-------------------Chapter Ten, As Told By Xiao Ping and Wen Hung-Lo---------------------

The Desert

We had been riding for weeks, and it was now August. During the day, the heat was incredible. I was sweating all the time, and my tunic was always soaked through. I stank, Wen stank, Chi Hai stank; we all stank. Flies swarmed around us. The warhorses were covered in welts and sores, and they batted their tails furiously in a never-ending attempt to find relief. We were all just plain miserable.

Dipaka was making our water by drawing it from thin air. We had folding cisterns that he would have us sit out in front of him. He would raise his staff with one hand and hold out the other in a gesture of supplication, and a deluge of water would appear falling in mid-air above the containers. It would splash down into the basins and onto the ground and spray everyone around. It felt good and afterward we drank greedily. We washed our horses and treated water as though it were culled right from the Ocean, even as we traveled though a vast and desolate waste. We’d have been dead long before if it hadn’t been for Dipaka. I shielded my eyes from the blinding sun and wondered where Hubidai was.

Chaka Khan was riding behind Ochir on Baderhu because she really didn’t know how to ride very well. Ochir grumbled about this when he found out. Apparently, Chaka hadn’t had time for horses in Vienna. "No self-respecting Mongol in my horde will go around not knowing how to ride a horse!” Ochir had said. He had begun giving her riding lessons, but she really didn’t want to ride by herself, so she sat behind him anyway.

Wen said he had an annoucement to make as we rode along on one particularly hot day. I wondered what it could be.

"Before we left Hangzhou, General Dan inducted me into a special platoon called The Fist of Bahamut. It is an honored post in the Legendary Brotherhood,” Wen said. “Its brethren radiate protection that can stave back evil beings out to ten feet. Stay close to me and you’ll be safe from summoned beasts, and things that might affect your mind.”

The heat was affecting my mind. I was daydreaming about swimming with Wen in a cool spring when I saw several large shimmering shapes materialize from the sand ahead of us. They were some distance away, so I couldn’t tell who or what they were.

I was quite delirious from the heat, and for some inexplicable reason, I called out to them: “You there! Shimmering shapes!”

Wen told me to pipe down and to get off Chi Hai. I got down frowning and peered through the heat waves at the large moving figures.

“Look out, I just felt Suishen pulse,” Lo said.

They turned out to be sand Ogres. They wore brown and tan wrappings around their legs and arms, and they had goggles that were covered with wire mesh. They had billowing dun colored pants and tunics, and these were tucked into their elaborate wraps. They chittered and clucked deeply at us in some bizarre alien language. They had black polished javelins that they launched in our direction. We scattered and they all missed.

I threw my fireball and it sailed out and engulfed the Ogres. They screamed as the flames consumed their hair and burned their skin. Their outfits were ablaze, so they all did dive rolls were back on their feet in an instant. Desert Ogres were notoriously feral and very tenacious. 

Chaka Khan did a back flip off Baderhu and began sounding out a rat-a-tat-tat on her drum-kit to get our battle blood going. Ochir began firing away, one arrow after another.

Lo threw a leg over Mayor’s rump, dismounted, and bolted across the sand at an Ogre. He ran his katana blade through the monster all the way up to the tsuba. Suishen’s fire burned inside the Ogre. It howled in agony. Lo pulled the katana out and cried: “Hah!” then he sliced the air with a flourish and stood ready. The flames ran up the blade in a steady, almost hypnotic pattern.

Lo’s Ogre gave back as good as he got, the sand warrior recovered and hammered into Lo, got past his guard and sliced him open. Dipaka sent a blast of healing over to the bleeding Goliath. 

Aki rushed forward and moved something like a crab to get in low and trip an Ogre. After the Ogre was down, Aki punched it in the face several times. The Ogre got back up and kicked Aki in return. It bellowed and beat its chest.

“By Bahamut’s Bidding!” Wen cried, and then he rushed forward and ran an Ogre through, driving him backward. The rest of us stood smugly in a neat row and waited, as our fighters took care of the monsters.

I was whispering to Xia when I smelled a rotten smell and then saw an Oni appear out of nowhere just on the other side of her. It was grinning with a mouth full of stubby, blackened teeth. It blasted us directly at point blank range with a powerful cone of cold. Xia and I were blasted with ice and snow, flung through the air like a ragdolls, and slammed down on our faces. Somehow, I found Xia’s hand in mine and squeezed it. We were bitterly cold, and completely covered in ice and frost. Xia's grip went slack. I couldn’t get my eyes open to see if she was still alive. I tried to scrape the ice away from my face but my fingers couldn’t feel anything. I screamed.

I heard Ochir getting up and swearing in Mongolian. He and Chaka had been flung through the air by the blast of cold. I didn’t hear Chaka getting up.

“Chaka?” Ochir cried. "Chaka?"

“It looks like your brilliant House Champion has taken the bait and brought Suishen too far out to the front. What a pity! You didn’t see me coming.” I heard the Oni stump his huge foot in the sand as he laughed. “Guess what? The rest of your fighters aren’t here to help you either!”

I’d managed to get my eyes open, and I could see Ochir now. Xia and Chaka were not moving.

“We don’t need fight-thers here Oni,” Cairn said. “We’ve got Gun-Gun!” Cairn got down off her Wolf and urged it forward.

Gun-Gun advanced with her ears laid back and growled at the Oni. At first the Oni froze and stared at the Wolf. The Oni turned and tried to run, but the Wolf leapt and seized the Oni’s wattle in its teeth. The Oni gargled it's own blood and stumbled around as the Wolf hung from its neck. In desperation, the Oni grabbed Gun-Gun, pulled her off, and practically tore out its own throat. The Oni stumbled over its own feet and collapsed. Blood splattered and ran out all over the sand.

Ochir held Chaka's nose and poured a potion of healing down her throat and I did the same for Xia. Chaka came to life and looked up at Ochir’s face. “You saved my life,” she said to him. Xia woke up and fluttered her eyelids.

We looked over and saw that Dipaka was trying to keep Lo standing with his healing prayers. Every time the Goliath whacked the Ogre, the Ogre whacked him back. It was a game of reciprocation that would end in death. Luckily, Lo won the game. He chopped the Ogre one final time and it went down in a heap. He leveraged his attack's momentum and sliced another Ogre open with his swing. “Wah!” he cried.

Aki performed a flurry of blows on his Ogre and knocked it out cold. He knelt down and snapped its neck.


Wen killed the last Ogre with an expert katana thrust.


The battle was over.

We all collapsed in near exhaustion. Dipaka had us gather round him and bask in his Holy healing radiance until we were all feeling much better. He was like a small sun that shone out life force on all of us at once. After that he healed us individually with prayers until we were all whole again. His power was amazing. I had been frozen almost to death and flung twenty feet; I had been cut up and bruised, but now I felt just fine.

We left the bodies of the Oni and his Ogre lieutenants where they had fallen. There was no time to pile them. We took their useful equipment and got back on the trail.

The next day I unwrapped the painted portrait of Hubidai that Chabui had given me. We laid my mirror down in the sand and I scryed on him. I could see Hubadai and his men were apparently on a dam that was still under construction. They were standing amongst a latticework of temporary wooden timbers.

I could see Goliaths working there. I saw Livikus Al-Tatar and Xeldar the Greek talking with Aju and poring over a map. Hubidai sat rigid in a tall portable field chair with a scepter in his hand. Other than that, not much happened while I was scrying on them.

We packed up the looking glass, got back on our horses, and kept on going.


The Captain

The nights were cold, so I used some of the time to write in my journal. Marco told me a story when we were in Beijing about how he and Allegro had “done” something back in Blue Silk village.


"What did you guys do?" I asked.

“You see that sword?” Marco pointed to a wrapped blade strapped on Allegro’s back.


"Yeah, I see it."


“That's Captain Feng’s Sword,” Marco said.

"Ok, how did he get the sword?"


"You'll have to admit, there’s a lot more to us Polos than you first guessed.”

“It’s true Marco, you’re all such Heroes!” I said, in my best "naive princess" voice.


"Very funny Mrs. Ping," Marco smiled and flipped his hair.


 "Ok, I'll tell you. Allegro and I were playing cards with some of the local kids in the village, showing them the basics, you know, when this Halfling chick shows up. For the record, I thought she was awfully attractive for a Halfling woman. Allegro is an adopted Polo, you know.

Anyway, she comes up to Allegro and says, “Hi, allow me to introduce myself, I'm An-Mei, and I am the silk mistress in the village. In fact, the name of the village comes from our people, and the luxurious blue silks that we've made for generations. Before I tell you my sad tale, I would like to know something about you. Your name, for example?"

Allegro bowed. "My name is Addagio Polo, and I haven't had the pleasure of meeting another Halfling in many Moons," Allegro said. He was not one to give himself away by using his real name too readily.

"Aah, right, Mr. Polo,” she said. She winked at him and smiled.

Marco stood up quickly and joined Allegro to indicate that they were partners.

“I'm Marco Polo, his kinsman," he said.

“Nice to meet you Marco,” she said, “I think we are in need of your kind gentlemen’s help.”

“What could be wrong?” Allegro asked.

“Please, come with me,” she said, “and be my guests.” She took us to her house, and she fed us hot cakes and sausages. After some tea, she told us her tale.

“Those that enforce the laws in this village are corrupt, especially the Captain. He has been pocketing funds that were meant for the good of the town for years. He’s collected three times the amount of taxes he was authorized to collect from our businesses. He has stolen much in the name of the Yu family. We have endured, but now his greed has grown again. We want to get our money back, and I heard you found some sewers underneath their mansion that would allow you to get inside.”

Allegro and Marco looked at each other and blinked. 

“Well, certainly I’m not really suggesting you break in or anything,” she stammered. She bit her lip. 

Allegro said to her, “Ma’am, we are businessmen from Phoenicia, and we would travel across the whole world to make the acquaintance of such a beautiful woman as yourself.” He bowed, then took her hand and kissed it.

“Good, I'm looking for a hero,” she said, batting her eyelashes at Allegro.


“Captain Feng is the worst of them; you can beat him up, or just make him disappear. Oh,” she faltered, “I would never say that, I don't really mean, “disappear” like you think I mean, when I say, “disappear,” I mean run him out of town. I'm a decent girl; I'm not like that.” She looked down and straightened her dress before she went on.

“Lady Yu is the well respected Matriarch of this town, and the Lord, her son, is kindhearted, and I’m sure they don’t know anything about what’s going on. Will you help us?”

“Well, ok,” Allegro said. He swallowed.

She smiled and gave him a big hug. "Ok, what's your plan?" she asked.

"I don't know yet," Allegro said, "I'm still trying to flesh it out in my mind.”


He thought for a while and scratched his head. "We could try to chat with him nicely first, and if that doesn't work we could scare him away."

“Feng likes to use his sword first and ask questions later, so I don’t think telling him in advance that we’re going to beat him up if he doesn't leave the Halflings alone will work," Marco said.

“You got a better idea?” Allegro asked.

“Let’s try to get into the mansion through the sewers like she said and see if we can find some evidence,” Marco said.

“Okay, I think I know what you have in mind,” Allegro said.

They went and found a secluded back street, pried a sewer cover loose, and dropped down into the town's sewer network. They splashed through the tunnels until they both judged that they were beneath the Lord's mansion.

“I read about this place. Ochir found a way up through here somehow,” Marco said. “Look, here are the two portcullises where Ochir got tarred and feathered!”

The gates had not yet been repaired. There were still tar and feathers all over the floor. A metal cockatrice stuck out of the wall. There was a very stinky giant alligator carcass rotting in the main tunnel, and the smell was overpowering. They covered their noses and mouths with damp rags. They went up and up, this way and that, and found a locked trapdoor at the top of a ladder. “Yep, it looks like someone went up this way a little while ago,” Allegro said. He jimmied the bolt lock with a file and pushed it back. He pushed the trapdoor upward and it creaked loudly. Luckily, there was no one in the wine cellar above. They climbed up the ladder and took a look at all the wines collected there. Marco took a bottle of champagne and stuck it in his backpack after examining several of the other bottles. They also found a storeroom filled with hundreds of sacks of rice.


Allegro jimmied a lock on another door that led to the upper floor after a flight of stairs. The main floor was a big diamond shaped room with an audience chamber. There were two guards on duty in front of a large set of double doors. They were not particularly attentive, one was reading a book, and the other was playing solitaire.


“Remind me to ban books and playing cards when I’m King of Theives,” Allegro said.

They saw another flight of stairs leading upward in an alcove across the room. They drank their potions and used their rings, so they were now invisible and flying. They flew past the guards and over to the stairs, and they saw Captain Feng sitting in a guard chair up on the landing. He was drunk and mumbling to himself, something along the lines of, "I'm rich, and nobody but nobody is smarter than me.”

Allegro and Marco flew carefully right over his head and went on up to the second floor. It was basically just a long hallway with bedroom doors along both sides. They could tell which door was the Lord’s chamber, and which was Lady Yu’s. There were two other unremarkable doors, most likely guest chambers.

“So where's the evidence you want to plant?" Allegro asked.

"I don’t want to plant any evidence," Marco whispered, "I want to find some evidence."

“Oh,” Allegro said.

Allegro went over to Lady Yu’s door. He peeked into the keyhole and got out his lockpick. He worked on it for a couple minutes, being very slow and deliberate. It was likely that the Lady was inside at this hour. He finally turned the lock, and pushed on the door. It swung open noiselessly, and Allegro waved and turned his hand with a flourish.


There was a little dog sitting on the bed. The dog couldn’t see them, but it could smell them. It started barking like mad. Lady Yu sat up in bed and cucumber slices fell out of her eyes. She blinked and peered out into the hall.

“Who goes there?” she asked. She pulled her covers all the way up to her chin. Her little dog was too afraid to jump down off the bed, so it stood shaking and barking on the edge.

Allegro flew over and picked up a large iron jewelry box that was sitting on the dresser. It vanished into thin air when he picked it up. Lady Yu gasped.

“The Yuan-Ti do not appreciate failure,” Allegro said, in a deep voice. He flew out the window with the jewelry box and away from the mansion. Marco followed him out.

They met back at their room at the inn and unlocked the box. Inside they found three passport identifications for Lady Yu and wads of cash. She had the necessities to get around in three different empires: the Chinese, the Mongolian, and the Roman. The cash was in both Western and Eastern denominations. There were loads of jewels and lots of jewelry. They took all this and laid it all out on the bed. Allegro lifted the box and said, “Uh-Uh, there's no way that’s it. This box is too heavy.” He searched inside the box very carefully until he found a cleverly hidden lever and pulled it. A secret panel popped open and revealed a large bolt of blue silk. They took it out and unrolled it. Inside were two more items, a map of the Crown of the World, and a terra cotta dog figurine with wondrous magical properties. The Dog was the symbol of good fortune.

They went back to An-Mei’s house and stayed the night again as guests. Allegro gave her the money he’d found in the jewelry box, and most of the jewels. “I know this can never make up for all that your people have lost over the years, but it is better than nothing,” her eyes lit up. “Oh, Allegro,” she said. “Oh, I knew your real name already; before I ever came to meet you I knew it!”

Allegro blushed, “Well I…I'm sorry I lied, I...”

“I know why you lied to me,” she said, and put her finger over his lips, “and its ok. I just want you to stay.”


“I can stay for a night, but after that, I must away. I must go to Japan and free the people there.”

An-Mei frowned. A tear ran down her cheek. “But what about your people?”

“Hey, come on,” Allegro said, “Friends for now that could become something one day after all this is over is better than leaving things in a bad way.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she said. Allegro wiped her tear away. “Come with me,” she said softly, and she took him by the hand and led him to her room.

Marco slept on the couch.

The next morning, they were getting washed up while An-Mei made breakfast. “Man, you’re going to break her heart,” Marco said.

“We didn’t do anything last night, Marco, she's the type that wants a man to marry and settle down, and she knows I have to leave for good.” 

They were making final preparations to leave when Captain Feng knocked on the door. They found out later that he’d been especially rude earlier that morning while interrogating the townspeople regarding cat burglars and Yuan-Ti.

“An-Mei?” the Captain called out. “Come outside, please.”

They all came out. Captain Feng looked down at them and stroked his greasy mustache and looked down at Allegro.

“You’re not one of the local hobbits. Didn’t I tell you to get out of town?” he asked. The name "hobbit" was a very derogatory term for a Halfling. Halflings would almost always fight if they were called hobbits.

“No, not us!” Marco said.

“Yes, I think I did,” the Captain said, “I’ve seen you before, and I told your breaking-and-entering friends to leave town, and they left. You need to leave town too.”

“Uh, Captain?” Allegro said, “I saw some terrible snake men near the reservoir last night, and they were hissing and plotting and carrying a big box!”

Captain Feng raised an eyebrow. “Show me where you saw this, little one,” he commanded.

Allegro led him to a reservoir. A wide vee shaped culvert led down into the water. The sides were quite steep, maybe forty degrees or so.

“There,” he pointed into the water, “There, see!”

“I don’t see anything you idiot!” Captain Feng said. “Just some dead fish!” He was standing at the edge of the culvert looking down into the murk.

Marco was talking with Captain Feng’s two men-at-arms. He had their attention directed away from Allegro and the Captain.

Suddenly, Allegro pushed the Captain. Feng teetered for a moment on the edge of the culvert, but he recovered and didn’t fall in. His face bore the look of disbelief.

Allegro pushed him again while he was still in shock, and this time the Captain pitched over the side and tumbled down the culvert and into the reservoir. He came up coughing and sputtering. He was a strong swimmer, but he could barely tread water in his heavy banded armor. He was splashing and flailing. “Help!” he yelled.

His guards ran over, looked over the side, and saw him floundering in the water. They looked suspiciously at Allegro.

“Get some rope!” Allegro cried. “For God’s sake get some rope!" he blubbered convincingly. "He slipped and fell in! For God's sake, save him!” 


One of the guards ran to a nearby house to get some rope. Marco followed him.

Allegro turned and pushed the remaining guard over the edge of the culvert and down into the reservoir along with his Captain. The guard hit the water and sank like a stone in his heavy armor. He never made it up to the surface. 

Captain Feng got to the edge of the water and managed to pull himself up onto the culvert. He slowly began to make his way up the side towards Allegro. He had bloody murder in his eyes.

“I’m gonna kill you when I get up there, you little bastard!” he breathed.

Allegro threw down a coconut-sized bag at the Captain and it burst on impact. It splattered the Captain with a sticky glue and it stuck him in place.


“What the…?” the Captain cried.

Allegro held out a flask of oil in one hand, and a vial of glue solvent in the other.

“With what’s in this hand, I’ll burn you,” Allegro said. “With what’s in the other, I’ll set you free if you leave the Halflings here alone for good!”

“Oh, so that’s it? Leave them alone? Spoil all the fun? I'll not leave them alone! Not by a long shot! Why, I'm gonna kill you and every hobbit in this damn town when I get up there!” He pulled himself further upward.

Allegro threw the oil flask down and set the Captain on fire.

“Aaagghh!” the Captain screamed. Flames leapt from his hair and his mustache melted away. 


He pulled himself even closer to Allegro.

Allegro whipped out a knife and threw it into the Captain’s face. It sank deep into his cheekbone. “Aaaagghh!” the Captain cried.

He inched forward. He snarled like an animal at Allegro; there was murder in his eyes.

At last, when the Captain was close enough, Allegro killed him with Istanoval.

“To Hell with you, evil Villain!” the dagger yelled.


The Captain’s body jerked violently several times, and blood poured from his head when Allegro pulled the dagger out.

Allegro rolled the Captain’s lifeless body down the long embankment. It splashed into the water and sank. A trail of blood in the culvert led down to the water's edge.


The Captain’s masterwork katana was lying on the lip of the culvert. Allegro picked it up and slid it into his belt. 

Marco came out from behind a house and ran over to Allegro’s side.

“What about the other guard?” Allegro asked, wiping the blood from Istanoval.

“No one will be talking to him again,” Marco said.

“Good,” Allegro said.

They went back to An-Mei’s house and told her the news. “You’re staying the night again with me, Mr. Hero,” she said, “but for just this one night we’re going to pretend we’re married.”

At the end of that day, Marco slept on An-Mei’s couch again.

The next morning Allegro and Marco had breakfast and said their farewells to An-Mei. She hugged Allegro and she had tears in her eyes as she waved them goodbye.

“Man, you broke her heart again, you know that don’t you?”

“Yep,” Allegro said.

They set out and headed north for Hangzhou. Neither one looked back.




Aki left us that night after we set up camp.

He told us via his slate that he wanted to go and determine the location of the sand Oni’s lair. Cairn turned into an Eagle and went also to watch over him.

They didn’t come back. We didn’t have time to wait or go and look for them, so we kept on going. They would just have to catch up later.

Without Cairn to cast the Longstrider spell, Mayor was too slow to carry Lo. Lo grumbled constantly about having to ride on the horse, but he knew it was the only way. He had to spur Mayor on to go faster. Mayor was unhappy too.

I scried on Hubidai again to check on the other group’s progress. I could see that they were galloping along at Mongol cruising speed, and Aju, Livikus Al-Tatar and Xeldar the Greek were there, as well as a sinister goblin figure riding behind them, wrapped in a dark cloak. He looked un-armored.

I couldn’t see the Scroll of Resurrection. My thoughts of asking Ochir to swoop in invisibly and grab it evaporated.

Near the end of my seven minutes of scry time, something happened.

"There's bound to be a guardian! Prepare for breath weapon, everybody spread out!" Hubidai commanded in a booming voice.

The looking glass went dark just then. “Damn!” they were about to fight something. A dragon maybe! Something with a breath weapon!”

“You have a breath weapon,” Ochir quipped.

“Very funny,” I said, wrapping the mirror. “Let’s go.”

We were entering the mountains. There was only one way to get through to where we needed without taking a very long way around. There was a lake on the left, and a sheer mountain cliff face on the right.

Ochir went first as a scout, riding Baderhu. He entered the camp alone. We waited.

A large tent campsite ran along a mountain notch; and at first, Ochir saw no one. 

Ochir yelled “Hello!” and six big Goliaths came out. They were very large and especailly brutish for Goliaths.

Ochir sauntered over on his pony to talk to them. He reached into his saddlebag and got out some wine, uncorked the skin and said, "I come in peace, let us drink to our friendship!"

They came forward and sniffed at the wineskin.

A very large elderly Goliath appeared out of the largest tent and said, "I am Chief Akala Summitfinder! Do not drink anything that is offered to you by Gnomes!"

The Chief put his big nose in the air and sniffed. "Who are you? Why have you come?"

"I am Munkh-Ochir Batbayar, and I am on my way to the big dam project in the Gobi Desert. I come as a scout for my traveling companions. We would like to move through this area and maybe camp here for the night, and share our wine. We seek your permission to enter the camp,” Ochir said.

"Hmmm,” the Chief said.

"I understand your concern about Gnomish liquor, sir, and you’re quite right,” Ochir went on, “but this isn’t Gnomish liquor. This is Chinese liquor from Beijing!”

Another Goliath came forth from a tent. This one was smaller than the chief was; he was only about seven feet tall. His leather armbands and leggings had blue silk strands intertwined with the hides. He had arcane symbols dangling from his chest, and they were similar in design to the brown markings the Goliath wore on his skin.  

"I am called Ethavio Flamespeaker. Please, we welcome you to our camp, in the name of the Khan,” he said in a deep voice.

Ochir's ears perked up at the mention of the Khan. "Well, ok!” he said, “In that case I'll go back to my party and tell them we are welcome, thank you," he bowed and took his leave.

Ochir came back to us and said, “There's a bunch of Goliaths camping in the passage area and there’s even one spell caster. They said it's okay to camp with them and they are loyal to the Khan, so everything's okay. But, don't say anything bad about the Khan, okay?”

“Why would we ever say anything bad about the Khan?” I asked.

Lo asked Ochir about the Goliaths markings. Ochir described the tattoos as best he could.

"I can't go with you into the camp," Lo said. He folded his arms in front of himself.

“What?” I asked.

“I am shunned.”

"But you quit drinking a long time ago," I said.

"It does not matter. It is clan law," Lo said.

"How could your clan be way out here?" I asked.

"We're nomads," Lo said. “This isn’t “way out here”. I will remain behind and wait for you here. They are my clan no longer.”

"You're in my clan, Lo,” I said, “and I need you to come with us through this camp. There is no other way. We have to go through here to get to the dam.”

Lo was quiet for a time, took a deep breath, and then nodded. “Very well, I am indeed in your clan. We’d better go,” he said.

“Oh, and no hands on your weapons please, everyone's friends here,” I said to all the fighters.

"They may attack me as soon as they see me," Lo said. "I'm not going to ride this horse into the camp. I will at least have that much dignity," he said. Mayor snorted.

“He doesn’t much like you either,” I observed.

We all entered the camp. There were many large squat brown yurts around. There were three big Goliath brutes standing in a line in front of the Chieftain and his wizard.

The Chief saw us, and bellowed, "Welcome back Ochir!"

The Chief leveled his eyes at Lo, and his face turned angry. "Lo! My drunken son! You have been exiled! How dare you return! You shall be attacked by the tribe!" he cried.

"Yes, father," Lo said hastily, "but I am no longer a drunk, and this is my tribe now. They have accepted me! If you wish me to leave your camp, so be it. I will respect your wish."

"It is my command! Begone from here!” The chief thundered, “You are no son of mine!”

Lo hung his head, turned, and began to walk back down to the climb point.

Other than the five Goliath's that we could see, the camp appeared to be deserted.

"This whole situation doesn't pass the smell test, there should be Goliaths around here everywhere based on this number of tents,” Ochir said.

Lo stopped, turned, and looked at his father when he heard this.

"Yes, for once I agree with the little one. Where is the rest of the tribe?" Lo asked.

"Yes," Dipaka said, "where is the rest of your tribe?" He walked forward directly toward the line of three hulking Goliath's that stood to bar our path.

“I'm pleased to introduce to you our Healer and wise man," Ochir said, snickering.

“Please sir, I would like to have a word with you!” When Dipaka drew near to the first line of Goliaths, they fell under his peaceful sway and stood motionless. Dipaka walked right through them and kept on going toward the Chief and his wizard.

“I assume from your guard’s actions that I can come through and talk to you, you are most kind to not have them attack me."

The Chief was shocked. “How do you do this?”

“Stop!” a voice cried.

A large female Goliath came out of a tent. She had large, pendulous breasts that were ringed with tribal markings. She went up to the Chieftain and looked him in the face. His jaw clenched and a bead of sweat appeared on his brow. She wrinkled her nose at him, and then she turned to Dipaka. She looked down at him and smiled. Suddenly, she bent over and hugged him.

"Welcome to the embrace of Baba Yaga!” she gurgled in a strange demonic voice.

Dipaka stiffened as if he had been stung. Veins were throbbing around his temples.

"Oh! Your personality is too powerful for me!" Dipaka cried, and he leapt back. "Her embrace has got quite a bite," he warned. “Stay clear of her! She’s possessed or something!”

My watchful spirit pulled on my ponytail. It could only mean trouble was in the air.

I still wanted to try to stave off a fight, for we hadn’t cast important defensive spells before arriving in this “friendly” area. Before anyone else could move, I stepped forward and in a loud voice said, "There shall be no combat here! We were invited here as guests, and now you turn away your own son and attack our Holy Man? Explain yourselves!" I fumed.

"Kill the Holy Man! Baba Yaga demands it!" Lo's mother screamed, pointing at Dipaka. The Goliaths drew their weapons, and their blades rang as they left their sheaths.

Lo came back up the hill.

The Chief gripped his huge battleaxe with both hands and bellowed. He was hell bent on obliterating Dipaka, but when he got near the Healer, however, he slowed. His face lost its angry twist, he calmed, stopped, and stood there blinking. It looked like an older pox was on him too, or some such mind numbing spell, as drool ran from the corner of his wrinkled mouth.

The magic-user Goliath said: "You shall taste my fire!" A pea sized flame wad rolled from his fingertip and a fireball engulfed us. It fried everyone except for Lo. God did it hurt.

It was a taste of my own medicine. The fire burned off my hair and my eyebrows and set my tunic ablaze. I pressed my eyes closed and held my breath. Pain came from every inch of my skin. This was a horrible thing to do to someone. I patted the fire out as fast as I could and I looked around. Everyone was bald and smoldering, but still moving around.

Everyone except for Xia. She had slumped forward and was lying against the back of Mayor’s neck. Her arms hung down lifelessly. Her hair was gone and her clothes were smoldering. “Stay there Mayor!” I yelled. I didn’t want him to shift and dump her to the ground. The fall would kill her if she wasn’t dead already.

"That's why they told me to leave!” Lo cried. “They didn’t want to hit me with the fireball! They must not really want to hurt me. My family really needs my help!”

"Yes, son… come to me! Join us! Kill our enemies! Your old friends!" Lo's mother charmed Lo with demon magic. Her black eyes were filled with menace.

"Kill them! Kill them all!" she ordered.

Lo turned slowly to face us and the familiar drool ran down his chin.

"She is possessed! She is under the influence! This is not really Lo’s mother!" Dipaka yelled.

"Baba Yaga and the Khan are intertwined," the witch intoned. Her eyes glittered.

"I don't think so, bitch! I've never even heard of this Baba Yaga, and I’m with the Khan!" Ochir yelled.

"Not your Khan fool! She’s talking about Genghis Khan, the real Khan!” Lo’s father boomed.

Wen spurred Chi Hai forward and he ran his lance through a Goliath.

Lo drew Suishen, and as soon as he did, he straightened, and his eyes cleared. “I’m back!” he said, chopping a Goliath.

"He is an Amatatsu Samurai; he cannot be so easily turned!" Suishen’s voice rang out.

Xia moaned behind me. She needed help.

Chaka Khan beat out the calypso number “The Tithe is High,” on her drums. Her two engineers produced alchemist’s fire globes, and they lobbed these at the Goliath’s front line. They burst and splattered sparks and flames on the Goliaths, but were not much more than a nuisance to them.

"Genghis was a Buddhist, and I'm killing you today!" Ochir cried. He started firing arrows like mad. The Goliaths shouted in alarm as the arrows struck.

I leapt from Chi Hai and spat a fireball at them. No sooner had the ball blossomed in their midst than their wizard nailed me with a magic missile spell. On top of a full complement of nasty fireball burns, those missiles fucking hurt. I bit down and gritted my teeth so hard I thought they would come loose.

Lo's mother cast a mirror image spell on herself to confound us. Now there were five of her to contend with.

"Kill your son Chieftain! Do it for the children of your tribe! Do it for Baba Yaga!" she commanded. Her voice came five times over, melding together into a chorus.

Lo’s father cracked Lo upside his head. Blood, slobber, and teeth flew as Lo staggered backward.

The entire Goliath front line exploded into a frenzy. Their war cries were deafening.

Two Goliath’s ganged up on Wen and they injured him badly. Blood ran down the front and side of his armor. He kept his lance and gritted his teeth and remained stalwart in the face of his foes. I was very proud of him, but I was also starting to get worried.

The third Goliath attacked Ochir. He bashed the Gnome hard, nearly knocking him from his warhorse. Ochir stayed in the saddle, but blood now ran down his face. He snarled back at the Goliath.

Allegro spurred Wingnut and rode him straight across the entire camp and right into a tent on the far side. I had no idea what he was doing.

Dipaka ran back through the front line, hoping to calm all three of the Goliaths in the line as he went. He moved back to Xia and healed her. She woke up and looked at Dipaka with new eyes.

"Thank you! You really care," Xia said.

“Of course I care," Dipaka said.

"But, I'm nobody special."

"You're special to me, and to everybody here. You’re one of us," Dipaka said.

Xia smiled.

Wen dropped his lance and drew his katana. He sliced one of the Goliaths and remained adroitly in the saddle as Chi Hai reared and attacked the other Goliath with two iron-shod hooves and a crushing bite. The giant staggered and fell back.

Lo lunged forward and shoved Suishen right through his father. There was more pain in Lo’s eyes than in his father’s at that moment.

Xia cast a false life spell to prevent herself from being killed if she got hit by something, and she moved Mayor away from the roiling fray.

Chaka cast a cat's grace on Ochir, and it made his archery even more deadly.

Chaka’s Gnomes, Guchugar and Guchuluk, both threw more alchemists fire at a Goliath and the globes shattered on impact. This time the flames spread and licked the giant’s clothes.

Baderhu pounded the attacking Goliath with two hooves and bit him for good measure. At that moment, Ochir’s warhorse was doing a bit more damage in the battle than Chi Hai was. “Hah!” Ochir cried. He stayed on Baderhu’s back and fired arrows and took out so many of the witch’s mirror images there was only one left.

I stood up, turned invisible, ran back, and stayed next to Xia and Mayor. I had to regroup. 

Ochir, already battered and bleeding, was slammed yet again by his Goliath. He was so bloody now he was unrecognizable. He was nearly done for, but still he fought on.

The second Goliath attacked Chi Hai but the horse kicked him back. The other one attacked Wen and luckily missed, for Wen was nearly spent. Our whole line was getting whomped and was already teetering.

"I'm sorry, son, there's only one way, you must submit to the will of Baba Yaga!” Lo’s father now moved like lightning, and he sneaked in under Lo’s shield and jabbed him in the lung. He swiftly pulled out the blade and jabbed him again. Blood poured out of both wounds.

Allegro, hiding inside the tent, threw a dagger at the witch’s last mirror image and left her exposed. He threw a second dagger and it sunk into the witch’s back. She howled and reached back to pull it out.

Dipaka rushed back up to heal the front line. He began with Ochir.


Wen healed himself with his Paladin’s holy power. Chi Hai killed the central Goliath in their line.

Lo parried and fought defensively and moved back and over. He clearly wanted to get a straight run on his demon-possessed mother. His father was having none of it. He stuck with Lo and jabbed him again.

I was invisible so I grabbed Xia's leg and she handed me a potion of healing. I took it gratefully and drank it greedily. I had never imagined so much pain.

Chaka moved in and cured Ochir. Ochir used his ring of flying and shot straight upward to get out of Dipaka's Holy aura.

"You come to threaten your mother?" Lo's father stabbed Lo again and his son went down in heap.

“That’s right, kneel to the way of the witch queen.” Lo’s father said.

“You realize he’s unconscious, right?” Dipaka said to him.

“I told you they were more whacky-whacky than thinky-thinky!”  Ochir said.

The witch grabbed and hugged Dipaka again. “Aaagghh!’ he cried before he wriggled free. One of his sandals had been kicked off.

"Well it was nice chatting with you," Dipaka said, then he stepped over and healed Wen.

"By Bahamut’s bidding!" Wen cried. Suddenly it was as if everything was in slow motion. Wen had a calm and serene look upon his beautiful face, and he moved like a sword saint. He manuevered Chia Hai past Chief Akala and sliced open the witch's gut. Her entrails spilled out, and she smiled a bloody smile. She fell first to her knees, and Wen chopped off her head. 

After she was dead, she changed. She morphed into a creature that was a human female from the waist up and a lion from the waist down. I think she was a fabled Lamia. Chi Hai stomped on her corpse. Wen dismounted and led her away.

Allegro and Wingnut suddenly charged out of the children's tent smack into the side of the Goliath wizard and knocked him down in the dirt.

Chaka and her Gnomes had managed to get one Goliath burning brightly with flask after flask of oil. The Goliath screamed in agony. It whirled about as it burned.

Ochir took three shots at the burning giant. With the first shot, the Goliath fell to his knees; with the second shot, the Goliath dropped the ground. With the third shot its skull split open and its brains oozed out and bubbled and sizzled. Ochir smiled broadly.

I moved up and cast my haste spell on Wen and Ochir.

Wen was fully powered up. He looked at Chief Akala.

“You had best yield now my friend, there’s no need to continue this fight. If you are under duress we can help you.”

"Stop,” Lo’s dad said. “We've had enough! We had no choice! They took our children!"  He roared pitifully at the great blue sky.

"Where did they take them?" Allegro asked.

"They took them to Baba Yaga’s Hut!" the Chieftain cried.

Dipaka quickly roused Lo and healed the rest of us. We gathered round Dipaka in a big prayer pile and basked in his potent healing aura.

“You must rescue them!” Lo’s father said.

"No one in our clan can go," Ochir said quickly, "we have another very important mission and we have to do it. We can't be distracted."

"We cannot mount a rescue ourselves, if they see us not working, they will know. Across the lake is the Black Crag clan’s camp. They would seek to take immediate advantage of the absence of our clan’s Chief and a large number of his warrior Goliaths.”

"What do you know about the men that came through here the other day?," I asked.

"The Mongol horsemen?"


"They came seven days ago and they left three days ago."

"What did they do here for four days?"

"They surveyed the area and looked upon our progress on the dam. We have already redirected the river and a created a reservoir. The aim was to direct water into the steppes and turn them into a fertile land. We've started that with a wooden dam, now we are constructing the permanent stone dam."

"Since the Black Crags are right there across the river are they trying to hamper the construction effort even while you are here?" Ochir asked.

"No, the Hut came and captured the Black Crags’ children too.  "All lives must bow to the Empire.”

“Ain’t it the truth,” Ochir said.

"After we’ve rescued your children, you'll actually help us against the Hubidai?" I asked.

"Yes, we will look favorably on your cause, soft little gooey one.” The chieftain said. I hoped I didn’t appear to be gooey.

“Chieftain, that really didn’t sound like a sincere promise to help us fight the Mongols.”

"Do not fear, Father, I will get the children back," Lo said. “Regardless.”

"We need to do what Chabui sent us to do! We can’t take time out for this!” Ochir’s voice was filled with urgency.

Dipaka said, "We need to go save these kids, and I'm going."

“I’m going too,” Wen said.

Even Ochir’s horse said he would go, and he couldn’t even talk.

Ochir sighed.

"I'm not deciding what we’re doing here on this one, obviously," I said.

"If ever your family is in dire straits and in need of being rescued, don't come knocking at my door," Lo said to Ochir.

"We can't stop Hubidai with just the four of us, we need these guys," Chaka said, looking at Ochir.

"You can't abandon us Lo," said Chaka, smiling sweetly.

"I'm not abandoning anyone; I have to help my brother and my tribe," Lo said.

"Very well, we all stay together!" Chaka said. We all laughed.

"You're not going anywhere! We’re going to sit here and wait. I'm not going back to tell Chabui we took time out to rescue some chrome-domed overgrown kids," Ochir said.

That was when Lo said, "Ochir, do not insult my tribe again or I'll knock you out."

Ochir looked angrily at Lo, but said nothing.

Dipaka preemptively moved in between the two.

"We'll take one day out to save the children, and then we'll get back on our mission," I said.

Ochir still appeared unconvinced. He sat up on Baderhu, crossed his arms, and waited. Chaka came over to try to reason with him.

"We are not golems. We are highly trained field agents with vast powers of discretion. This is the only way to complete our mission. We need your friends. Get down off your high horse and look down here," Chaka said. She showed Ochir her cleavage. “Quit being an idiot!”

Ochir looked down and finally laughed.

Lo’s father told us what he had to tell of the plight of the Goliath captives.

“This has been going on for a couple months now. It started not too long after the Mongols brought us here. A big hut that walks on giant bird legs comes down into the encampment at night and sits down. Several children will mysteriously rise from their beds and go inside. Then the hut gets up and walks away, and goes back up into the mountains. We've followed it and spied upon it and seen where it goes, and it’s roost is nearly ten thousand feet up the mountainside. It will take you soft puny ones three days to climb it.”

"Three days?" I cried. “We don’t even have one day!” This was getting out of control.

Allegro asked Istanoval who Baba Yaga was. Istanoval answered, "Oh, Baba Yaga is the grandmother of all things Foul. She is the legendary Boogie-Witch of the Slavic peoples. She has been around for a thousand years, at least. How could you not know about Baba Yaga? She's only one of the most famous female--".


"You can shut up now," Allegro said. "Phfft!" the dagger puffed.

As we waited the sun went down and all the workers from Lo's tribe had come back to the camp. They took out their backpacks, broke out their rations, and ate.

I tried to scry on Hubidai with the mirror, but the attempt failed.

Ochir was trying to solve our logistics problem. “Ok, you guys are excellent climbers, right?” he asked the Goliaths. 


“Yeah, we’re good climbers all right, what of it, Gnome?” they answered.

“Could you carry us on your backs while you climb, right?”

“Sure, little-one, but it’d be embarrassing for you,” they said and laughed.

“Let’s say we wouldn’t be embarrassed, as we are on a mission for the Khan and we need to get this rescue accomplished as quickly as possible. Could you take us all up to the hut in one day?”

The Goliaths swallowed and considered. “Sure,” they said, “but that would still be two days.”

“Well, if the work continues as expected at the dam in case there’s an inspection, we should have some time to rescue the kids. How long have they been held?”

“Months,” they said.

“Ok, so a couple more days isn’t likely to be a problem if you keep working? Right?”

They reluctantly nodded.

“Father,” Lo said to the Chieftain, “I need to explain to you why we are here and about the importance of our mission.” He explained to his father our task in preventing the resurrection of Genghis Khan. He described how horrible the destruction could be if we were too late.

“You must forgive me for saying this, but even the death of the children would pale in comparison to the deaths that would happen with a rampaging Genghis Khan,” Lo said.

Lo’s father looked off into the night sky. He pondered for a while.

"I am becoming old,” he said at last. “Perhaps the tribe needs a new leader. If you rescue our children and the Black Crags children now, we will rise up with you later. We cannot go with you beforehand, as we must stay here."

Lo straightened and bore a look of pride. “You are wise, father,” Lo said.

“So they say,” the Chieftain said.

"Very well,” Lo announced, "we will go first to rescue my brother and the children. Then my tribe will join us and help us stop Hubidai."

It was thus finally decided.

"We will leave in two hours," Lo said.

As we prepared to leave I overheard Lo try to praise Ochir for his plan to have the Goliaths carry us up and down the mountain.

Ochir accused Lo of being facetious and sarcastic, but I knew he wasn’t actually capable of being either one of those things.

Aki returned. He chose to report nothing of his travels. There was no sign of Cairn. When we asked him what had become of her he turned his slate to us:

She is safe.

We clung to the backs of Goliaths and went up into the mountains. It was a grueling day of hanging on for dear life, and a couple of times even the sure-footed Goliaths lost purchase and slid back down a ways. When the one I was clinging to slipped and slid down the first time, I almost shit myself. He did it again after that on purpose. “Whoa!” he cried. I felt him laughing beneath me. I didn’t think it was very funny.

The Hut itself was nestled in a deep crevasse on the mountainside and it lay in perpetual shadow. It looked just like a normal wooden soft of hut to me.

The Goliaths carrying us deposited us on ledges and began climbing back down as soon as they saw the Hut. They had fear in their eyes.

“This is a far as we go,” they said.

"Are you Goliaths or chickens? Buck it up!" Lo bellowed.

This only made them climb down even faster. In a minute, they were out of sight. Lo sighed and climbed down after them. He eventually convinced them to wait for us in a safe place below so as to carry us back down the mountain.

There was a wide swath of landing in front of the Hut’s crevice.

Xia turned Aki and Wen into giants with the wand of enlargement as we prepped for the assault.


The loud noise came from the Hut. Suddenly it lifted up into the sky on giant chicken legs that appeared out of its bottom. A sphincter like appendage extended down and released a big brown slimy yeti. Ten seconds later, it shat out another. There was a horrible smell assailing my nostrils.

The slimy yetis roared and charged us.

Ochir fired three shots at the yeti on the right, and although the arrows disappeared into the yeti’s thick slimy coat the beast took it well.

Dipaka yelled out, "Stop! We are all God's children here!"

Lo, Aki, Allegro, and Wen waited in formation until I could cast my haste spell on everyone.

Lo dashed forward and charged the yeti already wounded by Ochir’s arrows.

Wen charged the other yeti and pierced it with his lance. The beast roared and raked him twice. The razor sharp claws tore open Wen's armor. He began bleeding like crazy. Dipaka fired off an immediate globe of healing that enveloped Wen’s chest and contained the trauma.

Aki tried to trip the yeti to get it away from Wen, but it was too fast to be toppled.

Chaka rapped out a syncopated beat, making our war blood boil.

The other yeti raked at Lo, but the Goliath used his shield to avoid being raked.

The Hut spewed out yet another yeti creature with a loud and squishy pop.

This one glowed green and was surrounded by burning motes. Aki rushed over, swung his foot along the ground, and tripped the weird yeti. It fell onto its back but then flipped over onto all fours. It stayed down that way, fighting like a monkey, swatting with one free claw. The creature resembled a twisted yeti, but clearly was something else. It didn’t keep track of where it was going as it fought Aki, and it got too close Lo. Lo gave it a chop that sent it back the other way.

The creature bared its rottten teeth at Lo to scare him, but Lo was having none of it. He chopped the beast again.

Ochir continued firing his arrows at the rightmost yeti, hitting it critically twice in the same few heartbeats. Blood was now pouring down in a constant stream from the yeti’s wounds.

Dipaka moved in carefully and healed Wen. Wen sliced his yeti twice, and it began bleeding terribly, but he was still far from having the upper hand.

I lightning bolted one of the treelike legs on Baba Yaga’s hut with my wand. It responded and walked forward and trampled over Wen, Lo, and Aki. They tried to attack it as it went over them, but it was as near to indestructible as a real hut would be.

It flopped down right on top of me. I tried to get my spear between the ground and the Hut as it came down but it just went right through one of the spaces between the floor slats. Everything went dark. Pain pressed through my body as my bones were stressed to the breaking point. I could just barely breathe. When I did, it smelled like musty basement rafters and chicken butt. I could only faintly hear my friends outside. I waited for a time, but then I began to panic. I wriggled and squirmed, but I couldn’t get free. I was in big trouble.

I heard Lo’s muffled voice from somewhere far away say, "You have stolen our children, and you will release them immediately!”

I heard someone chopping the hut. After what seemed like an eternity, the crushing weight lifted, but it was too late. As I felt it rise, I blacked out.

I woke up looking at Dipaka’s face. He helped me to get to my feet. “There’s an evil spirit that’s come out of the last yeti! They need help!” he said, and then ran over to help Guchugar. The Hut had apparently stepped directly on him.

I looked and saw a witch’s spectre floating over Wen, Lo, and Aki. It looked very sinister. It had long gnarled fingers and claws just as long. It had one or two crooked teeth. Its eyes were only ragged holes.

“I am Katiana, I am truly a disciple of Baba Yaga!" the spectre seethed.

"Drop a house on me, bitch!" I screamed, and I nailed her with four magic missiles. She shrieked and shrank back.

Lo attacked her with Suishen and some tattered ghost stuff flew off and the spectre wailed hideously.

“By Bahamut’s bidding!” Wen cried and chopped through the ghost. She howled, whirled, and faded greatly. She really didn’t care for Wen’s Holy power attack.

Ochir fired a barrage of arrows at the ghost and it made all new holes in the apparition.

Aki stuck his fist into the ghost and used the ancient Monk’s technique of Golden Ice to drain away its spiritual energies. Aki bowed his head in concentration. The ghost emitted an ear-piercing shriek and collapsed in on itself. It became a tiny vortex of mystical plasmas that got smaller and smaller until it was gone.

Aki stood up straight and bowed his head.

We all took out our frustrations on Baba Yaga’s hut.

Ochir threw a rope around the hut’s legs and rode around it repeatedly on his horse, tangling them up.  He pulled hard with his warhorse’s strength and the hut fell over. “Look out!” Ochir cried. There was a loud crash as the hut slammed into the ground. The main structure buckled, and plates, chairs, and tables flew out and shattered.

Chaka’s remaining engineer threw a globe into the hut and it caught fire. We watched it twitch and struggle in the tangled rope. The flames grew up and the Hut was consumed.

Allegro came out of the trapdoor in the crevice and he was followed by the missing Goliath children. I watched as scores of children came up one by one, each blinking in even the shadow. Lo’s brother came out and Lo ran up and hugged him fiercely.

Dipaka, as usual, healed us all.

We found a cache of semi-precious gems that had fallen out of the burning hut.

We all climbed back down the mountain together, triumphant.

The following day there was a great Goliath ceremony where the grudge between the Black Crags and the Kathaal tribes was put to rest. There were cermonial drums and whirling torches. They threw a ceremonial pig into the fire pit to signify its passing. 

Lo was called forth, and he was declared “no-longer-shunned” by his father Chief Akala. He was called The Rescuer. Everyone cheered and Lo smiled and beamed with pride. Xia stood up by Lo and looked beautiful. 

At last, it was over. The controlling power of the Lamia and Baba Yaga's lacky over the Golitahs had been broken.

There were maybe a hundred able-bodied warriors between the two tribes to help us now against Hubidai when the time came, if we had to fight at the dam. They made it clear that they weren't coming with us to find him.

We saddled up and said goodbye. We double-timed it across the steppes. Lo didn’t have to ride on Mayor. He ran like the wind.

The first night out, I scryed on Aju. I saw him pissing and guarding some horses. He was in front of a low hill. I tried to trick him into leaving his post by disguising and throwing my voice through the looking glass. He didn’t fall for it.

“I know your voice!” he cried, “Nice try, bitch! I’m going to take my time killing you when you actually dare to show your ugly face!”

I wasn’t afraid.

I tried to bend the mirror’s conduit to scry on Hubidai next, but I saw only black.

The next day, the mirror showed me the scene of a great battle. There were large pools of blood everywhere, and the bodies of two frozen Mongols. There was no one else around. It seemed like my mirror had gone awry. Maybe it was showing me something I needed to see.

I described the vision to Ochir.


"It sounds like they fought against a White Dragon,” he said, “and it's still alive too.”





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