Chained Reality

Life through the eyes of a writer.

Chained Reality is a collection of Stories and pieces written by me, Andrew Uphoff. Instead of blogging opinions, I've decided to use prose to make people think about their lives. If you like stories, here's your headquarters for works that make you think!

The Valhalla Protocol - Odin's Labyrinth

Caverns surrounded him and appeared to shift as he gazed around speechless. No one direction felt like the right way to go. Somehow he had found himself in this labyrinth filled with the stench of decay and blood. Checking his gear, he realized that he was somehow stripped of everything but his bow. Perhaps the enchantment that bound it to him allowed him to keep it even within his dreams.

Imbibing a strange bowl of liquid at an altar wasn't normally the way he found his way around. These however were some extreme circumstances. Wilhelm was honor bound to allow him time to complete the ritual, and that's all he could do to figure out a way out of this mess. A Minotaur wasn't exactly something he wanted to fight. So now he's here, trying to figure out which part of the cavern holds the prize he seeks. 

Stone was carved in places, while the natural openings within the rock a blurred white light through them. To his right was a dark cave that echoed with the sound of running water. In front of him was a tattered and moldy ruins entrance with a stairway leading down. Light crept through the stairway, hinting that he would at least be able to function normally there.

To his left appeared to be a small outcropping in the cave with a large pond. The face of the water was so still he could see there was another tunnel leading through under the water. He could also see something stirring at the bottom of the pool. As he noticed the movement, the sand shifted and began to part. Instinctively, he dodged backwards. Just as he tumbled backwards, a grotesque mass of mud snapped out through the water. A massive eye opened in the vaguely human figure.

"Who are you to disturb this hallowed ground?!"

Land of the Ley-Lines - Necromancer's Blade

Blackened sandstone was all that Marcus could see. He was lost inside of the massive metropolis that dwarfed even the renowned Rángard. Streets laced together with crystal lamps lining them to keep things bright and warm of the cold dark desert nights. To his left was a string of shops, some of them had glass windows that were still dusty from the sand. The signature blacksmith's anvil lay outside the front of one of them. 

On it was a small broadsword with a ruby fitted into the where the blade met the hilt. It didn't appear to be anything fancy. Aside from the ruby it was pretty plain. Still, he had lost his sword in the sands somewhere, so having one will have to do. Grabbing the sword he looked over it a little more closely. "Interesting blade eh? I haven't seen one like that before. Most swords around here are serrated on one side. Lots of bone cutting with those sand Wyrms ya know?"

Mose was still following Marcus, although it's unclear whether that's good or bad. "Aye. I'm not quite sure myself of what it could be, but doesn't look like anything special. Maybe there's a scabbard inside for it. Shall we?" Mose shrugged. "Sure. Why not? I mean, what's the worst that could happen?" Marcus looked at him awkwardly. "I'm not one for superstition, but that just sounds like a right awful thing to say at a time like this."

Mose chuckled and patted Marcus on the back. "What are you worried about? Even if I'm not the only abomination out there, people around here weren't ever the kind to just start swingin'. I mean worst case scenario a shade devours you in the shadows. But there isn't one in there. I can tell you that for sure."

Picking up a stone, Marcus willed it to shine like a miniature lamp. He threw it inside of the shop anyway, and the movement triggered crystal lights inside. "Huh. I guess you're right." Walking into the small doorway led him into a much larger shop than he had realized. The way thing were built made it hard to tell where one building ends and another begins.

"Oooh! I remember this! Hartford's Smithy! He umm... Made me a thing back in the day. I forget what it was. But he did a thing!" Marcus chuckled and browsed through the various swords and daggers. There were even some pretty fancy bows. "Did a thing? Looks like he did a lot of things. Tell me if you see where he hides the sheathes so I can get one." Mose lumbered over behind the counter and started digging.

"Hey! Look at that!" Marcus made his way to the counter, only to find Mose fiddling with the change drawer. "He's still got some money in here! Not much, only like fifteen rupees total in petty change. Looks like his last few days weren't too good. Poor guy." Marcus sighed, and stepped behind the counter and found the door to the back. "Oh. Hey. Ummm I feel like that's a bad idea. Not sure why, but something's telling me bad. Up to you though. Just be prepared for whatever I guess."

Marcus cocked an eyebrow at Mose. "What the hell is wrong with you? Part of your brain missin'?" Mose just laughed and shrugged. Readying the blade in his hand, he gripped the handle on the door and slowly opened. "You know guys, we should totally do this every week. Not like we don't have time." A dusty voice was talking, with a few others mixed in. It almost sounded like a party.

"Ey Boss, when're we gonna get back to the outside?" A few men were standing in the back of the plainly furnished room talking, with three men playing cards at a table near the wall and another door. "I dunno Milo. Not really up to any of us. We gotta wait until someone drains all the sand. That could be years from now." A woman came through the door on the other side, followed by another. They were talking about fashion and what some of the neighbors were up to.

One of them noticed Marcus opening the door, and wave at him goofily. "Hello there! Would you like to come in? We're not doing much right now, but you're welcome to join us!" Everyone in the room looked at Marcus and Mose. One of the men at the table was wearing a tattered robe, which stood out from the rest of them wearing plain clothes. "Moira? Is that you?" Mose grabbed onto Marcus' shoulder and tried to peek into the room.

"Mose?! You're back dear?! Does that mean the sand is gone?" One of the ladies came running over to the door. As Marcus got a closer look, she also was missing some flesh. More undead. "The sand is gone? Well I suppose that's a good thing... But I was hoping we could you know, hang out a bit more?" The man with the robe stood up and looked at the room. "Oh Kim, we've been hangin' out for sands know how long. We'll get more time soon enough. We want to go see the outside world again!"

Kim shrugged, and draped the hood of his robe over his head. "Alright. Fine. You guys go have fun. But I'll be getting in touch with you soon for another hang out night!" Marcus just let his arms fall in disbelief. The Tyrianian scourge was before him. Yet scourge didn't seem like the right label for what was happening. "Umm.. Excuse me, but I'd really love to know what's going on with the city. Can any of you shed light on this? Kim?" 

The robed man looked at him with a scowl. "Yeah, I can tell you. Are you gonna give me my sword back?" Marcus looked at the sword in his hand, and carefully grabbed the blade to hand the hilt to Kim. "If it ain't rightly mine, I won't take it. Here." Kim looked at him with surprise. Like he wasn't expecting Marcus to offer it so freely. "You aren't worried I'll try to kill you with it?" Marcus cocked an eyebrow and shook his head.

"If you're more worried about hang out time with your friends than you are a strange man walking in with a sword, then I'm not really worried about you being too hostile." Marcus's words must have hit Kim harder than he expected. Kim walked over and took the sword, set it on the table, and hugged Marcus. "That means a lot to me man. Really it does. I'm Kim, and I'm a Necromancer. Everyone always hated me because of it so... Thanks for not." Marcus awkwardly patted him on the back.

"Yeah, it's ok... Now, about what's going on with the city?"

Land of the Ley-Lines - Sleeping Treasure in the Sand

"You mean to tell me this is the Tyrianian Empire? No one informed me it was um... expired." Marcus shifted in his chain mail tunic, adjusting his scarf to cover his now sun bleached hair. Heat beat down on the desert lands like a massive boulder had been placed on your shoulders. In front of Marcus stood a man who had just recently been a corpse rotting in the sand. "Well, yes. Actually, this is mainly news to me but I suppose. Expired is the proper word for what is here now."

The short, balding man adjusted his quite broken glasses. His skin had obviously rotted slightly in the sand, but was replaced by the grains of sand that remained. Mose was his name. "Well then. I suppose I'm not going to find many answers here, then will I?" Mose shrugged, looking around. "Well, I can't say for sure. But may not hurt to look around. I can help with that. Not like I have relatives in town or anything." 

Marcus wanted to chuckle, but there was weight behind his words. Signaling forward, Marcus began walking through the sandy streets he found himself in. Taking a good look around, all he could notice was how every building was black and burnt. Yet there were what looked like Aquaduct pillars and grooves all around the street. "So, obviously it wasn't always this desolate. What was this place like?" 

Mose thought for a moment. His sluggish face contorted in deep thought. "Huh. I can't seem to remember." Marcus spotted a small altar with a crystal stand near the entrance to one of the buildings. He stopped for a moment and inspected it. "I've seen this before. Where though? It's a very fuzzy memory." Mose halted and looked back. "Yeah. Not sure. Oh man, looks like my memory is gone too. Ain't that something?"

Marcus looked at him awkwardly a moment. "Are you smiling? What's wrong with you?" Mose shrugged sluggishly. "Iono. I just feel like everything's ok. I feel safe around you. Maybe that's a clue in itself?" Nodding in agreement, Marcus eyed over Mose another time. "Do you know where we could find a library? Some place with information? Where might that be?" Mose thought for a moment.

"Yeah, I'm sorry I got nothing. It's like that whole part of my brain is gone or something. You know?" Marcus shook his head and began walking forward again. "Let's just get moving then. I'm sure I'll find something around here." Mose nodded and began to follow him down the sandy blackened streets.

Land of the Ley Lines - The Borderlands

Standing up, Marcus brushed the sand off his chest. The trek through the desert wasteland of Hoenir was a pandora's box of horrors. If it wasn't blazing heat, it was stinging sands. Roaming beasts lurked beneath your feet ready to strike any unawares travelers at any point. Yet Marcus tread confidently among the chaos and danger.

None dared attack him, and his survival training ensured he kept his body sharp. A conversion crystal came in handy when water was scarce. Yet even despite his known safety, something unnerved him. The landscape wasn't a threat. The local fauna aren't a threat. A dread wyrm had given away it's location within the sands, yet Marcus knew even it could tell exactly what he was. Who he had become.

Continuing his tread through the sands, he noticed something off about the landscape. The sand banks grew more deliberate. Something was forming around him. It's as if the desert itself was seeking to manifest. Marcus didn't like this one bit. Drawing his bow and pulling up his hood, he chanted a spell. Perhaps now was the time to hone his combat magic skills.

Just as he suspected, the mound of sand in front of him grew to nearly twenty times his size. Sand shifted beneath him, but he was ready for it. Jumping slightly, he sent a burst of sound energy straight below him and launched into the air. The dread wyrm emerged from the sand with massive jaws open. A bellowing roar came first from the wyrm, then from something under the sand that burst forth.

No time. Marcus drew an arrow, and while he nocked it he imbued it with wind energy. Releasing the arrow, he sent it flying. Right as the arrow reached it's target, the beasts jaw, it sent a burst of wind energy everywhere. It boomed with such force it slowed Marcus' inevitable descent back to the ground.

Out of nowhere, a large stone fist pommeled Marcus from the side. His barrier took most of the force, but it still sent him flying at a dangerous speed. Thankfully he managed to slam into a sand dune not one hundred meters away. Painfully. Looking up, he assessed his wounds and his target. His body was bruised, at best. Yeah it hurt like hell, but now isn't the time to let it overcome. 

"Wha?" A golem stood before him, slowly making it's way to destroy him. It made a strange noise that resonated with the sand. The sand itself shivered and displaced at the sound. He's trying to make it harder to walk. Marcus got up, and decided fighting on the ground will be difficult. Searching his mind he desperately tried to think of a way to get a good footing. "That's it!"

Nocking an arrow, he imbued it with a massive amount of fire energy. Aiming towards the ground right below the golem's feet, he released and sent a massive streak of fire just above the shifting sands. The heat started to melt the grains into a liquid, and it became a hot sticky mess quickly. Landing at it's target, the arrow exploded with a huge fireball. Leaving behind a small crater of molten glass, the golem was thrown off balance and fell in.

Drawing another arrow, Marcus imbued it with frost energy, and released immediately. The arrow flew true, hitting the molten mess with the golem half submerged. It exploded with frost, freezing everything around it. The golem struggled in the frozen glass, and cracks could be heard. The ground in front of him was still molten, so he decided to nock another arrow and cautiously walk around to the golem.

"What are you? Why do you attack me?" The golem made a strange noise, and stopped moving. The sand started to vibrate again, but this time he could sense something moving beneath it. Keeping his bow ready, he continued to approach the golem. Air swirled in strange ways, with dust devils appearing rapidly and disappearing. 

"Why... do you encroach...?" A voice boomed from the golem. What does it mean? "I did not know I was. Is there something sacred in these sands?" A calm befell the sand, and it ceased to vibrate. A figure emerged from a dune behind the golem. "We are the ones here first. Our lands sacred. Don't want you here. What purpose does it serve?" It looked like a smaller, more human looking figure. 

"I am looking for someone. Someone important. I have been told that the Tyriani-" The sand boomed awake again, and the figure floated the air swiftly approaching Marcus. "You not Tyriani?!"  Marcus readied himself to attack. "No, I am not. Is that good or bad?" The figure came within a few meters, and stopped. It seemed to be considering something. "Your name?" 

Marcus looked at it seriously. Something didn't feel right. "Marcus Wainwright." Sand trembled, and loosened beneath him. It was creating quicksand. Quickly he sent a burst of sound energy in front of him. It sent him flying backwards into the dune. But his feet weren't in the quick sand. Still, he had to act quickly.

Drawing an arrow, he imbued it with wind energy. "This is gonna hurt." Nocking and releasing, the moment the arrow left his hand it burst with energy and flew forward and lightning speed. It created a small sonic boom near Marcus' hand, causing his arm to jolt away quickly and de-socket. He shouted in pain, but the arrow flew true and shattered the floating rock being completely. The sand settled for a moment, then it seemed to feel lighter somehow. It loosened, and he felt himself begin to start falling slowly.

He tried to watch all around him as he managed to keep himself from drowning in sand. Pillars began to emerge from the sand, and after what felt like a good hour of just trying to stay above the sand, he finally hit something solid beneath his feet. The sand began to trickle away slowly around his body. After another half hour of waiting for the sand to keep going down, he noticed buildings were starting to appear around him.

Sand was draining to reveal a lost city made of onyx colored stone. Whatever he killed must have been it's guardian. All he could do was watch as the landscape slowly unfolded around him. Eventually it peeled away to reveal a retaining wall an impossible distance away. He could only see one side of it it would seem. "This must have been an entire civilization buried under the sand. Things like this don't just happen. I need to investigate. There could be information here that would be useful against the emperor."

The Junto - For the Greater Good

"What do you mean no one cares?" Serge was obviously not pleased. His brow was raised, being lost underneath his unkempt longer brown hair. Jacob stood across from him, arms crossed at the computer desk. "Well, mein fuhrer, there's this little thing called every day life. People really seem to enjoy it. So when you address the nation telling them that chaos is coming, of course they're going to be more interested in how early they have to get up to get a latte before work."

Serge sighed, laying his head down heavily on the table. He mumbled something under his breath. "Oh, I'm sorry? I didn't hear you. Did you have a comment on this problem?" Bringing his head up slowly, he mumbled just barely enough to hear. "People suck." Jacob nodded, his sun bleached blonde hair was just as unkempt. "Yeah, well welcome to reality there big guy. I'll be your guide to the wonders of America." 

Serge shook his head, looking angrily. "I can't believe that people don't care. That people want to remain ignorant of the truth. It will be the end of them." Jacob shook his head and grabbed the coffee next to him in Serge's office. It was decorated with memorabilia from the U.S. founding fathers. "Serge, the reality is people don't care. You have to accept that. Not everyone sees the world like you do." Fidgeting with a pen, Serge looked frustrated.

"They don't have to see the world like I do! They just have to understand that things are coming and if they want to survive they have to be ready to adapt! I honestly-" Jacob held up a hand and stopped his rant. His flowing Hawaiian silk shirt was patterned with flowers. "Serge. Stop. You're getting worked up over nothing. Worry about yourself and the people that are important to you. There's no reason to worry about those who you don't know." 

Serge slammed his fist on the table, making the whole thing shake. "I care about all of them. America is my home and the people here are my community. I may not know them but they are my neighbors and I will never give up trying to help them. E Pluribus Unum. You know that!" Serge's face grimaced. Turning around in his swivel chair, he looked out over Seattle. "Serge. I get it. You're passionate about people. But you have seen more first hand apathy of the American Public over anyone else that has probably existed ever. The public isn't interested with anything other than their own daily lives."

Serge sighed again. Obviously frustrated, he turned back around and looked at Jacob seriously. "Yes, you're right. But just because they don't care doesn't mean that I should stop trying. Maybe there's a different way to approach it. Maybe we need to level with them. Show them how this looming threat effects their precious every day lives. Maybe we need to make some changes to our approach."

Jacob raised an eyebrow. "I... Don't think I like your tone here..." Serge looked at him seriously. "The Junto needs to change. It needs to adapt to provide a level of understanding to the public. Maybe we've been going about this all wrong. Helping people doesn't always mean doing the things that make them happy. Sometimes you have to make decisions people don't agree with. It's time to make a change Jacob."

Jacob leaned in and looked concerned. "Serge. Are you ok? What's wrong?" Serge's eyes glimmered a moment. "Yeah. I'm fine. I'm just starting to understand this problem better. It's time to shake the public to awaken. I'll start fleshing out details soon and have them to you as soon as possible. The Junto will take a different approach soon. As we move forward, please keep in mind that these decisions are for the benefit of everyone."

Falling back in his chair, Jacob sighed and placed a hand on his face. "Serge... You're sounding like the people you say you hate." Serge nodded. "Exactly. It's for the greater good." 

Full Dive Dad - Prologue

"It's gettin' to be his birthday soon. I want to get him something really cool that his other friends won't have. You know, something big." Walking slowly down the detergent aisle, Jeff and I were checking for faced products and where things needed to be filled. "Oh? What exactly did you have in mind?" Stopping at a pallet of off brand fabric softener, Jeff noted they needed to get another pallet down. "That new Virtual Reality thing coming out he's been raving about. Apparently they're just starting to do some beta testing for home console versions. Thing's run a good five grand!" 

He stopped again and looked at me like I was crazy. "Jesus Greg! I know you make good money managing but ye gods man! That's a lot of money for a game system!" Waving my clip board around, the sounds of the morning pre-open store check filled the neighborhood Costco. "Yeah, it certainly is. But it also is a very unique opportunity and something I'd love for him to be a part of. He's so passionate about technology of course I want to give him that!" Things were going smoothly with the morning drills, a few hiccups here or there with lazy employees but nothing out of the ordinary.

Jeff sighed and shook his head while we went through the deposits. I was so excited to tell someone about my awesome Dad plan. I don't exactly spoil him by any means. "Besides, did you know that Costco pulled some strings and got me one! It was supposed to be closed market! Invite only!" So many drawers were wrong. Cashiers suck sometimes. "Yeah I get it man I get it! You did a cool thing! Kinda tooting your own horn a bit too much don't you think?"

###

He was right. Maybe I didn't need to rub it in so much. Still, I was proud of my accomplishment. What was I supposed to do? Either way, there was no way in hell I could have imagined learning so much from that thing. From a game. It taught me one very important lesson: My son has just as much to teach me, as I do him. I want to say I feel bad for him, especially knowing that he'll never know his mother, and will probably never see his dad again either. 

All I know is it was fun while it lasted, and I am going to miss him. Somehow, he'll find a better life. I know he will.

Land of the Ley-Lines - Rángard

Far to the east of Freya, the city of Rángard lies in ruin. Although many on the main land know only fear when speaking of the vast sea that resides beyond the lands of Dorana, those brave souls who lived in this port knew only kindness from the goddess they named their town after. The emirate only recently recognized this town as the capital of the lands of Vör. Vast amounts of riches were spent to erect Rángard, in exchange for continuing their endeavors to conquer the sea.

Many powerful and rich nobles flocked to this town, eager to be a part of something that had long bred fear throughout the hearts of our people. Exploring the vast seas. As the first port town known throughout Dorana, Rángard quickly became flooded with a bustling population.

Spires were erected with gold and jewels. Vast reservoirs of clean drinking water were magically flowing from the sea to the people via aqueducts that stretched to every part of town. Many advancements in every day comforts were made, and the population of Rángard tried it's very best to help it's people. Monuments to the kind and generous nobles who spurred this bustling town were built of every kind of rare material imaginable. Ivory and marble. Gold and silver. Petrified woods and even stone taken from deep within the caverns of Mount Heimdall.

None were as grand as the coral palace built at the very edge of the land, parallel to the docks and ships that ventured out into sea. An attuned magic ruby was placed at the top of the palace, and was used as a shining light to guide ships back into port when they became lost in the fog. I had seen every corner of Rángard... Houses built of sturdy stone, then magically hardened to defend against raging seas. A people united under the hopes of living in what was once deemed unlivable. 

As you know, dear Marcus, prosperity does come with it's problems. Politics became more important than the what and the how. People were divided by their ideas, rather than their struggles. There is a certain level of understanding when disagreeing with others. Yet the nobles shared no love for those who didn't share their ideals. Soon a divide was created that not even the kindest of hearts could repair.

Crime spread like a plague, and the once rich and powerful nobles practiced self-preservation and showed no love for their fellow people. Only greed. One day, this bustling town stopped dead in it's tracks. None know what happened on that day... I am the only one that does. I was still young, at the not so tender age of twenty five. Long gone were my days of innocence and clean hands.

I have always openly admitted my faults. My days of stealing and misdirection had only just begun. Yet on that day, everything changed. I knew not what had caused it, but a massive wave rose from the seas. Though it was not the first to strike the town, it was certainly the most powerful. Magi from throughout the city did their best to protect everyone, but I was on the outskirts of town, dealing in the black market.

Swallowing me whole, the typhoon dragged me from the pier which I had met an accomplice at to exchange some stolen goods. Although I had enough magic training to protect myself under the water, my accomplice did not. I watched him drown... Had I not been so greedy, I might have saved him from such a terrible fate... Yet the bounty which I had carried was much more important than I had known at the time. 

It was an idol, made entirely of a greenish material that I had never seen before. A rather scary figure of a man holding two swords and bladed armor was carved into the stone, and shone with such intensity that anyone would seek to make the idol their own. I knew not where the noble I stole it from had obtained it, but it was soon made clear to me there was a reason that wave struck when it did...

Rán, the goddess of the sea came to me in the torrent of water. Her figure was strong and bold, created only as a vision from the algae in the water. She spoke to me in plain words, and demanded I return the idol which I had stolen. Fearing for my life, I agreed. As soon as I handed the idol over to her, a massive leviathan appeared from the sea and swam ferociously towards me. It's scales were glowing red, along with it's countless eyes shining through the cloudy water.

It swallowed me whole... I can not recall what happened to me during my time in the leviathan, I know only that I washed up on the shore on the west side of the continent. One of your Freyan scouts found me outside of their lands in unclaimed territory. Your father, Percival actually. He brought me back to the closest scouting outpost on the western border of the country. There were such trees there as I had never seen....

So tall.. So proud. So full of life and mystery. Yours truly is a land of wonders. As he nursed me back to health, he asked me how I came to these lands. I could not tell him the truth... Who would ever believe a man who has been touched by a goddess? Although I did tell him of Rángard, I fed him a false tale of being wrecked at sea and being one of the lucky few to survive. With so many questions, one would think that he didn't believe my story.

Yet in his eyes I saw trust. I saw faith in his fellow man. Something I had not seen since childhood. He told me that news had spread years before that Rángard had become deserted after that encounter. Spinning a tale that was one right out of fanciful legends and kids stories, he regaled of how the town became deserted, though no one knew what happened to it's inhabitants. They simply disappeared, and left behind their legacy. I know for a fact, dear Marcus, that these people could protect themselves from the sea.

Their demise was not met from the harsh unforgiving sea. Their towers remained in tact, and monuments untouched. Somehow, the people seemed to cease to exist. Then he told me of you. His son. He missed you so, but saw his duty to his people as a more important endeavor in his life. He wished he could have been there for you, yet he knew his purpose was expanding the borders of the Freyan empire. His eyes... Were so kind and gentle. Yet there was no doubt in my mind he was a more powerful man than I.

Learning of the years I had lost at sea troubled me. I felt like I no longer knew the world around me. Though I was no one important at the time, I certainly felt like I had greater purpose. My time in Freya is what shaped me to be the leader I am today. I still remember back to that day... The day I witnessed the face of a goddess. And I remember exactly what day it was too... That is why it so shocked me to find that the day I disappeared...

Is the day Marcus Wainwright, the man who will come to conquer the hearts and minds of the entire Doranaian main land, was born. Our king was born on the day that idol was taken by the sea... And though you have come to be a kind and loving king... There is still part of me that fears for my people... For in my travels I have learned exactly what that idol was born of. And exactly what it represents...

The Blademaster has returned...

Land of the Ley-Lines - The Tale of Aric and Freya

The city of Freya was not always a bustling one. The fortified stone walls of the Drashiki Empire's capital city being built around the small farm town didn't take away from it's charm. The people loved the town, and the Emperor Ruarc Grimblade. How he came into the title was questionable, but the love he showed for his people was not. There was not a day that passed where Ruarc did everything he could to help those in need around him. Freya's heritage came from a rather interesting folk tale.

Located in a rather lush valley, Freya was surrounded entirely by prairies of tall grass and various herbivores scouring them. Small creeks flowed throughout the prairie with ponds forming between them. On either side of the valley was one of a pair of Greenweb trees. It was a strange natural phenomenon caused by the ley-lines intersecting at either sides of the valley. One massive tree, about fifty stories in height, with large green arrays of intricate vines that look like webs from the ground. 

Some say these two trees were a brother and sister, who had gotten lost amidst the vast tall grass and found their way to either side of the valley. The boy, Aric, was a stout boy of only twelve.  At a young age he had an appreciation for being hearty and well versed in the sword. When he was only seven his parents abandoned him and his four year old sister while they were hiking their way to the next town. In the morning, they woke up to find no sign of their parents or their belongings. All that was left was a small sack with some basic supplies for survival.

The girl, Freya, was always quite fragile. Though her brother raised her to become strong, she still had trouble finding herself appreciating being a strong woman. Nontheless, the separation from her brother when they got lost and she couldn't find him, had made her realize how independent she had already become. Still, she wanted to see her brother again. They both made their way to either side of the valley, doing what little they could to find a way to each other. 

They both managed to find their way to a massive tree, and climbed as high as they could until they had a clear view of the valley. Though the prairie was too large to see from either side, at least they could see a land mark they could use to try and reunite. Just as they had both decided to make their way to their old uncle's farm near a small creek in the valley, a massive burst of ley-energy erupted from the tree and consumed both of them. It was at that moment that the leaves turned into vines, and the trees grew to their impressive fifty story height. 

The uncle watched from the valley as the trees flashed bright blue and streaks of light erupted in the sky. Later that day, a traveler in peculiar clothing arrived at the man's farm and asked to purchase the land. The farmer agreed, and days later the very first house was built next to the farmer's. That was the day that the city of Freya had begun being built. It has been nearly a hundred and fifty years since this day. And even now, you can still see Aric and Freya watching silently over the valley. Occasionally glowing faintly on warm summer nights.

Four Oh... Four - This Means Something...

"All I have to do now is connect the motor and..." Reaching down to my freshly built quad-copter UAV, I connected a wire directly to the motor. It bypasses the usual safeties on small motors like this, so I could overclock it for a bit more speed from the rotors. That means steadier and quicker height control. Whirring came from the motor, and the small plastic blades all started to spin in sync with each other. 

It's a piece of art, really. It looks like a regular quad-UAV, but it had one slight difference. Not only did it have a fully rotational camera on both the top and bottom, but it also had a high quality miniature microphone that could filter out the reverberation coming from the blades for a pretty solid clear sound. Speakers around the bottom of the chassis let me broadcast any sounds I wanted from my phone. Like my voice, or a silly sound, or a bird call to lure out certain species of birds.

The sink is still running in the kitchen. My small apartment living room wasn't really the place to be building my masterpiece, but I didn't have much to work with. Most of my money went into the three-dimensional printer I bought to build it. That was a lot of my grant money for the lab though... Ah still! If this thing works the way I made it to, I'll be waving the patent in their faces and getting a partnership! 

Think of the uses! Probably the best part for me is seeing exactly how the AI reacts to change in stimulus, and how it will learn to scan it's surroundings more efficiently. Oh the glory of robotics! "Peter! Did you leave the sink on in the other room again?" Libby is my late wife's sister. Ah, little background might help I guess... I got married about four years ago to a very lovely woman by the name of Abigail Kingsly. Our two year anniversary was a very special one for both of us, in that I got a phone call, and she got in a terrible car accident.

Save the sob story though, I've heard it enough. Yes, real tragic, awful stuff. But life happens. I loved her, and still very much do, and that's all there is to it. Now I have Libby, her sister, though not in a romantic sense. I just live with her, since they were twins and Abby and I got along so well, naturally Libby and I did too. Only difference really, is that Abby had no issues dating a small person.

Yeah, I'm four foot five inches tall. It's not so bad really, I just have to find other tools to live life with. Hence, my invention here is an exploration drone. Long story short, I live with Libby now because it's hard to take care of some household stuff living alone. Anyway, I used to have a wife, I live with her sister now. Now that that's taken care of, let's get this faucet turned off.

Hopping with joy into the other room, I turned the faucet off. "Do you hear that Libby?" A moment of silence passed, and you could hear the motor and the blades from the drone. "Did you finally finish it?" She walked into the living room, a fit, solid girl in her mid thirties, much like me. Except she was average sized, and looked like she could literally throw me across the room. Strong girl would be an understatement. I hopped back into the living room with a grin right between my black goatee. 

"You're damn right I finished it! Now he just needs a name, and a test run. I think I know what I want to call him." Libby was all smiles on that pretty face of hers. Her blonde hair was tied in a bun behind her head, and she was wearing some comfortable lounge clothes. She wore some pretty intimate stuff sometimes. Told me that since she was twins with Abby, and I'd seen Abby naked plenty of times, it's not like she has anything to hide.

It's true, I guess. I'm still a man though, and that can be kind of problematic. "What's on your mind?" She leaned against the hallway wall, and watched it hover in the air for a moment. "Ed. For Exploration Drone. Pretty simple, but still a name. I think he's booting up his subroutines. I started the bootup process before I finished the rotors since I know it takes a good long time." I excitedly watched as it floated in the air, and Libby cocked her head to the side. "Ed huh? Not bad. Simple. I guess I can appreciate that."

Bootup Sequence Alpha is complete. Status: Charlie. 

Libby looked weirded out by the fact that it played it's status message in my voice. "What? Who else was supposed to record his status messages?" She nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess. That's pretty cool there Pete. What's it for again?" Checking my phone, I pulled up the status UI on the app that linked directly to Ed. It streamed it's camera and microphone data directly to my phone, which then bounced that data to a cloud on my desktop at home, and also a backup on my computer at work.

"It's an exploration drone! It's basically so I can just explore cities and parks and stuff and see what I wouldn't normally be able to see." It's easy to see why I'm excited about this right? Is that not something most people want? "So you're gonna use this thing in the city? What are you looking for? People hookin' up with the blinds open? That's a helluva lot of nerding out for a voyeur website startup." I couldn't help but laugh really hard at that. I know that's not what I'm using it for. In fact, I had never even thought that it could be used for something like that.

I guess it could. "No, I built it so I could see your 'hot yoga' sessions out in the city with that guy Terry you keep telling me does such a great class. I've been meaning to get down there but it's just such a hassle, so I built a robot that could be there in my stead while I stream it here and take the class in the privacy of my own home. Genius, no?" That one caught her off guard. We have this thing, where we try to say the least sensible answer we can think of. We've gotten good at it.

"I gotta admit, you had me going with the quoted 'hot yoga' sessions. Thought you were insinuating something else. Which hey, you're a smart guy. Maybe one day you'll learn what some of this subtle talk about hooking up is all about. That is, if your nerdiness doesn't keep you from developing anxiety over the subject." Ouch. That one dug deep. "You're mean. That was a low blow and you know it. Are we really gonna play this dirty?" 

"Like pigs rolling in the mud." Oh, she's feeling feisty today. "Ah, no wonder you're so good at it. You've been doing that for a while now I suppose. I'm still new to this, so thanks for holding my hand with it." That one hit pretty good. "No problem. I'm used to holding your hand too, by the way." She turned around with a smirk on her face, and slapped her toned butt with her hand. "Oh wow. That is a new low." She just laughed, and I realized I set myself up again so bad she didn't even have to say it.

Oh god. At least I have Ed. Wait, where did Ed go? I hear the whirring, but he's not here anymore. Did I miss him go off on his first exploration? He's in the kitchen probably! Rushing into the kitchen, I found Ed hovering above the sink. The camera was scanning the counter, but it kept getting stuck on the faucet. What's wrong buddy? Pulling out my phone, I could tell that the faucet position was causing it to glitch and have to re-scan the entire counter again for a proper picture.

Except it was in an infinite loop because it kept hitting the faucet snag each time. Moving the faucet head so it centered between the sinks, Ed finally got to finish his scan. He started to move back out towards the living room, but instead I made him land on the kitchen counter and shut down. I had to review the programming for the faucet handle and figure out what caused the glitch before I moved on, considering if he wanted to really explore he couldn't have snags like that.

He's still in development stage, and there's lots of kinks to work out, but once I get him fully calibrated he'll be able to show me some pretty awesome corners of the world. So let's see here... First I'll review the footage, see where it glitched, and go from there. 

In Between Moments - The Strangeness of Quiet

It's strange. This quiet calm. It's like a momentary reprieve from what our lives have become. Explosions. Gun fire. Men shouting out orders. I live in a war zone. Why are people fighting here? I honestly can't tell you. I don't fight for either side, I just live here. My home land has become ragged and worn down, if not destroyed in many places. Asphalt lay littered in the streets, along with the garbage both sides bring. Explosions from either side have torn holes in our favorite restaurants. Have made us find another grocery store to provide food for our families. And even made our families find other ways to educate and keep our kids safe during the day. 

Despite the destruction, there is peace yet to be found here. In moments like this. Where regardless of the reasons, both sides cease to destroy. Here I sit, in my bullet ridden car, trying to get into town to pick up groceries on the safer side of town. Everyone is quiet. No one says a word. Why? Because it's not often we get quiet like this. The serene stillness of the air. Hearing with wind blow, without the smell of gunpowder. It's strange, but it's moments like these that keep us going. The hope that our lives may once again return to the normal quiet. Watching the trees slowly sway in the breeze, and actually hearing the clatter of leaves.

Hearing a stranger on the side walk crinkle a bag as they walk home from the store. A couple enjoying small talk on their door steps, while the rest of us just enjoy the peace. We all know it will continue again, and perhaps that's for the best. Perhaps there is a reason there is fighting here, perhaps there isn't. Regardless of the reasons, this is what we have for the moment. Peace and quiet. And perhaps all that fighting, all that destruction and loss, is exactly the reason we appreciate that peace and quiet. I know our struggles are more directly life threatening than most. But the concept is the same.

We do not appreciate the peace and quiet without the chaos and the noise. So while the breeze still blows, and the quiet still remains, I will enjoy it. Because I know once the fighting begins again, we will not have the time to look back on this moment until we have another like it again. Thank you moment. While you may be a small shred of peace in between all the chaos, I will appreciate you regardless.

Four Oh... Four


We live in the age of robots. How awesome is that? Except there was such a huge artificial intelligence scare and it's outlawed across the globe. Something about "They'll wreak havoc and cause deaths rampant!". Or some such bull shit. Personally, I said to hell with this law. I think it's a load of bunk. As far as I know I'm the only one to really think that though.

So one day, I was tinkering with an old airborne drone of mine and thought: Why don't I just write an algorithm that makes it look for other potential points of interest based on wind conditions and visual stimuli? It's that simple. I didn't program him to be anything other than a way to explore the world with my own actions. I didn't expect it to be such a big thing.

Yeah, there was a lot of chaos, havoc, rampant death. But if what I've seen is true, it was never the robots doing the killing. They weren't programmed for that and no one wanted to program them for that anyway. But there was still killing. No one seems to know why. Hive mind? Maybe. Anarchy? Nah. The real problem is humanity wasn't ready to accept what artificial intelligence would do to it.

My friend taught me one thing in all this, and that's that robots are a natural part of progression in cosmic life. Because while the robots may start out cold, emotionless, and only capable of us telling them what we want them to do. But artificial intelligence reiterates the fact that our lives are accumulations of our choices. Humanity didn't want to accept the fact that there's no greater force making them act like dick holes.

There's no voice in the head of the masses telling them to commit immoral acts upon their fellow humans. They can't handle the idea that it was just them being dicks. That's all humanity has ever been on the broad scale. Being dicks about it. God forbid we just accept that our nature isn't perfect and we're designed to love chaos...

That's still not what I wanted though. I didn't want anyone to get hurt. That being said I'd still do it all regardless. I gained far too much out of it. What did I gain?

I gained a friend.

Forming A System - Ydlrgrad

"Where is this place Dokk? I've never seen such purposeful structures." Such symmetrical lines used in the mud bricks. The placement of the crystals seem almost... Strategic. Half-Sphere shaped buildings are definitely not a characteristic of Pangean structures. Not to mention, each building appears to have some kind of connection directly to the planet. 

One has vines growing across the top of it, but not over the small ornate windows. This particular one appears to have tree roots growing through the mud bricks. Does it go into the inside of the house as well? "This is Yldrgrad! Isn't it cool? There is a lot to be learned here before I meet with the person I want to see." I'm still not used to this yet. Dokk seems to be nice enough, but I can't quite understand it's motives. 

The Pagan clans have never been one to be friendly towards Pangeans, especially officials. So whomever he is looking for will most likely cause us a lot more trouble than I think Dokk realizes. "Who exactly do you want to see? Pagans don't take very well to Pangeans." Running my hand over the brick, it felt a lot sturdier than mud brick should feel. I manifested a steel spanner from my inventory modifier and tapped the brick with it.

Not even a scratch or dent. There is definitely ley-manipulation in these structures. "That seems to be the case most of the time. But as you know well, not all hold grudges for past ordeals. In fact, the one I'm looking for is a Justiciary himself! His name is Hurst, and he is one of three triplets that were born of this tribe. So, it's only natural that I should seek to understand his culture before meeting him."

Dokk looked intently at the structures. He seems to be noting things about their layout outside, and how they connect with the oak trees growing around them. Strange, that oak would grow here. Someone must have migrated saplings in order to populate the planet. What kind of effect did that have on the eco-system I wonder? "If he's a Justiciary then shouldn't you know where he is?" This doesn't make much sense. What is he looking for? Just some talking points for when he meets this person? Seems a bit excessive to me...

"I never said I don't." Good point. Still, I don't know what this is helping. "So what do you hope to gain from being here?" This thing certainly is interesting if nothing else. Opening the slanted door to the home, he stepped inside before answering me. I could hear him starting to talk, but I couldn't understand what he was saying. I had to walk a few paces over and step inside the home with vines lining it.

"That's why." The inside was a lot more spacious than I thought. Stairs led down, which indicated that they actually dug their homes into the ground rather than built above it. That must have required a lot more work, and left the only sunlight entering from the windows in the ceiling. Although the crystals inside provided ample lighting.

I'm not sure why this surprised me, but the inside was decorated. The walls were lined with a light yellow colored wall painted over a smooth surface, and there were crystals and paintings lining the walls. There were doors that led into other rooms, which no doubt led down even farther considering the spacial restrictions. It certainly makes a lot more sense as to the way the homes were set up outside. "Rey?"

I spaced again. "Ah, yes. Sorry, I missed what you said. What are you looking for here?" Dokk sighed looking at me. Oh come on you can't blame me for being curious! "Because I'm curious! I would like to know more about his culture! It's truly fascinating the way it differs from Pangean culture which relies so heavily on technology." Oh. Well, aren't I just a regular ass? "I guess that makes sense... Maybe a better question would be why is this Hurst a person of interest for you?" 

His smile was a little off-putting for some reason. Maybe it was because it was Douglas' smile, but I knew it wasn't him. It also didn't help that he was still dressed as a Justiciary. He was looking through a small end-table, and found a slip of paper. I wonder what was on it? I guess I could go over and take a look. "He is interesting because of this." Holding up the piece of paper, Dokk grinned like a fool.

The paper was actually a picture on what appeared to be papyrus. How they managed the kind of detail on papyrus that you would find on a film paper is beyond me. The picture was of three children, one boy, and two girls. They couldn't have been more than twelve years old. All three of them had traditional pagan ritual robes on, no doubt signifying their coming of age ceremony. All three had red hair, but the girl with a wide grin on her face had a light red with freckles across her face.

She definitely seemed different than the other two, even if the differences were minimal. "This is who I'm looking for. The boy in that picture is Hurst. Brother of two sisters, Lydia and Yaria." The boy looked serious, with an obvious fake smile on his face. The other girl was smiling in a sweet manner, but obviously fake as well. Well, I guess that's interesting information. Only one of them was innocent somehow. 

"Which one is she? She looks interesting." Dokk looked at the picture again, and lost his smile. "That's Lydia I think. What little I do know of this family, she was an interesting one too, but Hurst definitely has a lot more to offer me." 

The Last Life to Live

Name's Wayne. I'm just a simple guy, looking for something so complex you can't possibly comprehend the nature of it's existence. If there is a purpose to it, it's a cosmic joke. Someone, somewhere is laughing at my pain. My suffering. Glowing bright red it can attach itself to any surface and move about with a speed that doesn't seem natural. I feel like it's haunted me in past lives... And will continue to haunt me until the day I die.

It's been on my mind a lot more than normal lately. Something just doesn't feel right. Bruce has been distant as of late... Can't say I blame her. Someone who is so obsessed with something they may never be able to obtain can't possibly be healthy to be around. Maybe that's why I feel more stressed than normal. Haven't had my gal at my side when I need her most.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Bruce is a girl? Well you can't blame her for the name her crazy mother gave her. Needless to say once she could get out of that house she did. No need to keep ties with people who seem hellbent on making your life infinitely more difficult. What are parents for though, right? I need something to calm my nerves. 

Standing up from my desk I know what I need the most. A glass of warm milk. It isn't just a bedtime tradition for me. It was the only way for me to relax without having Bruce around. There's just something about it that calms the soul. Relaxes you. Or maybe that's just me. My office is a mess. I may want to think about cleaning it up.

But when you're so obsessed with finding out as much as you can about the red,  cleanliness isn't exactly on your mind. Papers are strewn out across the floor, marked with sightings of the red. The boxes I had kept them in are all empty and lining the room. It's been appearing more and more lately, and not just to me. It seems like it's been haunting the entire town. Even Jerry, the town rat has been getting grief from it.

Walking through the papers was difficult without disturbing them. So much for being a professional detective. I'm not sure if having so much research material out like this is seen as a sign of a thorough job, or insanity. Either way, people still seem to keep coming through to find what they're looking for. No matter what that may be. A lost toy, a lost love, and even their lost sanity.

I may not be a psychologist, but sometimes people just need someone to talk to. It's all the same to me. I still help them find what they're looking for, even if that's just peace of mind. The kitchen was filthy. Coffee stains on the counter, crumbs all over the floor, and dishes piled up in the sink. Do I at least have a clean glass for milk? Looking around this dinky kitchen didn't take me long to find something to use. It wasn't a real glass, so much as it was a coffee mug.

It all works out in the end. Opening the fridge made me realize even more of how obsessed I've been about all this. There's nothing in it but some butter, old vegetables, and various condiments. Not even an old milk bottle to be found. With a sigh, I realized that I needed to go visit Bruce. I want to see her anyway, but I don't want her to feel like I'm just using her. Either way, I need something to calm my nerves.

Closing the fridge, I heard a knock on the door. I'm not expecting any appointments today, and I don't get many walk-ins. I suppose it's best to not keep them waiting. Walking out of the kitchen and into the main room, there she was standing and waiting for me like she always used to. Bruce was a beautiful dame, the kind you could sit on the couch with and cuddle all day.

"Hey Sugar, need some company?" She's definitely a class act. "How'd you know? I was just about to come over to see you." My smile must have revealed how relieved I was to see her, because her smile turned to a grin. She pulled her arm out from behind her back to reveal a fresh bottle of milk. Bruce always knew what it is I wanted. "Care for a drink?" Batting her eyelashes was always my weakness. Even if I wasn't in the mood to be with her I would still be putty in her hands.

"If you're offering, I certainly won't say no to a drink with such a class act." That one made her giggle and blush, just like it always did. Oh how I had missed this girl. I had to clear off some papers from the love seat in order to find space for us to sit. Taking the bottle of milk from her, I offered her a seat. She sat so gingerly on the couch it reminded me of all the fun times we've had.

"I'll be right back sweetheart, don't you go anywhere!" She smiled at me, but her eyes were glancing across the room at all the papers. "Don't worry about those doll, it's work for a client. He's lookin for the same thing I am." I could hear her shift on the couch. "What's he looking for?" The indignance in her voice told me she's still wary about the red.

"Answers." Best to leave it vague. Don't need her thinking I'm in too deep. Going into the kitchen made me realize I can't hand a pretty lady a drink in an old coffee mug. I gotta get some glasses clean. Washing two glass cups didn't take long, especially since I had to set the milk in a pan to warm it up. "So how have you been Bruce? I haven't seen you in a while."

There was some hesitation, which is never a good sign. "Trying to stay sane. How about you?" Ouch. This kitty's got claws. "I'd like to say I'm doing the same but I don't think you'd believe me even if I said it." Let's just get it out in the air I guess. She's obviously here for a reason. "You're right, I wouldn't believe you considering all of this you've got lying around." She sounds angry, but I think we can get past this.

"It's for a client. What do you want me to tell you?" Pouring the milk into the glasses, I turned to go back into the main office. Except she was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. "I want you to tell me that you're going to give up on this red thing and come back to me. Don't forget who it was that ended it in the first place." Was that me? I could have swore she ended it. Considering her words were It's either me or this red thing!.

"You're right. But sometimes you gotta find truth in your life doll. There's nothing wrong with chasing a dream." The look on her face went from angry to sad. "I know... But I want you to wake up. And live in the real world. With me Sugar." She walked tenderly over to me and touched my face. Looking into those fierce eyes I couldn't help but wonder if what I was chasing was the right thing.

"I do live in the real world darling. Sometimes the real world is crazy, and that's just the part of life I'm stuck in. The red won't go away just because I pretend it's not there." A tear streaked down her soft face. It's hard to see such a sweet girl in so much pain. Love isn't an easy thing to understand. "If that's how you really feel..." I put the glasses of milk on the counter behind me, and grabbed her shoulders.

"Do you honestly think I can't chase this and love you at the same time Bruce? I do love you doll, but it seems like you can't handle me being a man of ambition." Her eyes watered even more, and she started crying completely. Digging her head into my chest I waited for her to calm down. The milk was cold again by the time she had finished. "Wayne, I know you can! But it scares me! What if something were to happen to you! This is dangerous, and I can't... I can't stand the thought of losing you!"

Her tears swelled up again. "Life is dangerous doll. You can't shy away from what you want just because you're afraid. You gotta reach out there and take it!" That seemed to do something to calm her. She looked into my eyes, and I couldn't help myself. A kiss was exactly what we both wanted, so we did. It was long, and sweet. I missed this feeling. Looking down at her after made me realize I truly did love this woman.

I don't want to lose her either, but I still can't shy away from the truth about the red. That's when something came out of the corner of my eye. It moved so fast, and was so bright. There was no mistake. That was the red. She saw the look in my eyes and stepped back. "Please! No! Don't go Wayne!" She cried out at the top of her lungs, but it still couldn't sway me. I had to find it.

Dashing out of the kitchen towards the door, I ignored the papers on the ground. They scattered beneath my feet and flew around the room. Once I opened the door my suspicions were confirmed. The red was waiting for me outside in the street. Laying flat on the ground in the middle of the intersection, while the cars stopped to gaze at it. I made a run for it, trying to make it to the red before it disappeared again.

I can hear it laughing. Cackling at my pain, my suffering and my inability to end this. I will end it. I will find out what it is! In usual fashion, once I reached it it had moved out of the way at the last moment as I pounced on it. The corner of my eye revealed it was now trailing itself along a line of cars parked on the side of the street. I had to get it and end this!

Chasing it down the street, it managed to always stay one step ahead of me. Moving from car to car, jumping onto the street and onto the sides of buildings. Whatever this thing was it didn't live by our rules! But I had to try and stop it! There it was. It had stopped in the middle of the street again. Sitting still and ready to be taken. This time, I wanted to catch it by surprise. Hiding behind a car for a moment, I decided to make my move.

I jumped on it, and knew it didn't have time to move out of the way this time. I knew I had it. This time, it hadn't gotten away. It was right below me, and I could just barely make it out. I had never actually caught it before. It didn't stay too long, and it didn't feel like I was even holding anything. But this time, I could hear the real laughing. The universe was cackling at me. Laughing at my pain... My suffering... Why?... Why?!... WHY?!

*****

"Come on Kenzie, time for dinner!" A little girl, short and blonde was holding a small laser pointer while a black and white cat ran around and dashed at it. She let it catch the small red dot on the floor between her brother's toy car sets he was playing with and the plastic mat to make it look like driving in the city. The cat looked down at the mat and then back around at the cars frantically.

"Oh Wayne! You're so funny! Bruce where are you? Mom why doesn't Bruce like playing with the laser pointer?" A tall woman with an apron peeked her head into the living room with a smile on her face. "I don't know honey. Maybe we can find out after dinner. So come on or your food will get cold!" The little girl dropped the pointer and stood up enthusiastically. "Ok momma!"

Another black and white cat came over to the one hurdled on top of the mat, and began to purr while it rubbed up against it. They both walked away from the mat, and jumped up onto the couch and lay next to each other.

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