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Thursday, 2nd April, 2009, 07:17 PM #21
Gallant (Lvl 3)
SIXTEEN YEARS LATER…
On the anniversary of her birth, Signora Roseanna di Raprezzi sat in a parlor of her family’s estate in Pol Henna, gently stroking the neck of a small dragon on her lap. Her seven guests waited for her to begin speaking. The few who did not know her stared: at the pseudodragon, at her silver-gray hair.
Accustomed to ignoring such stares, Rose began describing her mother’s sacrifice. The newcomers, like most of Pol Hennan society, had never heard this story. Rose’s family had kept the secret close.
Rose’s older brother, eighteen-year-old Tavi, listened quietly to the tale, though he knew it as well as he knew every vulnerable point where his sword might enter a living body. From his sister’s birth, he had been raised as her guardian, forsaking all the other duties and pleasures a young Hennan boy of noble blood might have enjoyed. Now, belying his apparent calm, a hummingbird was zipping and diving around his head: his familiar, Phoebe. Her voice buzzed in his mind: She’s really going to do it! It’s really tonight! Finally finally finally finally! Tavi allowed himself a slight smile, but kept his attention on his sister.
Rose reached the end of her story and took a deep breath, looking around the room. “I’ve spent my whole life being told that I’m the Sacrifice of Death, and yet, in my whole life, nothing strange has ever happened to me . . . apart, perhaps, from my hair color,” she added, with a wry twitch of a grin. “I’m a normal sorcerer, just like everyone else in my family. I have no special talents, but people treat me differently, cautiously, as if I am dangerous. Perhaps they are right to. Perhaps not. But I’m tired of waiting to find out." She paused, determined. "Today is my sixteenth birthday. I have reached my age of majority. My family is hosting a ball in my honor, and afterwards, while everyone is sleeping off the wine, I intend to sneak away. And I am asking all of you to go on that journey with me, to help me find out what it means to be what I am . . . whatever that may ultimately entail.”
Tavi knew that he wasn’t the only person in the room feeling pride as he listened to his sister’s words. He could tell that the slight yet intimidating woman in her late twenties standing next to him was radiating approval, though to anyone else she probably just looked fierce. Her dark hair tumbled down over her armor, which was adorned with a symbol of the Defiers of the Wind, an obscure sect of Sedellus. Her flail hung at her side. Her hands were covered in burn scars. When Rose finished speaking, she broke the ensuing silence. “I go where you go.”
Rose nodded to the woman and turned to the rest of the group. “This is Dame Filomena. She has tutored my brother and me since we were children.”
Mena scanned the room. “Just ‘Mena’ is fine.”
Rose continued, signaling to Tavi. “My brother, of course, is Signor Octavian di Raprezzi.”
Tavi gave a well-practiced regal nod as the eyes in the room turned to him. The hummingbird made a dizzying swoop past his head. Why is she still talking? Why can’t we go?
We have to get through the introductions first, Phoebe, he thought, tamping down on his own impatience.
Everyone knows you – done and done. Come on, come on!
Tavi cleared his throat. “I’m honored to be accompanying my sister,” he said. He turned to a strikingly nondescript man in the livery of the di Raprezzi family standing behind him. “I have chosen Marcus, of our household guard, to accompany us as well.” Marcus nodded silently. Phoebe began flitting from one of Marcus’s ears to the other, buzzing in each of them in turn. He refused to flinch.
Rose motioned toward a young, half-elven woman standing next to her. “This is Lady Chelesta Little Branch Rossi, one of my ladies in waiting. Lady Chelesta?”
Chelesta, who had been Rose’s playmate since they were small children, breezed past Rose’s formality. “Everyone calls me Twiggy,” she said cheerfully. She was barely older than her mistress, and well-described by her nickname. She wore her auburn hair down, with two narrow braids framing her face. A pair of wire-rimmed glasses encircled her eager eyes. “I’m looking forward to—this is exciting—I think.” Suddenly a little shy, Twiggy made a curtsy to the group and then dropped her hand into her pocket, which wriggled as if it were alive.
Rose next turned her attention to the three strangers, those from outside the di Raprezzi household. She gestured first toward the youngest person in the room, a fifteen-year-old girl wearing finely made blue religious robes. “Blessed Daughter Savina di Infusino – “
A man in his mid-twenties wearing two war hammers interrupted her. He had spent her recital making notes in a small leather notepad. “Perhaps I violate the etiquette of your beautiful city,” he said, his confident, foreign-accented voice seeming loud in the parlor, “but I would like to clarify immediately one or two smallish points. You are telling me that a goddess is out to get you?”
Rose looked startled, but maintained her gracious tone. “This is our guide -- “
The man interrupted again with genial impatience. “Yes, yes, Jan Kormick of Dar Und, a pleasure to meet you all. I would like to return to my question about the goddess of evil, if you would be so kind.”
Tavi smirked. Jan Kormick, legend of the Academy. Every year the stories about his expulsion get grander. I bet they’re still naming pranks after him today. Guess he’s gotten all grown-up and respectable.
Mena spoke up. “We are not precisely certain what the Twilight Lurker wants with Rose.”
“Ah.” Kormick tapped his pen on his pad as he squinted at Mena. “So, in sum, you have retained me to guide these upstanding young noblepeople on a delightful vacation that involves the goddess of death, evil, and deceit in some as-yet unspecified way?”
Kormick nodded sagely, glanced back over his writing, and closed the book. “Very well. There is a reasonable chance that you charmingly naive youths will venture forth from this place and meet unnatural, bloody deaths.”
The girl in the fine blue robes gasped. “Is that true?” she whispered.
“I never lie,” Kormick declared cheerfully. “But take heart, take heart,” he continued. “There is also a reasonable chance that I may be wrong. “ He leaned to Marcus, muttering, “I usually am not wrong.”
Rose turned back to the young woman, who still looked pale. “As I was saying: this is the Blessed Daughter Savina di Infusino, daughter of one of Pol Henna’s oldest families and also an acolyte healer at the Temple of the Givers.”
Savina glanced around the room, her eyes skipping off Kormick to linger on Tavi, her fingers shyly touching the Alirrian holy symbol on her necklace. “I – I don’t really know why I’m here,” she stammered. “I mean – what help could I possibly be?”
Rose gave her a strange, considering look. “I asked the Givers to send the most innocent among them. I thought her input might be useful.” Silence fell. Savina stared at Rose, wide-eyed. Another note found its way into Kormick’s pad. Tavi was amused to see them disconcerted: It’s just smart planning, people, he thought. Who better to repel Sedellus than the sweetest Alirrian kid we can find?
Rose glanced past Savina to the red-haired, plainly dressed woman in her late twenties standing silently behind her. “I assume your slave can be trusted?”
“Yes, of course. Her name is – um – Arden.” Savina was still preoccupied by Rose’s pronouncement.
Kormick studied the slave closely. “How long have you owned her?”
“She’s not one of my family’s – she belongs to the Temple. The Honored Mother sent her to help take care of me . . . I hope that’s all right.”
Kormick grunted skeptically, his eyes on the dull glint of a metal cuff that circled the slave’s left wrist, half-hidden by her cloak. Arden’s gaze remained downcast, just as it had been through the entire conference: keeping her place, not presuming to listen to the conversation of her betters. Tavi put her out of his mind. So did his sister.
“Thank you for accompanying me, Blessed Daughter,” Rose said. “Thank you all.”
That’s everybody, there’s no one else, that’s it, race you to the door!
No, now we need to come up with a plan, Pheebs..
Phoebe came to a screeching halt two inches from Tavi’s right eye.
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Friday, 3rd April, 2009, 04:03 PM #22
Novice (Lvl 1)
Good start! Would it be possible to post some of the character details, without taking too much from the story? I'm trying to figure out who/what Phoebe is.
Can't wait to read more.
Friday, 3rd April, 2009, 05:00 PM #23
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Like, say, familiars.
There's just no way that Lira's kids ain't gonna have familiars.
So arcane casters in the 4th Ed Halmae still have the option of having familiars, tho' they don't provide any in-game benefit. They're just there for role-playing purposes. So what is Phoebe? She's just flying, hyperactive flavor text.
Another major change in 4th Ed is the distinction between sorcerers and wizards. This was a major element of the Halmae, which I wasn't gonna change just because the rules changed.
The difference between sorcerers and wizards in the Halmae is now no-longer class based, but purely background based. Wizards learn their powers while sorcerers are born to them, and the class a player chooses to represent that distinction with is irrelevant. Thus, while Tavi's class is Swordmage, his background is that he was born with his sorcerous powers. Same would be true if he'd chosen Wizard. Or Warlock. Or, heck, even Fighter, if he'd wanted to push the skinning that far.
In fact, as a general rule, I've completely decoupled skin from stats. Thus, Arden uses the Hafling race as her racial stats, even though in game she's fully human. She's merely slight, weak, and lucky. Jan is also human, and a sorcerer to boot, but uses the Dragonborn class to represent this; the Dragonborn breath weapon power is skinned as part of his sorcery.
For those who are curious, the party line-up, in approximate order of rank is:
Tavi di Raprezzi: PC Swordmage
Roseanna di Raprezzi: NPC
Savina di Infusino: PC Cleric
Dame Filomena: PC Warlord
Chelesta "Twiggy" Rossi: PC Wizard
Jan Kormick: PC Ranger
Arden (aka "Slave"): PC Rogue
There is also Marcus, who is, er, well, someone created him as part of the party but, due to that whole grown-up and breeding thing, hasn't actually managed to make it to a game yet. We'll refer to him as Schroedinger's PC. You're not sure if he's there or not unless you try to look at him.
Any other questions?
Also, thanks so much for all the kind words, everyone; I've been meaning to respond but have been really swamped. It's good to be back.
(And yes, Rughat, I was going back re-reading the old Story Hour when prepping the new campaign, and came across your prediction. It had already happened by the time I re-discovered it, but I laughed myself silly nonetheless.)
Friday, 3rd April, 2009, 08:20 PM #24
Gallant (Lvl 3)
I can't tell you how happy I am to see a new Halmae story hour. I subscribed to the last one and was sorry to see it go. I thought it was the best of the story hours that I had read!. I actually think I have it printed out somewhere. I may just have to go back a re-read it again. Keep the posts coming!!
Last edited by beldar1215; Friday, 3rd April, 2009 at 08:22 PM. Reason: Spelling error
Growing Older, But Not Up
Rocky Mountain Savages
Friday, 3rd April, 2009, 08:46 PM #25
Gallant (Lvl 3)
Sunday, 5th April, 2009, 02:58 AM #26
Guide (Lvl 11)
Awesome. I love the re-skinning thing.
- Bob Huss
[H]e's dead and poisoned and possibly insane on another plane. It's a very stylish death, but a definitive one. - Piratecat
Thursday, 9th April, 2009, 07:15 PM #27
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
"Rose," said Tavi, wincing slightly as Phoebe thrummed insistently by his temple, "maybe we should discuss the plan."
Rose gestured to the group. "That is a matter for you, really. I know where I wish to go first, but I'll leave all the decisions on this journey up to you. You will determine my path."
"An unorthodox way to go on a quest of self-discovery," observed Kormick, "but you're the client."
"I . . . don't understand," ventured Savina.
Rose shifted uncomfortably. "I choose to rely on your judgment,” she said, “because I fear to trust my own. There is a destiny upon me, and given who has placed it there, it is unlikely to be anything good. If I make the decisions . . . I fear that may hasten an ending I would not wish on the rest of you. I choose to seek my destiny because I can no longer bear to wait for it. Beyond that, I would rely on you to make all other choices for me.” She paused. "As I said, however, I do have a suggestion for where to start. During her travels, many years ago, my mother visited an oracle of Alirria at a spring deep in the Ketkath Mountains, somewhere near the Ironroot Mines. I am hoping that, if we can find it, this oracle may offer the insight I seek."
"That's—that's very far away," said Savina.
"Not just far,” added Twiggy. “It's in the Sovereignty of Kettenek. I've heard Dona Giovanna tell stories about the Sovereignty. Those are not nice people."
“Distance is not a concern,” Rose explained. "My family controls the teleport center here in Pol Henna. If we can reach that place tonight, when it is deserted, we can teleport directly from here to the city of Lord's Edge, in the Sovereignty, saving ourselves at least that much of the journey."
"Excellent," said Kormick. "And this teleport center is right next door and very easy for members of your family to operate, yes?"
"Not quite," Rose answered.
Kormick sighed theatrically and raised both eyebrows, pen poised.
"It isn't very far," Rose explained, "though we won't be going through the best part of town . . . and we will have to avoid the guards long enough to activate the circle once we get there . . .”
“Yes, of course, thugs and guards, thugs and guards.” Kormick tapped his pen on his palm. "Perhaps now would be an excellent time to review who else may try to stop us from enjoying this little jaunt," he continued, looking around expectantly. "You," he said to Mena, “the frightening woman who hired me – won't your colleagues object to this young lady's departure?'
"The Church of Sedellus will not stand in our way," Mena stated.
"Anyone else?" demanded Kormick. "Any other potential hiccups that it would be productive to consider in advance?"
“Our biggest problem,” Rose offered, “might be sneaking out of the house. You see, I think my mother may suspect what I'm doing, and she is powerfully against my departure."
"To rephrase," Kormick said, "your rich and powerful sorcerer mother will pursue us relentlessly and stop us any way she can?"
Rose, Tavi, Mena, and Twiggy shared a collective look. "Mother is pretty determined to keep Rose safe," Tavi conceded. "And when she's determined to do something . . . "
At that, Savina cleared her throat politely. "Um, we don't all have to sneak out," she said. "I think I'll leave with the rest of the party guests and wait for you outside."
“Very well,” said Mena, her attention on the task at hand. "We will also need a way to conceal Rose’s identity, at least until we get out of Pol Henna. Too many people will recognize her by her hair.”
Twiggy jumped in. “Perhaps there is magic we can use, or --”
“There is this ingenious invention you may have heard of, called a hat,” Kormick said. “That should be sufficient, provided we do not make a scene. But let us also take steps to avoid being followed. Pack for the desert, for Ebis. That will set any followers off our track.”
"Please . . . do we have to be so sneaky?" asked Savina quietly.
This time, Kormick took a moment to hold her eyes with his own. "Sneaking is how we avoid being caught by the young lady's magical mother," he explained. "And she is only the first danger. There will be many more, and they will be worse. You are going to find yourself . . . a little bit uncomfortable from time to time, yes? For now, for secrecy, you must travel without relying on the power of your names. Your wealth—well, let's be honest, your wealth in the world will still be extremely helpful—but you must each leave your family's reputation behind. Now: it's time to make preparations. We'll meet here at midnight."
His words met with a shocked silence.
"But your family's reputation is your wealth in the world!" blurted out Twiggy. She looked to Rose, her eyes questioning. Rose’s eyes returned Twiggy's uncertainty as she swallowed and reached out to squeeze Twiggy's hand.
Savina shifted her feet nervously in her delicate, embroidered slippers.
Even Tavi crossed his arms in his impeccably tailored tunic, feeling a twinge of real unease for the first time. His entire life had been defined by his role in his family. And that's not going to change, he reminded himself. My job is Rose.
CAN WE GO NOW, TAVI? I HAVE BEEN VERY VERY VERY PATIENT!
Looking at them all, Kormick sighed. "As I said,” he muttered to Marcus, “unnatural, bloody deaths." He stood up and flashed what was meant to be a hearty, encouraging grin. "Enjoy the ball, my friends!"
Thursday, 9th April, 2009, 09:18 PM #28
Gallant (Lvl 3)
I love Kormick!
Thursday, 16th April, 2009, 04:58 PM #29
Gallant (Lvl 3)
The hall glittered with celebration. The crystal chandeliers sparkled, the parquet floors shone, and the marble balusters were positively reflective. A long table of hors d’oeuvres stood at one end of the hall, attended to by a bustling – yet nearly invisible – battalion of servants, and the punch bowl seemed always to be full. A string quartet played in the corner. Anyone who was anyone was there. In fact, a great many people were there who were not quite anyone, but who were just close enough to being someone that it would be unseemly to refuse them entrance. The di Raprezzis were gracious hosts, and all of Pol Henna knew it.
Dante and Giovanna di Raprezzi – Rose’s father and mother – presided over the event with grace. They were a striking couple, not only for their beauty, but also for their confidence. The di Raprezzi family’s trade relationships continued to bring them great wealth; their alliance with the di Vittanis (that is, Giovanna’s family) had given them great influence in the Pol Hennan council; and the di Raprezzi Academy for Arcane Studies, now in its fifteenth year of operation, attracted many of the best and most skilled sorcerous students from throughout the Peninsular Alliance and beyond. As the couple mingled through the crowd, a weasel wound its way about Giovanna’s gem-green dress and under her red hair, settling over her shoulders like a stole. If anyone thought it unusual – and few did – no one dared comment.
As Rose descended the stairway, Dante and Giovanna stopped to watch – Dante beaming with quiet pride, and Giovanna smiling with a gracious charm belied only by her restless, tired eyes. But if Rose shared any of her mother’s concern, her looks did not betray it. She was ready for what this night would bring. First, the gala. Then, whatever came next.
To the trained eye, Twiggy – standing several steps behind Rose – might have seemed slightly less sanguine. But then, anyone would seem less sanguine than Rose. And few eyes would be trained on Twiggy. Not when there was so much else going on.
Tavi knew the minute Rose entered the ballroom. He always knew exactly where she was, like a sixth sense. Maybe it was a sort of sixth sense, given his sorcerous abilities. More likely, it had grown from the years of training, years of watching. Years of being ready.
He watched Rose kiss first their father, then their mother on the cheeks. Mother’s going to kill us all if she catches us, he thought. Me especially, for letting Rose leave like this… Ah well. He shrugged mentally. He was Rose’s protector, even if he was protecting her from their own mother.
“Good evening, Signor Tavi,” said a young lady, approaching Tavi from the side.
It was Bianca di Angiuli, the daughter of one of the di Raprezzi family’s key allies on the Pol Hennan council. “Good evening, Signora Bianca.”
Ooh! Ooh! A new person! Maybe she wants to dance!
She smiled, tipping her head coquettishly. “I couldn’t help but notice how handsomely you are dressed tonight, Signor Tavi.”
“Thank you.” Tavi kept an eye and a half on Rose. “You look lovely as well.”
“You’re too kind,” she replied, with a slight curtsy. “I would be honored,” she said, “and my father would be as well,” she added, “If Pol Henna’s most eligible bachelor would do me the honor of a dance.”
Tavi nodded distractedly. “Yes, a dance, certainly. A bit later? I will find you.” He wasn’t in a dancing mood, but politics and courtesy did have their demands.
No, dance now! Dance now! Phoebe flitted from one shoulder to another.
There’ll be plenty of time for dancing, Phoebe. Don’t worry.
A busy night? YESS!
Tavi kissed Bianca’s hand lightly as she returned to the crowd.
Mena scanned the hall, standing between Rose and the door, arms folded. In her Defiers’ regalia, she was one of the few visibly armed individuals in the room. But she was nearly always armed, and obviously dangerous even when she wasn’t.
She scanned the hall again. It was unlikely that anything . . . untoward was going to happen to Rose tonight. Not during the ball, anyway. Once they headed out, it was another story, but the ball should be relatively peaceful.
Of course, that kind of lax thinking tended to get people killed.
So she scanned the hall again.
As she did, she spotted Dame The Scourge moving towards her. The Scourge was the leader of Pol Henna’s order of the Defiers of the Wind, and someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a well-lit alley.
“Dame Searing,” The Scourge began, referring to Mena by her formal name, “I am pleased to observe your attentiveness.”
“The Evil Bitch’s deeds may find us at any moment.”
“We listen for her always,” The Scourge replied. “And even now, we have rooted out a nest of the Children of the Wind.”
The Scourge nodded. “And what of your charge?”
Mena paused. “She is . . . extremely normal.”
The Scourge set her jaw. “And that is strange enough. I don’t know how you can stand it. Staying cooped up in a place like this instead of riding out with us to frustrate the works of the Harlot of the Air. You should be punishing evil, not . . . teaching.” She spat the word out like a curse.
Mena kept scanning the room. “Evil lurks in many places,” she said, “and must be fought on every front . . .”
Rose was by the punch bowl, exchanging a whispered word with Twiggy, when Tavi heard a voice call his name.
After she pushed her way past several people, Tavi could see that the voice came from Francesca di Turrini. Her family was part of the “new money” voting bloc.
She crossed her arms. “Nice party.”
Tavi smiled and nodded. “Thank you.”
“We should get married.”
Tavi coughed politely. “Would . . . you like to dance?”
“No,” she replied. “Look, I don’t exactly swing your way, and you’ve got your own thing or whatever, but my mother has been on my back. So you and me, heir and a spare, and we’ll call it quits and I can get back to my life and you can get back to yours.”
Tavi pursed his lips. “I’ll . . . think about it. If you’ll excuse me…”
Tavi quickly made his way away from the scowling Francesca. Midnight can’t come fast enough, he thought.
That’s what I say!
Savina stood near the wall, nursing a glass of punch. Arden stood behind her and to the side, in the shadow of a curtain.
Are they sure they meant to send me? Savina thought. Surely it’s a mistake. I know Rose said she wanted the most innocent among the Givers . . . but I’ve only just taken my orders! There’s so much I don’t know. How can I be the most . . . anything? And sneaking off like this? Against the wishes of Dona Giovanna di Raprezzi? If we get caught, we could get into trouble. To say nothing of all that travelling . . . I’ll have to make sure I pack a tent—
Her revery was disturbed by the approach of a older noble gentleman, his gray temples a stark contrast against his black outfit. He gave a distinguished nod. “Signora Savina.”
Savina curtsied, recognizing him as Vittorio di Avanzo, the leader of the largest minority Council faction . . . the faction that had been the majority until Dona Giovanna’s family had replaced them. “Signor Vittorio.”
“I would like to be the first to congratulate you,” he began, “on your sixteenth birthday.”
Savina blushed. “Yes, in one month . . . ”
“I need hardly point out that you will be of marriageable age that day. And that I, myself, am recently widowed . . .”
Savina’s eyes widened. “I . . . that is . . ."
”There is great benefit that might come of an alliance between our houses. Your family has remained neutral in the factional politics of the Council. A noble sentiment, I’m sure, but it has long kept you from the heights of power a family as distinguished as yours demands. But, with your family’s vote joined to our faction, we would have enough votes on the Council to—”
“My father is the politician,” she demurred. “I do not have experience in. . .”
Vittorio grasped Savina by the wrist. “I recommend you consult with your father, then,” he said, through clenched teeth. “Things in Pol Henna will change, I assure you, and when they do, friends will be remembered.”
He had barely time to hiss out the words before Arden approached, protectively. “Blessed Daughter? Forgive me, an urgent matter requires your attention.”
Vittorio did not even look to see who the voice came from. “My lady,” he said, “we are occupied.”
Arden lowered her head. “I beg your pardon, m’lord, but I am no lady.”
Vittorio turned in confusion, finally realizing it was a slave who had addressed him. He recoiled at discovering his inadvertent show of respect . . . but he did release Savina’s wrist. “Pray, speak with your father,” he whispered. “I will be in touch.”
A pair of dancers twirled by as he strode away.
Dame Mena was introducing Rose to one of the Harbingers when Vincente di Ginola, holding the hand of his 8-year old daughter Donatella, approached Tavi. Vincente gave a shallow bow. Donatella squirmed.
“Signor Tavi,” Vincente began, “I would like to discuss a subject of mutual interest.” A smile twitched on his lips.
Tavi nodded politely, as courtesy dictated. “Indeed, Signor Vincente. How may I help you?”
“It is common knowledge that while you have received several offers of marriage, your parents have so far declined to accept any of them. I understand that you and your family have certain . . . priorities in this area,” he continued, “and I believe that my Donatella may prove . . . attractive as a bride.”
Vincente nudged his daughter. “Show him, Donnie.”
“Just like we practiced,” he hissed.
Donatella frowned, slumped her shoulders, and waved with her right hand. One, two, three, four, five little flames popped out from the tips of her fingers.
Vincente, beaming with pride, raised an eyebrow to Tavi. “Naturally, the wedding itself could be delayed.”
Tavi blinked. Then he blinked again. He blinked once more, just to be sure.
“As you know,” Tavi began, slowly, “as head of the family, my grandmother has the final word on the matter of my marriage. I’d have to consult with her—”
But a sudden commotion at the far end of the hall caught his attention. His eyes whipped first to Rose. Satisfied that she was perfectly safe, standing as she was within a few feet of Dame Mena, his eyes whipped back towards the commotion.
Jan Kormick had entered the room.
Dressed in the robes of a Justicar.
Friday, 17th April, 2009, 09:25 AM #30