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Avvercus

Madness Loves Company

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“You’ll understand in the coming months. I promise you,” his voice placated in that kind, casual tone she’d come to associate with safety. Not simply physical safety, but the kind that you could let down all of your mental and emotional walls around. A rare thing for the misanthrope, something she prized above nearly all else.

“...”

She stared. Drilled holes with those piercing sapphire eyes and tightly knit brows. Rebuke and angry outbursts flew through her mind, each sounding more and more childish than the next. She trusted him, knew she’d regret anything she could say. “Fine.” Curt, cold, direct. Just like the Aldrak that said it.

“I have a favor to ask. You’re going to Yh’mi, right? You should meet a woman there. Golden eyes, wavy black hair. She has a sigil like the one I gave to you worn around her neck, and likewise shelters a fragment. Her name is… rather, she goes by the name Antique. I’d like you to give her this.”

His request came no sooner than he had finished etching the final rune into the blade he now extended towards the Aldrak hilt first. It looked to the woman like a flimsy thing. Light, thin, a weapon for those that viewed combat like an art rather than a fight for survival. She gave it a dismissive grunt. She snatched it from his hands, and after a few moments of intense concentration it faded from sight, absorbed into her body as energy. She turned to leave, but hesitated.

“I’ll…”

I’ll miss you. Her pride refused to let that statement slip. No, she turned on a heel and walked away without looking back.

A crisp memory. It all came rushing back at the sight of a familiar sigil bouncing against cleavage in a disheveled and dirty blouse. Rainza didn’t need to ask for a name, she knew this to be the ‘Antique’ she’d agreed without words to pass an important artifact along to. Under the eternal gray skies of Yh’mi, she marched right up to the stranger in the muddy streets of Inn’sth. She was escorted by a man who had the look of a tired parent raising their third child and wishing they had a break.

With all that had happened since she arrived in this Godsforsaken land, Rainza had admittedly entirely forgotten about her promise to her former mentor. This would be a welcome distraction from the things she had on her mind at the moment. Especially the decisions she soon had to make that would impact her future in a way she was entirely uncomfortable with.

Standing in the woman’s way and staring up at her with those piercing sapphire eyes, Rainza extended a pale blue hand, palm up.

“Antique. Avvercus asked me to give you this. Take it.”

A flash of blue light obscured her hand for an instant before fading to reveal the sword and scabbard entrusted to her care. She knew nothing about the woman she offered it to, and truth be told there was some curiosity. She knew her mentor to be a womanizer, something she hated him for, but this felt different. There was something in his eyes when he described this woman. It looked painful and longing and ashamed all at once. Emotions and uncertainty she had never seen him show the entire time she’d learned beneath his watchful gaze. Who was this, that could stir something akin to weakness in his eyes?

Edited by Avvercus

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Dismal though the streets may have been, Antique knew more pasts than present with her hand hooked on the arm of the many men of one who brought her along. That is, when she looked at him, walking in the myriad of environments she perceived, she recognized him as many familiar people, but couldn't find his name. Those golden eyes, dull where once they had shone, rested on the man until a pretty figment dragged her attention away. Nothing anyone else could see, but it was more real to her than the cobbles beneath her feet. 

That woman, who shuffled blankly alongside Yelstadt seemed empty of emotion, blank of thought with her hair a tangled, frayed mess that dangled all the way down to waist. He knew her as his uncle's ex, but what danger had brought her to such a nearly inert state that she could hardly walk on her own, let alone communicate? He was leading her through the streets of Inn'sth, carrying her belongings and contemplating where and how to stash her while he gathered his horse and wagon. However, a little girl made an obstacle of herself. Bright blue of hair and eyes and stern in a way that would be disconcerting anywhere but in Yh'mi. She stopped in front of Kaia and produced a weapon from her palm. 

Yelstadt reacted, but Antique was fascinated with that blue hair. It was so vibrant it dragged her away. Off to cerulean skies and bright waters. Until she was jostled of course. Then her mind grabbed at the nearest relations and urged her to act. In a motion of alarm, she reached out.

The Shield son placed himself between his escortee and her potential offender, even drawing his sword, but before he could make the dangerous-looking child aware of his stance on the situation, Kaia's grip on his arm tightened. So much so that it hurt and she shouted, "Derrin!" With eyes wide and shining like a waning flame. Perhaps she had recognized the familial relation cognitively, or maybe he just looked like his uncle had when she'd known him, but he refused to falter over it. Hardening his glare he stated, "You threaten a veteran of the Terrenus military and his charge. Stand down, child."

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Hissss, a blade leaving the scabbard

The flash of naked steel

“Child”

The three happened in rapid succession. The first two triggered self-preservation instinct. The last was a slight on her pride. Usually, this would have lit the flame of anger in her chest and caused Rainza to become defensive. But, something new stirred. Rather than a simple candle flame, her fury exploded.

The snarl and grinding teeth were the man’s only warning, as the next heartbeat after the word ‘child’, the Aldrak was already stepping in. There was no wasted movement as her foot planted in between his, and immediately a fist backed by three hundred pounds of mini martial artist crashed into the side of his cuirass. The purpose of the strike wasn’t to hurt or kill, despite the emotions fueling it. No, she was simply removing an annoying obstacle so that she could once again hold out the sword and attempt to deliver it.

The commotion didn’t attract much attention. Rainza had built up a reputation for being a violent drunk here over the past couple of weeks, so none who saw it was here were surprised. Besides that, scuffles like this were all too common in this dingy bastion.

“Fuck off,” she growled while lowering her bloodied knuckles. The pain of torn skin was absent, lost in her rage; or, perhaps, she’d simply grown accustomed to her fists splitting open. Her wolfish eyes turned back to Antique, and the sword was offered once again.

“Take it.”

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Thrown into a roll to recover from the sheer force of the unnatural little girl, Yelstadt was left with a dent in his chestplate, a clutching wound, and a wheeze that sapped as much from him as the oncoming bruises themselves. He scrambled for his sword and assumed a better guard with distance between him and the dangerous thing asserting, "Stand down and back away and nobody gets hurt."

The other woman however, who was immersed in a living elysium, had her fingers hooked in her collar with a blank stare affixed on the fallen warrior. She had encountered a paralytic vision. Somewhere in that shifting dream arose a skeleton. One fresh as it was nostalgic. Something in Yelstadt's position shocked her heart aflutter. She didn't see him, but rather a man with long silver hair and a shield. The first time he was impressed by how much she had learned. It made tears well in her otherwise inert golden eyes. Beyond that, who could say what she saw as the turning of her head dragged those charcoal ringlettes across her shoulders and breasts, but she searched the face of the aldrak and eventually dug into her pockets in a motion that hinted at a greater cognizance than she had previously born.  

The warrior watched as his seemingly insane aunt produced a golden coin and held it out to the girl as if she were doing a kindness by an orphan. Yelstadt sighed and lowered his weapon. Without his combat gear, all he had was a sharp length of steel and an affinity for pyromancy. Against something as supernatural as the shorter of the two women, he doubted he could win a proper fight. So he sheathed the sword and approached bearing a stern frown. "I'm looking after her." He said, cupping the woman's outstretched hand and lowering it gently, watching the girl for any further outbursts, the pain in his side serving as a reminder as to why.

Seeing that she wasn't immediately hostile, he reached out and took the blade from her hand. "I'll give her this when it's safe to do so."

Edited by Wanderlost

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As quickly as the bellows had stroked the flames, Rainza cooled down. It was an unnatural outburst, even for her. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, the girl relaxed her body language. The aggressive edge faded as she stood straight up and tucked her ruined hair behind one ear, revealing her second eye to the world at large.

Taking the time to properly observe the pair before her, Rainza lowered the sword to her side and gently accepted the coin with her other hand, the one now covered in coagulating sapphire blood. It was as golden as the eyes that offered it, but not as dull. She had seen those eyes many times before in the years past. Slaves who had broken to the point of losing their mind, lost in the sweet ignorant embrace of madness.

Rainza grunted, yanking the sword out of the guardian’s hand.

I will hold on to it,” the young woman rejected cooly. “I was asked to give it to her, not her escort.” The Aldrak briefly examined the coin before tucking it into her cloak. It was a thing of inky darkness, crafted from the hide of an Ombra she had killed long ago. In this dreary land of gray skies and long shadows, she found it oddly comforting to camouflage herself within.

Rainza turned to Antique’s escort, giving him direct eye contact.

“What happened to her? Where are you taking her? You said you are Terrenus military? Is she under arrest?”

The sudden rapid questions were asked in a calm, neutral voice as the sword in her hand shone in a bright blue light for a moment before disappearing. Now free, her arms crossed over her chest.

“Also, I am not a child. Say it again, and I will hit you. Again."

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Yelstadt carefully observed the childlike woman and her shocking blue aura. Though it was the color of her hair and eyes, it seemed to reflect all about her, and he assumed it was some strange magic he didn't know. Whatever she was however, he assured himself that he was strong in his own right. Strong enough to have served in the military like the rest of his family. So he raised his eyebrows in a condescending, questioning way and spoke, "Fine. Lady. Woman." He planted his hands on his hips, then removed one to count off his answers to her questions on his fingers before putting it back, "No idea. Somewhere safe and familiar to her, and no. I'm a veteran, meaning I no longer serve, as should be evident by my lack of equipment. If you'd like to come along, you may, but having come up in the state she's in after a few days outside Inn'sth, we're not going to dally here for the Order of the White Hand--bless their souls and their hearts--to take her from me." He paused with a dry chuckle, casting his eyes away in a glance. "Funny, I'd turn almost anyone else over to them under these circumstances." He looked back to Rainza, "But she's different, and has always been a strange one. I refuse to believe that Yh'mi did this to her."

"It didn't." It was Antique who responded, staring as distant as before, and it visibly startled the man. "I did this to myself," Her eyes wandered across everything in front of her, over Rainza in a cursory fashion and onto Yelstadt. In this strange moment of lucidity, she looked defeated and tired, even to the point of drawing her breaths differently. "I didn't expect you to be here in the end though. I thought I had lost everything, everyone to this..." Her eyes fell back to the camp around them, seeing ruins that haunted some small part of her past. Corpses and the very city itself laid to waste by incredibly weaponry, torn asunder by actions she had very carefully led a man to do, whose corpse came back to her in a moment of horror that widened her eyes and made her stagger back. All at once, she remembered him begging. Weeping and crying when he realized the truth of what he had done, and that every reason he had had was a lie. He just wanted to die. Wanted her to shoot him, and that's exactly what she had done, with a cold pit in her stomach where she denied the fear and the sadness in favor of heartless cognizance. 

The veteran watched as his aunt turned from horror at the very ground to shock at them and the rest of the camp, to a confusion as her eyes darted about. It looked like she was trying to make sense of some shifting myriad of scintillating colors, and it proved whatever had come to her had taken its flight. Yelstadt, seeing her now subdued from her strange episode, sighed and tried not to overthink the the state she was in. He slung his arm around the woman's shoulders with a grunt for the dent in his plate and walked her toward the gate to the North. As he walked on, he watched the short, blue-haired woman to see whether she was to follow.

Edited by Wanderlost

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Silent as death and seeming to carry its scent, a weak breeze slunk by, barely swinging the Aldrak’s hair back into her face and hiding one half of the scowl that formed at Yelstadt’s dismissive reply. She was aware her childish hairstyle didn’t help the assumptions of strangers, and her refusal to change it was just as mature. The soft sound of her footsteps joined the other two as she followed. Her right hand opened and closed a few times, stretching the already healed skin on her knuckles as her eyes swiveled left to right, searching for potential threats as was her ingrained habit.

If asked why she followed, the girl wouldn’t have a real answer. She had no obligations to Antique, other than handing over the sword. At the same time, she had little else to do. Her new master had taken her… had taken Ansen off somewhere for reasons unknown to her for the time being. Admittedly, she took some measure of curiosity in Antique. Not pity for her madness, but for the connection she had with Avvercus. What was she to the man?

She came abreast of Yelstadt and his charge, a short but quick stride easily keeping pace with the burdened former soldier.

“Why is she your responsibility?” Rainza asked, looking into the lost gaze of the woman on his shoulder. It was obvious the two had history of some sort. Perhaps even something familial. Family… Rainza shook her head, dissipating the thought. That was not something to brood on right now. She gathered her dark cloak about herself and pulled the hood up, erasing the vibrant blue from the bleak world around them. If Yelstadt was worried about being harassed by the white hand, it was best he not be seen with her. The Order and the Aldrak weren’t exactly on good terms.

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"There are songs..." Antique muttered in the place of the veteran's response.

He huffed and said, "Because she's my aunt, and she's been missing for four years. There is much we must do to help her. And much her presence can do for my uncle..." And though he may have called her his aunt, it would be quite a feat of poor observation not to notice with his beard and stern face, that Yelstadt appeared older than she, but they walked on. Before they approached the gate, he had to fetch his horse and cart from the stables. When he'd arrived, he'd had enough food that it had flown over from the cart and into Toby's saddlebags, now it had been emptied in sale to the very order whose gaze he now evaded, and he was thanked verily for such a service. He treated the animal with care and fed it before leading Antique into the back of the wagon and sitting her down in the back.

"Hardly a throne." She said, frowning at the wood around her and crossing her arms huffily over her chest. "This will do." She said, staring straight ahead without making eye contact with either of the other two.

To that, the veteran only shook his head and jumped off the back of the wagon, turning around to bite his lip over the spectacle. He glanced around, and then addressed the Aldrak. "Alright look, this should be easy. They won't question me leaving with company. Probably. If everything goes as planned, they won't register as anything more than lost in thought. Maybe sit with her and I'll do the talking." Regardless of what the little lady actually did, he led his horse to a walk by its reins and they eventually came to the gate. 

The man guarding the gate out of Inn'sth looked over the sight of the two women then looked to Yelstadt. "You've got new company."

"Yes, hired help for an issue on the farm."

The guard looked doubtful. "And you hired women for that?"

"Yes, it's something of a botanical thing."

"Ah. Very well--you!" He beckoned another passerby and Yelstadt bowed before leading them onward.

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Silently, Rainza complied. She didn’t exactly care how they went about this. If the man’s plan failed and they were caught, it was unlikely the guards would choose to pick a fight with her. Of course, that would mean he would be associated with her and would lose some standing with the authority’s here. But, again she didn’t really care either way.

The wooden cart shook beneath her boots as she hopped into it with deft movements. Unlike the unsettled woman already sitting in it, she made no complaint as she took a seat. Rainza couldn’t tell the difference between this and anything else she’d ever sat on; Comfort wasn’t a concept she was familiar with. Her shoulder rubbed up against Antique’s as the cart rumbled down the path, and the Aldrak kept her face to the wood at her feet. What an abnormal day this was turning out to be.

Expressionless, Rainza waited for the guard to decide if he would harass them or not. There was no sigh of relief as the cart meandered on. In fact, the girl made no change in body language at all for the first five minutes as she pondered something. Finally, as they trundled north and left the dreary bastion known as Inns’th behind, Rainza got to her feet. Swaying at the hips and easily keeping steady on her feet, the girl stood before Antique. She was barely taller than her at the moment, despite the stranger being seated.

“Avvercus.” A single word statement, punctuated by an inquisitive azure gaze. “Do you remember Avvercus?” She continued, reaching into the bosom of her leather corset and drawing out something that made an earthen clink. A dull gray, ceramic sigil dangled on a chain she held out from her neck. It looked exactly the same as the one Antique wore. The curiosity was an unscratched itch on her mind, and she would have it satisfied. Who was this person, and why were they important to him?

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The short answer to her question was yes, but Antique did not respond to Rainza's question. If anything, what cognitive presence she had had left her in response. A cascade of memories added itself to the rest of her past she was lost in. Her hand went over her chest and she became panicked. Staring through the blue woman, she began to hyperventilate and huffed. "No! No more silver!" She curled into a fetal position and clawed at her hair with her head in her arms, cowering at haunts only she perceived. 

Leading Toby on the trail North, Yelstadt only heard Antique's exclamation and he almost shouted back at them, but they were hardly far enough to be out of ear shot of the guards, let alone free from the clouds that hung above, though he could see proper light shining on the trail ahead through the pines above. If Rainza were to cross a line with his aunt back there, he wasn't sure what he would do. Starting a fair fight would be folly without a proper weapon, and fire didn't pack the sort of punch he assumed he'd need to fight such a strangely heavy little girl. 

All in all, he was in an ugly situation, and where they were going, things weren't bound to get any better. Kaia and Tawni never got along, and with Lucas passed an Derrin secluded in his own farm up North, his unannounced guests were bound to cause her quite an upset. He had heard Falstadt was supposed to visit soon. Perhaps if he was there it wouldn't strike her as hard, but that wouldn't be a sure thing to count on, so Yelstadt would have to be prepared for the drama to come... Fortunately at least, there was relative quiet from the wagon as he brooded over how to approach it with his mother.

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A low, annoyed hiss of air escaped Rainza’s nose. There was no dealing with rotted reason. She wouldn’t bother trying. The woman was patient; She would get her answers from the man himself. Her eyes were cold as they stared down at the panicking burden, and she wondered what she was doing here. Right, boredom. Curiosity. A request to fulfill. Perhaps with time there would come a moment of lucidity. The moment she was able to properly deliver the sword, she would be off.

She sat on the bench across from Antique and manifested the object that brought her here. With an unpracticed motion, Rainza drew the blade from its scabbard. To her untrained eye, the masterwork steel was no different from any other naked blade. The overcast sky caused the slender blade to glint softly from the glow of her eyes as she examined it. Specifically, she appraised the runes engraved along its length. Carved with magic in what she easily recognized as Avvercus’ graceful script, she unfortunately could not translate them. He had attempted to give her a rudimentary education on the arcane languages, but the girl’s disinterest quickly had him abandon the venture.

“How long will this journey take?” she asked in a tone that said she wouldn’t be disappointed if an answer did not come.

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"Oh, we'll be on the trail for a good few days. The farm is Southwest of Palgard and we'll be cutting off the trail for a more direct route. Should take about a week to get there if we stay on schedule." Yelstadt did answer, sure, but he offered no further attempts at conversation, nor any reciprocating inquiries. He had already assumed a mindset fit for the monotony of travel. One where he was lost in his head, sorting things and contemplating and half ignoring the road before him, as he always did when he knew he had a lot of easy work to get through. It was just a matter of letting it happen and giving it as little direct attention as possible. He could walk and keep direction just fine without having to mind it, and he had the warmth of Toby by his side to bring him comfort in his stride.

Antique however, dragged herself up to a sitting position where she could stare at the wood beneath her, having seemingly forgotten what had happened mere moments before. Going over a bump bounced the wagon and its contents, but did little to shake her focus. Her golden eyes were so wide, one might guess her afraid of it, like she were observing a venomous snake, but she had her hands flat on the floor and did little to recoil from whatever fear she'd attached to the wagon floor. "How many times..." She muttered to herself, that aspect of horror on her face creasing deeper. "How many people..." Sadness drooped her shoulders and felled her fearful looks as her eyes wandered down. "How..." Mumbling as she was, she spoke in disjointed phrases relating to things only she could see. "It's not right." "A  planet in my hands..." "A kingdom, those wars, the gangs and survival, cruelty, jealousy, nothing since--" She gasped and held onto a part of what was happening in her brain, eyes raising up, "As many monsters but..." Speaking in a whisper, she fished out a necklace by the string extending beneath her collar, producing Avvercus's sigil and staring at it in the palm of her hand. "Not him." She let it fall and rest over her chest, dropping her arm to her lap and muttering again. "So much forgotten." She looked right at Rainza, her metallic eyes piercing the isolating haze about her. "Do you forget?"

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It was almost ambient, the dirt grinding beneath wagon wheels, the clunk of wood smacking together as the vehicle's frame swayed from its unique imperfections, and the occasional snorts from their horse named 'Tobi'. Like a white noise she could focus her mind to the beat of, perfect for meditation. Yet, something kept the girl from doing just that. Of course, she knew just what it was. Some stubborn urge in the back of her head, like a teenage girl raging against her parents. Avvercus had told her to meditate whenever she had the downtime. It was instructions from her master, when he was her master. But now, he had abandoned her, left her in the care of some stranger. Dropped her once again to fuck off and flirt with women and do whatever stupid thing his infuriating goddess bid him do. Why listen to the words of someone who no longer held authority over her? As if on queue, fate would have it that both she and the horse chose to snort in unison at the thought.

She grumbled at the irony, but any actual mumbling was cut short at the crazy one's words. "Do you forget?" Her gaze listed from the sword's blade, the object of her eye's ire for the last 10 minutes, to Antique's. She narrowed her brow at what she saw. A golden passageway into eternity, so alike Avvercus' own. With a snap, she shoved the sword back into its sheath.

"No. I forget nothing, no matter how badly I wish it. Just another curse that comes with what I have been made. Every detail of my miserable life can be as easily recalled as opening my eyes and watching you here in the present. How nice it would be..." She answered seriously, lowering her gaze to the wagon bed, if only for the pain she saw hiding in the shadows of Antique's gaze. "But," she began, lifting her eyes back up, "I wouldn't want to forget anyway, even if I could. It would be weak of me to deny reality. Denying my past is denying the person I have become. To me, my ego is more important than anything. It's the one thing they couldn't take away, and I will never willingly give it up." Rainza continued, looking into her company's golden mirrors. She said this more to herself than her conversation partner. Affirmed it, really.

"Why do you forget?" pointed words, almost an accusation. But, at the same time, more of a whimsical question. She had little faith she'd receive a coherent answer.

Edited by Avvercus

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Instantly, the other woman's question cut through Antique. Through the maddening sea of memories she couldn't sort, through any facade she might have worn at any time. Not even the Queen of Youth bore the arrogance to deny how deep it cut for someone else to ask one of the questions most core to her everlasting plight. Tears welled up in her eyes and for that place in time, it seemed like all the voices in her head, murmuring, shouting, screaming, droning, and otherwise all hushed to a murmur. Three memories passed clearly in her mind and her eyes traveled downward as she gathered her limbs close to her body. With the wide, manic gaze of a flooded mind and the hovering fingers that came with trauma and shock, she answered in her greatest moment of clarity since encountering Lun'Silth, and lacked the awareness to realize it. 

"Because I can't have both." She said in a shuddering breath. 

And on they traveled, as few would have chosen to cross their path. Yelstadt was armed and alert, and leading a large enough mass to dissuade most natural predators; certainly any that took note of them that day. As the sun crawled across the sky, above the pines which dappled them in shadows, Antique became steadily less coherent until she lapsed into an unresponsive muttering state. In time, Tobi's steps and the wagon truly did blend into a sort of white noise, and the veteran sighed some few hours after that. The light of the sun had grown orange and the shadows had grown long enough to prevent any reasonable progress henceforth. It was time to set up camp, and they did.

Tobi was happy to be free of the weight of the wagon and indicated he had no desire but to eat and sleep for the evening, so Yelstadt fed him and tied him comfortably around a tree. Having walked all day, he was sore and tired in a way that made him worry for his animal companion, but nevertheless he found himself with his guests, not in a tent but in the back of the wagon, which he'd covered over with a canvas tarp. Beneath it, it was already much warmer than outside, and he easily found himself on the farther side from the two women. "Alright." He sighed, feeling so content resting his weary body. "How's Kaia doing, is she any better now that we're away from Yh'mi?" He asked, and later said, "We should trade watches. I don't think we need to cover the whole night, but it would be wise to cover some of the dark hours I think. Do you have any preferences with that?"

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