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Places Between

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ripvanwormer's picture
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Places Between

Dark Roads & Golden Hells from Open Design (a book I'm only slowly absorbing) includes a plane called simply Between, designed to be a sort of limbo where planewalkers are stranded when planar travel goes terribly wrong; the kind of place you end up when you put a bag of holding inside a portable hole, or when a bag of devouring eats you but you hack your way out of its digestive tract, or when someone destroys a planar conduit before you've finished crossing through it, or when you mash every button on your d-hopper at the same time, and it explodes - maybe even where you end up when the demiplane you're in disintegrates unexpectedly, or when a gate-town tries to slide into Hades and Elysium simultaneously.

The Astral Plane functions this way in the Planescape cosmology, but the Astral Plane isn't really a trap - it's full of color pools, conduits, whales and flying ships and asteroid settlements, and maybe it's too silvery and open and not the sort of claustrophobic prison plane you're looking for. Being sucked into the Astral Plane is annoying and probably hazardous, but it also opens up fabulous new vistas and possibilities. It may be hard to get home from, but it's fairly easy to escape.

Well, okay, so this book offers a claustrophobic prison plane, animated by a mysterious, malevolent, predatory intelligence, raising the wrongness factor for those who've ended up somewhere no one should be. My problem? It's basically a series of tunnels and caves, like the Underdark, or like Pandemonium without the winds. And that... seems less than evocative for the unnatural plane of cosmic wrongness. The Underdark itself is more visually interesting, since you can fill it with glowing crystals and chasms and stairs and ancient citadels and shining hollow worlds and whatever else, and Between is just endless dreary tunnels, weeping cysts, and black, bone-filled lakes. The tunnels are constantly changing form and you can shape them with your mind, so that's pretty cool, but it's not as visually compelling as it might be.

So I started this thread, hoping to brainstorm ways to spice it up a little. What do you guys think a place in between all the other places might look like?

- a mazelike "backstage" area filled with curtains and scaffolding, green rooms and dressing rooms, and the blank reverse sides of set facades. No matter where the travelers go, though, they never find the stage itself, and never see the fronts of the facades.

- The infrastructure of the cosmos. Support beams, pipes, ventilation shafts of gargantuan proportions.

- An organic gullet, expanding and contracting with each breath, fleshy and warm and obviously alive.

- An inchoate realm of hungry shadows and glowing mists, with no solid surfaces.

- A dense, impossibly tangled web of Astral conduits, silvery and translucent but obviously mangled, torn in places, their metallic luster fading and dying. This is the graveyard of planar connections, the place where celestial tunnels of light go when they die.

- A similarly dense network of broken elemental vortices made of solid fire, water, earth, air, and other substances swirling into one another, or possibly tangled with Astral conduits. When the circulatory system of the planes goes wrong, this is where the paths are ejected.

- An endless, labyrinthine mansion with no exterior doors or windows, all flooded basements, dusty, crowded attics, rickety stairways, dark halls, and abandoned rooms.

- A ruined, wintry city with shattered classical architecture and sealed portals (like in Lev Grossman's novel The Magician King).

- A series of poorly maintained roads on a barren plain or leafless wood, leading nowhere. There might also be looping rivers with no source or mouth, choked with debris.

- An endless shallow sea without winds, currents, or tides.

- A seemingly bustling metropolis, except no one has faces or voices, no one is really going anywhere, the buildings have no doors and the streets loop on themselves. If killed, a faceless citizen crumbles to dust and is absorbed by the plane.

- A reversed Sigil built on the outside of a torus or tire shape. On the inside of the ring waits a hungry nothingness.

- An infinite inverted staircase. Gravity is oriented so that the other side, with banisters and carpeting and railings and landings and (sealed or broken) doors, repels travelers while the side of the stair with cobwebs and nails and the shadowy, haunted places beneath the landings (and absolutely no railings) is treated as the "top" as far as gravity is concerned.

- A realm filled with every portal imaginable: stone circles, doors, arches, wardrobes, police boxes, toll booths, pits, cubes, obelisks, pentacles, windows, pools, mirrors, and rifts, all of them sealed or broken, all of them seen, where applicable, from the reversed side.

A plane of Between might shift from one appearance to another, or be a combination of all these appearances. It could also be combined with the idea of the Palace of Lost and Broken things, a crumbling structure filled with museums and monuments of everything that was ever lost or broken. Maybe it's the place where keepers banish the secrets they kill to keep.

Comments? Any other ideas?

Anetra's picture
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Re: Places Between

My two favourites, of all those ideas, are the network of tangled, mangled, chewed-up-and-spit-back-out colour pools, vortices, portals, and other Astral-stuff-threads, and the city of sealed portals.

I think it would be cool to have a city that features bits and pieces of cities of different major civilizations. Illithid construction here, Formian there, Drow and Elven and Mesopotamian and Roman and everything, all put next to each other like pieces of different puzzles that were just forced to click into one another. A city of debris. A city of cities that have, also, become lost; that have fallen into Between.

In some places all of these pieces of different cities have been forced to click into each other, and they do, and then in other places you can see the seams - white threads of nothingness trying to sew them together, holes in reality; you look down this one alleyway and you see... nothing.

VikingLegion's picture
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Re: Places Between

This sounds like a place where all the mismatched socks of the universe would end up.

In all seriousness though, I was blown away by the first option. I really like the imagery of the backstage - it invokes a feeling of "unreality" to our entire multiverse. It also brings up the notion of some heretofore undiscovered NPC - a "playwright" of some type that controls, or at least influences, all of reality for his own inscrutable purposes. It's all just a big show, and even the Powers themselves are merely players in this farcical affair.

Another option, although not very original and probably too similar to the Ethereal, is to have Between match our own reality, though differ in small, subtle, and twisted ways - like a Twilight Zone of sorts. Although I'm not sure if that would work in a D&D setting, where the strange and fantastic are already everyday occurances.

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Re: Places Between

The "Twilight Zone" mirror of D&D world would be where everything is completely ordinary and mundane 100% of the time.

sciborg2's picture
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Re: Places Between

Hmmm, you know the Sea of Possibilities, covered in the book, was supposed to have a backstage as one of the many forms it takes. Guess that didn't make it in.

I'm tempted to make the Between resemble Earth, or maybe an infinite but ultimately dreary, banal, dystopian New York. I like the idea that the majority of people have no real lives, and probing deeply makes people realize this.

Perhaps they are like the figures in Inception, with a tendency to get violent if overly pressed.

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Re: Places Between

I used the "backstage" idea in a game once. The players were drawn into a different reality without realizing it, and over the course of the adventure one character started to see through the facade. I had the player convinced his character going insane until he drew another character into it as well. Every time they went backstage, I described the other characters as cardboard cutouts, all of them frozen in the middle of whatever action was currently taking place.

Everything went downhill for the antagonist NPC when the players figured out how to break the illusion. I remember a web spell, a bullet to the head (execution style) and a donkey laden with dynamite. Good times.

In other words, I think the backstage concept is amazing. It brings a level of unreality to the game. It lets you break the "fourth wall." If you take it further, in fact, you can break all kinds of rules. What if the PCs find themselves in the same room as the players? Sure, we've seen it in jest in "The Gamers," but in a Planescape game... well, it almost makes sense, especially if your game has been exploring existentialist themes.

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ripvanwormer's picture
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Re: Places Between

VikingLegion wrote:
Another option, although not very original and probably too similar to the Ethereal, is to have Between match our own reality, though differ in small, subtle, and twisted ways - like a Twilight Zone of sorts. Although I'm not sure if that would work in a D&D setting, where the strange and fantastic are already everyday occurances.

Like Stephen King's The Langoliers?

Ozymandias wrote:
What if the PCs find themselves in the same room as the players? Sure, we've seen it in jest in "The Gamers," but in a Planescape game... well, it almost makes sense, especially if your game has been exploring existentialist themes.

And then the players start ranting about how the characters have been manipulating their lives, treating them as playthings in some sort of trivial game in which their success or failure is at the mercy of dice. And then they mutate into eyeless horrors and attack?

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Re: Places Between

Seems like the Underland from Beyond Countless Doorways.

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Re: Places Between

How about something akin to what happens when you go beyond the boundaries in a video game? Inside reality, where one is supposed to be, everything is clean and polished. On the outside, everything has extra bits sticking out, there's all sorts of clipping and unfinished textures/objects. As you move away from the familiar and the established reality, everything just kinda whites/greys/blacks out and fades into nothingness.

Or maybe think of what happens in Coraline when she's in the pocket world and walks beyond the limits of the house. (Example 1, Example 2)

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Re: Places Between

I like the idea of the Between as the region of lost socks, and the place where the tv-remote visits between its last use and finding it in the couch afer looking for the third time.

I also really like the apathic city with the faceless people with nobody going anywhere. But I want escapism Sticking out tongue

In any case, I thought the Hinterlands pretty much filled the place between the planes.

But in all seriousness, thinking of 'between the planes' I was reminded of some of the guys in Elder Evils. If you don't mind getting some WotC in your Open Design, maybe that's worth a look.

I'm talking in particular about Pandorym. The section that tells you how to use him in the Forgotten Realms reveals the Imaskari are involved and points to the FR novel Darkvision. Now I'm not a FR scholar, and I don't know anything about the Imaskari, nor have I read the novel, so I'll stick with what EE tells me, and keep my descriptions generic.

Long ago, on the Prime, lived wizards who were crazy good with all things planar. In short order:

  • These guys discovered 'spaces between the planes' (that should never have been breached).
  • They mind-messaged an entity in a quasi-reality perpendicular to the Great Wheel.
  • Then they imprisoned Pandoryms body in a transdimensional space.
Now, if I'm reading this right, none of these are necessarily the same place. This means there's three places 'outside' or 'between' the Planes, so right off the bat we can give three of rip's ideas a spot in the greater whole.

To curb Pandoryms power, his mind is imprisoned on the Prime, and his body was trapped somewhere else. In order to still flaunt around a glimpse of their power, the wizards created a tiny pin-prick in the dimensional divide between the Prime and the prison in the Between. It is here where Pandoryms body touches the Material Plane, in a unique spot in the multiverse. The exposed bit of body takes the shape of a gargantuan sphere of annihilation.

Excellent entry point to the Between. Suppose the body covers the entire hole most of the time, but a tiny crack is regularly revealed whenever the body breathes, or spasms or twitches. Only crazy adventuring people would try to slip through a slit between the edge of reality and a sphere of annihilation that could close at any time. After that you're trapped in an unknown plane beyond time and space, with a sleeping body that's beyond massive and that's made out of destruction and pain.
So what does the prison-bedroom of such a thing look like?

Maybe the body expanded to fill the place, and the Between _is_ the body. Only the outside is destructive. This might explain the organic, fleshy dungeon, though I think that niche is already filled by Neth and Ulgurshek. Then again, the whole sleeping body niche is pretty much filled by the god isles, sooo...
Ragnorra, another Elder Evil is said to be imprissoned between the planes as well. Something about gods casting her out into the 'space between the planes'. It's only mentioned once, doesn't show up further along in her write-up, and the rest of the story doesn't even support it, because she seems to travel freely between the Transitional planes, the Prime and the Positive Energy plane. So it's throwaway at best.

If you wanted to use this, I'd go with your following idea:

ripvanwormer wrote:
A dense, impossibly tangled web of Astral conduits, silvery and translucent but obviously mangled, torn in places, their metallic luster fading and dying. This is the graveyard of planar connections, the place where celestial tunnels of light go when they die.

In a section of this place, these vengeful powers gently coaxed, and tugged and wove the silvery strands into large cobweb ball (or dodecahedron), to serve as prison for Ragnorra, Mother of all Monsters. These gods are now long dead, their creation long forgotten, and Ragnorra took the opportunity and escaped, ripping the astral web of strands that held her, and tearing a hole through the planes. Now the ball still sits there in the Between, where neither belief nor matter exist. And as vacuums are prone to do, it is now slowly sucking in both thought and materials trhough the astral rip. Existing outside the planes, it needs not obey its rules, and if matter and belief comingle without the Unity of Rings or the Center of All, who knows what dangers the torn prison ball of Ragnora holds.

Anyway, enough rambling.

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Re: Places Between

Glim wrote:
In any case, I thought the Hinterlands pretty much filled the place between the planes.

In the Outlands!

Quote:
But in all seriousness, thinking of 'between the planes' I was reminded of some of the guys in Elder Evils.

Oh, really good call. What was really lacking from my theories above - and in the original sourcebook - is a reason why the space between the planes would be actively malevolent. In a neutral universe, which I think we mostly all assume is the default (I've seen arguments for a Tolkienesque universe that is inherently good, where all evil is a flaw in the original universal harmony, but that doesn't seem to be D&D standard), the space between the planes would be like the Astral Plane, neither benevolent nor malevolent. The Between is defined as a place not just wrong, but predatory (though too vast and inchoate to ordinarily notice specific characters), and the Elder Evils offer the perfect explanation for why. Why did the conduits and portals and such get so messed up? Elder evil thingy scrambling the betweenplaces. Brilliant.

Quote:
Now, if I'm reading this right, none of these are necessarily the same place. This means there's three places 'outside' or 'between' the Planes, so right off the bat we can give three of rip's ideas a spot in the greater whole.

Yeah, I think you're right. The spaces between that the Imaskari discovered included the "perpendicular quasi-reality," but other places besides. And the transdimensional space where the body of Pandorym was imprisoned is another space entirely (obviously, the perpendicular quasi-reality that the Pandorym originally emerged from wouldn't be a very effective prison, since the Pandorym got out of it).

Bruce Cordell's view of the multiverse is somewhat different from the standard one. I mean, he invented the Far Realm, but beyond that he throws in references to things like fossil-dimensions, fragmented shards of former realities disturbed by Toril's Spellplague that I think are related to the reemergence of Xxiphu, and the strange entropic wormwood universe from which Blackrazor was brought. Which is all fine with me.

Pandorym could be identical to the Limnus, the malignant force that animates the Between. I wouldn't necessarily make it look like a fleshy mortal body, but something about the alien landscape should make it clear that it's alive - the weeping cysts on the walls and the fact that it spits up faceless humanoids and eyeless dogs might be a clue.

Pandorym would also be a plausible endgame for a campaign that involved the Between. Freeing Pandorym, or preventing it from gaining its freedom, would be a satisfying way to conclude what would otherwise be nothing more than a troubling mystery.

Quote:
Ragnorra, another Elder Evil is said to be imprisoned between the planes as well. Something about gods casting her out into the 'space between the planes'. It's only mentioned once, doesn't show up further along in her write-up, and the rest of the story doesn't even support it, because she seems to travel freely between the Transitional planes, the Prime and the Positive Energy plane. So it's throwaway at best.

When the Ragnorra chapter refers to her being cast into the space betwen the planes, I think they were referring to the fact that Ragnorra's path is involuntary - she gets thrown through spaces that don't normally exist in a loop, emerging in the conventional multiverse only once every 500 years, propelled by the energy of the initial throw of the ancient gods. She isn't really 'free' to travel because she's stuck in an orbit that returns her to the Positive Energy Plane (where there isn't much for her to corrupt) every 1500 years; if she were free, a chaotic being like that wouldn't move in such a predictable cycle.

But I love the idea that Ragnorra's path is responsible for the damaged conduits. Something must have damaged them, if they're damaged, and Ragnorra is a suitably epic reason. Her influence would also explain some horribly twisted mockeries of creatures that might be trapped in the region with the player characters.

And yeah, I named the thread "Places Between" in part because I think there could absolutely be more than one such place.

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Re: Places Between

Well, on the subject of the places in between, sometimes I wish the two major transitive planes were reversed.

...that the Ethereal was a silvery, timeless ocean, an abstraction beyond which you travelled through the pinhole of an atom to the realms of absolute matter and energy, most of it hostile, upon which beings of immense power and arcano-scientific know-how had created islands of reality-as-you-knew-it. In the vanishing singularity of shining ether, the power of the gods was naught, and they would be seen for the illusions that they were, becoming lifeless stone robbed of its animating force, towed this way and that by psionic pirates nursing an age-old grudge which had outlasted countless pantheons.

...that the Astral was a misty realm of memory and dreams, which, when left alone together, spawned ghosts. The world is all cycles and archetypes, and through the Astral one exits mundane reality and ventures into lands of song and story, myth and legend, a metaphysical tapestry made up of the collective experiential thread of each living thing in the universe, woven together into all the knowledge and potential that would ever exist, there for the taking if you could only elbow your way past jealous gods and demons, ghosts of ancient things from before mankind was even a glimmer in the eye of the first fish that hauled itself out of the sea.

This might not be the kind of Planescape everyone wants to run, but I find it interesting to consider the Ethereal as a realm of absolute science and matter, with the Astral as the realm of thought. Both exist, but they exist at different levels, in a kind of opposition to each other. Either or both could be entirely perceived and conceptual. The Inner Planes are a place where time shrinks to a crawl and one finds oneself in a kind of simulacrum of oneself, skimming around Fantastic Voyage-style at a subatomic level, where the representations of atoms are so large as to contain infinites, all connected, so that certain materials, even something as simple as a stone (or a flower?), can link a person to a different inner plane. Meanwhile, the Outer Planes are a place where everything is subjective, where experiences that seem to last a lifetime can pass in the space of a moment. It’s the combination of the Inner and Outer Planes that allow magic to exist in the world in between-- the Outer Planes teach a person to interact with the material of the Inner Planes without the crutch of a simulacrum.

Did that make any sense? I find the concept somewhat unnerving, in that it can be used to imply a certain unreality to the Inner Planes, Outer Planes, and Prime Material alike.

As a side note, deliberate bids to erode meaning and immersion in the game are usually a bad thing, but I think these kinds of jaunts are good for provoking existential questions. In this case, it’s kind of implied that what you believe is less important than the power of your beliefs. And a cynical manipulation of the beliefs of others, while not holding any beliefs of one’s own, seems like the yugoloths’ stock in trade. But that’s another topic.

I quite like the idea of the Hinterlands as the space between all of the Outer Planes, actually, the idea that the terribly convenient crux of the Outlands, Sigil, and the Spire were all created expressly for our use. In an idea cribbed from Terry Pratchett, I think that occasionally the Hinterlands generate places for creatures which accidentally stumble into it, through a mistaken or misfiring portal. These can be places which were forgotten or lost through accident or design (the empires of the ethergaunts and spell weavers, perhaps?), crude representations of places which currently exist, or whole cities which never were, or have yet to be. Stepping onto the Hinterlands is a dangerous gamble; for every abandoned church or wizard's which provides a safe haven, there is a Far Realm temple full of slithering horrors lying in ambush, or a city full of half-men and houses and tenements which distort and melt away to smooth nothingness, like clay being sculpted in reverse. The Hinterlands often seem benign, but there are people, places, and…things stored within it that crave a chance to exist, even if only vicariously, by ensnaring whatever happens to chance their way.

The Hinterlands seem like a good place to set up time-travel storylines. The Outlands probably aren’t good at getting time right, and the stabilizing influence of the Spire is absolutely critical.

Other ideas:
-A vast empty nothingness, where it slowly dawns upon you that you cannot see your own body, you cannot move, you cannot speak or feel…
-A somewhat similar scenario where you are stumbling through a blank, featureless hall, and you realize you are slowly turning into stone, or crumbling away into powder or glowing embers.
-Wind rushes past your ears as you fly through the air, drawn inextricably toward a huge black sphere that thrums and pulses, shedding a weird darkness like inverted light. Your heart races with fear, and it is then that you notice that the pulsing of the black orb comes in time with the beating of your own heart.
-An endlessly descending spiral staircase, where the walls give a rumble and begin moving in to crush you. When you try to turn back, the steps behind you suddenly retract into a precipitous slide. The only way forward is down. There are no windows, and as you dash forward, you see what you hope is the light coming from underneath a door.
-The city is frozen into a horrid tableau of white flecked with green glass. Men and women are caught in mid-step, their mouths agawp. They fall apart at your touch, leaving an unpleasant grit clinging to your hands. You come to broken bridge over what must have been a river. Heaped beneath you are bodies, but you must cross over them to reach the other side. As you take your first hesitant step, the bodies stir, and the grit cascades off of one as it rears to its feet. It is nude, but genderless, hairless, featureless, its grayish flesh mottled with multicoloured bruises. It reaches out to you, and you see a light growing within it, illuminating its flesh…

In all of these cases, there is a good chance the character in question will need to be rescued. Any guide through the In Between should likely be cowardly, overpriced, in league with the powers at work here, or all three.

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Re: Places Between

@Unsung - Great stuff!

I do sort of like the idea of the Outlands being a mishmash of different planes, which sort of fits the story told about it in the 2e Monstrous Compendium -> The powers of Law ruined the plane, and were then placed in Nirvana but watched over by the Mediators.

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Re: Places Between

So, here's a thought. The Limnus seems pretty malevolent. But what if it's protecting the planes from each other? It doesn't like people messing with the walls because the walls are what are holding the Primes in, or one layer of an Outer Plane from another.

Suppose planes have a natural tendency to grow, to bump and rub against each other, forming places of overlap where weird effects arise and conflicts between pantheons or primal forces spark greater wars. But the Multiverse has grown a natural response to this. Perhaps any given region of Between is constructed out of things that are antithetical or unpleasant to the planes they border... so, for instance, the border between the Beastlands and Elysium is made of multitudes of cagelike grids of iron bars, the border between Outlands and the Prime is frozen bricks of good and evil, and the border between Avernus and Dis is sheet upon sheet of interlocking feathers.

Digging around in this stuff alerts the Limnus because if you mess with the walls too much, you can create a planart breach. Great for you in the sense of getting out, bad for the Multiverse because whatever plane you just reached starts bleeding into an area of the Between and eventually comes across a nearby plane, where it forms one of the typical kinds of portals or planar interpenetrations, usually to the detriment of the fabric of reality in both of them. Naturally, the guardian spirit of the Between doesn't want people coming in an setting up shop, like they have in the Astral. So it's relentless about keeping people out. It wants you not to like the place.

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Re: Places Between

Jem wrote:
Perhaps any given region of Between is constructed out of things that are antithetical or unpleasant to the planes they border... so, for instance, the border between the Beastlands and Elysium is made of multitudes of cagelike grids of iron bars, the border between Outlands and the Prime is frozen bricks of good and evil, and the border between Avernus and Dis is sheet upon sheet of interlocking feathers.

Not sure how I missed this, but it's pretty fantastic.

Jem wrote:
Digging around in this stuff alerts the Limnus because if you mess with the walls too much, you can create a planart breach. Great for you in the sense of getting out, bad for the Multiverse because whatever plane you just reached starts bleeding into an area of the Between and eventually comes across a nearby plane, where it forms one of the typical kinds of portals or planar interpenetrations, usually to the detriment of the fabric of reality in both of them. Naturally, the guardian spirit of the Between doesn't want people coming in an setting up shop, like they have in the Astral. So it's relentless about keeping people out. It wants you not to like the place.

Sounds lonely, in the dangerous sort of way that makes people fall in love with the Lady of Pain. But I like the purposeful antipathy of the plane. Perhaps the purpose of Sigil is to encourage people to use portals, because they don't destabilize the fabric of reality the way punching a hole through space and time does.

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