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THREE

Alone in his arming chamber, Uriel allowed the simple act of caring for his battle gear to set his mind at ease. Honouring the memory of the warrior who had last borne these weapons and armour into battle came as naturally to Uriel as breathing, and helped him to better process his thoughts. He worked a finely textured brush across the breastplate, taking care to work the red dust of Pavonis from between the carved feathers of the golden aquila.

As captain of a Space Marine battle company, Uriel was permitted his own chamber in the modular barracks structure: a three metre square, steel-walled cell with a compact bunk and weapons shrine on one wall, and a reversible ablutions cubicle on the other. A gunmetal grey footlocker at the end of the bed contained Uriel's few personal belongings: his training garments, his hygiene kit, a sharpening block for his sword, the glossy black claw of the stalker creature he had captured on Tarsis Ultra and a ragged fragment of an enemy battle flag he had taken on the battlefields of Thracia.

A Space Marine had no great need for privacy in the normal run of things, and shared virtually every moment of his life with his battle-brothers. Such unbreakable bonds of brotherhood allowed the Adeptus Astartes to fight as one, and to make such war as was unthinkable to mere mortals.

The rest of Uriel's armour stood in the corner of the chamber, each plate having been removed from his enhanced body and placed reverently upon a sturdy frame by a company serf an hour before.

The Savage Morticians had brutally cut the bulk of Uriel's original armour from him on Medrengard, and he had been forced to discard the few remaining fragments on Salinas. Necessity had seen him don power armour belonging to the Sons of Guilliman Chapter for a short time, but now he had another suit of battle plate to call his own.

Before leaving Macragge, when the time had come to renew his Oaths of Confraternity, the Master of the Forge had escorted Uriel into the vast, torch-lit vaults of the Armorium to choose his new armour.

Scores of armoured suits stood in the sacred repository of the Chapter's wargear like warriors on parade, and Uriel had the powerful sense that these vacant suits were simply waiting for warriors of courage to bear them into battle once more. Firelight danced upon the polished plates as Uriel reverently made his way through their ranks, knowing that the spirits of fallen heroes were silently, invisibly, judging his worth as a warrior.

Each suit was creation of forgotten science and art, any one of which it would be an honour to wear. The unique bond between armour and warrior went beyond anything that could be understood by those without the depths of faith of a warrior of the Adeptus Astartes.

No sooner had Uriel set eyes upon the gleaming plates he now polished than he had known it was the armour for him. He reached out and placed his open palm on the golden breastplate, and felt a connection to the armour on a level that he could never fully explain.

'The armour of Brother Amadon,' said the Master of the Forge approvingly, his voice little more than a hoarse croak, as though coming from a forgotten place deep within the towering warrior's chest. Only rarely did the warden of the Armorium deign to use his flesh-voice, and Uriel was savvy enough to know that the honour was not for him, but for the armour.

'Brother Amadon fell during the storming of the breach at Corinth, brought low by a barbarian greenskin warlord as he fought alongside our beloved Chapter Master.'

'Corinth,' said Uriel, unwilling to desecrate the echoing silence of the Armorium with anything above a whisper. 'The battle that took Ancient Galatan from us.'

'The same,' agreed the Master of the Forge, watching as Uriel circled the armour, feeling as though Brother Amadon's soul was speaking to him from across the gulf of centuries that separated them.

'It's magnificent,' breathed Uriel. 'I felt something similar on Salinas when I saw the armour belonging to the Sons of Guilliman, but this is so much more. It's as if… it needs me to wear it.'

'The heroic deeds of every warrior to wear a suit of armour adds to its legacy, Captain Ventris. Only when the souls of armour and bearer are in accord will each be able to achieve true greatness.'

Uriel smiled at the memory as he set the breastplate aside, satisfied that he had removed all evidence of the last few days in the field. He hung the breastplate back on the frame, and drew his sword from its battered and stained leather sheath. He supposed he could have requisitioned a new scabbard, but this was how his former captain had given the sword to him, and he was loath to change any aspect of the weapon that did not require it.

He lifted the sharpening block from his footlocker and worked it along the length of the blade, closing his eyes and feeling more alone than he could remember.

Sometimes, solitude was to be cherished, and many a warrior had found illumination within one of the Chapter Solitoriums to be found in the furthest reaches of Macragge.

This was not one of those times.

Even before his elevation to captaincy of the 4th Company, Uriel had fought shoulder to shoulder with Pasanius, one of the finest sergeants to be found within the ranks of the Ultramarines. Together, they had faced down an ancient star god, defeated a tendril of the Great Devourer, and brought down a fell champion of the Ruinous Powers.

Pasanius was his oldest and dearest friend, a brother who stood at his side through all the battles and tribulations they had faced since their earliest years.

Now, even that was gone from him.


The completion of their Death Oath was, as it turned out, simply the first step on the road to rejoining the ranks of their illustrious Chapter. Their courage and loyalty were not in question, and never had been, but they had broken faith with the Codex Astartes, and had travelled to worlds polluted beyond redemption by the foul and corrupting touch of Chaos. Uriel had fought enough of the servants of the Ruinous Powers to know that a man might earnestly believe himself free of taint, and yet carry a hidden canker in the dark corners of his soul.

No sooner had the gates of the Fortress of Hera closed behind them, than a fifty-strong escort of warriors from the 1st Company had marched them directly to the Apothecarion.

Uriel and Pasanius had been subjected to punishing procedures designed to test the purity of their flesh and detect any abnormalities in their gene-stock. Every aspect of their physical makeup was examined with greater thoroughness than that endured by potential recruits, whose bodies were examined down to the cellular level for any latent weaknesses.

Such tests were gruelling and painful, and lasted many weeks, but both warriors endured them willingly.

Eventually, the Chapter's Apothecaries declared Uriel free of corruption, his flesh as pure as it had been on his induction to the Ultramarines over a hundred years ago.

Pasanius was less fortunate.

The veteran sergeant had lost the lower half of his arm on Pavonis in combat with a diabolical alien creature known as the Bringer of Darkness, though he had fought on as Uriel faced the creature down and forced it to flee. Adepts from Pavonis had replaced his missing limb with a bionic arm, which had proved almost as effective as the one he had lost. Only later, when a greenskin warrior had smashed its monstrous blade into his forearm in the depths of a space hulk, had Pasanius realised the nature of the hideous change wrought upon him.

The silver-skinned Necrontyr warriors that served the Bringer of Darkness were fashioned from an alien form of metal that could spontaneously self-repair, undoing even the most catastrophic damage. By some dreadful transference, a measure of that power had passed into the augmetic arm grafted to Pasanius, enabling it to perform similarly impossible feats of metallic regeneration.

Ashamed, Pasanius had kept this secret from Uriel until his arm's miraculous power eventually came to light in the damned fortress of Khalan-Ghol, domain of the Warsmith Honsou. The surgeon creatures of Honsou had cut the arm from Pasanius for their dark master, taking the taint of the Necrontyr with it, but that did nothing to change the fact that Pasanius had lied to his captain - an infraction of the utmost seriousness.

Once declared free of physical taint, Uriel and Pasanius were transferred to the incense-wreathed Reclusiam, and the care of the Chapter's Chaplains. In the Temple of Correction they relived every moment of their ordeals since leaving Macragge before the magnificent, immobile form of Roboute Guilliman. Both warriors told of their adventures, time and time again, and every tiny detail was exhaustively picked apart and retold, until the guardians of the Chapter's sanctity were satisfied that they knew every detail of what had transpired during the fulfilment of the Death Oath.

Many aspects of Uriel's tale: the Faustian pact with the Omphalos Daemonium, the freeing of the Heart of Blood and the alliance with Ardaric Vaanes's renegades had raised damning eyebrows, and, though such devil's bargains were unwholesome, none doubted the noble intent of Uriel's motives in making them upon hearing the outcomes.

Uriel haltingly spoke to Chaplain Cassius of the Unfleshed, and of his failure to honour his oath to keep them safe and offer them a better life. Of all the tales Uriel told, the death of the Lord of the Unfleshed caused him the most pain. Though its eventual fate had been the only possible outcome to the creature's wretched, blighted life, the sadness of its ending had lodged in Llriel's heart and would never be forgotten.

Many aspects of their Death Oath were fantastical and beggared belief, but an Ultramarines truth was his life, and not even Uriel's detractors, Cato Sicarius of the 2nd Company being the most vocal, doubted his word or honesty. Despite this, Uriel and Pasanius had consented to truth-seekers from the Chapter's Librarius Division verifying every aspect of their odyssey at every stage of their testing.

Satisfied that their hearts were still those of warriors of courage and honour, the Chaplains sent Uriel and Pasanius onwards for the last, most crucial, stage of their testing.


The Library of Ptolemy was one of the marvels of Ultramar, a repository of knowledge that stretched back tens of thousands of years to a time when fact and certainty blurred into myth and fable. Legend told that it had been named for the first and mightiest of the Chapter's Librarians, and the breadth of knowledge contained within its sprawling depths was greater than the Agrippan Conclaves, more diverse than the Arcanium of Teleos and, it was said, contained practically every word crafted in all human history.

An entire spur of the mountain range upon which the Fortress of Hera was constructed was given over to the library. Its many wings, archives, colonnades and processionals formed a manmade peak of gleaming marble and granite to rival the highest mountains of Macragge.

The tops of soaring columns were lost in the deep shadows of the distant roof, and the floor of veined green marble gleamed like ice. Towering bookcases of steel and glass rose to unimaginable heights to either side of a central nave, each stacked with an impossible number of chained books, scrolls, info-wafers, maps, slates, data crystals and a thousand other means of information storage.

Graceful marble arches spanned the chasms between the mighty bookcases, forming separate wings and kilometres of stacks that required detailed maps or guide-skulls to navigate. Only the Chapter Librarians fully understood the layout of the library, and much of its twisting depths and dusty passageways had remained untrodden for centuries or more.

Wordless servitors clad in long cerulean robes ghosted through the echoing silence of the library, some on wheels, and some on telescoping legs that allowed them to reach the higher shelves, while other, more specialised retrieval drones floated on individual grav-plates. Servo-skulls trailing long parchments and carrying quills in clicking bronze callipers floated through the air, the glowing red orbs of their eyes like drifting fireflies in the sepulchral gloom.

Uriel had spent a great deal of time within the Library of Ptolemy in his years of service to the Ultramarines. Here, he had learned the legacy of his Chapter and its heroes as well as the broader scope of Imperial history and politics. However, the majority of his time had been spent memorising the tenets of his primarch's greatest work, the Codex Astartes.

Such thoroughness was at the heart of Astartes training. Though bred and equipped for war, a Space Marine was not simply a thoughtless killing machine wrought from the bones of ancient science. His decades of training enabled him to become more than simply a warrior. Each Astartes embodied the finest qualities of humanity, courage, honour and a capacity to fight not simply because he was ordered to, but because he knew why.

Uriel's sandalled footsteps echoed on the floor, disturbing both the dust and the reverent silence that filled the library with a heavy quality all its own. Pasanius walked beside him, likewise stripped of his armour and dressed identically to Uriel in a chiton of deepest black that was secured around his waist by a belt of knotted rope.

These were the robes of the penitent, yet the knotted belt was that of an aspirant, signifying that their trials were almost at an end. The Apothecarion had decreed their bodies free from corruption, and the Chaplaincy had found their hearts to be pure.

The final decision as to whether their names would be entered once more into the honour rolls of the Ultramarines rested upon the shoulders of Marneus Calgar, and the Chapter Master's decision would be based on the word of his Chief Librarian.

The Arcanium was the heart of the library, its approaches guarded by silver-armoured warriors who bore long polearms with shimmering blades, and whose helmets were high hoods veined with psi-disruptive crystalline webs. None had challenged them as they approached, but Uriel was not surprised, for these guardians would already know of their purpose, and could divine any ill-intent.

The interior of the Arcanium was a twenty metre square cube with an arched doorway in each wall, softly lit by thick candles held aloft in iron sconces worked in the forms of eagles and lions rampant. Its walls were constructed from bare timbers, weathered and bleached, as though reclaimed from a distant shoreline, and the floor was made of dark slate. The character of the room was quite out of keeping with its surroundings, having the appearance of a far more ancient structure that had existed long before the arrival of the library.

A heavy table of dark wood filled the centre of the chamber. Upon this table were four enormous tomes, their spines a metre long and thick enough to enclose a book a third of a metre deep. Each book was secured to the table by a heavy chain of cold iron through the faded gold leaf edging of their leather bindings, and the pages were off-white vellum that had yellowed with the passage of millennia. Tightly wound script filled each page, each letter precisely formed and arranged in perfectly even lines of text.

Uriel took a deep breath at the sight of these books, letting the myriad aromas settle in the back of his throat and transport his mind back to the age of their creation. He tasted the tannic acid, ferrous sulphate and gum arabic of the ink, the warmth of the hide used in the vellum and the chalk used to prepare the surface to accept the ink. But most of all, his senses conjured the image of the singular individual that had penned these mighty tomes, a god amongst men, and a figure to whom uncounted billions owed their lives.

These works of genius had lived in Uriel's dreams for decades during his training, but until now, he had only been allowed within the presence of copies.

'Is that what I think it is?' began Pasanius.

'I think so,' said Uriel, stepping towards the books with an outstretched hand.

Both men stared at the enormous books, too lost in their reverence for the instructional words that had guided the Ultramarines for ten thousand years to notice that the door behind them had shut and another had opened.

'I wouldn't touch that if I were you,' said a resonant voice. 'It would be a shame if the Arcanium's defences killed you before I could pass my recommendation to the Chapter Master.'

Uriel snatched his hand away from the book, and looked up into the hooded eyes of the Chief Librarian of the Ultramarines, who stood on the other side of the table, though neither he nor Pasanius had been aware of his arrival.

Varro Tigurius was an imposing figure, though he stood no taller than would Uriel were he clad in his armour. Rather, it was the depth of knowledge and immense stature his rank and power conferred upon him that made Tigurius so vast and terrible.

Uriel felt a tremor of fear down his spine at the sight of the Librarian, his heavily ornamented armour bedecked with wax seals and carved script-work. Wards and sigils of unknown origin spiralled around his gauntlets and across every facet of his battle plate. A set of bronze keys hung on a thick chain around his neck, and his skull-topped staff of office seemed to glitter as though fashioned from corposant made solid.

Tigurius's eyes were infinitely deep pools, bright and glittering with wry humour, though only the Librarian ever knew the source of that amusement. His pale skin and sunken cheeks gave his features a sharp, angular edge uncommon amongst the ranks of the Astartes.

The Chief Librarian stepped towards them, and Uriel felt his skin crawl at the nearness of the mighty warrior. Though Tigurius had fought with courage and honour for the Ultramarines for hundreds of years, and had saved the warriors of the 4th Company on the desolate heaths of Boros, he was no brother as other Space Marines were brothers.

His powers and wealth of hidden knowledge ensured that he remained an outsider, even within a Chapter of warriors bound by oaths of brotherhood stronger than adamantium. To some, Tigurius was little better than a warlock, a wielder of powers more commonly ascribed to worshippers of unclean spirits or warp wyches, while to others, he was a warrior guided by the Emperor himself.

Tigurius's prescient warnings had saved the Ultramarines from destruction at the claws of hive fleet Behemoth, had predicted the approaching war fleet of Warmaster Nidar, and had sent Uriel and Pasanius to Medrengard.

As much as Uriel honoured the might, power and rank of Tigurius, he had been through too much, due to this warrior's visions, to ever truly like him.

'Centuries of wisdom are contained within these hallowed pages,' said Tigurius, circling the table, and turning a page of the nearest tome without touching it. 'Our beloved primarch wrote much of its earliest passages here as a boy. Did you know that?'

'No,' said Uriel, surprised that he did not, for every warrior of the Ultramarines studied the history of the Chapter's gene-father, memorising his life, his battles and his teachings as part of his intensive training on the road to becoming a Space Marine.

'Few do,' said Tigurius. 'It is a small part of the primarch's story, and not one I am keen to promulgate, for I enjoy the solitude of this place and do not wish it to become a lodestone for pilgrims. Could you imagine this place with thousands traipsing through it like the Temple of Correction?'

Uriel shook his head, and glanced over at Pasanius. His friend was similarly close-mouthed, the sergeant's innate understanding of when to speak and when to shut up allowing Uriel to do the talking.

'I think it would be crowded,' said Uriel.

'Crowded, yes,' agreed Tigurius, as though the idea had only just occurred to him. 'As a youth, the primarch would come here with his books to read when he wished to escape the politicking of Macragge City. Hundreds of kilometres from the nearest settlement and higher than any man had climbed upon Hera's Peak, it was the perfect place to find peace. It still is, and I intend to keep it that way.'

'Then why summon us here?' asked Uriel, surprised at the tone of his question, which bordered on the disrespectful.

'Why do you think?' countered Tigurius.

'I don't know.'

'Then think harder,' snapped the Chief Librarian. 'You are a warrior with a modicum of intelligence, Captain Ventris. I expect more from you.'

'Because of these,' suggested Uriel, pointing towards the enormous books.

'Just so,' agreed Tigurius. 'The Codex Astartes. Tell me, what do they represent?'

Uriel looked down at the books, feeling humbled and awed once again that he was in the presence of artefacts touched by the hand of Roboute Guilliman.

'They are what makes us who we are?' ventured Uriel.

'Why?'

'Why what?' asked Uriel.

Tigurius sighed. 'Why does the Codex Astartes make us who we are? After all, it is just a book is it not? What makes it different to any other text penned over the millennia?'

In that sigh, Uriel understood with sudden clarity that his fate was hanging in the balance.

The instinctive, marrow-deep, detachment most warriors felt from Tigurius as a brother was blinding Uriel to that stark fact, and he forced down his impatience at the Librarian's obtuse nature. If he failed to convince Tigurius that he and Pasanius were worthy of reinstatement, then their lives were forfeit, with only the prospect of execution at Gallan's Rock awaiting them.

He stared down at the volumes of the Codex Astartes, letting the honour of standing in their presence flow through him. He had memorised entire tracts of his primarch's works, an amount of knowledge beyond even the most gifted of mortal savants, but even that was but the smallest fraction of knowledge contained within their pages, for no one without the magnificent cognitive faculties of one of the Emperor's lost sons could ever hope to memorise its entirety.

'It is more than just a book,' said Uriel. 'Its teachings were the building blocks that laid the foundations for the Imperium in the wake of the Great Heresy. Its words were the glue that held the forces loyal to the Emperor together when the rebels were defeated.'

'Good,' said Tigurius, nodding eagerly, 'and what does it teach us, the Ultramarines?'

'It sets out the tenets by which a Chapter should be organised,' said Uriel. 'Before the Heresy, the Legions were autonomous fighting formations, equipped with their own ships, manufacturing capabilities and command authority. The Codex broke that up and set out how the Space Marines should be organised so that no one man could ever hold such power again.'

'A Space Marine learns that on his first day within the walls of his Chapter House,' spat Tigurius. 'A novice could tell me that. That is what the Codex is, but I want you to tell me what it means, what it means to you, right here, right now.'

Uriel struggled to imagine what the venerable Librarian wanted to hear, thinking back to the times he had fought with the Codex as his guide, the times its teachings had saved his life and the terrible, aching absence torn in his heart when he had forsaken it.

'Think, Uriel,' hissed Tigurius, his eyes seeming to flicker with hidden fires. 'To be in the same room as these relics of a time long gone is to be standing in the presence of history itself. Through these works, a man can reach back to a time when gods of war walked amongst men, and the founder of our Chapter led the Ultramarines in battle.'

'It is the keystone of what makes the Space Marines so formidable,' said Uriel with sudden clarity. 'Without it, we are nothing but gene-bred killers.'

'Go on,' said Tigurius.

'Without the Codex Astartes, the Imperium wouldn't have survived the aftermath of the Great Heresy. It binds every one of the thousand Chapters of Space Marines together, and gives us a common cause, a connection to the past and to one another. Every Chapter, whether they acknowledge it or not, owes its very existence to the Codex Astartes.'

'Exactly,' said Tigurius. 'It is living history, a tangible link to everything we are.'

'And that's why you summoned us here,' said Pasanius. 'To know where we come from is to know who we are and where we are going.'

Tigurius laughed. 'You do not say much, Pasanius Lysane, but when you speak it is worthwhile to listen.'

'I'm a sergeant, my lord,' said Pasanius. 'It's what I do.'

Tigurius turned another page of the Codex without touching it, and said, 'This mighty work, this legendary connection to our past and our brothers, guides us in all things, yet on Tarsis Ultra you saw fit to disregard its teachings. You broke faith with what makes us Ultramarines, and left your warriors to fight without you while you took command of the Deathwatch and flew into the heart of a tyranid bio-ship. Was that arrogance or merely hubris?'

'It was neither, my lord,' said Uriel. 'It was necessary.'

'Necessary? Why?'

'The Deathwatch commander, Captain Bannon, was dead, and his squad needed a leader.'

'Any one of Bannon's warriors could have taken command. Why did it have to be you? What makes you so special?'

'I fought with the Deathwatch before,' said Uriel.

'Could the mission have succeeded without you?'

Uriel shrugged, looking over at Pasanius.

'I don't know,' he said. 'Maybe. I know I should have stayed with my company, but we succeeded. Does that count for nothing?'

'Of course it counts,' stated Tigurius with solemn finality. 'Yes, you saved Tarsis Ultra, but at what cost?'

'Cost?' asked Uriel. 'I don't understand.'

'Then tell me of Ardaric Vaanes.'

'Vaanes?' asked Uriel, surprised to hear Tigurius mention the renegade warrior of the Raven Guard. 'What of him? I am sure you have read the transcripts from the Reclusiam. You must have heard everything about him by now.'

'True,' said Tigurius, 'but I want to hear it again. What did you offer him on Medrengard?'

'A chance to regain his honour,' said Uriel, 'but he did not take it.'

'And what became of him?'

'I do not know,' said Uriel. 'I imagine he is dead.'

'Dead,' repeated Tigurius. 'And what did you learn from him?'

'Learn from him? Nothing,' said Uriel, tiring of Tigurius constantly meeting his answers with further questions.

'Are you sure?' asked Tigurius. 'If not from his words, then by his poor example.'

Uriel thought back to Medrengard, though the memories were painful and unpleasant. The renegade Space Marines he and Pasanius fought alongside had, for a brief, shining moment, embraced their cause and journeyed into the heart of the Iron Warriors' citadel. But Ardaric Vaanes had, in the end, forsaken them, and left them to their fate.

Suddenly, it was clear to Uriel.

'Vaanes's fate could have been my fate,' he said, with the growing confidence of epiphany. 'He let ego blind him to his duty and shared brotherhood. He believed he knew better than the teachings of his Chapter.'

'Ardaric Vaanes is a classic example of a fate that can overcome even the best of us if we are not vigilant,' said Tigurius, and Uriel heard the warning in the Librarian's tone. 'Every one of us constructs self-enhancing images of ourselves that make us feel special, never ordinary, and always of greater stature than we are. This is at the core of what makes a Space Marine such a fearsome opponent, the complete and utter belief in his ability to achieve victory no matter the odds against him. It boosts his courage, his self-esteem, and protects him from the psychological tribulations of being surrounded by death and forever immersed in battle. After all, every one of us thinks we are better than the average. Isn't that so?'

Uriel nodded, though the admission was uncomfortable. 'Perhaps I once thought like that.'

'I know I did,' admitted Pasanius sourly. 'There wasn't a task I delegated that I didn't feel I'd have done better.'

'As much as they help us, these egocentric biases can be maladaptive,' said Tigurius, 'blinding us to our failings and obscuring the awful truth that people exactly like us behave just as badly in certain evil situations. You assume that other people will fall to their vices, but not you, and do not armour your soul against temptations, believing that nothing bad can affect you, even when you know how easily it can happen.'

Tigurius placed an open palm on the table, and bade Uriel and Pasanius approach.

'When you were an aspirant and you learned of the Great Heresy against the Emperor, I imagine you concluded that you would not do what the forces of the Warmaster had done. You shook your head and wondered how anyone could have travelled such a road. Am I right?'

Uriel nodded as Tigurius continued. 'Of course. I am sure you felt you simply could not have done what they did, but experience has shown that to be a lie, you can do such things. That belief is what makes us all vulnerable to such temptations, precisely because we think ourselves immune to them. Only when we recognise that every one of us is subject to forces beyond our control does humility take precedence over unfounded pride, and we can acknowledge our potential to tread the path of evil and engage in shameful acts. Tell me what that teaches you, Uriel.'

'That in the right circumstances, any one of us can fall.'

'Or the wrong circumstances,' added Pasanius.

'I fell once, because I believed I couldn't,' said Uriel, 'but on Medrengard I saw where that path ultimately leads: degradation and damnation.'

'Is that a fate you wish for?'

'No,' said Uriel with utter finality, 'absolutely not.'

'Then you have learned something of value,' said Tigurius.


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