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Author Topic: [Story] Dawn  (Read 3167 times)
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Pheros
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« on: August 09, 2006, 11:52:48 AM »

Dawn.

If it could be called that.  There were no sunrises at Steel Hill, just a gradual lightening into the twilight-esque existance of the slaves here.  The light was choked off and beaten down by the haze in the air of heat and smoke and death.  The thick clouds of smoke poured from the furnaces of the blacksmiths that squatted on the plains surrounding the city.  They reminded Shaleiv of the campfires of an army holding a castle under siege, though appearances can be deceiving, and this was almost the exact opposite of the truth.  The castle held the workers here, against their will, as slaves to an oppresive machine that helped pump out the arms and armaments of the army currently ravaging their homelands; slaying their friends; raping their wives; feasting on their children.  It made Shaleiv angry just to think about it.

*CRACK*

The whip came down hard on Shaleiv's back, opening a new wound, or maybe an old one.  It was hard to stay angry for long:  the overseers saw to it that the slaves couldn't think about much besides how not receive another whipping.  But Shaleiv's mind always wandered from the labor he was given to do to happier days.  And soon his thoughts would turn to how those days had be destroyed, and the anger would return.

The irony was that for every orc overseer, there were at least 20 slaves.  The blacksmiths, miners, transporters, cooks were all slaves.  The bulk of the orc force was in the city proper, or patrolling the road and nearby lands.  Were the slaves to rise up against their masters, they would have the advantage of numbers, and many of the slaves were tasked with carrying weapons to and from the armory, pulling carts or rolled up in canvas sheets.  If the slaves would just stand up and fight, they could take the city in a matter of...

*CRACK*

And Shaleiv's thoughts return to the present as the lash slices his back again.  He hefts the two sacks of grain on his shoulders, and increases his pace to the kitchens.  There he drops the grain off, and is handed two buckets of gruel for the slaves in the blacksmith shop nearby.  He heads out with the gruel, his mind slowly wandering again.  When he reaches it, the overseer there hands him a roll of vardatches bound for the armory.  As he makes his way through the throng of slaves with the weapons in his hand, his mind wanders again to thoughts of rebellion.  Suddenly up ahead he hears a sickening sound.

*crack* *crack* *crack*

A child has brought upon herself the wrath of an overseer.  One of the ones born into slavery, born into this horrid existance, who knows nothing of the real world, of a world that can be kind, that can be bright, that can be happy.  A child without the hope Shaleiv holds in his heart that one day he may leave this place.  Maybe she complained, as children are wont to do.  Maybe she did nothing at all, and the orc is looking for easy sport.  As the child screams in pain, Shaleiv she's her mother look at the overseer with eyes of fury, the kind screaming that blood will soon be spilt. 

And Shaleiv doesn't have to wait long.  In the heartbeat between one hit with the whip and the next, the girl's mother launches herself at the orc.  Her fingers dig into it's skin, cutting deep, and Shaleiv sees that her nails are longer, harder, and sharper than most people's, and the orc is momentarily stunned by the fury of this beastly attack.   The child stumbles backwards, into Shaleiv, and clutches to his pant leg looking for a source of protection from the brute currently engaged with her mother.  Shaleiv drops the vardatches he is holding and comforts the girl:  despite his grand vision, his daily dreams, he is no fighter.  He was a healer in his former life, the life before he was taken.  He mixed salves and drinks from the local herbs, for the people of his town.  Now he transports goods at the will of the orcs around him.  He holds the child tight, and looks at her wounds.  They don't look good, she is losing a lot of blood, and will surely die soon without some help.  He holds he tight, wishing he had something to heal her with, and trying to at least transfer some of his warmth to her.

As he looks again at the battle raging, it appears the child's father is about to join in the fighting.  The man glances down at Shaleiv with a look that speaks volumes, and tugs one of the vardatches free from the roll Shaleiv dropped.  He clumsily picks it up, but as soon as he holds it upright in front of him, he seems to know exactly how to use it.  He slashes at the orc with the skill of a vetern warrior, like a man who has steel running in his blood.  For a moment, Shaleiv's dreams are coming true:  a rebellion is beginning!  In a moment all the slaves will revolt, and they will all be free!

But just like the dawn in this place, Shaleiv's dream is choked and beaten down.  The orc, bleeding heavily from the vardatch slash across his side, swings his fist at the woman, connecting with her face in a sickening splat that can only mean her death.  The man's fury rises, but he is cut down from behind by another orc, and dies in a screaming blood rage.  And just like that, the rebellion is over, the dream shattered.  Shaleiv looks down at the girl in his arms, sobbing wildly.  He pities her, but knows her wounds will soon kill her too.  But then he looks at her again, and sees that the wounds are not nearly as bas as he had thought.  Perhaps he made a mistake?  But he has been looking at wounds too long to make that big an error.  In any event, it appears she will live.

He's not too sure if he himself will, though.  The overseers approach him, out for blood. 

"Where did that human get his weapon?  Weren't you carrying those?"

He knows his response will determine his fate, and most likely the life of the child in his arms.  So he lies.

"He pushed me down and took it from me.  I could not stop him."

"Whose child is that?"

"M-Mine, Overseer."


The orc stares at him for a moment, and he is sure they will see through his lies.  Anyone can see that this pale, blond-haired Dornish girl could not the be child of a dark-skinned Sarcosian, but the orcs just nod.

He escapes with only 20 lashes, for not obeying his orders.  And a daughter. 

That night, he asks her what her name is, but she speaks nothing for the rest of the night.  He doesn't know what will happen to him and her, but he no longer dreams of rebellion.  That dream was crushed with the girl's mother and father.  Shaleiv has finally broken, just like all the other slaves around him.  He has finally learned the truth:  that under the Shadow, there is no dawn.  Dawns are crushed.  At Steel Hill, there is only Midnight.
« Last Edit: May 05, 2007, 12:14:20 PM by Nifelhein » Logged

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Pheros
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« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2006, 11:53:12 AM »

Dawn - Chapter 2

------

Noon.

Shaleiv takes his daughter to the gruel line for food.  The overseers standing by look bored, but he knows they will be more than handy with their whips should he try and speak to the cooks.  He regretted the first time he brought the girl for food, and tried to ask for a little extra for her.  They both regretted it, because not only did they get no food at all, but Shaleiv received ten lashes for it.  The girl had been kind to him, and tended the wounds with so of the scraps of cloth laying around his, their, cot.  The poor thing had been so hungry she had dug a few small rocks out of the ground and sucked on them for the evening, to try and fill her stomach.  She offered one to him, but he couldn't accept it; he needed to learn this lesson well: that no one was going to help him.  That, and he knew stones couldn't fill a person up.

He picks up his bowl of the coarse, grey substance they feed to the slaves, and takes a seat on the ground out of the way of the line.  It's one of the few moments of respite in the day of a slave, but the overseers make sure no one talks, not that anyone would want to.  Making any noise at all just brought you to the attention of the orcs, and that was something to be avoided at all costs.  He hadn't needed to warn the girl about talking, though.  She had been with him for over an arc now, and hadn't spoken a single word yet.  He had tried asking some of the other slaves if they knew what was wrong with her, but none of them knew.  Or maybe they just didn't care.  It made no difference.  He had talked to her, trying to coax her to say something, but to no avail.  She spoke not a word, not even her name.  One morning, on another grey dawn no different from the one where their paths had crossed, he decided to make up a name for her.  Maybe it was the irony of it, or the implied hopelessness, or maybe a lack of imagination or caring, but the only name that came to his mind was "Dawn".  He looked down at her, and asked her if that was her name.  She looked up at him, eyes neutral, silent as the stone she had been sucking on that night so long ago.  He took her lack of response as a yes, and that was her name from then on.  Silence was acquiesence, as he had learned from the orc overseers.  No one dared stand up to them, or say "No", so when they asked you for something, silence was implied consent.

Shaleiv awoke one morning to find Dawn awake at the foot of his cot, cradling something in between her arms and her crossed legs.  She was hunched over, almost as though she was speaking to the thing caught there, though he heard no words.  Peeking over her shoulder, Shaleiv saw a rat there, nestled against her leg, her hands petting it behing the ears.  He tried to shoo it away, but it didn't move.  He picked it up, and was about to throw it across the room, the only fitting end for a scavenger desperate enough to steal food from the starving, but the look Dawn gave him was so full of pain and pleading he didn't have the heart.  She kept the rat at her side from that day on.  Occasionally it would run along beside them as they went about their daily tasks, but more often than not it rode in the tattered hood hanging off Dawn's soft, dark green cloak she wore everywhere.  In a fit of inspiration and imagination, Shaleiv named it "Rat".  It didn't seem to mind, nor did Dawn.

As all three of them ate from Shaleiv's all too small bowl, Shaleiv thought of the cooks.  Today, a kind one had served him, a gray-haired woman who looked more a grandmother than a slave.  When he came up to her, she had looked at him and Dawn with pity, and heaped his bowl a little more full than usual.  She must be a new arrival, for if she survived the first lashing she got (and it would come soon, undoubtedly) she would no longer care about him and Dawn.  She would be more concerned with her own skin, her own next meal, and get the glazed, unconcerned look plastered on almost every face at the camp, including Shaleiv's.  He tried to fight it, but there was no fighting, no relief, no hope.

Suddenly, well before they've finished even this small allotment of food, Rat runs up, and looks in Dawn's eyes.  She seems to nod, looks Shaleiv in the eyes with a piercing stare he had never seen on her before, and takes off at a quick walk out of the mess hall.  He has no choice but to quickly swallow the bite of gruel in his mouth, and take off after her, leaving half a bowl of food behind.  It pains him to abandon the food, but abandoning Dawn would be the greater sin, and he has no choice.  She moves fast for one so small, but he catches her on the way to the granery.  But she passes the granery, at a walking pace so quick you would think it was a run if you looked too long.  The only thing past the granery is the gate, the exit to the camp.  None are allowed past there without orc escort, under pain of death.  She stops just shy of the gate, squatting in the shadow of the last row of buildings.  All the slaves are eating, so the streets are deserted in a way Shaleiv has never really seen before.  As he watches her, she watches the gate.  Suddenly, it opens: a patrol is returning.  As they begin to enter the gate, Shaleiv sees the scars running up and down their arms and chests, sharply contrasting with the tattoos on the chests of the orcs guarding the gate.  A few heated words are exchanged by the watch captain and the partol's leader, but it seems nothing will come of it.  Then, Dawn looks up to him, back at the orcs, and breathes out forcfully in the orcs direction.  A small whirlwind lifts up near the watch's leader, and a whispering voice says something in the orcs dark tongue Shaleiv can't understand.  He turns, fury filling his eyes, and in the space of a breath draws his sword and cleaves the watch captian in two.  The two groups of orcs stare at on another for but a moment, and then launch into a skirmish of blood and vengence.  The guard orcs have the advantage of numbers, but Shaleiv can see that the partol orcs are far more disciplined and have much more battle experience.  Carnage is everywhere, and the smell of death fills the air.  Dawn tugs at Shaleiv's coat sleeve, points at the still open and now unguarded gate, and takes off for it, Rat in tow.  He hesitates for a moment, knowing he'll be killed if caught.  But he can't leave her on her own should she make it, and if they kill her, he hasn't anything else to live for.  She is about 40 feet ahead of him, and heads bee line for the gate, but before reaching it, quickly turns to the side, toward the guard house.  She pulls on the door handle, but it is locked.  As Shaleiv catches up, he thinks he hears he speak a single word in a language he doesn't know, as she places her hand on the thick oak door.

"It's locked" he says in a stressed whisper as he pulls on the door for effect.  It easily swings open easily, and catches him slightly off balance.  She moves into the room as he regains his balance, but before he can go in, she's on her way out, holding a loaf of bread.  He doesn't complain, as any food will be a help in the woods the orcs have stripped bare, but it doesn't stop him from wondering why she had to stop here and now.  "We won't make it.  We can't get past these guards... he says, knowing full well she won't respond.

"We can."  That's all she says, her first words to him, but with those words, his doubt melts away, his resolve strengthens, and the dream he watched die kindles back to life.  It's not a fire: it's a spark, but it's more than enough.  Shaleiv looks at her, nods, and turns.  He stays low, and ducks out the gate while the battle still rages, just behind Dawn.  The orcs are slowed by daylight, but the eternal haze around Steel Hill dimishes that weakness, and he still doesn't want to find out just how fast they can run.  He picks the girl up as he catchs up with her, and takes off with a long stride he hasn't been able to use since he was taken captive.  It feels good to be close to nature again, to feel the wind on his face.

He runs for an hour before he makes it to the woods.  They didn't see him leave, he realizes.  And one less slave will go unnoticed.  Each overseer will probably just assume another had killed him, and his absence will be unnoticed for days.  He hopes.

These woods were far different than the ones he was used to where he grew up in the southlands, but his skills hadn't been lost, and he traveled through brush and bare earth without a hinderance or a track.  He felt ecstatic.  He felt free.

They stopped around a mile into the woods, and he sat down for a rest.  She handed him the loaf of bread, and he took in hungrily, anxious for a meal.  But the weight felt all wrong, and it's texture was off as well.  Suddenly the bread changed, and no longer was bread, but a sheathed short sword.  He looked at it, then Dawn, but she only smiled.

His stomach grumbled, and he looked around for some food source, but saw nothing.  Dawn handed him a rock from her pocket, and put a second in her mouth.  Though he couldn't see what good it would do, it seemed to satiate her, and he figured it couldn't hurt to try.  The rock exploded with flavor in his mouth as he sucked on it, and he looked surprised again at Dawn.  Again, she only smiled, and said not a word.  He was too tired at this point to ask questions, and knew he would get no answers, so he laid down, exhausted, for a quick nap.  Dawn curled up beside him, and for the first time in a very, very long time, he felt happy.  Hungry, weary, beaten, and broken, but happy.
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« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2006, 11:53:32 AM »

Dawn - Chapter 3

-----

Dusk.

Shaleiv awakens as the sun sets.  Dawn is no longer next to him, and he sits up sharply, looking for her.  A squweaking from below brings his attention to Rat, who looks him in the eye with a stare that is disturbingly intelligent.  Rat turns and begins to lead him through the failing light to where Dawn is.  The sun always sets too soon at Steel Hill.  And just as the dawn brings a small, if distant hope of change, dusk firmly crushes that hope.  Shaleiv finds that the courage Dawn instilled in him earlier has evaporated, and now he wonders again just when the orcs will be coming for him.  Dawn has somehow set a small fire, and appears to be poking it with twigs.  She has hidden it well, and he feels it will be fairly safe to leave it burning for a little while.  She has set up a spit over the fire out of sticks, but the spit is bare, and she looks pleadingly at him, as if to ask if he could perhaps supply some food.  He was a decent hunter in his former life, but this forest had been stripped bare by the orcs, and he had never hunted with nothing but a short sword before.  Still, the look in her eyes couldn't be refused, and he realized they would need to eat if they were to continue to run.  They were still only an hour out of Steel Hill, and darkness was approaching quickly, a time when the orcs would have the advantage, or rather a much greater advantage.  Stealthily he moved through the undergrowth, leaving almost no trail, looking for game.  After an hour, he found a den of hares, and was able to kill one before they all escaped.  He brought it back, and they dined on their first real food in a long time.  Shaleiv realized that this might possibly be Dawn's first real meal.  As they finished eating, she hands him a half dozen twigs she had sharpened and blackened in the fire while he was hunting, keeping another set for herself.  He was unsure what to do with them, but she carefully put them in into her belt so they wouldn't be lost, and he imitates her.  They snuffed the fire out, and Dawn picked Rat up from his feast of bone marrow and tendons.  Then, they set off again, deeper into the woods.  Shaleiv leads, trying to push as far from Steel Hill as possible. 

After another hour of travel, they come upon a clearing.  Shaleiv motions Dawn to stay as he scouts out the area.  A quick trip along the edge of the small break in trees assures him that only one thing stands guard here.  From the single tree standing near the center of the clearing, a body hangs.  It appears to have been there a while as the flesh is rotted and bloated, and the stink of death is heavy on the air.  Shaleiv approachs the body, partly in curiousity, partly to see if the orcs that hung him there left anything of worth on him.  Dawn follows, but as they get near, Rat arches its back and tenses its body, squweaking sharply.  Shaleiv looks at Rat, and then at the body, seeing too late what Rat saw.  The body hangs from a noose, but not lifeless.  As they get close, it stirs, smelling food and hungry from weeks of torment.  The thing is no longer human, now growling and snapping in a way that makes Rat look human.  Shaleiv quickly turns and begins walking Dawn away, when a sickening snap fills the air.  It was the snap of a rope, and Shaleiv scoops up Dawn and begins running, not looking back.  A hard pounding of the ground comes fast behind them, and Shaleiv can't help but count over and over the four-part pattern of the pulses.  He is a full sprint now, nearing the clearings' edge, the pounding is loud on their heels.  He only hopes he can outrun this thing far enough until he can draw the sword and fight it.  But hope is fleeting, and dies as he trips on a log.  They roll, and as they come to a stop, Dawn's hands fly up, toward the beast, trying to keep it back.  It leaps at her, and is caught by a branch that wasn't there a moment ago.  Then two more join.  Vines climb up from the ground, wrapping up its arms and legs.  It struggles with teeth gnashing, ans Shaleiv stares at it.  And just as suddenly, the plants entangling it burn to ash in a flash of light, killing the creature.  Shaleiv lays unmoving, catching his breath and attempting to understand what just happened.

Then Dawn looks to him.  "They hunt us.  We must go."  And with that, his confidence returns, and he picks her up.  Darkness is now full on them, but they cannot stop.  Thankfully, the moon is out, and they has enough light to see a path.  But after only a few minutes, Dawn pulls to a stop.  The animals have become silent, and an owl flies overhead.  As it passes over them, it pulls into a dive, slashing Dawn's face.  The cuts seem light, but she screams of a deep pain, and on it's next pass, Shaleiv cleaves the owl's right wing off, sending it to the ground.  He squats next to her, wiping the blood off her face, and wiping the wounds away as well, it would seem.  But still, she is in pain.  She looks up to the trees, and points to them.  Their branches begin to sway, and seem to point at one branch in particular, though Shaleiv shakes his head in disbelief that the tress are coordinating the motion of their branches in the wind.  She points where the trees seemed to, and a cloud of silver faintly reflecting the moon appears there.  It sticks to a bat, coating its skin, causing it to shine.  The bat flails, screams, and falls to the ground.  Dawn looks up and him, and he beings to fear that she speaks the language of magic.  She'll be killed as soon as she is found, and him along with her, if not worse, but it is too late to turn back now.  They head on for another few minutes, when they come to an impasse.  A cliff spreads out before them, too steep to climb down in the dark.  As they turn around to retrace their path, a Dornish man stands by a tree at the edge of the wood.

"So it was you who killed it.  You will pay, and Izrador shall drink your blood and your power!" the Dorn says to Shaleiv.  He looks at Dawn, and back at the man.  He draws the sword she gave him, placing himself between her and this Dorn.  He laughs, and draws a blade from his scabbard that seems to suck the little light around him into it, spreading darkness like a river in a flood.  Dawn takes a twig from her belt, and breaking it, points at the tree next to the Dorn.  As she does, she says a single word, in a language Shaleiv does not understand.  The Dorn turns to see where she is pointing, and as he does, the tree explodes, shattering into thousands of shards that spray him with injuries.  He staggers to his knees from the pain and the blast. 

Dawn looks to Shaleiv, and says "Trust me."  She takes his hand, and dives off the cliff, taking him along with her.  They fall for a moment before they suddenly stop accelerating, and begin gently floating to the ground.  Shaleiv looks at Dawn, and she just smiles at him.  He looks up to the cliff a hundred feet above them, and sees the legate leaning over pointing.  As their feet touch the ground, elation fills Shaleiv and he looks up a final time.   But he doesn't see the legate: now all he sees is a monstrousity falling toward them, covered in metal and screaming.

Everything goes black as the orc crashes into them, and despair fills Shaleiv's heart.
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« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2006, 11:54:15 AM »

Dawn - Chapter 4

-----

Midnight.

Shaleiv awakens again, this time to a darkness so deep it tugs at the center of his being, as though it were trying to get in.  The only reason he knows his eyes are open is the ice cold wind blowing on them, drying them like bones in the Sun.  He feels a presence before him, incorpreal but more present in the room than he is, somehow.  With each breath, he can feel it creeping into him, more and more, deeper with each gasping intake of the cold, stale air.

He is underground, or at least it feels that way to him.  Even in the hovels, under the ever-grey sky of Steel Hill, he could feel the sky, the sun, the ground beneath him.  He had a connection to it he couldn't explain.  But now, it is all wrong:  the sky is below him, the ground all around, and the sun vanished, afraid to appear lest it be snatched up by the dark permeating all that surrounds him.  Even the darkest night in the deepest wood would be bright compared to the darkness he now waits in.

But waits for what, he doesn't know.  He is so fascinated with the strangeness of the environment around him, Shaleiv does not even realize he is bound until a few minutes after awakening.  Suddenly, he jerks his arms, his legs, to no avail.  He is tied down to the ground, or is it up against a wall?  He is without bearing, and gravity itself seems to play tricks on him in the darkness. 

Dawn! he realizes suddenly.  He calls out, softly into the night: Dawn?, a hushed whisper muted by the night around him far too quickly.  He receives no response, but the girl rarely talks.  She could be inches from his face, and he would never know.  He reaches out with his being, trying to sense anything that would indicate another being in the room:  warmth, breathing, a heartbeat, any sound or smell at all. 

He finds nothing.  He is alone.

But you're not alone...Not really...Not ever. 

There is always another...always watching, waiting, feeling...everything.


Is the voice form within or without, he wonders.  Hello? he whispers.  But there is no one there.  Was someone speaking to him?  Or was it his imagination?  Has the darkness finally carved a niche in his soul, a place to dwell within him?  Or is it that final spark of light, the hope lost to the world, alive within him, coming to him in his time of need?  Which is it, and how could he tell?

From your birth it has been there...always with you.  Never has it abandonded you.  Trust in it, and it shall set you free.

But how can he trust, how can he believe in a thing he has never seen.  Now more than ever he is blind, yet he must trust?

A way will be opened.  Your eyes shall see, if you desire.

I do desire it, he thinks to himself, unsure of why he continues to converse with himself.

And as though a torch was lit in some far off passage, his eyes begin to adjust to the darkness, and he sees, faintly at first, and then more clearly, the room around him.  He is bound against a wall, raised about a foot above the ground of the cell.  Rats pace the ground below, waiting for food or flesh to fall so they may feed.  He pulls with his arm and finds his left wrist is not bound as tightly as he thought.  A few sharp tugs, and he frees his left arm.  He quickly undoes the strap on his right arm, and his body begins falling as he is bound only by his feet.  He reaches for one of the straps that just held his hands in place, but cannot grab it, and he twists in midair.  Images of his ankles and legs snapping flash through his head as the slow motion fall drags onward toward its conclusion.  The strap on his right leg breaks open, saving it from harm, but his left is not nearly as lucky, and as he twists in air he hears bone snapping, and bright pain flashes through his vision.  He manages to undo the strap and free his left leg before the pain takes him into unconciousness. 

The last thing he feels is little feet of rats scurrying over him, the smell of fresh blood drawing them.



Shaleiv awakens as the first rat sets its teeth into his leg.  He scatters them with a swipe of his hand, and begins feeling his leg for what has broken.  No sooner has he found the break than a warmth flows into it from his hands and the pain vanishes.  As he stands, he looks down to see a single rat staring up at him, looking into his eyes.

It must be killed.  It knows you are free, and will tell its master.

Yes.  It must not tell them I am free...

Shaleiv carefully reaches down, plucking the rat from the ground.  It stares into his eyes, as he snaps its neck like a twig.

A powerful scream pierces the dark, cutting through wall and door like they didn't exist.  He covers his ears for a moment, but the moment has passed, and all is silent.  Suddenly, the lock on the door begins to rattle.  Shaleiv darts to the corner by the door, hoping to get the jump on whoever enters.

The door swings open, and Shaleiv leaps.

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« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2006, 01:31:09 PM »

Good story line so far keep it up.

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