you speak to him,” Vincent proffered. “While you do that, I’ll see what I can find out about this merchant.”

“I must inform a young friend that she no longer has anything to fear from Kanley.” As she rose, she continued. “But tomorrow I want to learn more about this ‘Master’ and why he is so interested in my people.”

Vincent and the young man followed her lead, rising from their seats. As he did so, the young man spoke. “I will head immediately to the magistrate and request an audience with Kanley. Shall we meet in the morning?”

“What time,” Vincent asked.

“How does 9 o’clock sound? We can meet at the entrance to the Temple of St. Cuthbert.”

The young woman nodded curtly. “Agreed.”

“Since we’re going to be working together, at least for the moment, we should probably introduce ourselves. I am Morithes, humble laymen follower of St. Cuthbert,” the young man explained.

“I am Lynnessa of the Rhennee, faithful servant of Geshtai,” the young woman responded. “But you may call me simply Lyn.”

Both turned to Vincent, awaiting his reply. “I am Vincent Corello, native son of Verbobonc.”

“May the gods bless this gathering and bring us success,” Lyn intoned in a low voice.

“VINCENT!” Lynessa broke him from his reflections. He could tell from the tone in her voice that she was shouting, but her voice sounded distant. He turned to locate her as her voice seemed to come from behind him. He spotted her about twenty yards behind him kneeling under a tree. Morithes was sitting with his back against the tree, one leg sprawling out into the trail, the other propping up his elbow. His head was leaning back to rest on the tree trunk.

Looking around as he walked back he estimated they were five minutes from the village. Rau was walking slowly at his side – he had no idea where Bur and Nod, his more playful younger dogs, had gotten off to. “Probably chasing birds or a rabbit,” he thought with a grin. The trained dogs had proven to be capable companions. Just an hour ago they had detected and sprung an ambush by the two biggest frogs Vincent had ever seen. Though large enough to swallow a halfling whole, the frogs had proven no match for the canine trio.

Vincent walked up to the tree and flopped onto the ground next to Morithes. “Yeah, I could use a break too,” he said with a grunt as he landed. He glanced sideways at Lynessa. Concern was plainly evident on her face. He made an inquiring look at her while nodding at Morithes. “Is he going to be okay,” he mouthed.

Her face turned to uncertainty as she shrugged and nodded halfheartedly. She laid her spear on the ground and set with her back against the tree opposite Vincent. “It’s a nice day…I see no need to rush back to town. Let’s just enjoy the lovely spring day.”

Lynessa prelude

To the Rhennee of Verbobonc, Lynessa had a bit of a notoriety. She is known to be an adopted member of the people, but her height and religious ties with the outside world separate her in the eyes of the typical Rhennee. Her own immediate family embraces har as if she were born one of them, but other Rhennee are less endearing towards her.

One afternoon she was meditating on the shores of the Velverdyva River, east of Verbobonc, as she often did. To her soul, this was peace. The river is where her upbringing and her faith coincide. Here she was complete.

Lynessa noticed a young woman (early to mid teens), most likely Rhennee, watching her from behind a tree about thirty yards distant. Lyn was unable to determine if it is someone she knew at this distance. She continued sitting, watching the girl from the corner of her eye.

The girl continued to observe Lyn, trying to use the tree to conceal her presence. She was definitely Rhennee. Her long hair was pulled back in a traditional kerchief that young girls of their people often wear. She seemed nervous or impatient, perhaps both.

Lyn stood up and started walking in the girl’s general direction, feigning not to see her.

Immediately the girl perked up. She ducked back behind the tree and stood up straight. She quickly dusted herself off and peeked back around the tree towards Lynessa.

When Lyn had closed half the distance the girl abruptly stepped into plain view. Her movement was so sudden that she stumbled and nearly fell before catching herself. Her cheeks blushed with embarrassment.

Lyn barely suppressed the urge to grin before speaking. “Hello there.”

The girl quickly tucked a stray lock of hair back into her kerchief before effecting a quick, awkward, curtsy. She stammered “Good afternoon…,” paused, briefly, before finishing “…Wise One.”

“I don’t know how wise I am, but good afternoon. Is there something I can do for you?” Lyn did recognize the girl, but she did not know her. The girl was from a Rhennee family that has semi-settled here in Verbobonc. They ran several barges up an down the Velverdyva and surrounding waterways. Among their people, the girl’s family was considered very odd, as it is extremely rare for them to settle at all.

“Oh, uh, I was just enjoying the lovely spring afternoon when I happened to notice you sitting over there. I didn’t want to disturb you.”

Lyn attempted to interpret the girl’s mood, but her nervousness made it difficult to read her. “Yes, it is a very nice day.” Lyn continued to slowly approach.

The girl continued to fidget nervously while looking around and trying to look as though she weren’t watching Lyn.

Lyn stopped. “Do I make you nervous?

“Huh? Uh…well…no. Um, why would you make me nervous?”

“I wouldn’t, or at least I shouldn’t.” Lyn smiled at her reassuringly. She returned the smile, but Lyn was still unable to see past the nervousness.

“Would you like to come sit with me?” She motioned toward the river.

“Oh, I thought you were leaving. If you’re not finished I can leave you in peace, if you like.” Her embarrassment returned anew.

“I am done meditating for now, it is just such a lovely day that I don’t feel like going inside just yet. I just thought we could enjoy it together, but we could walk if you like.”

“Hm, yes, sitting near the water would be nice.” She smiled at Lyn.

Lyn turned and began to walk to the river shore. The girl hurried to keep up with her. Her height and long stride required that she walk slower than her usual pace in order for the girl to keep up without hurrying.

The girl tried to watch Lyn out of the corner of her eye. She walked with her hands clasped in front of her. Lyn kept a slow pace, but tried to make it seem normal.

They reached the shore and found a suitable spot to sit. The girl sat carefully, so as not to get dirt on her skirt. Lyn sat nearby, facing her. The girl glanced up, saw lyn looking at her, grinned and looked back at the ground.

Lyn broke the silence, “The river is such a beautiful thing, as if it were a living creature.” The girl had relaxed enough that Lyn could see past her demeanor. The nervousness seemed sincere. The girl looked out over the water while Lyn spoke. ” Though I am enjoying my time here, I so miss being out on the water.”

The girl’s lips formed an endearing grin. “I love the water. It is like a loving grandparent.” She blushed slightly, perhaps embarrassed by her poetic musing.

“That is a very lovely way to put it. I think I shall always think of it in that way from now on.” Lyn returned the smile. A large smile graces the girl’s face. She seemed to enjoy the praise. “How is your family? I miss mine terribly sometimes, especially my sister.”

“Oh they are well. My father and uncles make a good living working up and down the river.” She was becoming more at ease. Her fidgeting lessened.

“The river is the best place to make a living and a life.”

“Though it does seem odd to be seeing the same places so often. But that’s not a bad thing, really. Just different.”

“Well, different can be a good thing. Though I do know what you mean. Being in one place so long feels…... odd.”

“Oh, I just realized I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Risa.”

“Hello Risa, I am Lyn. See there, we are fast becoming friends.” Risa smiled gently and warmly.

“May I call you by your name?”

“Well, it is my name, I don’t know what else you would call me by.” Lyn grinned wryly.

“I did not want to presume too much. You are my elder.”

“Ha, don’t let my brothers hear you say that, they would have me calling them sir.” Risa giggled. Lyn could tell it was a natural response, with no falsehood in it. Since she had relaxed, Lyn had been able to get a feel for the girl. “And believe me, Jacoban is no sir.”

“I shall call you Madam Lyn, if it pleases you. It retains a degree of respect that you are due.”

“Though that does sound nice, I think I would prefer just Lyn. If my brothers heard anyone calling me Madam I would never hear the end of it. Besides, we are friends are we not? And friends call each other by their given names.”

“Mother would tan my hide if she heard me address a wise woman by their name alone.”

“You keep calling me a wise woman, but that is not what I am. I am just a woman following her heart down a path of faith.”

“You might not be recognized as a wise woman in your presence, but our people regard you as one when they speak of you. They give you a great deal of respect—perhaps more than they show you.”

“Well, I I shall have to do my best to earn it.”

“May I ask for you guidance? I have a decision to make, an important one, and I would greatly like some advice before I make it.”

“I am not sure I am qualified to offer advice, but I can listen very well and sometimes that is enough. Go ahead and ask away.”

“There is a man who wants me to do something for him. ” Her nervousness begins to return. “He is shore-folk, not one of us. What he wants me to do, I do not wish to do, but he is very persistent. Over and over he comes to me and asks me. No one will be hurt should I give him what he wants, but I do not feel it is right. He offers to pay me money for this.”

“You should always do what you feel is right. If what this man asks of you doesn’t feel right then follow it. If you would like, I can speak to this man for you. Ask him to leave you be, it is the least I could do for a new friend. Money is no compensation for losing yourself.”

“Recently, his requests have not been so nice. His words no longer drip of honey, but of venom.”

“Ah, well then. I insist you let me speak to him. What is him name, where can I find him?”

“I don’t want to do what he asks, but doing it would be easy and then perhaps he would go away.”

“The easy path is not always the right path. If I had taken the easy path I would not be here now. I would not have met my love and I would not now know you. Always do what is right. Besides, easy is no challenge and challenge makes you a stronger, better you.”

“His name is Kanley. I often see him around the docks.”

“Then I think I shall pay Kanley a visit, see if he has the same offers for me.”

“He will not want you. With all due respect, Madam.”

“No, he will not.”

“No. I mean you cannot give him what he wants.”

“If it wouldn’t embarrass you too much, would you mind telling me what it is he does want?”

“Of course not, Madam. He wants me to tell him things.”

“Ah, secrets?”

“Well, no. Not really. Just common things…but I don’t like him. He scares me. I do not understand why he wants to give me money to tell him boring, every day things. He wants to know things I hear from our people.”

“Things like what?”

“Gossip mostly.”

“Of our people?”

“Who went where. What they heard, what they saw. Yes. He was very specific.”

“He wants to know specific things about specific people?”

“Well, no. Just about only wanting to hear about our people. He’s not interested in anything else I hear. Which, is really nothing. Normally, I never talk to outsiders.”

“Hmmm, well, he is not one of us and the stories of our people should only be told to our people. He has no right to ask this of you and by offering you money, I think he knows he shouldn’t be asking. I think it is time I ask him a few questions.”

“Madam, why would he want to know these things? And why would it be worth money, or worse, to him?”

“I don’t yet know, but I intend to find out. If this man scares you, then he can’t be a trustworthy fellow. Why don’t you run on home and if he comes by before I find him, don’t go near him. If he is starting to get upset with you for not telling him what he wants, he might resort to worse means indeed to get his information.”

“Yes Madam.” She rises, straightens her skirt and pauses. “Madam Lyn, please be careful. And thank you so much for your help.”

Lyn laughed, “Again with the Madam. My brothers would love you. I always try to help my friends, go safely Risa.”

Risa began to move away at a quick pace, stopped, spun around, quickly curtsied, then ran along the shore towards town.

Lyn reached town late in the afternoon. There was less than two hours of daylight left. Once she had reached the docks, she began to ask around for Kanley.

One of the advantages of being a tall woman is that it commanded people’s attention. Every dock worker watched Lyn pass, they always did, but this time she used their attention to her advantage. A few hours of questioning got her the information she needed.

She headed toward the Inn where she was staying. A quick stop to don her armor and she would head over to Kanley’s to pay the man a visit. Quite possibly an unpleasant visit.

Vincent prelude

Vincent returned home shortly after noon. His mother was sitting at the table peeling potatoes for dinner. She greeted him with a warm smile. “Hello dear. Oh, I almost forgot,” she adds. “Dear Betham sent a runner around earlier for you. Said he has something he would like you to take a look at. Said it was something he knew you’d be interested in.”

“Thanks Mom. How long before dinner? Do I have time to go for a visit?”

“Oh, several hours yet. I am making stew so it will have to simmer for a while. Go ahead.”

“Mm, stew. I can hardly wait. I’ll try not to be too long.”

It’s a beautiful early spring day outside, one of the first truly warm days of the year. The streets are bustling with people running errands or just enjoying the mid afternoon warmth. The shop is about a half hour’s walk away. Vincent covers it in a little over twenty minutes, good time and he is only slightly out of breath when he steps inside.

The shop is a squat building at the junction of three streets. Tall enough for humans, it is designed for its occupant with mostly gnome sized furnishings.

As Vincent steps inside Betham is sitting behind the counter examining a small tome not much larger than his hands. He looks up, recognizes the silhouette in the doorway and a warm smile breaks over his face.

“Betham my friend, any customers today?”

The gnome looks much the same as he always has. His brown skin looks weathered, but Vincent knew he hardly ever saw daylight, much less got fresh air. His slate gray hair serves as a resting place for his abused, and largely unused, spectacles. “He’s probably lost them again, right on top of his own head,” Vincent thought.

“Today…hmm, no. No one today. But, I had an interesting purchase a few days ago.”

“Go on, you know something don’t you.”

“Ah yes. Yes, I do. I do indeed. Vincent, my boy, before we get into this, I don’t want you to get your hopes up. This might turn out to be nothing, but then again…”

“Dear friend, that’s all I’ve had for months. Anything is better than nothing.”

Betham pulls out a large, square bundle wrapped in a dark cloth. He sets it on the counter and rests his palms flat on top of it. “Alright. Well, a few days ago a local man came in to sell me a book he had come by. Nothing out of the ordinary about it really. Just another man selling a book. Except, that this was a spellbook—a blank spell book. Nothing terribly unusual about that, I guess, except that some of the pages had been torn out. I suppose those types of things happen in dark places.”

“Go on”

He glowers, probably wondering about the type of horrible creatures that would deface a book like that. “So I bought it at a decent price, figured it’s only a matter of time before a young wizard comes by and takes it off my hands. Didn’t think much about it. And then I noticed something. It’s a tiny, innocuous thing. If you didn’t know what it was, you’d never pay it a second glance.” He starts to unwrap the book.

“I am listening.”

“It is a marking. It blends in well with the surrounding decorations on the spine of the book. Now most booksellers wouldn’t have ever noticed it, I don’t think. Not that I consider myself keen-eyed, but I recognized the marking. Recognized it from personal experience. But I couldn’t remember where I had seen it before. So I did some research and now I know where I have seen it before.”

He pulls out a red leather spellbook with decorative work on the spine. He points to a tiny marking about the size of Vincent’s pinky nail.

“You don’t recognize it, do you?”

Vincent did not. “What is it,” he inquired.

“No, I suppose not. It was a long time ago and it’s not exactly something you give out, like your name. That, my boy, is the marking of the of Neverhalf family. I did some more checking and to be specific, it is the personal marking of one particular Neverhalf…”

Vincent’s heart rate picked up. “This was one of Trinket’s books?”

“Yes. This was, at one time, Trinkit’s spellbook. Or one of them, at least. Now I’ve looked the book over thoroughly, but I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about it. I can tell you it was made over a decade ago, but I’m not sure that tells you much.”

“Do you remember the man? Who was he?”

“Yes, I remember him. He has been in here before. He has come in perhaps a half dozen times with various books to sell me. He never buys, always sells.”

“Did he say anything that might tell you where it is from?”

“No, he didn’t tell me much about it. Honestly, I didn’t bother to ask. Had it been a true tome, then I would have inquired as to its provenance. But, since it was blank I didn’t see the need.”

“Do you know where I might find him?”

“All I can tell you is that his name is Kanley. He’s a local man. He seems reasonably well dressed, but not wealthy I’d wager. I wish I had more for you, but it might lead to something. I hope it’s not another dead end.”

“Do you know how many pages were taken from the book?”

“Ah yes. Well these spellbooks typically have a hundred pages. I counted, twice, and this one is missing about a dozen pages. And they weren’t blank. You can still see scraps of the written text on the page stubs. They were not removed delicately.”

“Do you mind if I study the symbol marking for a moment?”

“Dear boy, the book is yours. Do with it as you need.”

“Glittergold fill your purse, old friend.” Vincent’s gnomish was a bit rusty, but Betham didn’t comment.

“Thank you. I hope Fharlanghn guides you to your father.”

“I thank you for this old friend. I promised Mom I would be back soon. I will keep you informed, but for now I must go.”

“Of course. Take care, and by Garl be CAREFUL!”

“I will, and you my friend, don’t take any wooden sheaves.”

As he departed the sun was just setting. He still had a few hours before dinner. He set off toward the docks. There was no better place to ask questions.

Concern was evident on his mother’s face. Though she tried to conceal it, it shown through in her demeanor and her voice. “Vincent, I want to find your father as much as you do…but this…will probably lead to nothing. I don’t want to discourage you, but I don’t want you getting your hopes up too much either.”

“I understand, but what harm will it do? Please don’t worry about me. I’ve got my head on right.”

“I know. You’ve turned out to be just like your father. He would be…WILL be so proud. Go on. Just promise me you won’t do anything he wouldn’t do.”

“I promise, and if you don’t mind would you save my dinner?”

“Of course. Now go.”

Morithes prelude

The weather in Verbobonc is typically lovely, but on certain days the weather is exceedingly nice. On days such as these Morithes likes to get off of the grounds and find a suitably pleasant location to meditate and reflect. Unlike many monastic orders, he was trained in the city and that makes him a bit of an oddity: a city-fied monk.

On one fine day Morithes is meditating in a secluded no-man’s land behind a row of buildings near the river shore. The spot is close enough to the open expanse of the river to get the strong breezes that blow off of it, and at the same time to have the low drone of the hustle of the city proper. There is the less than lovely smell that the riverfront typically brings, dead fish, unwashed people, and assorted mildew, but the breeze keeps it adequately ventilated for the most part. Many monks would find this eclectic mixture too jarring for serenity, but this is how he finds peace.

It is late in the afternoon and the dock work is slowing down just as the tavern life picks up. It is the most peaceful part of the afternoon. So it is that Morithes hears what sounds like an argument coming from nearby. Though the acoustics of the area make it difficult to tell, he concludes that the sounds are coming from another open space behind a few buildings down the street.

Morithes quickly but quietly moves along the void between structures in the direction of the noise. As he nears the source of the disturbance he notices that the clearing ahead is almost entirely enclosed by the surrounding buildings. Near the back door of a gambling house he sees two men arguing. One appears to be a dock worker and the other a rather ordinary looking man of middle class, judging by his clothing. The middle class man has the worker backed up against an outhouse and is brandishing a dagger in his face.

Morithes is too far away to make out more than a few words, but the dagger wielding man seems to be intimidating the worker. The dagger wielder has an air of annoyance about him.

“I hope I don’t regret this”, Morithes thinks to himself. “Couldn’t help but hear the commotion. The fight seems fairly one sided though. Anything I can do to smooth things out?” he says as he steps into view.

Both men turn their heads to look at him. The dagger wielder effects a mock grin and replies, “I doubt it. We’re just having a business disagreement. I’m sure Devic will see it my way and we’ll get it sorted out. Right, Devic?” Devic says nothing, just looks back and forth from the dagger to the monk.

“Well Devic, can you handle this or would you like someone to mediate? I’d rather not see blood shed if its all the same. Disturbs my meditation.”

Just as Devic looks like he’s about to speak, the dagger wielder cuts him off. “Well now this is a business discussion. Our business, as in the kind that’s not yours. Go back to where you came from, and I promise you won’t see any blood.”

“I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I’m afraid that my faith wouldn’t allow me to leave in good conscience.”

The dagger wielder says, curiously “Your faith…” as he quickly observes the monk’s appearance in detail. As his eyes fix on the Cuthbertine holy symbol he curses, “Crap!”

Morithes moves quickly, faster than the assailant had anticipated. He promptly covers the intervening distance and delivers a glancing blow to the dagger, but not enough to dislodge the weapon. Recovering quickly, the dagger wilder strikes.

Devic stammers “No Kanley, wait…” as the dagger plunges into his torso right below the ribcage. He slides down the wall of the outhouse with a groan.

Morithes releases the staff and delivers a brutal palm thrust into Kanley’s chin. With a snap his teeth clack together as his head slams back. He stumbles a half step before his momentum spins him around and he lands face first on the ground. He wearily attempts to push himself up before collapsing.

Quickly, Morithes drops to one knee and examines the wound. He tears off pieces of Devic’s tunic and manages to staunch the worst of the bleeding. It wasn’t a proper bandage, but it would do until he could get the worker to help.

Morithes removed his sash and used it to secure the assailant’s wrists. Once he was satisfied with the restraint, he stood and eyed the gambling house. It was the only building adjacent to the clearing where the back door was open.

As he considered entering and inquiring if anyone knew either of the two men, Devic began to shake. Quick, powerful spasms shook the man’s body.

“Oh no, poison,” he muttered as he quickly diagnosed the victim again. He hurriedly lifted the agonized man onto his shoulder and began to move out to the street. He knew his only chance of survival was to get him to a healer, magical or mundane, immediately.

Devic convulsed one final time and went limp. Morthies recognized the sickening exhalation of death. He gently lowered the body back to the ground. He located Kanley’s dagger and placed it in his pouch, then lifted Kanley to a semi-upright position. He threw the limp man’s arm over his shoulder and dragged him to the nearby street. Glancing first one way, then the other, Morithes spotted a pair of city watchmen and moved to intercept them.

As the two men approached the guards, one’s face broke into a grin. “Cuthbertine, what’s wrong with your friend? Is he drunk already?”

“I’m afraid not. I encountered this fool threatening a dock worker just back there. I intervened but not in time to save the dock worker, a man called Devic, I believe. I was hoping that perhaps you could find out something about what would have been so important for him to kill a man over”.

Morithes recounted the events that had occurred just moments before in the secluded clearing as he led the guard to it. The jovial grins were replaced with somber reality.

“And you saw the stabbing, sir?”

“Aye. The man here was holding a knife to the throat of the other, making threats. I tried to disarm him, but was not fast enough. He seemed to recognize the symbol of St. Cuthbert and struck the other man instead of striking me. I subdued him and attempted to aid the other, but this man’s dagger seems to have had some sort of poison on it.”

“Dang, poison? Sounds like this was a bit more than loaded dice. We’ll take him to the magistrate straight away. If you could accompany us we could get your testimony done and have him dealt with before sundown.”

“I’ll be glad to come along. Frankly, I’m hoping that we can learn more about what this was over.”

A down cast look comes over the guard’s face, “To be honest sir, I doubt the magistrate will care. You being a Cuthbertine will likely be enough for him to take your word as to the sequence of events. But if you need answers for peace of mind, feel free to look into it.”

“Very well then.”

“The poison aside, this type of thing happens a few times a week.” Morithes notes a sense of sad acceptance in the guard’s voice.

“Well, I promise to lend a hand where I can.”

Sure enough, as the guard predicted justice is swift in Verbobonc. Kanley was sentenced to hang on the morrow. Morithes was back on the streets before sundown and headed back to the gambling house. By the time he got there, business was just picking up.

Being as discreet as he could manage, he moved about the room asking about the two men. The patrons did’t seem too fond of a Cuthbertine asking questions. Despite this, he does learn that Devic was a dock worker. He was hired on a per job basis. He didn’t have any family that anyone seems to know about. As for Kanley, either no one knew anything or they just weren’t saying. Neither was inside the gambling house today, as far as he could tell.

Eventually, Morithes managed to locate Devic’s home. It was a run down hovel of an inn outside of town. As he approached the dilapidated structure Morithes thought to himself, “Home was a bit of a stretch.” In fact, home turned out to be a cot, some blankets and a curtain. “He must have drank most of his meager income.”

Morithes began to search around the small space that Devic had once called his own. While he was poking around, a “neighbor” from another bed furtively glances out to the hallway before hurrying over.

“Hey, you the guy that found Devic?”

“Yeah. Seems like he made a bad business move. Any ideas?”

“Devic was a decent guy. He was lazy as all hell, but he never hurt nobody. I can’t imagine what he ever could have done to get stabbed over. That guy that killed him. What’s his name? Now he always struck me as the connivin’ type.”

“Well, Kanley, the guy who stabbed him will be hung in the morning. If he has partners, I’d rather find them before they come looking for me”

“Yeah, that’s him. I never saw him with anyone, but he sure talked to a lot of people. He even tried to hire me once to ‘keep my ear to the ground’ as he put it.”

“Anything he was wanting to know about in particular?”

“Don’t know. I found myself real busy every time I spotted him after that. Said he’d pay me 5 spires a week if I could tell him what he wanted to hear. I’m a barger, so I’m not in town that often or that long. Avoidin’ him was pretty easy.”

“Hmm, sounds like he had something in mind. How were you supposed to get in touch with him if you heard anything?”

“I never talked with him, he just talked at me like we was havin’ a conversation. I never liked the look of him and I don’t trust someone with that much money to give away for what seems like nuthin’. I’d wager that there are others who did listen though. Not sure if that does you much good.”

“So lets say I want to find out some more. Any idea who I should talk to?”

“Well, I saw him talking to a guard every once in a while. I’ll point him out to you, but I ain’t goin’ near him. You leave me out of it and I’ll point him out.”

“It’s a deal. Wouldn’t want you to get into any trouble yourself.” Morithes hands him a couple of spires. “I appreciate what you’ve told me.

“Sure thing. Like I said, Devic didn’t deserve what he got.”

Morithes was led to the North gate of the city. Inscribed over it was the city’s mantra, “Earth and Stone, Man and Gnome.”

“That’s him there. I think his name is Gurt.” He points to a guard lazily watching the sporadic foot traffic trickle in and out the gate.

“Thanks again. Now you’d better get moving before he notices you. I’ll do what I can to set things right.”

“Good luck, may Cuthbert guide you.”

As he approached the gate Morithes quickly tucked him holy symbol inside his tunic, then he applies a wide grin and addresses the guard.

“Good day, Gurt.”

Gurt perks up. “Huh? Uh, hello. Can I help you?”

“Sure can. I got some things that Kanley may want to hear, but he’s busy. Any idea who else I should be talking to?”

“Ha! Well Kanley’s up to his neck in trouble, from what I’ve heard.”

“That’s what I’m hearing too. Got any ideas about who else I should be talking to about making some extra coin?”

“Extra coin? Beats me. Kanley always was a nosey jerk. Smug too. He pay you for tips or something?”

“Not yet. Frankly, I’ll be glad to watch him swing tomorrow. Course I’m sure somebody ought to be taking his place don’t you think? All that money he was throwing around had to come from somewhere…”

“I guess that’s part of why he’s got a date tomorrow.” Gurt grins wryly. “That explains why he was always nosing about. Sort of anyway. You know, now that you mention it, I have no idea what he does. For money, I mean. Sure, he has a house, but it’s not exactly a mansion. I can’t imagine he’s the thrifty type.”

“Really? Way he talked, you’d think he lived in a palace or something. Where did he live, then?”

“Oh, he lives on Tarry Road, just east of Southgate Road. Look for the house with the dark blue shutters.”

“Heh. To be such a jerk, I expected a more upscale neighborhood. Well, he tried sticking me with a knife once. Sure wasn’t rust on the blade. So can’t say I’ll miss him. See ya round Gurt.”

“Yeah, nice to see you. Take care.”

Morithes proceeded through the gate, headed south, toward the location given him. He glanced back and saw Gurt with a look of consternation on his face.

“Hey, who was that,” Gurt inquired. The other guard shrugged lazily.


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