The Glass Thief - by oracle93, Chapters 5-8, Fantasy

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The Glass Thief - by oracle93, Chapters 5-8, Fantasy

Post  oracle93 on Fri Mar 09, 2012 1:53 am

When Staever and his gang of lobster thieves--second-in-command Wrest, lookout and strategist Emaria, demolitions expert Arcite and martial artist Eventhe--hijack a land vessel hauling precious glass to the wealthy center of The Eye, they expect to once again fence the loot to the crooked Gattick and call it a job well done. What they don't expect is to discover an ancient key that could hold the power to save their dying seaside city. Staever knows that the lobsters of The Eye must make a pilgrimage back to the homeland they lost centuries ago; he also knows, however, that when the slums know him as an outlaw and his only allies are his mother and an out-of-favor governor, his chances of saving his people are slim at best. But if there's one thing Staever and his gang can do, it's think on their feet--and although he's in the crosshairs of a conniving politician and his brutal enforcer, this thief's day may be about to dawn...

Sweeping from a high desert, across a barren wasteland spanned by graceful bridges, and into the swamps and forests of a land known only to legend, The Glass Thief is a tale of treason, swashbuckling adventure, despicable villains, historical power, romance, action, humor, and fear. By the end, a continent--and a world--will be forever changed.

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CHAPTER 5

“Care to buy some prime yellow clay, sir? Mined fresh from the chasms in the channels between the End Isles.”

Staever’s path through the narrow alley was blocked by a small lobster who dodged out of a doorway in front of him, trying to take up the whole path with his slight bulk. Staever took a few steps backward, got a running start, and cleared the boy in a single jump. He turned back to look at the would-be salesman, who was staring at him, dumbfounded.

“I’m not faulting that second claim,” he said. “You’re from the End Isles, no question. Your accent’s authentic. What I take issue with is your product.”

Still too aghast at the stunt to speak, the boy looked down at the thick ball of clay resting at his feet.

“Any idiot can tell that’s plain clay you spat in. When I’m rich enough to pay good money for dirt I’ll come let you know.”

Having regained his senses, the boy began to slink away, sad and defeated. Staever felt his annoyance soften and turned back into the alley.

“Here,” he called after the boy, who was about to disappear indoors. He dropped five carved pieces of wood, etched with two slots to fit two sides of a claw, at the young lobster’s feet. “Take this. Buy your family some food.”

Struck dumb for the second time, the boy could only gaze at the pieces in the sand.

“Don’t waste it,” Staever said, turning to leave.

“You’ve earned the blessings of the sea today, my friend!” the boy shouted when he was almost out of the alley, before scuttling to the stairs to show his parents the young man’s fortune he’d made.

That’s how it works in The Eye, Staever thought, stepping from the shaded alley onto a wider street, along which pedestrians and saddled crabs darted under the shadows of the carved bridges. Every one of those kids you can feed leaves another three hungry.


The cries of the merchants resounded off the ornate, ramshackle towers and reverberated around Staever’s head as he climbed the ramp hugging the side of a spiral parapet. The three-story building, from a distance closer to a lighthouse than a set of apartments, formed one of six connected like spokes on a wheel to one in the center—a cheap reimagining of the city itself. The poor White District, middle-class Iris, and exclusive Pupil could be seen laid out across the floors and bridges spanning between the towers. Three floors up from street level, Staever could hear the poor vendors shouting at equally destitute crowds to buy their wares—mostly food, much of it weed grown in the desert farms. At this time of the afternoon their hawking took on a dry, raspy quality, as though they all had sore throats.

Arriving on a balcony encircling the tower at its height, he rapped a few times on a wooden door carved with the usual pattern—a geometrically imagined arrangement of wavy lines to represent the sea.

“Hello?” he shouted through it.

There was no reply. He rapped again.

“Hello? Mom? Are you in there?”

Still no response. The vendors continued to yell.

“Mom, on three I’m going to let myself in, okay?” He counted under his breath, then eased the door open. The apartment beyond consisted of four rooms, each taking up one quarter of the circle. The entryway was a living room, with wooden furniture stacked against the golden-yellow walls—a reed mat for softly lying and a wooden altar for a lobster to rest against.

A red blur dodged out of the bathroom to his left and he turned on instinct, jumped away from the front door to land softly on the woven mat. His attacker hurtled past him, barely managing to slow down. This lobster was holding a short shell-dagger, taken from the desert and shaved razor-sharp on a rock. As Staever’s eyes met the assailant’s, the other lobster dropped the blade to the floor and lurched backwards, wheezing.

“Why this, every time, Mom?” Staever sighed.

He ran to help her. Placing one claw under and one claw over her thorax, he moved sideways to ease her into the bedroom, where she was able to drop and lie down in the trough full of soft sand where she slept. They both huffed for a few minutes, until Taiga was able to roll over and smile at her son.

“Will you take one last piece of advice from me, Staever? Don’t ever be an aging thief. Too many enemies and too old to fight them off.”

“You haven’t lost any skill with the shell dagger,” Staever rubbed his back, which had landed roughly on the reeds. “I’m lucky to be alive.”

“Always the charmer,” Taiga said as she eased into the sand. “Tell me about the glass trade. Any stories to regale me with?”

Staever opened his mouth, then stopped. “That can wait,” he told her. “I came to see how you’re doing. You’re sick, Mom. You’re too sick to be jumping at shadows.”

Taiga’s reply was lost in a coughing fit. Staever steadied her with his claw while the dry heaving wracked his mother’s body. When she calmed, he could see tears forming in her eyes. She blinked them back.

“Mom,” Staever began, treading carefully, “when was the last time you bathed?”

“Too long. Way too long. I guess you’d forget, down at the sea so often,” she regarded him with glistening eyes, “but we’re all sick, Staever. This whole damn city is sick.”

Staever thought of the street vendors, whose hoarse voices he had assumed came from the weariness of yelling all day.

“The wells are all bone-dry,” Taiga was saying. “The irrigation channels can’t be kept up for long. Our engineers are morons. The only people that can afford to bathe now are the rich folk with clay-engines. Splashing around all they want down at the water while the rest of us…”

She stopped. Neither of them needed the sentence finished. Staever knew that his mother and the hawkers shared the same affliction with almost every lobster in The Eye—they were drying out from the inside. They had been without the life-giving energy of water for too long.

“Listen, Mom,” Staever whispered, glancing around as though desperate robbers were on the prowl outside the window. “I’m a rich man now. I hit the biggest score of my career today. We’re splitting it five ways—Arcite made trouble over Ev, of course, but I’m the boss—and I can get you some yellow clay. We both know the black market. My fence can find it for you, Mom. You can bathe whenever you want.”

“That’s not necessary,” Taiga said. “Besides the fact that the owner of a clay-craft would be a beacon for every lowlife for five miles, I don’t want to see you frittering away your hard-earned fortune on me. I taught you everything you know and I want you profiting from it.”

Staever started to talk but Taiga cut him off. “You and your gang are the finest bunch of thieves I’ve ever seen,” she said. “And I’ve seen myself at work. If need be I can take care of myself. But you all are bound for bigger things.”

For a moment Staever was a child again, clinging to his mother’s back as they crashed through a second-story window, stopping to pick up the glass; sitting in his yard with Wrest, who dwarfed him even at a young age, drawing up plans for how they were going to steal the pearls from Governor Crane’s cloak in the middle of a council session. An old, familiar thrill brought him these memories—the glory of knowing that life had taken him down the wrong road and all he could do was throw up his claws and shout and enjoy the ride. “You think there’s hope for this place?”

“Your father—“

“What’s that bastard have to do with anything?”

“Your father may not have been a good man but he believed in The Eye,” Taiga snapped. “He knew as long as one lobster was alive there was hope for this city.”

“Sure, unless it were him. My father was a colonel who couldn’t fight worth a damn. I’m not sorry I never knew him.”

Taiga opened her mouth to respond but stopped at the sound of a sharp knock against the door. She made to raise herself up.

“No more ambushing, Mom,” Staever told her, pushing her back down. “I’ve got this one.”

“Take the dagger—“ Taiga stopped short and they both relaxed at the sight of Emaria, out of breath and holding the crystal key before her like an amulet. “Emaria, dear. It’s nice to see you,” she said.

“The same to you, Taiga,” Emaria smiled, before turning to Staever. “You’ve got to come down to the Iris Library. Now. I found out exactly what this is.” Without another word, she made for the spiral stairs.

Staever glanced over at his mother. “Nice girl,” Taiga said. “I always thought you two would be together by now.”

“I don’t need this from you, Mom,” Staever murmured, looking away.

“Well, go with her! I’ll still be here!”

“Right.” With a wave of his claw, Staever hurried out of the apartment.

CHAPTER 6

When they arrived at the famed Glass Gate of the Iris Library, they found Wrest relaxing beside it, enjoying the sights of the Eye’s middle district. The Iris looked better than the Whites—dry sickness was less common among those who could afford the long journey to the sea, even when it took up most of their earnings—and the crime that went on was of the type that posed as honesty. Merchants would undercut each other’s prices, and managers in the district’s great sand-pressing plants tended to skim the product to liven up their own homes.

“There’s nothing of value here but the library,” Emaria said as they walked toward the door. “Wouldn’t it be better if everyone could live like they do in the Pupil?”

“I don’t think so,” Staever said. “I’ve been in that tower once in my life and all I wanted to do was leave. The simple life’s a good life. We all just happen to be living it wrong.”

Wrest got up and ambled over to them, and Emaria grasped his claw and thanked him for arriving so fast. Staever, meanwhile, caught the attention of a young girl hanging back by the wall, who jabbed a boy dozing next to her. “Wake up!” she said. “Hey, Wier, wake up! Staever and Emaria are here!”

The boy jumped out of sleep and ran over to get Staever’s attention, leaving his sister in the dust. “Hey, Staever!” he yelped. “Steal anything good lately?”

Staever laughed. “Your brother gets mad at me when I try to turn you into little thieves.”

“That’s right,” Wrest added. “Wier, why can’t you be more like Alta?”

Wier grimaced. “She wants to be a librarian!”

“Not a librarian!” Alta said, glaring. “An engineer!”

“Wrest, why did you bring them here?” Emaria asked.

“Don’t worry, they won’t be in the way,” Wrest smiled. “Alta wants to learn how to reopen the irrigation channels. Wier just likes the romances about the old heroes. We’re here for history, right? No problems.”

The glass gate was a circular pane of the strongest sea glass ever discovered, carved from top to bottom with images depicting the construction of The Eye. Looking at it, Staever noted the glory they seemed to portray: lobsters working together to lift great blocks of sand, each shouldering a burden to build a sanctuary for an endangered people. What was left off the glass gate was etched into the weeds kept on the shelves inside. The Council was banking on nobody going that far.

The three grown lobsters and two children could just fit through the round opening at the bottom, wide but low to the ground to shut out noises from the street. Inside, it was replaced with a low chatter coming from the cross-section of lobster society that gathered between the shelves. Alta made a beeline for a group of engineers consulting weight-distribution charts for a set of buildings expanding onto the desert from the city slopes. They used the seaweed scrolls to learn from the wisdom of the old master builders. Wrest watched as Alta grabbed a bundle by her personal hero, Turner the Architect, as several of the engineers looked on in amusement.

The great domed room consisted of a central area connected to the gate by a low-walled path. From the central plaza, shelves radiated out towards the walls, soaring as high as the ceiling. Ladders reached up to the higher shelves while a spiral ramp led to the second floor, full of private studying chambers. With a quick scan of the circumference, Staever saw doctors reading up on shell-grafting techniques, desert farmers studying the best methods of crop rotation, and sea-priests mouthing psalms written by the ancient shoreline poets. Wier darted off when they passed the epic poetry, a section he loved not only for the tales but also for its popularity among glass thieves. Staever, an epic fan himself, was sorry he could not follow.

Wrest, deprived of both his siblings, was growing impatient. “When do we get to see what you found, Em?” he asked.

“I collected all the weeds I’ve studied upstairs in the room at the end of the hall,” Emaria replied. “I just need to pick up one more…” With that, she dashed off towards a section Staever didn’t recognize. He and Wrest shared a glance, then made for the ramp to the silent chambers.

At the top, they were treated to a view of the entire dome—a visual summation of the knowledge of the lobsters. Seeing a coughing fit interrupt one of the priests mid-verse, he was reminded that it could all be in danger. He shook his head. Come what may, he refused to let The Eye die out.

Emaria caught up to them in the bright, sandy hallway on the second floor, and they proceeded to the last room, a sunny chamber with a view over the Iris rooftops. The silent chamber was well furnished, with a reed mat on one wall and a table in front of the window, over which Emaria had strewn a collection of seaweed scrolls. She shut the window and turned to Staever and Wrest.

“Do you still have the key?” Staever asked. Emaria held it up. “So, what is it?”

“This is something with roots as far back in history as we can reasonably read,” Emaria said.

“Let me guess,” Staever began, “it’s from The Glade?”

Wrest dropped onto the reed mat. “I think we need to sit down for this.”

CHAPTER 7

“Recorded history of habitation on this continent starts about 500 years ago,” Emaria began. “Lobsters have been here for longer, of course, but there was no need for written language before there were cities, and there were no cities before The Glade.”

“And before then what did we do?” Staever asked. “Just crawl out of the sea and hang around?”

“We were nomads. We followed the water, and hunted insects as best we could. When those early lobsters figured out how to farm the desert they all congregated in a desert to the south, around a great bay.”

“Because that was where the sand was, right?”

“Right. At that turning point 500 years ago, the first weed scrolls starting popping up. Building records, mostly, but then came epics about the heroism of the engineers and the ancient nomads. With the city came doctors, farmers, sea priests, and just about everyone else.”

“Hold on,” Wrest interjected. “I used to hear stories about The Glade. I got a lot of hope out of those stories because they made me believe The Glade was more than just another pile of sand. Was that right?”

“There’s always truth in legend,” Staever said.

“The stories were true,” Emaria went on. “The first lobster city—and this key—were built with the help of manatee coral.”

Wrest drew in his breath. “The manatees are involved?”

Emaria nodded. “Manatees in the ocean do a lot with ores that are useless to us here on the surface. We traded with them for the lightweight coral we used to build The Glade.”

“Nomads can’t sit still, though,” Staever said. “This agricultural utopia didn’t last too long, did it?”

Emaria sighed. “You’re absolutely right. The Glade worked out for three centuries before we got greedy. The coral wasn’t enough to sustain the expansion over that bay.”

“I see where this is going…” Wrest slumped on his mat.

“The first yellow clay drifted in on the tide. After that, the engineers building the city started to find it everywhere. For a while they just threw it away.”

“Until Turner,” Wrest said.

Emaria looked sidelong at him. “How did you know that?”

“I live with Alta, remember?” Wrest replied, managing a smile.

“Right,” Staever laughed. “Turner the Architect. First lobster to see the true potential of yellow clay. She’s even talked my ear off about it.”

Emaria was forging ahead. “Turner preached the yellow clay gospel. He taught them how it could perform feats of architecture of which light coral could only dream. He was also the one to discover its ability to power vehicles. The new era of lobster civilization can be attributed in a huge part to him.”

“And then came the downfall,” Staever said solemnly, joining Emaria by the spread of scrolls.

“What happened?” Wrest asked.

Staever snatched a weed from Emaria’s claw. “Says here, not in so many words, that the slippery slope just kept going. Turner and his band of engineers built too fast even for the supply of yellow clay they had, so they tried desperate measures to get ahold of more.”

Emaria rapped Staever on the head. When he held his claw to it in pain, she grabbed the scroll back. Staever grimaced.

“Turner built a great dam across the bay at the Glade,” she said. “This was the last building in the golden age. The engineers hoped it would cause the clay buried under the ocean floor to float to the surface. They were all too right.”

Wrest said nothing. He seemed to be sprawling under the weight of the past. It was all Staever could do to keep from following suit. He had no idea how he was supposed to reconcile his membership in lobsterkind with so many stupid mistakes of the past.

“This was 150 years ago,” Emaria said, treading carefully with her words. “In a year the water was crowded out of the bay and the city was unlivable. The land was infertile and the manatees refused to trade any longer. Some of the lobsters, who left earlier after foreseeing Turner’s mistakes, took up residence in the highlands again. The rest used the last of the yellow clay to power a fleet of land vessels, which took them to the site of the only other livable desert on this continent.”

“The north,” Staever whispered, “right here at the Eye.”

“We didn’t know how to live en masse outside of cities. The nomadic wisdom was lost.” Sadness was cracking into Emaria’s words now. “So we built an ill-conceived, hastily constructed settlement and we’ve been slowly dying here ever since.”

“Don’t talk that way, Em,” Staever said, laying a claw on her back. “If your history’s showed me one thing, it’s that we’re survivors.”

“Maybe before the irrigation channels went dry,” Emaria replied, steadying her tone. “We had a lot more hope then.”

“Hold it, hold it,” Wrest said. “Where does the key come in?”

“Right, I should get to that.” Emaria blinked several times before continuing. “Let me warn you that this is the point where legend starts merging with fact.”

“Excellent,” Staever grinned.

“C’mon, Staev, I want to finish this,” Wrest complained.

“All right, all right.” Staever made an exaggerated corkscrew gesture. “Carry on, milady.”

“Legend has it that the last king of The Glade was the last lobster out of the dying city. The poets say he built an impenetrable barrier around the outer city and sealed it with a key of wrought metal, inlaid with a rare stone.”

Neither Staever nor Wrest spoke a word, staring at the artifact lying in the breezy sunlight from the window.

“This king died on the journey, and they sent his body into the sea. The key was floated with him…”

“…and just now drifted back to shore,” Staever finished, almost inaudibly. “That insect from the glass-hauler probably found it among a payload on the beach and decided he’d fence it to some underground boss to decorate his door.”

“Gattick may have wound up with it, and sold it off, and we’d never have seen it. The Glade would just have been forgotten.”

Wrest crossed the room to join them. “But that didn’t happen. We were in the right place at the right time. You guys…do you think this is destiny?”

“There’s nothing that goes together worse than thieves and destiny,” Staever said, looking down.

Emaria’s eyes flashed. “Then what do you intend to do with it!?”

“I’m not finished!” Staever shouted, holding up his claws defensively. “I don’t want anything to do with destiny. Preference is an entirely different matter. And I sure as hell wouldn’t mind being known as the guy who saved lobsterkind.”

Wrest looked his friend in the eye. “Staever, what are you thinking?”

Staever laughed, and Wrest laughed too, knowing the warning signs that their boss was about to drag them into something ludicrous.

“We’re going to reopen the Glade,” Staever told them, “and not alone. Everyone in this city is coming with us.”

He swept the scrolls from the table and strode from the room, his gang following behind him.

CHAPTER 8

They found Arcite soaking in one of the sludge-water baths on the fringes of the city, drifting in and out of awareness with his legs moving lazily. The attendant—a slovenly, oddly proportioned lobster—asked if they knew the strange character and would be able to cut him off.

“He’s already been in there too long to be healthy,” said the tender, poking at Arcite’s shell. Staever winced when he saw his friend so intoxicated, but Wrest nodded and took hold of Arcite’s tail. The small lobster shook his head blearily as they lifted him out of the tank.

“Guy’s good at two things,” Staever muttered as they dragged their partner across the floor. “Blowing things up and drinking. Don’t ever give him half a chance to do both at once.”

Arcite revived a little in the cool evening air outside. “Did you get my cut?” he asked, when he recognized Staever.

“Nope. Gattick’s late on the delivery again.”

“I’ve got one hell of a tab in there,” Arcite groaned. Emaria, who had been sheltering on a side street under the menacing gaze of pair of braying prawns, sidled up to them.

“Are we finished here?” she asked.

“Maybe it’s time you found us a fence who’s not ready for a funeral float, princess,” Arcite wheezed.

Emaria rounded on him, but Staever stopped them both. “Don’t listen, Em, he’s drunk out of his shell. We’ve got to hurry and find Ev. Tomorrow’s the fifth day, and we’ll have missed our chance by midnight.”

“Why do we need her?” Wrest asked, as they set off through the alley, Arcite lagging behind and trying to shake off his daze, and Emaria pacing ahead, eager to be clear of the slums.

“Council doesn’t listen unless you’ve got at least five petitioners,” Staever said. “Come to think of it, they don’t listen anyway. But at least we can force them to debate.”

Eventhe was holed up in her home, which was such a dank space that the Cuttlefish used it as a safehouse of last resort. She rented a permanent room in a hostel built for transient miners and the families they rarely had. The building, an ugly, conservative oblong embodying all things temporary, squatted on former parkland.

Emaria was again averse to entering, so Staever left her outside to babysit Arcite and entered the grimy hall with Wrest. He wondered, as they passed the tenant miners who were all either sleeping or gambling, what had happened to Emaria before the job when she first joined them. He had bounced the reason for her squeamishness off his second-in-command a hundred times, but Wrest had never been able to come up with anything beyond that she must have been highborn.

Two miners were lounging in front of the door at the end of the hallway, one of them crunching a bug in his mouth. “You’re lost, prettyboy,” the other one said, rising from his corner. Wrest stepped forward and glared at him.

“We’ve got business,” he hissed. “Step out of the way. We don’t want any trouble.”

The miner, though a burly specimen, paled before Wrest and backed away from the door. Wrest eased it open and Staever followed, patting the lobster on the shoulder. “No hard feelings.”

The chamber on the other side was the largest room in the building, though it had been widened unevenly, as if small tunnels had been dug by hand through the walls. When Wrest cracked the door, a shaft of firelight spilled from the hallway into the room, sunken in pitch darkness, and landed on a lobster, face masked, prostrate and motionless on the floor. Eventhe was alive in her stillness.

The moment Wrest crossed the threshold, Eventhe launched herself at him and crashed into him, sending their two bodies sprawling into the hallway and scrabbling to right themselves. The miners dashed away at the first sound of commotion and the two thieves were left kicking and scratching at each other in the hall.

“Dammit, Wrest, you know better than to wake her up when she’s meditating!” Staever shouted, backing into Eventhe’s room. “She’s not herself!”

Wrest’s shell-blade glinted in the torchlight as it flashed into his hand from a concealed spot on his abdomen. Eventhe hissed and moved so quickly that the blade was sliding across the floor before Wrest could react. He raised his claws again but the attack was too slow in coming; she barreled into him again and slammed him against the wall.

“STOP!” Staever roared, with such fury that Wrest and Eventhe turned to look at him. He was shrouded in shadow in the doorframe, holding a perfect shell under the wavering firelight. Eventhe froze where she stood.

“Ev, you aren’t a killer. And we’re your friends. But I need you to snap out of it or I’ll smash this before even you can save it.”

Eventhe backed away from Wrest, who stared into her eyes. She looked to the shell, to Staever, to Wrest, then back at the shell; and something seemed to light up.

“I am sorry,” she said to Wrest. “I was dreaming. Now,” she turned to Staever, “put it back.”

“At once,” Staever said, and returned the shell to the only visible furniture in the room, a table beside the slab on which Eventhe slept. She and Wrest filed into the room, and Eventhe dropped to the floor.

“Why have you come?” she asked.

“The council—“ Staever began.

Eventhe turned away. “I am not interested.”

“I know you don’t like them, Ev,” Staever sighed, “but you have to play their game. This is important.”

“It may be a game to you, but I cannot see the humor in what they do.” Eventhe said, touching her mask. “They are butchers.”

The room quieted, and they both looked to Wrest, who seemed uncomfortable sitting on Eventhe’s bed. Wrest hoarded his words and placed them so carefully that he could often silence a conversation before he began to speak. “It’s not that,” he said. “They’re blind. And we have to make them see.”

Eventhe didn’t respond. Staever shifted back and forth.

“The Eye is dying,” Wrest went on. “Everything around here is dying. The council knows that sooner or later we’ll be gone. They have to let us go.”

“Imagine if your revenge was obsolete,” Staever said. “If we succeed here, we may not even need a high council anymore. What a legacy, eh, Ev?”

He finished, and nodded at Wrest, and the room hung for a while with silence. Finally Eventhe said, “I wish I could have had longer to rest.”

Staever almost leapt. “We’re on a deadline,” he said, holding in a joyful laugh, “Sleep is going to be short for a while.”

Wrest, who hadn’t picked up on Eventhe’s approval, glanced from one of his comrades to the other. Staever made for the door. “Come on, you guys,” he yelled. “Emaria’s got a story you and Arcite have to hear.”

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With these four chapters, the central plot is now underway. What will happen when Staever and his gang take their radical idea to the council? Will they convince the lobsters to return to the Glade? Are they too late to save the city from drying out? Keep checking for the next installment!

oracle93

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