The Five Doors

Deep within the Dungeon of Mithradetes the minotaur bellowed and roared so loudly that it caused chunks of masonry to rain down from the vaulted ceiling of the cavernous chamber. Hulking and bestial, it brandished twin axes in its meaty fists as it stood defiant of the forces arrayed against it.

Blowing a mornfull note on his horn, Barthemus stood over the crumpled form of Kimmonen. Tears were in his eyes over his fallen friend. Captain Dolphus screamed in rage as he ran straight at the beast, followed by lumbering Haggar.
Swift, the newest member of The Exploratory Company, lost himself in the shadows while he moved around the perimeter of the ruined hall. Meanwhile, Masonair, Volo, and Jocster prepared themselves to aid the battle with magic and science. The exit blocked by a fallen portcullis of solid iron, they knew what their options were… win or die.

The fight was protracted and bloody. Swinging the ensorcelled Blade of Carmine da Rocha, Swift became a blur of slicing steel that left a spray of blood in his wake as he attacked the minotaur from behind. But his victory turned to horror as the damage to the monsters flesh reknitted itself like flowing water. Seeing the apparent regerneration, Jocster readied a vial of acid and hurled it at the beast. But his aim was off and the container shattered near the beast, not on him.

Lost in his anger and grief, Dolphus’s swings were wild and only left him open to the minotaur’s counter attack. Both of its massive axes slashed down and slammed into Dolphus, leaving him a bloody ruin on the dusty stone floor.
Seeing their captain fall, Haggar and Swift renewed their attacks as Masonair invoked The Cleansing Flame of Astor and burned the creature with its blue flame. But it was Barthemus who lost it as he dropped his horn and launched himself at the minotaur. He rushed past Volo who was trying to stabalize Captain Dolphus and attacked. Blinded by rage his attacks were clumsy and off balance… and the minotaurs axes fell again, cutting down another of the Explorartory Company.

It was then that they noticed the armband sized ring on the minotaurs left hand. It glowed red and was pulsating like a beating heart. Faster and faster it beat, in time to the damage the minotaur was taking…
Haggar charged the thing, collided with it, and surprisingly drove it back against the wall of a raised platform. All was still for a moment, just a moment, before the echoed clatter of the minotaurs falling axes broke the silence.
The monster was breathing hard, pinned to the wall by Haggar. It had willing dropped its weapons and looked at the warriors with what might have beeen sad resignation in its blue, all too human, eyes.
Without hesitation, Swift acted, and cut the fingers from the minotaurs left hand. Deprived of its magic, the minotaurs many wounds began to re-open. Gashes criss crossed its hide and blood seeped from between its battered patchwork of armor and it fell apart like a teetering pile of wet meat.
In seconds, all that was left was a pile of ash amidst rusty chain and dented plate. While Volo and Masonair tended to Dolphus and Barthus, Jocster rummaged through the pile. Two of the huge rings were mundane, whilst the third, which had glowed during the battle, possessed a rapidly diminishing dweomer. A fourth ring, human sized and engraved with the stylized head of a bull was found tied on a leather cord along with a glowing copper key.

Things looked grim. The way out was still blocked by the fallen iron portcullis and despite the ministrations of Volo and Masonair, Kimmonen and Barthemus were dead. Captain Dolphus, wounded but able to walk, helped Masonair and Haggar wrap the bodies and move them to one side.
Suddenly, an audible “click” was heard coming from behind the wall. It was followed by a whirring and a series of thunks and groans that worked their way around the room culminating in the grating of stone on stone as a section of wall in a shadowed alcove slid away to reveal a descending stairway. Swift had been investigating an eight foot tall marble statue of a regal king, presumably Mithradetes, and had realised that the arm holding a sword point down was in fact a lever of some kind. It was this that had triggered the secret door.

The stairs seemed to go on forever. The way was lit by brazieres containing flickering flames that gave off no heat. Swift scouted ahead nimbly and was the first to reach the bottom nearly a thousand steps down.
At the bottom, a corridoor took a ninety degree turn to the right and opened into a hallway about ten feet wide and one hundred feet long, ending abruptly in a stone wall. The right side of the hall was likewise worked stone unlike the left side, which featured doorways spaced at even intervals along its length.
There were five doors. Each of a different metal starting with Copper, Bronze, Silver, Gold and finaly Platnum. All the doors were covered in runes. Lines of numeric script and complicated equations banded the doors, and the center of each was a spiral equation that ended in a key hole.

The First Door
A Burning Desolation

Taking the Copper Key from Masonair, Swift inspected the corresponding door. From what Masonair and Jocster were able to tell, all the doors were suffused with Geomancy and wrought with spells of Law and Logic. Still, he wasnt taking any chances as he searched the door for any obvious traps.
Satisfied that it was safe, Swift inserted the key. It turned easily and there was an immediate reaction. A rising “humm” began, building to a crescendo as the spiral equation lit up in a dominoe like succession. Soon the numbers scribed into the door were blazing like the sun and the “humm” had reached a sense shattering harmony of buzzing acoustics.
Without warning, the door disappeared, replaced by a swirling vortex of multicolored dweometric clouds and ephemeral equations. The hallway was filled with the powerful suction of the vortex and Swift was quickly sucked into its tumultuous depths followed by the wounded Captain Dolphus.
Not wanting their friends lost in whatever strange portal this was, Haggar and Volo threw themselves into the vortex as well. Jocster was next and finaly a reluctant Masonair…

The vortex of equations pulled them like taffy across the event horizon, stretched thin over one infinite instant…

With a start, everything snapped back into place and they realized that they were falling. End over end they plummeted, landing heaped in some kind of fine silt.
The overwhelming heat had them sweating profusely as they pulled themselves up in the calf deep powder. Within minutes they were soaked with sweat and the broiling heat promised to cook them in their own juices. The silt was a whitish grey color and had already gotten into everything. Mixing with the sudden sweat, The members of the Exploratory Company began to look like clay caricatures of themselves.
The heat was intense and the land looked a blasted and charred. Distances were hazy behind the oven heat and cyclones of fire twisted lazily on distant horizons. Above, the sky boiled with black sooty clouds that only occasionaly parted to reveal an angry red sun. Besides the coughing from inhaled silt, the only other noise was the furnace sound of distant winds.

A quick search of the area showed absolutely no trace of water. Even digging under the silt offered nothing but crumbly dry earth. Their immediate surroundings were even less promising.
To the West of the party’s position a deep ditch, perhaps forty paces across, ran in a sinuous line from the North and disappeared into the South. It came from the direction of a lonesome peak that was spewing fire and ash into the tempestuous sky. Everywhere else seemed to be an endless tract of silt and heat… except for a ruined structure that sat along the ditch farther to the South. Dispatching his Raven Familiar, Jocster and the Company gathered themselves and waited for its return. When it did, it brought confirmation in its squarking voice; “Building! Building!”.

Travel was grueling in the unnatural heat, made worse by the impediment of the knee deep silt. But hours later, sapped of strength and near collapse, they reached their destination.
A tumbled tangle of stone surrounded the two remaining stories of what once must have been a proud tower. Now, burnt and cracked from intense heat, it was little more than a pile of debris. A single doorway, partialy concealed by fallen masonry, led into the ruins.
Piles of stone lay in heaps around a large round room that was open to the sky. The inside was just as full of silt as the out and provided no haven from the heat.
While the rest of the Company searched the ruins, Swift investigated the surrounding area on the look out for a well or other source of water. Investigating the bottom of the ditch, he discovered that it was strewn with worn, rounded rocks and surmised that this had once been a fast flowing river. He then struggled through the heat and climbed the inner tower wall. Cyclonic firestorms dotted the horizon, but what caught Swifts interest was the presense of more ruins further South.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Company had discovered weapons and armor as well as bits of pottery within the ruined tower. Everything was tarnished and blunt, as if having been long in a raging fire.
Searching for a way out of the heat, Jocster found a square entranceway that, once dug free of silt, let them into the basement level of the ruins.
It wasnt much cooler, but the underground room afforded some respite from the relentless heat. Swift returned and informed the rest about the “river” and the ruins as they set about making a camp. Jocster produced some Alchemist Ice, but not even its chemical reaction could survive the heat for long. As they settled down, a new question presented itself… Where was Cpt. Dolphus? He had been the second one through the door, but in the confusion of landing and getting out of the heat no one had seen him since…

The setting sun did nothing to dimish the scorching heat. It just made the black clouds seem even darker, though the land was still lit from the ambient glow of the raging firestorms.
During the night, Volo dreamed fitfully. Images of the Goddess Gielle pleaded with him to return home… She can offer little protection here.
Haggar, stripped of his armor and on watch in the ruins above, called down to the Company. Masonair and Jocster, still awake studying, pulled themselves out of the basement as Haggar motioned them to the door.
One of the immense firestorms had crept close to the ruined tower. Still 3/4 of a mile away, it was a staggering sight. The flames spun fiercely in contrast to its lazy and haphazard movement and danced hypnoticaly as they towered to the sky. Having stared too long, the three were mesmerized by the dancing horses and twisted faces they (hopefuly) imagined being spun by the fires. Thankfuly, the swirling inferno wandered no closer and the three returned to the cooler underground.
The morning brought its own horrible surprises. Haggar, Jocster, and Swift removed one of the basements flagstones and dug a small pit while Volo communed with his Goddess for succor, still disturbed by his dreams. Raising his arms over the pit, Volo called forth water to quench thier thist. Instead however, there was an explosion of superheated steam that knocked the party back and left them with only a few drops of quickly drying condensation. Masonair surmised that somehowhow, this land was under an “Elemental Malignancy” and its Fire based energy would not allow for its opposite to be summoned. Based on this, Swift grimly determined that they had less than a days worth of water. They would have to ration strictly and hope that Volo and Masonair could protect them from the heat with sorcery and prayer.

Travelling was no easier even after resting. The drifts of grey silt turned walking into trudging as the party headed South. They followed the “river” when they could but kept to a southerly bearing whenever it meandered to the West.
Suddenly a piercing howl, chill and hungry, rose up out of the distance. Swift was the first to notice and called out in alarm. Five black shapes ran at them. Moving swiftly they seemed to burn over the silt dunes like fire on fuses. They were hounds, black as night and bigger than ponies. Eyes and mouths filled with baleful flame that streamed behind them as they raced forwards, snarling in rabid hunger.
They closed the distance quickly, one of their number falling to an arrow whilst another was turned to ice in an alchemical attack, before they barrelled into the party. More howls sounded from the distance and two more of the beasts joined the fray. The hounds were viscious fighters, snarling and rending with powerful jaws. Whatever they clamped down on burst into flames. But the Company had fought by each others side many times before and the black dogs were put down, each turning to ash as the flame of life went out of it.
It was over quickly, the long fight for survival in hindsight lasting only seconds, and after dressing wounds the party continued South.

The trek was long and tiring. Magicks kept the heat at bay but could not prevent the weariness of pushing through sometimes waist deep silt. Finaly, the ruins that Swift had spied from the second floor of the tower came into focus.
A city lay sprawled before them, nestled between two ridges. It looked out of place… a tangle of buildings amidst all that nothing. It appeared to be built by humans and Jocster judged it to be contemporary with the style and engineering that they are used to. Even from a distance the place looked ruined. Only one building had a roof and this was a large domed structure situated near the center.
Blackened stone, cracked and broken, marked the boundaries of ordered buildings along the street the party traveled down. Ash and silt flooded around the skeletons of houses that stood as gravestones eulogizing the dead city.
As the Company walked down the silt choked street, they became aware of eyes watching them from the shadowed alcoves and dark doorways of the buildings that began to loom around them. Hundreds of pairs of eyes could be seen glaring out hungrily as they passed.
The tension became palpable as they continued up the street untill finaly Swift broke. He knocked an arrow and let fly.
What stumbled from the shadows, arrow in its chest, was a feral parody of a man. Its red inflammed flesh, like a burn,was pulled taut over pointed, angular bones. Long claws tipped its gnarled hands and blackened teeth filled its snapping mouth.
It was like a dam breaking. As the first one fell, more of the creatures poured out of the ruined buildings surrounding the Company. They were quick and agile and as Masonair quickly found out, their touch withered the flesh… draining water and vitality.
Something in their dead eyes bothered Volo, and Masonair picked up on it as well. These creatures were Ghouls of a sort, undead. With practiced ease Volo unleashed the power of Gielle, and battered the things with waves of holy energy.
Jocster, hoping for the same success as with the hounds, tossed alchemical ice at the creatures. But to his disappointment they shrugged it off as they rushed him and Haggar. Swift circled around to flank the Ghouls and nearly tripped on something buried besides a building in the soft silt. He recovered quickly and accounted for two of the creatures as the rest either fled or were cut down by the party.
More eyes appeared around them, watching from the gloom as the Company caught their breath. Swift investigated whatever it was that had tripped him up under the silt and found a pile of debris. Broken vials and glass beakers were heaped alongside metal spoons, tongs and measuring cups. Four iron bands, big as wagon wheels, lay in a box pattern around the site. Jocster, always intered in new equipment, rummaged for anything salvagable. Inspecting a pair of tongs he made a shattering discovery…

The tools were marked with his personal sigil.

Shadowed from either side by growing packs of hungry Ghouls, the Company cautiously travelled up the ruined streets of what must be Port Lune. The discovery of Jocsters wagon, well, what remained of it, had everyone more concerned with what had happened to the city than to the danger that followed their every move. Alternate realities were suggested among other possibilities, but night was falling and the packs of Ghouls were growing bolder. A few more skirmishes had left the party panting and wounded. Finally they had reached the intact building.

It was five stories tall. A squat square base gave way to three more stories built round like a tower and capped in what must have been an ornate dome. The building was whole, mostly, but was still touched by fire. Its windows gaped and the front door stood open like in a scream at the top of a terraced stair. If this was indeed Port Lune, then this building was Abely Hall from where the council of merchants ruled.
Swift, scouting ahead with Haggar, sent a grappeling hook up to a third floor window and climbed up. Inside they found a windswept room, eddies of silt and ash squiggled across the floor and cracked glass and pen knibs littered about. To the left, a stair rose to the fourth floor while across the room another decended down to the second. The upper floors seemed deserted so the two made their way down.
The first two floors of the building were one cavernous hall. Silt drifted in from the front door and fanned out over smooth flagstones. Gilt frames, once containing paintings and tapestries, hung broken and blacked on walls around the room. Overhead, a truely huge chandelier swayed slightly on a chain thick as a mans leg. It was so big that a person could walk on its spreading beams to light candles that would have sat in the hundreds of spaces wrought for them.
Having gotten the “all’s clear” from Swift, the rest of the party entered the ruin of Abely Hall. Having climbed to the empty third floor they then continued further up. The fourth floor was circular like the third but divided into smaller rooms set around a circular antechamber.
The fifth floor was a discovery. Windowless it sat at the very top of Abely Hall. Its furnishings remained whole, if dry and desicated, and told a tale of a meetings and councils. A large round table dominated in the middle of the round room. Eight chairs were spaced at even intervals around its circumfrence. Bookshelves loomed against the walls like dusty sentinels, some still containing scattered volumes but most are empty.
The books, of course, were of immediate interest. Jocster and Volo inspected the spines, hoping to find some clue as to their nature before disturbing them, but nothing was learned from the flaking leather. Pulling out a volume only to have it crumble to dust, the party used minor magics to mend volumes the wished to look at. This kept the books mostly whole while they poured through the contents.
They were ledgers of city buisness. Taxes and trade, remits and permits, they told a history of commerce in Port Lune. Some more careful searching told the party that the last volume was dated nearly a year after they had departed to [[Mnt. Skyholme]]. This, and Jocsters alchemical study of “his” tongs painted a strange picture. The analysis of the tongs said that the char and burn on them was over thirty years old. Something had happened while they went throught the first door. And now, thirty odd years in the future, the world was a scorched hell.

Later that night, while the others were asleep or studying, Swift made his way around the shrouded ruins of Abely Hall. Convinced that there must be some kind of basement to the place, he snuck past the swarms of ghouls that had followed the party in and were now roaming the halls as they sniffed and growled hungrily. Having climbed out a window he scaled the building between the fourth and third floors. As he was doing this, he noticed two distinct glows emanating from different part of the ruined city. To the South, a blue glow pulsed soothingly, while to the East flickered the orange glow of fire.
He made a mental note of the lights and continued on all the way to the ground floor, balanced his way across the gargantuan chandelier and dropped down and scampered out the door.

It was at the rear of the building that he found a great iron door set into the base of the hall. A heavy device kept the doors locked firmly and all Swifts attempts to open it, from the gentlest lockpick to straining force, met with failure. The lock was burned and choked with silt so badly that it might as well not have had any working parts at all. It wasnt untill the morning and some acid work by Jocster that Haggar had any chance of breaking their way in.
A baked antechamber lay behind the opened doors. Untouched by fire, two high backed wooden chairs sat against opposite walls and guarded a locked door of iron bars which proved no challenge for the talented Swift. after the antechamber, a set of stairs decended in loops into the dark dry sub level. They were divided in regular intervals by 3 landings an each landing was also blocked by an iron barred door that Swift had to tend to.
The basement was a large low ceilinged room broken into a maze of storage shelves. Hot and dry, the wooden shelves and the wide variety of goods piled on them were dessecated and fragile. Casked of powder were all that remained of vintage wine and even a small barrelof oil was little more than jellied sludge. There were suits of armor, old and plainly of poor quality stacked with cracked satchels and bandoleers. Plainly the uniforms of guardsmen. Most of the stuff were useless trinkets or goods, but behind a caged in area, were numerous chests and shelves. The door to this area was open though, the chests and shelves empty except for a few scatterd coins and a velvet lined box containing four opaque gems.
Intregued by the gems, Volo and Masonair climbed back to the top tof the hall while Jocster, Swift and Haggar continued to explore the basement. After some searching, Volo found an entry into the city treasury that chronicalled the debt of the Minas Family and mentioned the gems as payment.
Meanwhile, the three in the basement had lifted a flagstone and had spent the few hours waiting on Volo and Masonair digging a deep hole in the hopes of finding some kind of water. But whatever had happened to the world and robbed it of any moisture no matter how deep they dug.

Later, having met outside, the Company decides to explore the areas tha Swift saw glowing the night before. Still early yet, they start off South to see from whence the blue glow came.

Leaving the plaza and Abely Hall behind, the Company pushed down another silt choked street. They were headed South, to check out the source of a mysterious blue light that Swift had seen the night before. Suddenly, a huge black hound loped into view ahead of them. Flames drooled out of its snarling muzzle and fires burned in its eyes.
As the first one settled on its haunches others flanked it, making a barrier of tooth and claw across the Companies path. Meanwhile, a few more of the beasts closed in behind them and they were trapped.
Not wasting an instant, Swift had his bow drawn and an arrow loosed. The lead hound screeched as the arrow imbedded itself in its shoulder and it immediately lept foward, followed by the others.
The fight was on, but the hounds, maddened and viscious as they were, could only scratch at the party before being quickly dispatched to dust.

The street ended a short distance later in an intersection that ran perpendicular to the direction they were going. Looking left, they saw the low tumbled arches of “The concourse”, an ancient colliseum that would have been an open air market before Port Lune had died.
Taking a right instead, they followed along a rubble strewn avenue bordered by mostly intact buildings. Homes and shops looked normal untill you noticed the hollow vacancy of their staring windows and doorless facades. Volo, ever watchful, bade them stop in front of a red brick building. It looked whole from the outside and a bas relief above the missing double doors depicted a hammer and an anvil. It was a Temple Forge of Endren.
The inside was another matter. Four walls, flame blackened and cracked, framed a gaping nothingness. Roof and floor were both gone. All that was left was a labrinth of stone walls below ground level that were once basement rooms and corridoors. These rooms were empty except for a room in the far corner. Its still had a door of iron bars which once could have deterred a would be thief, but now Volo and Swift easily walked across the tops of the exposed walls and dropped into the room below.
There were coins here, melted and sloughed into lumps of gold and silver, as well as an iron chest. Inside a thick velvet sack enclosed a gleaming crystal ball. It was a Spellkeeper, or so Masonair claimed. Made long ago, each Spellkeeper could store a variable number of spells which would activate when a command word was spoken. The difficulty was that each stored spell was attuned to a usually personal command word. Whomever had owned this could well have spells ready to be cast when you spoke their pet’s name or a favorite pastime. Still, it was a valuable piece of treasure.
A further search of the room revealed a trapdoor hidden under the chest and a gruesome discovery. The trap door opened into a sub basement room filled with skeletons. Men woman and children, bones white and dry, huddled together. Their last moments filled with fear and hope. The fires did not reach them, but death claimed them all the same.
A skeleton furthest back caught Swift’s eye. This one rested with its back against the wall and its arms encircled around a handfull of children in a macacbre depiction of support and consolation. It wore a criclet of gold around its head and a torque of silver hung from its neck. Both pieces of jewelry were embossed with the symbols of Endren. Taking the circlet and torque, for the cleric surely had no need of them now, Swift pulled himself from the tomb.

Meanwhile, Haggar had pulled himself up to the top of the church wall to see what he could see. And what he saw was a pack of sleeping Ghouls in the courtyard behind the church. As Haggar scrabled to get down from his lofty perch, the wall suddenly moved. First it lurched, allmost sending Haggar toppling down, before swaying sickly back and forth. Before he could call out the wall bowed outward and it fell into the street with a thunderous crash of silt and debris.
When the clouds of dust and silt had cleared the confused party had something else to face. A pack of previously dormant Ghouls had awakened. They charged over the rubble, hissing and biting as they fought with each other to get at the Company. The battle was fought over the shifting debris of the fallen wall, but the Company had become adept at dispatching the numerous Ghouls that inhabited this nightmarish vision of Port Lune and quickly overcame the pack.

After the fight, and after studying the treasure they had found in the church, they continued on down the road in the direction Swift had seen glowing blue the night before. As they walked they discussed the Spellkeeper but discusion was soon halted as Swift and then Jocster pointed out the sound of running water coming from up ahead.
In a cautious hurry, they exited the street into a huge plaza surronded by columned buildings. Several other streets terminated at the plaza but what really caught the eye was the huge fountain that dominated the center of the cobblestoned space. It was of white marble and carved to resemble two women back to back, each had one foot on the ground and the other was pulled up to rest flat against the other womans foot. Atop opposite shoulders each carried an ornate urn. The urns were tipped foward and a steady stream of clear water poured out into the wide basin that surrounded the pair.
With a great effort of will they exercised caution, running the fountain through a close inspection. It came up clean and as they joyously plunged into the cool water they found it to be refreshing and invigorating. They took some time and filled depleted waterskins as well as their parched throats, savoring the cool sweetness of the water.

Suddenly, a building across the way erupted in a storm of flame! Great gouts of searing fire jetted out the windows and out from the columned faced. The fire seemed to surge foward, swirling and drawing in on itself untill it stood before them as a towering humanoid. Easily over fifteen feet tall, its body glowed bright as it shifted with the wind. Its only constamt was the black voids of its eyes and a half glimpsed shape at its heart. Rearing up, the Fire Elemental roared its anger as it ghosted towards them like flame on paper.
Hoping its magic waters would protect them, the party took shelter in the fountain as the Fire Elemental rushed them. Jocster tossed alchemist ice at the thing and a section of it froze into blue ice before shattering under the heat and pressure. The elemental bellowed in rage as it swirled into the shape of a giant fist and slammed down on the gnats that had stung it. Spells flew from the outstretched hands of Volo and Masonair as they battled the thing, huddled in the protective foutain as the Elemental twisted into the neck and snapping head of a dragon as it lashed out at them. Acting on a whim, Swift emptied his bag by the side of the fountain and attempted to use it as a giant ladle to hurl water at the raging elemental but the bag proved to heavy to lift. Once again the Fire Elemental shifted into the shape of a giant fist to smash down on the party, but it was getting noticably smaller.
Jocster threw his last piece of alchemist ice and this time the whole of the diminished Fire Elemental turned to blue ice. There was a second where it stood, towering over the fountain, before it exploded in a shower of ice and the hiss of steam. A black orb at the center of the elemental hung suspended as the ice rained down around it before it too fell to the ground and shattered.
After picking himself up and seeing to his friends wounds, Volo examined the spot where the black orb shattered. The ice had long since melted in the infernal heat and the shards of whatever that orb had been were gone too, but a luminescent bronze key lay on the ground where the orb had hit.

As they looked over the key, Masonair noticed that a silvery light had sprung up to fill the space between two arched columns on a nearby building. It hadnt been there before and even now it was getting noticeably smaller. Hoping that it was some kind of portal out of this hell, Volo was taking no chances as he immediately started sprinting towards the shrinking light. The other followed on his heels and one by one they threw themselves into the light.

As they passed through the portal a vortex of equations spiraled out before them. They felt themselves pulled like taffy across the event horizon, stretched thin over one infinite instant…


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