Terra Incognita – Ch. 13

Lourek awoke deep in the bowels of a large beast. He heard the beast’s voice echo around. He couldn’t understand it, but he assumed it was in draconic. “Well, this is just wonderful. I take a dip in the hot springs and I end up in the belly of a serpent without my armor or weapons.”

Taking a look around Lourek realized he was on a small island in the serpent’s stomach. The pile was made of undigested bones, the remains of armor, and acid-damaged weapons. With a mighty sigh he sifted through part of the pile and found a damaged short sword.

Swinging the sword a few times, Lourek nodded. “Well, it’s better than nothing.” His voice echoed through the cavernous stomach. He thought back to all the stories he had heard growing up of heroes. None that he could remember involved anyone being swallowed by a serpent. “Probably because nobody ever survived to tell the tale.” He muttered to the large, stench-filled cavern.

– – –

Lukren edged to the water and pulled his armor and Lourek’s armor and weapons away. “Ok, let me put on my armor and we can talk about what to do.”

“I think my friend Donaar should try speaking with the serpent. It does speak draconic, right?” Krakust motioned at the hematite dragonkin.

With a shrug Donaar sheathed his sword. “It wouldn’t hurt.”

Helena nodded then said something to Donaar in a language that sounded like deep growls with grating consonants.

A similar sounding string of words responded to Helena. Then, in common, Donaar addressed the group. “I think Helena might be a little better at this. She knows more about serpents than I, and she obviously speaks draconic very well.”

“Well, I don’t see why not.” Sorley nodded at Helena. “I assume you want to do this?”

“Of course.” Helena approached the edge of the pool and called out in draconic. “Serpent, I seek a moot with you.”

Rising from the pool, a large brass colored serpent sprayed warm water into the air. “Speak, elf of the sky.”

“I am Helena Dabaetodh, a dracomage. I wish to know what you want in return for spitting up our dwarven friend you have swallowed.” Helena did the same intricate bow she had done for Donaar earlier.

The serpent laughed a large, booming, mirth-filled sound echoing in the hot spring clearing. “Once swallowed you must find your own way out. If you wish to enter and help him you may, or you may send him items you think will help. There is nothing you can do for me to just spit him up.”

With a deep sigh Helena nodded. “Very well, I shall commune with my companions and we shall decide what to do.”

“Take your time. I believe he landed on, ahem, dry land.” With that the serpent coiled back into the water but kept his head near the shore. “Toss in anything or enter. Anything that goes in my mouth will be swallowed.” The serpent opened his maw and stopped moving.

Donaar was already telling the others what the serpent had said when Helena returned. “So, I think we should send him his weapons and armor first, then decide what else we wish to do.”

“Agreed.” Lukren took the bundle of armor with Lourek’s items and tossed it into the serpent’s mouth. At once the serpent reared its head up and swallowed. Then it lowered its head, resuming the open maw position.

– – –

Lourek had just found an old, tattered raft made of something that seemed to resist the serpent’s stomach bile when he felt a rumble and a package landed next to him with a loud thump. He looked at the bundle in shock and realized that it was his armor and items.

“By the gods, they’re making deals with the beast! What are they thinking?” Lourek took the armor and donned it, strapping his daggers to his side and putting the bag on his back. “Well, I’m grateful none the less.” Lourek climbed onto the raft and saw a long pole cobbled together with bones with sinew used as twine. “Looks like it’s time to move.”

– – –

“I’m definitely offering to go in there to help…Lourek was it?” Donaar looked to Lukren for confirmation.

“Yes, it’s Lourek.”

“But if I go in alone, then he will probably see me as a threat.” Donaar scanned the other’s faces. “Who else is willing?”

Sorley shrugged. “I’ll go.” He looked at Ember. “You stay here, though.”

Helena nodded. “Orby will go with you. I’ll keep an eye on Ember out here.”

“Ok, as long as you have someone looking out for your back, I guess.” Ember shook her head, her red fur reflecting the sunlight. “I just don’t like the idea of you or anyone going in there.”

“Well, it’s decided.” Sorley held a hand towards Orby. “Let’s go, shall we?”

Orby floated over and flowed into Sorley’s hand. This still feels weird, but Helena obviously trusts you to let this happen twice.

I guess so. Sorley smiled at Helena. “Thanks.” He turned and nodded to Donaar, his face more serious. “Let’s go, dragonkin.”

With a curt nod Donaar approached the serpent, Sorley in tow. They climbed up onto the beast’s tongue and felt what all food feels. The sensation of being completely swallowed.

– – –

Lourek reached a new island of bone and undigested food. He looked around and saw a pedestal with a few runes. “Well, let’s take a look, shall we?” As he approached, he heard a distant scream. “Well, it seems I’m not the only unfortunate soul in here.” Looking around he tried to locate where the sound was coming from. It was approaching rapidly from somewhere. By the time he thought to look up he didn’t have time to move out of the way. Donaar and Sorley landed on top of him.

“Sorry, Lourek. Once we started falling, we couldn’t steer.” Sorley helped Donaar off Lourek and then reached out a hand to help the dwarf up. “This is Donaar, a dragonkin that’s willing to help.”

Shaking his head Lourek offered a hand. “I’m Lourek, but I don’t know who would’ve been dumb enough to come down here, there’s no way out except dead.”

“Don’t worry,” Donaar said, “we made no deals with the serpent. He said if we wished to help, he would send us down here. He acts like people have survived this before.”

“Well, if there were people who got out alive…there weren’t very many of them.” Lourek motioned at the surface of bones they were standing on. “Pretty much a million to one odds.”

Sorley nodded. “Oh, Orby’s here too by the way.”

“Right.” Lourek looked back at the pedestal. “I was about to examine the runes on this. Looks like some sort of puzzle.”

The group walked, or floated, over to the pedestal. The three natives to Domhan seemed confused by the carvings.

“Almost looks elvish, but not as flowing.” Donaar traced the side of the pedestal. “Anyone read elvish?”

Sorley chuckled lightly. “It’s in English. My native tongue. Let me take a look.” He approached the pedestal. On the edges there was a single sentence. “It says, ‘Capture the king, let not your king be captured’. Does anyone know how to play chess?”

As Sorley said chess the top of the pedestal flipped, and chess pieces appeared. On the opposite side of the pedestal a man in green robes appeared. “Welcome, traveler. This is my magic chess board. If you win a game against me, I will give you a great boon. But if you lose, you will battle for my amusement.”

“What boons might you grant us?” Donaar eyed the figure. “You are but the shadow of a great mage. You are not here.”

“I am not, but a piece of my soul is. I can enchant armor and weapons or give you a clue on how to get out of here.” The figure swept his arms wide. “If you win ask, and I may be able to give.”

Donaar stepped forward. “I know a thing or two about chess. Let’s have a go.”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 18

After a short rest to get their breaths back the four adventurers and the automaton started moving again. It didn’t take long for the tunnel to start looping to the right. When they noticed it had turned almost all the way back around again, they were able to smell burning skittering creepers.

“Great, it loops.” Julian sighed with annoyance. “I think we’re going to have a welcoming party.”

“Don’t worry, friends, you have me now. I won’t let you die on my watch.” Enress saluted by clanging her fist on her chest.

Burner smiled slightly. “Yes, I know. You and Julian saved our hides back there. Thanks again, Enress.”

Enress shook her head. “No thanks required. We have shown we will help each other. I trust you, and I hope that goes both ways.”

With a nod Burner moved out of the tunnel and looked around. “Stay sharp. There’s some skittering creepers out here.”

Gaemacirch lumbered forward in his ferret shape and motioned with his snout at Enress. “Hey, take my sword. Consider it yours until we find you your own weapon.” Enress took it and nodded in thanks. Gaemacirch jumped into a group of creepers, distracting them for long enough for Enress to attack them and she took quite a few out. After a few scrapes the five came through just fine.

“Okay, Enress, do you know where we need to go to get deeper into Dark Under and seal the darkness?” Julian leaned against a wall, a little winded.

With a sigh Enress nodded. “I was afraid that was why you were here.” She sat down with a thud. “Yes, but only if you make me a better face, Julian.”

“Fine.” Julian motioned back towards the tunnel they had just come back through. “Let’s go.”

Burner, Dreekt, and Gaemacirch looked at each other and shrugged.

“So, should we come with, or…?” Burner asked.

“No, we’ll only be a few minutes.” Julian waved as he went into the entrance of the tunnel that they had gone in first. “The metal’s pretty close to this end of the tunnel.”

– – –

“Magnus, sir, more news from the realm.” A man in a beautifully crafted grey tunic handed a parchment to another, slightly taller man with short blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and a golden tan wearing a deep blue robe.

“Thank you, Jersun, I’ll just take a look at that.” Magnus took the parchment from his manservant. “I wonder what lies they’ve been spreading about me.”

“Well, sir, they’ve done something worse. I think maybe you should sit down before I tell you.”

Shrugging, Magnus sat down on a cushioned stool. “Well, tell me.”

“It’s about your wife, sir.” Jersun paused for a moment. “They’ve kidnapped her.”

“What?!” Magnus Overton stood at his full six-foot, two inches. “Where have they taken her?”

A popping noise resounded through the halls as a woman with orange skin appeared next to Magnus’ table. “That’s a good question, Magnus. I’ll tell you where they have her, but only if you make a deal with me.”

Magnus looked aghast. “Adalet! The Sorceress told me you were missing!”

“The Vengeance is never gone for long.” Adalet smiled broadly. “If I tell you where they have her you hire a certain group to save her. You don’t go yourself.”

“This will be binding? If so, I will get the appropriate components.” Jersun motioned towards a door out of the small dining hall.”

A small, insincere smile came to Magnus’ lips. “I believe she does intend that. Grab the components.”

“Very well, sir.” Jersun turned and walked out of the hall.

“Another thing. Next time you marry the offspring of the gods? Make sure not to lose her.”

Magnus’ eyes grew wide. “Surely The Warrior and The Vicious are not out for my blood. Their daughter can hold her own against fifty armed men.”

The Vengeance shook her head. “Not when she’s been drugged, she can’t.”

Jersun entered the room with an odd collection of spell components. “Here you are sir,” he turned and nodded at Magnus, “goddess,” he nodded at The Vengeance.

“Thankyou, Jersun. You may take the rest of the night off, if you wish.” Magnus took the components from him.

“I believe you will need a friend, sir, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes. I believe I shall. Please, stay.”

Magnus and The Vengeance mixed a thick brew out of the spell components and soaked a rag in them. They then tied the rag around their right hands, which were in a clasp.

“I will tell you where your wife is, and in return you will hire the one group I specify to find her, and no one else, including yourself, will go to find her for at least a year.” The Vengeance looked at Magnus in the eyes. “Are these terms agreed upon?”

“Yes, they are.” Magnus kept his eyes locked on The Vengeance’s eyes until the spell was complete. “Well, where and whom?”

– – –

While Julian and Enress were away Burner and Gaemacirch sat down on some rocks while Dreekt did some circuits around the cavern. The gaseous tendrils were still floating about, but they seemed disinterested in him.

About ten minutes went by and Burner started to get concerned. “Hey, Gaem, do you think you can go check on them? I don’t really know what they’re doing, and I feel the need to stick together.” She glanced over in Dreekt’s direction. “After that spider run-in I think Dreekt was right. No small groups.”

“Agreed.” Gaemacirch slinked off.

Dreekt noticed Gaemacirch leaving and swiftly returned to Burner. “What’s up?”

“I sent Gaem to check on Julian and Enress. I’m getting a bad feeling.”

“Oh, good idea.” Dreekt leaned against the wall and looked out over the quiet, still stinking, cavern. “I’m going to meditate for a little bit. You may need to shake me out of it when we move on.”

Burner’s glowing eyes stared into Dreekt’s avian eyes. “Don’t use the stone, not in here.”

“No, no. I’m meditating on my powers. With any luck I’ll be better with them afterward.”

“Good.” Burner took a position to watch the cavern and the tunnel entrance.

Ok, spirit. We have some time. How do we do this knowledge thing?

Like this, Dreekt. Also, now that we aren’t in any danger, my name is Kwase.

Nice to meet you, Kwase.

So, Kwase began, in order to use your powers more effectively you need only commune with me. You may do that like this for a short boost in abilities, or in a dream state where I can train you more directly. I think a dream state is not the best at this time.

Agreed. Dreekt set his bag on the ground and folded up into lotus position on the uneven ground.

Kwase laughed lightly. I don’t believe that does anything, but not a bad idea. Now, grab some paper and a quill. You will be doing arcane formulae today.

Great, more school. Dreekt pulled the aforementioned materials from his pack and grabbed a stone tablet for a writing surface.

You forget, I know you slacked during basic math. This will be much, much harder.

– – –

Gaemacirch rounded a corner in the tunnel and saw Julian literally molding the metal of Enress’ face. Gaemacirch slowly backed away and curled up on the ground. “Hey, guys! Burner sent me to keep watch. I’ll just be over here, not watching.

“Prevest!” Julian yelled. “Wait, I can fix it. Gaemacirch just startled me.”

“No, I like it.” Enress said with satisfaction in her voice.

A few seconds passed, Gaemacirch assumed Julian was assessing whatever happened.

“Well,” Julian said with genuine agreement, “it does look ferocious…and a little attractive.”

Enress chuckled lightly, the sound was that of small bells. “Yes, I agree. Let’s go rejoin the group.” Enress came around the corner and Gaemacirch got a good look at her new face. It looked like Julian was going for a small nose and subtle features, and when Gaemacirch had startled him he had brushed along her face from the bottom left to the top right. It made lines that looked like war paint. Gaemacirch had to admit to himself that it was indeed attractive.

“That looks very nice. A great improvement, of course, but also a work of art.” Gaemacirch bowed his ferret head. “My compliments to model and artisan.”

“So, myself twice?” Enress asked, amusement in her voice.

Julian punched her lightly on the metallic shoulder. “And me once, for the current state of your face.”

“Right, right.” She turned and hugged Julian. “Thank you so much!”

Gaemacirch stood up from his curled position and motioned his head towards the mouth of the cave. “Let’s go…and I saw what you were doing. That’s an interesting magic you have there.”

“It runs in the family…kinda.” Julian looked mildly embarrassed. “I really wasn’t supposed to show anyone, but now I guess the creeper’s out of the trap.”

With a hearty chuckle Gaemacirch turned to head back to Dreekt and Burner. “I never noticed how stupid that zarx saying was until you said it.”

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Cerdic the Usual – Ch. 7

Srathek didn’t like being in human form. Humans were the weakest of creatures he could appear as, but that was the only creature that was on Earth. Sighing to himself he approached a non-descript warehouse in Blackpool, Lancashire. The warehouse seemed abandoned, but Srathek knew better. This was likely a base for the Guardians of Humanity council. One of the few still guarded by people who listened for certain passphrases.

With a swift knock on the door Srathek stated the passphrase. “May Gormaliev not calculate against you.”

The door opened slowly. “And may The Calculating turn her schemes away from you, as well. Enter.”

Srathek walked into the warehouse. “I believe Shane is waiting for me. I’m Stan.”

“Yes, he is. Down the hall, third door on the right, Stan.” The guard closed the door and locked it before sitting back down behind a set of monitors watching the exterior of the building.

“I see you’ve added cameras to the setup.”

The guard grunted an affirmative then motioned back to the hallway.

Shrugging Srathek walked down the hall. “Third door on the right…ah, here we go.” He knocked on the door in rapid succession, three knocks. “It’s Stan.”

The door opened so fast it practically flew off the hinges. “Stan? I thought you weren’t being serious about meeting here!”

Srathek looked amusedly at Shane. “My, my Shane. You sure set the appointment, though.”

Shane pushed his round glasses back onto his face and brushed his long, sweaty, black hair to one side. “I was making the precaution. Do you want to go for a walk, perhaps?”

“That would probably be best, Shane.” Srathek looked him up and down. “You look like you need the sun.”

– – –

Cerdic and Veron sat at a petrol station in the town of Hurst Green. They were waiting for the tank to fill and Cerdic was polishing off a hamburger.

“So, we’re just going to drive back down to Rawtenstall, then?” Cerdic fed the last bite of the hamburger to Grimm.

Veron sighed. “Yes, we are. We need to get you back to your handler and the railroad may be compromised. You remember the hyb-” He caught himself and looked around to see if anyone was listening. “The guy you met on the train?”

“Yes.”

“He may have been working for Albrite. We can’t be too careful.” Veron paid for the petrol and started the car back up. “Let’s get going. Southward bound.”

Cerdic shrugged in the left seat. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school, or something?”

An annoyed expression crossed Veron’s face. “First, it’s summer, and second no. I finished school and am a full-time agent.”

“Well, don’t you need to be on your assignment, then?” Cerdic said sheepishly.

“I guess they think I don’t need to worry about it.” Veron shrugged. “Let’s just get you home and back to work, shall we?”

“Sure.”

– – –

Veron and Cerdic sat on the shoulder of a country road next to the car. Grimm sat nearby, watching the road, though there weren’t any cars in sight. The back-right tire was flat, and the spare tire was on the road. The jack kit was lying open without a spanner in the kit.

“Well, I could have sworn I kept a spanner in there.” Veron leaned against the car. “My phone died and yours doesn’t have service. Man, we’re so lucky.”

“I know, I know.” Cerdic checked his phone again. “I just have the wrong carrier, I guess. Do you think your phone is charged up now?”

“Doubtful. It doesn’t turn on until it’s at 20% or more battery.”

With a sigh Cerdic stood again. “I’m going to take a look at that tire. Something’s bothering me about it.”

Veron shrugged and patted Grimm on the head. “He’s a strange one, you know. Maybe you should bond with me instead.”

Grimm cocked his head to the side and barked lightly.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Gormaliev didn’t make a pact with me for a reason.” He slumped a little. “Don’t know why, but she has her reasons.”

Cerdic looked over the flat tire. When he looked at the right angle, he could see some sort of collection of triangles slowly fading away. They seemed to be made of shadows. Shrugging, Cerdic pulled on the rubber of the tire. It flaked away, as if it had become brittle. With a tug the rubber ripped from the wheel and Cerdic was able to see the inside of the tire. The tube was torn to shreds, but the inside of the tire had score marks all along it perpendicular to the rotation. He picked up the rubber and walked back over to Veron.

“Hey, Veron. Does this look like a normal flat to you?”

“What?” Veron stood and looked at the rubber Cerdic was holding. “Is that flaking off?”

Cerdic flicked the side of the tire and rubber flakes fell to the ground. “Yeah, I think we’ve been sabotaged.”

“That’s not good. Looks like necrotic magics.” Veron pulled an amulet out of his trouser pocket. “This is an emergency amulet. Do I need to use it?”

“There’s another thing, I saw something. It looked li-” Cerdic was cut off as a series of popping sounds went off.

“Shast!” Veron gripped the amulet and said something that sounded latin. “Help will be here soon. Keep your head down until then.” He dragged Cerdic down and around the car. He reached up and pulled a sheet from the back of the car. “Umbra,” he whispered as he pulled the fabric over Grimm, Cerdic, and himself.

The fabric was see-through from the inside, but Cerdic could have sworn the fabric was tan like the interior of the car.

A pair of feet worked their way around the car and when the person came into view Cerdic put a hand over his mouth to keep himself from gasping. He was a lanky with sunglasses, and blood streaming from his mouth.

“Pah, the local wildlife taste disgusting. Too bad we have orders not to feast on the targets.’

“Do you see them?”

“Nah, there’s nothing over here. Did Shane know who they were, exactly?”

A burly man came around the other end of the car. “Uh, a pactless Aelfson and a Usual.” He froze mid-step. “Grak! They activated an emergency amulet. Someone’s coming.”

“Well, let’s hurry, then. They must be cloaked. I’ll try sniffing for them.”

The burly man sighed. “And why, pray tell, were you not already doing that, dear vampire?”

With a sigh the vampire sniffed the air. “Because I still had the smell of my meal in my nostrils…they have a dog with them.” He walked right next to Cerdic, Veron, and Grimm. “Should be right here.” He groped in the air over their heads. “Odd.”

Rolling his eyes, the burly man started to bring back his leg as if to kick. He never completed the action, as a new set of popping noises surprised the man. “Quick, let’s get out of here.” The burly man made motions in the air with his hands and Cerdic saw geometric shapes forming around it. As the shapes started to intertwine a dagger-like triangle smashed through them, breaking them to pieces. As the shattered shapes dissipated two other men circled the car.

“Ah, Jeremy and Patrick.” Eric said. “What are you doing here?”

“Treeft,” the vampire swore. “I told you this was a trap, Jer.”

Jeremy sighed. “No, Pat. I told you to hurry. You were taking your time.”

“Grimm. Bite the vampire, will you?” Eric looked directly at Grimm, through the fabric.

Breaking out of hiding, with a snarl, Grimm chomped onto Patrick’s leg. The vampire cried out and started striking at Grimm. Most of the blows passed right through the grim.

With the fabric moved Cerdic and Veron were in the open. The second man that had arrived with Eric pulled the two of them to their feet. “I’m glad you used the amulet. I remember you telling me once you’d rather die than be rescued by me.”

Veron half-heartedly punched the man in the shoulder. “Shut up, cuz. Just deal with these guys. Henry won’t give Eric all the credit, will he?”

“Oh, fine.” Henry made a series of jerking motions with his hands. “Lux!” A ray of sunlight went directly into the vampire’s face. Cerdic noticed that the geometry that made up the spell was also designed to melt his sunglasses, and they did so readily.

With a loud shriek Patrick fell to his knees. “My eyes! My eyes!” He groped at his leg, trying to grip Grimm. “I need blood, now!”

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 17

Automatons were long thought of as machines without sapience. They had enough sentience, people thought, to follow the orders of The Commander and little else. However, whenever The Commander was not commanding the automatons around, they did things of their own accord. At first, they took care of the creation and repair of themselves – which they still do – but eventually they began to leave The Commander’s army. Amir knew that this was happening, but he had long known that automatons were sapient. He knew that any who left would return to his call if he truly needed them, but he doubted any such time would come.
In my interactions, limited as they are, with this god I have heard the tale of how automatons came to be. The souls of ancient humans, not ready to become gods, were included in the great ascension and, instead of becoming immortal in their own flesh, their souls were bonded to the automatons they were creating. Amir knew these people before and said that afterwards he always had a feeling they were more than they seemed.

Excerpt from the works of Jergolt, The Scholar

Burner, Dreekt, Gaemacirch, and Julian found themselves in a much smaller cavern than the first. In this cavern there were piles of metal and wires all over.

Julian handed the quarterstaff back to Dreekt whose taloned hand strapped it back to his pack.

Gaemacirch’s ferret head was turning left and right, scanning the room.

The glow of Burner’s eyes under her hood did little to light the room, but Julian’s lantern did light up the room.

As they surveyed the bare wires and metal Dreekt wished they had a dwarf with them. They would’ve been able to tell what kind of metals there were, and what they were most commonly used for. He moved forward slowly, careful not to cut himself on any jagged pieces.

The four adventurers rounded the corner and found a humanoid automaton lying on its back. Its lower face was missing, and its legs were pinned under a large piece of metal. Its head swiveled around at the sound of their arrival and it motioned at its legs, uttering no sound but that of metal sliding across metal.

With concern Gaemacirch approached in his ferret form. “Don’t worry, we’re here to help.” He nosed at the piece of metal, tested the weight and shook his head. “It’s too heavy, I cannot move it and none of you can. We’ll need to rig something together to deal with this.”

“Dreekt, why don’t you and Julian stay here to work on that while Gaem and I scout further ahead?” Burner motioned forward.

“No, I think we should all work on this.” Dreekt made eye contact with Burner. “I don’t want you two going off alone.”

Gaemacirch sighed. “Look, we need to keep moving, Dreekt I-”

“No, either I go with you two or you stay here. The gem showed me something. You two need to stay with someone while we’re down here.”

Burner broke Dreekt’s eye contact and turned to Julian. “Can you handle this yourself?”

“Only if Dreekt leaves his rope.” Julian started to take the coil from Dreekt’s pack. “I have an idea and there’s a lot of material to work with here. We’ll catch up. If there’s a fork wait there.”

“Alright, Dreekt. You come with us.” Burner motioned forward. “We need to keep moving. The longer we spend down here the thicker the darkness seems.”

Julian watched his three traveling companions leave and turned to the pile of metal covering the automaton. “Ok, automaton, I’m going to do something. Don’t worry about it.”

Some of the automaton’s gears started spinning in its neck where its mouth would be if it hadn’t been torn off.

“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.” Julian sat cross-legged, pulled out a small notebook, set one of his hands on the metal and started reading something in a grating tongue.

After ten minutes of this he stood up, careful to keep his hand still on the metal. Once he was standing upright, he put his other hand under the lip of the metal and pulled. The metal seemed to grow where he pulled it, but the automaton soon realized that as he pulled the metal into a long, thick bar the metal that was on its legs was moving, almost as if Julian was sucking up water with a straw. Eventually Julian pulled enough of the metal away that the automaton’s feet were no longer pinned.

The automaton stood and felt surveyed its overall condition. It smiled at Julian and moved in to hug him.

“Wait, let me end the spell first. You’re made of metal.” Julian removed his hands from the metal, now in the shape of a bar, and said a few words in the same grating tongue as before. “Ok, now you’re fine. Not that I want the hug, but-” Julian was cut off by the automaton hugging him. “Right, now we need to go find the others. It’s been at least twenty minutes.” He picked the rope back up from the ground, uncoiled it, and recoiled it. “There, now it looks like I actually used this. Let’s go. Oh, I’m Julian by the way. The large ferret is Gaemacirch who is a zarx, the skravyn is Dreekt, and the wick is Burner.”

– – –

The tunnel cleared of metal after a few dozen feet. The concern Dreekt felt grew as they approached the small cavern he had seen in his vision.

“Here,” Dreekt said. “Be on the lookout for-” he was cut short as a giant spider attacked Gaemacirch by spitting acid at him.

“Spiders!” Gaemacirch loped towards the giant spider that had spit at him to slash at it with his claws. He missed, but as the spider avoided the attack an opening was created for Dreekt to shoot magic at the creature.

Seeing the opening Dreekt cast a bolt of fire at the creature who seemed to shrug most of the hit off.

Reaching for her bow and arrows Burner noticed another spider. “There’s a second one approaching!” She shot at the first spider, hoping that by focusing they would hold out long enough for Julian to show up to help. One giant spider would be no problem, but two? Big problem.

The second spider jumped forward and attempted to bite Burner but misjudged the distance and moved back again.

The first spider bit at Gaemacirch and managed to sink its fangs in. Venom injected into him, but Gaemacirch was able to shrug off the effects.

Burner turned and shot at the second spider, now realizing that if they ignored one of the spiders it would be problematic. The arrow found a gap in the spider’s protective carapace, dealing some damage.

Deciding it wouldn’t hurt to try again Dreekt shot another bolt of fire at the first spider. Once again, the fire seemed to bounce off the hide. He quickly addressed his spirit. Any ideas?

Don’t use fire, use force?

Good idea.

Large ferret claws ripped into the first spider, heavily damaging its front legs and making it harder for it to attack.

The second spider ran back up to Burner, not willing to judge a leap again, and bit at her. The bite took a large chunk out of Burner’s side but did not inject any venom into her.

The first spider bit at Gaemacirch again, but he was to swift for it. The spider backed off by climbing up the wall.

A wave of arcane energy blasted from between Dreekt’s outstretched hands and knocked the spider off the wall and back to the ground where Gaemacirch could get to it.

Expecting the spider to still be on the wall, Gaemacirch had leapt toward it and missed when it fell back to the ground, but he ended up between the spider and the cave wall.

Pulling out her rapier Burner stabbed at the second spider, but the spider saw the attack coming and moved out of range before moving forward again biting at Burner. This bite knocked Burner out and the spider moved to close on her two companions, planning to deal with her later.

The first spider turned to attack Dreekt, but he saw it coming and jumped back, out of range. He then pulled out his quarterstaff and attempted to break off one of the spider’s mandibles but missed.

With a slash of his paw Gaemacirch dealt another blow to the first spider. “Dreekt! Burner went down! There’s a second spider!”

As Gaemacirch called out the second spider moved in to bite at Gaemacirch who scuttled to the side, barely avoiding the bite.

With a quick strike that Dreekt couldn’t avoid the first spider sunk its fangs into his arm. The venom entered his blood and he could feel it work it burning through his veins. He swung at the spider with his quarterstaff, missing before falling to one knee, barely able to stand.

Turning back into his humanoid form, Gaemacirch gripped his large, katana-like weapon in his hands, but was unable to strike before the second spider bit his leg. This ended up knocking him over and he hit his head hard against the hard floor of the cavern. He went out at once.

Julian and the automaton entered the cavern just as Gaemacirch went down and then ran over to help. The first spider noticed this and with a swift motion injected more venom into Dreekt, knocking him the rest of the way to the ground and making him lose consciousness. Oddly there was a smile on Dreekt’s face as he went out.

With the sound of metal on metal the automaton charged forward and struck at the first spider, dealing minor damage to it.

A scream loosed from Julian’s lips and he swung and the same spider with both his axes. He was blind in his rage and was unable to connect with the spider.

Circling around, the second spider struck at the automaton and pulled some chunks of metal away.

The first spider bit into Julian’s arm, but he was able to break the hold before the venom was injected into his veins. With the momentum from pulling away Julian attempted to strike at the other spider and missed but created a small opening for the automaton.

Seeing the opening the automaton grabbed Gaemacirch’s katana-like sword from the ground and beheaded the first spider with it.

In anger at having its mate killed the second spider bit at the automaton twice, the second bite finding purchase on the metal, pulling more away from it.

The automaton sliced a slab from the spider’s side just as Julian threw both of his axes at it. Together they dealt a heavy blow against it.

In retaliation the spider backed off and spit acid on the automaton, eating through enough of the metal to cause it to fall, useless, to the floor of the cavern.

Picking up one of his axes Julian tossed it into the spider and picked up his other axe.

Backing away further the spider spit more acid at Julian who was able to avoid some of the acid, but he knew he would be unable to take another hit. Picking up the other axe that had dropped back to the ground Julian threw them both into the spider’s head, killing it.

Exhausted from the battle Julian quickly made his way to Burner, who he knew had the magic to heal his companions. He bound her wounds to stop the bleeding and fed some herbs he had picked up in town to her to wake her up.

With a gasp Burner opened her eyes. “The others, how are they?”

“They’re unconscious, but Dreekt seemed satisfied when I arrived with the automaton. Can you heal them?”

“I can. It will probably take a while, though.” Burner moved over to her friends and started sending healing energy over them. After a while they woke up.

While Burner was distracted with healing Dreekt and Gaemacirch, Julian was using some of his magic to put the automaton back together. With a flash of insight, he cut open the spiders and fished around in their guts. He found parts of other automatons in there, mostly deteriorated by the acid they had spit, but in one he found a voice box.

He brought the voice box over to the mostly repaired automaton and pressed it against the automaton’s throat. After a moment the automaton lifted its hands to hold the box in place while gears and wires snaked from its throat and from the box to join up. In a moment the automaton could speak again.

“Thank you, Julian. You are a wonder among men.” The voice had a metallic echo to it.

Julian shook his head. “Don’t mention it…what’s your name?”

“Enress, call me Enress.”

“Hey, Julian.” Dreekt walked over slowly, his wounds no longer visible with regrown feathers covering them. “How’s he doing?”

“I’m a she, and my name is Enress.” The automaton held out her right hand and offered it to Dreekt. “I believe your name is Dreekt?”

“Yes, it is.” He took the offered hand and shook. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

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Help Us Jor-Val Ondelios, You’re Our Only Hope! – Pt. 4

Ao Kreel sat cross-legged in his ship quarters. He was roused from his meditation by a familiar pulling sensation. He pulled his sabres to him with the Force and ran to the cockpit.

“Jor-Val! What’s the readout!” He skidded to a halt as he noticed Dor Thay was sitting in the pilot’s seat. “Oh, sorry Thay, what’s the readout?”

“No problem, I’m sure you’re used to Jor-Val piloting.” Dor Thay flicked a couple of switches and read the report. “No ships on scans, just an uncharted moon. I pulled us out before the fail-safes kicked in.”

T8-T3 appeared in the doorway and tweedled something in binary.

“Rogue moon, Tate.” Ao patted the maintenance droid’s disc head.

There was a series of concerned beeps and bloops from the droid.

“Well, he stopped us in plenty of time.” Ao nodded at Dor Thay. “Thay here was a soldier, remember?”

A series of dry-sounding beeps came from T8-T3’s speaker.

“I think I know what you said, and I’ll have you remember, Tate, that I helped the Republic against the Sith and the Yuuzhan Vong.” Dor Thay pressed a button and the comm activated. “Hey, Jor-Val. We need you up here.”

“I’m coming, I’m coming.” Jor-Val Ondelios came running from the back of the ship. “I was in a pretty deep meditation. Hyperspace is pretty calming…wait.” He looked out the viewport. “Oh, I guess I was really deep in meditation. Didn’t feel us pull out of hyperspace.”

Ao sighed deeply in an annoyed fashion. “Sorry, I’ll have to report this to Explorer Corps.”

Shrugging Jor-Val motioned to the comms console. “I think it would be for the best. If nothing else we need to map the course of this moon so other ships can calculate around it.”

Dor Thay shook his head. “I know we’ll have to explore some of the moon, that’s just how Explorer Corps works.” He motioned for Jor-Val to take the pilot’s seat. “I’ll go gear up.”

– – –

Dor Thay stood in his full gear from when he worked with the Republic marines. The suit was able to seal air-tight and had a slot for the air tanks that the vac suits on the ship used. The port was obviously modified to fit the civilian tanks, but the job looked solid.

“Thanks for the upgrade, Tate.” Dor Thay popped a canister into the slot. “Just wish I had some touch paint. Looks weird to have bare silver sticking out of the orange and grey suit. Oh well, the job’s solid so thanks again.”

T8-T3’s singular eye rolled and he turned to the suit he had pulled the regulatory piping from and started to strip it for parts.

Ao grabbed a suit and his custom helmet. He did all the straps and zippers then he and Dor Thay looked over each other’s suits.

“All clear?” Dor Thay asked.

Ao nodded an affirmative. “Let’s go on a nice EVA jaunt, shall we?”

The airlock opened and T8-T3 joined them in the small closet-like space.

“Tate,” Ao began, “I’d love for you to come like old times, but…”

A dejected whistle emanated from T8-T3 followed by a couple of chirps as he backed out of the airlock.

“And may the Force be with you.” Ao looked at the decals on T8-T3’s arms. “When we get back I’ll fix up your kill marks. How’s that sound?”

The series of beeps T8-T3 responded with sounded halfhearted as the airlock cycled. Ao and Dor Thay were now in the cold vacuum of space on the surface of a previously unknown and currently uncharted rogue moon.

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The Fractured Mountains – Ch. 16

The four adventurers approached an opening in the ground. Instead of a cave, as Dreekt had expected, there was just a tunnel mouth flush with the ground. It wasn’t a hole in the ground, but instead it sloped underground at a 40-degree angle. If they didn’t know it was the opening to the Dark Under the entrance would look like a jagged, oval hole in the ground.

“So,” Julian said, “this looks like the entrance to Dark Under the governor described.”

“Right.” Gaemacirch shrugged his pack from his ferret form. “Hey, Dreekt, can you put on my armor for me?”

With a quick nod Dreekt kneeled at the bag next to Gaemacirch’s head. “Sure, but you’ll need to talk me through it.”

“What,” Gaemacirch whispered, “is wrong? You keep looking at Julian like you’re seeing a specter.”

“Remember when I used the dagger?” Dreekt whispered back, pulling the armor from the pack.

Gaemacirch glanced at Julian who was arguing with Burner about something. “Yes, but what’s that have to do with him?”

“Well, I remember being at Hereweald and Wassa’s house for that, first, and the events in the forest seem to be different.” Dreekt started sorting the armor to the best of his ability. “Head or tail?” He pointed to a triangular piece.

“Head. See the concave rounded spots? Those go next to my ears.” Gaemacirch sighed deeply. “So, in the forest Julian got killed? I assume it was Mad Cedar. It knocked him out against a root, did he hit harder and break his neck?”

“No, that would’ve been quick and clean. He was impaled through the chest with a branch. I don’t know what happened to his heart, but it was gone.”

Gaemacirch shuddered at that. “Ok,” he said louder, “that’s the correct arrangement. Start putting it on starting at my tail and working toward my head.”

“So that from the front it’s harder to get under the plates.” Dreekt was clearly making a statement and not asking a question.

“Exactly.”

The work of attaching the armor went quickly. The leather tabs had been designed to easily clasp but would take more work to remove them. Dreekt knew, however, that if Gaemacirch transformed into his humanoid form the armor would be forced off and only his undergarments would remain on his frame.

– – –

“So, Gaem, why stay in the ferret form?” Dreekt suddenly ducked under a low-hanging rock. “Question withdrawn.”

Gaemacirch chuckled. “Exactly why.”

After a few minutes of traveling along a winding, branchless tunnel Burner, Dreekt, Gaemacirch, and Julian found themselves in a large cavern. Looking around they spotted at least four exits from the cavern.

“Well, what direction should we go?” Burner spoke softly, but in the silence of the cavern it sounded much louder.

In the distance they heard the scratch of claws against rocks and the sound of rushing air.

Julian turned the dimmer down on his hooded lantern. He spoke even more softly than Burner had, “I’ll try to keep the light down, but I need this to see.”

A large sack of flesh with tentacle-like tendrils growing from the sides floated over a rock and into view.

“Shast.” Burner swore under her breath. “Looks like we’re going to have to deal with gaseous tendrils whether we like it or not.” She pulled her short bow from her back and nocked an arrow wrapped in cloth. “Give me some of that flame, Julian.”

With a sigh Julian opened the lantern enough for Burner to light the arrow off the flame. The arrow burned a strange green color, close to Julian’s skin tone.

“This is a little something I picked up to deal with these guys.” Burner loosed the arrow at the gaseous tendril and when it struck the creature exploded in a purple light. “Oh, that was more intense than I expected.”

The skittering grew louder as the group looked for cover. They quickly realized there would be no cover as more of the gaseous tendrils floated into view.

“Can they give away our position, Gaem?”

Gaemacirch nodded at Dreekt. “Yes, the gaseous tendrils and the skittering creepers have a symbiotic relationship. The creepers follow the tendrils around because they’re drawn to creatures that the creepers see as prey and the creepers attack them, protecting the tendrils. Then, when a gaseous tendril gets old enough, the gasses inside can no longer provide enough ballast and the skittering creepers get a free meal.”

“That sounded nice until the end, then it got dark.” Dreekt shuddered.

“Welcome to Dark Under, where the name says all.” Julian readied a hatchet, brandishing it menacingly while still holding the lantern in his other hand.

Dreekt noticed a second hatchet on Julian’s belt and realized that when he was threatening Mad Cedar he had done so with only one weapon. As he was thinking about this Dreekt’s memory split and he remembered what happened in this version of events. Julian had threatened the tree, raised his hatchet against Burner, realized what he was doing before he struck, dropped the axe, and then the tree conked him over the head. He had never struck Burner, and in this version of events Gaemacirch had not arrived to slice through his shoulder tendon with a throwing knife.

“Dreekt! Head here and now!” Gaemacirch intercepted a skittering creeper that had leapt at the distracted skravyn.

Shaking the thoughts from his head Dreekt readied his dagger and started to ready a spell. “Thanks, Gaem. If you can hold them off, I’m going to conjure something.” He turned to address Burner and Julian. “Once I do this you guys can decide if you want to light it or leave it to hinder them.”

Burner lit a candle and used some of the melted wax to attach it to a rock. She nocked another arrow, lit it, and fired at another gaseous tendril. “I’m focusing on the tendrils. You really don’t want to deal with those.”

With an annoyed sigh Julian set his lantern on top of a different rock and opened the hood all the way, creating a large circle of light for himself. He pulled the second hatchet from his belt and hacked through a skittering creeper. “I forget, are these things good to eat?”

“Do you see a paladin or cleric here?” Gaemacirch pounced on a creeper, gouging deep into its hide. “Oh, or a druid.” He bounced off the creature and landed next to Julian, prepared for another attack.

Dreekt finished some chanting and plucked a small spiderweb from the cave floor. He motioned with his free hand at the area the skittering creepers were coming from and a web formed out of the energies he had summoned, covering the ground five feet deep, using various rocks and low-hanging sections of the ceiling as anchor points.

One of the skittering creepers had been mid-jump when the web had appeared and was caught above the ground, unable to find purchase to break free of the web.

Burner put her shortbow away and grabbed the candle. She walked over to the web. “I’m going to light it. The skittering creepers will just follow us later if we don’t deal with them now.” She bent over and put the flame to the webbing. Instantly the immediate web was ablaze and it didn’t take long for the rest of it to catch. There were screeches of pain followed by silence as many of the skittering creepers died at the same time.

“That was eerie.” Julian’s green skin turned a slightly paler shade and he started swaying slightly.

Dreekt instinctively steadied Julian by tossing Julian’s arm over his shoulders and his arm over Julian’s shoulders. “I don’t think we have time to be queasy. I’m sure that fire’s going to attract something else, so we need to move.”

“Agreed.” Gaemacirch nosed Julian. “Look, if you need to ride for a little that’s fine, but I’m wearing armor so it won’t be very comfortable.”

Julian grabbed Dreekt’s staff from his pack and leaned on it a little. “No, I think this will help, if you don’t mind.”

“Go ahead. We’ll move faster if you can move on your own.”

“I’ll give it back in a few minutes, I’m sure.” Julian stuffed some small pieces of cloth up his nostrils. “And this helbs with the snell.”

“Well, which tunnel should we venture down?” Burner pointed at two tunnels that were to the left of the tunnel they entered through. “Left, or right?”

“Heroes go left,” offered Dreekt.

Burner nodded. “Well, that’s fine with me. Left it is.”

“Why would heroes go left?” Gaemacirch asked. “I thought right is always right.”

“I’m left-handed. That’s why.” Dreekt motioned at the dagger in his left hand.

Gaemacirch rolled his ferret eyes and followed behind Burner.

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Medakus Grimoires: Mendacium – Ch. 1

[Author’s Note: I started writing this book…around ten years ago or so? Wow. Anyway, this is the third time I started over writing Mendacium and this is a better draft than the first two, in my opinion. As with the other books and stories here I am working on this wile I post it. Enjoy.]

After school Daren Medakus worked a part-time job at Shadow Trading Cards and Hobbies. The third trimester of his senior year was starting tomorrow, and he was only half paying attention at the register. The shop closed in five minutes and it was empty, so he let his mind wander to his weekend training. Up until recently he had trained with his father every Saturday morning. Now, though, his father was on a long assignment from the council and wouldn’t be back anytime soon.

“Oi, Daren! Pay attention!”

Looking up from his thoughts Daren saw a customer waiting silently in front of the counter. “Sorry, didn’t hear you.”

The customer put a few card packs and a board game onto the counter.

“Silent, eh?” He started ringing up the items, the customer still said nothing. “That’ll be thirty-five fifteen.”

The customer handed him a fifty. Daren held it up to the light to check for the watermark. There was none.

Daren looked over to where Cal was restocking. “Hey, Cal! Can you double check this for me?”

Cal Stver set down a box of board games and walked to the counter. “What’s up?”

“Please tell me I’m just blind.” He handed the bill to Cal.

The bill was held up to the light once again. “Yup, you’re just blind. You want me to ring him up?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna go home.” Daren swapped locations with Cal and went to the employee room to time out. He picked up his school bag and walked out the back of the store.

Daren went to get in his pickup and realized his vision was too blurry to drive. Something was wrong. Very wrong. He pulled out his phone to call his father the phone dialed but then came back with a busy tone. Cursing under his breath Daren started to call his mother but stopped and walked back into the store. Cal had his key in the lock when Daren opened the door.

“Yo, something wrong?” Cal asked.

“I don’t feel so…” Daren fell forward and Cal caught him, laying him down gently.

“Well, that’s not good.” Cal pulled out his cell and called Daren’s mother. She picked up immediately. “Hey, Neta it’s Cal. Daren just passed out on the floor. You may want to get down here. I’m calling a medic.”

“I’m coming. Don’t call a medic though, I know what’s wrong. Give him water and something to eat when he wakes up.” Neta hung up the phone and grabbed a few bottles from the cellar shelf before rushing to get in her car. “Now he’s gone and done it. Why didn’t he listen to me this morning?”

– –

Daren woke up in a chair in the staff room of Shadow Trading Cards and Hobbies. Cal sat in front of him with a bottle of water and a snack bar.

“Good morning sleepy head. Your mom’s on the way.” He held out the water and snack bar. “Your mom said to get you something to eat and drink. Are you okay?”

“I think so, mom warned me this morning. She said to drink that brew before I left.” Daren looked for his backpack. “Something about the flow of energy in the area or something.” The words left his mouth before he realized who he was talking to.

Cal chuckled. “Yeah, you magical types always slip up around me. I must just have that kind of face or something.” He held up the snack bar again. “Eat. I’ll get your grimoire for you.”

Daren took the snack bar and water in stunned silence. How did Cal know he was looking for his grimoire? How did he even know what a grimoire was? He opened the snack bar and took a bite. “Tastes vaguely of aloe…a little weird.”

“Yeah, just had a sample case brought in. I don’t think we need them for anything, though.” Cal was rummaging through Daren’s messenger bag. “Ah, grimoire.” He set the book in the seat next to Daren. “So, you aren’t going to kiss a vampire later, are you? The aloe tends to burn.”

“If I was I’d be taking my life in my hands already.” Daren finished the bar and drank some of the water. “So, what are you, anyway?”

“Your boss. If you need something more specific than that we can talk about it later. I think your mom’s here now.” The sound of a car engine reached the staff room. “I’ll go let her in.” Cal stood up and started toward the door. “Oh,” he said without turning back to Daren, “if you want to know more just look up my family. The Stver line is an interesting one. I don’t know everything myself. I don’t have the resources you probably do.” He left the room.

As soon as Cal was out of sight Daren opened his grimoire to somewhere in the middle and pulled out a pressed flower. He then turned to a section near the front and started reading from it. He instantly felt better as the flower disintegrated and a protective layer of magic surrounded him.

Neta walked into the room and saw Daren’s grimoire open. “Close that now, young man. You’re in enough trouble as it is.” She got closer and whispered. “What if Cal found out?”

“He already knew.” Daren closed the grimoire and held his hand out. “Just give me the potion. My mana’s out of whack.”

Neta sighed and handed two vials of thin powders to him. One was blue and the other was orange. “Mix it in the water and drink it all. The blue one is Blue Ash.”

The powder was already mixing into the water. Daren put the cap on and shook it. “What’s the other?”

“Orange flavoring. Blue Ash tastes terrible.” Neta watched as Daren started to drink. “Good. I’ll go talk to Cal.”

“Before you do that, do you know anything about the Stver family?”

“They run a cult in Armenia. Cal has no ties to them, though. I checked”

“I don’t think that’s what he meant when he mentioned his line. Do they have any abilities?”

Neta shook her head. “If they do you have the thing that might tell you right there.” She pointed at his grimoire. “That was your grandfather’s and his grandfather’s and his. Maybe it has something on the Stver line.” She walked back into the main part of the store.

Daren drank the rest of the water and felt his mana balance back out. “Stupid mana flux. I thought the report said it was over. Whatever.” He started to flip through his grimoire. “Hmm…Stver line. Armenia.”

– –

Cal was waiting for Neta behind the store counter busying himself with some inventory. “Ah, is he doing okay?”

“Who are you?” Neta looked him up and down with menacing eyes. “How did you know what Daren was?”

“I’m a seeker.”

Relief washed over Neta’s face. “Why didn’t you just tell him that?”

“Because I’m not with the council. I technically don’t have to tell you either.” Cal turned back to the inventory and continued counting.

“Do you have any connections in Armenia I should be worried about.”

Giving up trying to count while having a conversation Cal walked to the same side of the counter as Neta. “If I did then Daren wouldn’t be working here, would he?”

“No, he’d be dead.”

Daren walked into the main store room. He didn’t seem to have caught the last sentence. He was reading aloud from his grimoire. “The Stver line split into two distinct groups around the time that the Armenian Apostolic Church was founded. Half the family moved to Europe and eventually to America while the other half remained in Armenia. The group that moved to Europe, and eventually America, took a peaceful role in their new home while the group that remained in Armenia worked against peace. One thing remains the same, however. Every fifth generation of the Stver line one of the children is a seeker.”

Cal nodded. “That’s right. Who wrote that?”

“My great grandfather. He seems to have had an interest in seekers. There’s a lot of information in here.” Daren thumbed through a few pages and read again. “Only exceptionally strong seekers can sense a warlocke. Most of the seekers of the Stver line are such seekers. Well, that explains that.”

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