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Don't Drink the Punch!

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As the moon shone in the black sky, critters of the night scurried over cobblestone and snow. They left their tracks for the observant to see, though it didn't truly matter. They were small, and built for the darkness. Tracks wouldn't spell their demise, for the knowledge of hiding spots and useful shadows was embedded in their very DNA. From one such vantage point, a cat viewed the tavern doors with its blank gaze. It lay on a stone wall, black coat lending to its comfort in the night. It watched the lamps at the doors flicker with the wind as they did every night. It watched travelers wander in and out as they did every night. Its lazy eyes sifted from the doors just as they opened once again, this time yielding a party of four. 

In the front was a foreign creature, her skin a radiant blue and her demeanor bookish. In the snow her tail traced a path telling of her journey. It snaked and dragged after her like an indigo whip. 

Behind this being stood a man far taller. He wore a scorched longcoat, cuffed at the forearms to give space to two battered steel gauntlets. His right hand clutched a tall spear which glittered in the moonlight. His left hand held a lamp whose soft orange gold did little to combat the dark. On this man's face was a mask of stone, weary but resolute. 

Behind him was another man, smaller but definitely meaner. With a sword at his side, a scowl on his bearded face, and a guarded gaze he followed begrudgingly. Who were these people? Leaving so late was rare, as the Tavern had rooms, but perhaps there was a reason... Impressive thinking for a cat. Perhaps this cat wasn't just a cat.

Ah, one more. An older man who walked with his back bent low as if he carried a weight. He ventured into the cold with little protection but he held a lamp and a map in each hand. He gestured for the group to follow him to the side of the Tavern and follow him they did. The cat rose from its lounging and slinked closer. It kept to the shadows, perfectly balanced on this wrecked stone wall that it had been resting on. What exactly was this?


Hain cursed as the cold night air blasted the group as soon as the doors opened. He'd forgotten how cold it'd been. The Tavern had been so welcoming, the heat so forgiving. With much effort he repelled the urge to go back, instead following Beat to the side of the Tavern. It was away from the path, and also away from prying eyes. The meeting was so clandestine, which went against everything that Hain was, though he understood the need.

 With his back against the wall, Beat regarded the group with wide eyes. "So you'll help me? It's not just my family, you see. It's everyone around here. You'd be helping a lot of folks." 

The lamplight shook in the man's grasp, casting shadows to and fro. Hain's own hand was as steady as his voice when he spoke: "I'm ready to help, stranger. They are too. Tell us everything."

Beat's face rose at the reply. It was as if they'd just given him some grand gift, and the display lent Hain more resolve. 

"Like I said," the man began, "there's a cult around here. They come every now and then and recruit from us, and they're very persuasive. I remember bring my wife one night. She got to talkin' to some woman, and I'd thought the conversation was real interestin' since they talked all night until closing." He stopped and peered into the darkness. Hain turned to look but he could see nothing. 

"I don't know what that woman told her," Beat continued slowly, "but the next day all Palri could talk about was destiny. Stories about fate and some big journey. She told our kids, our neighbors, and anyone who would listen. Now, I'm a simple man. I like seein' my wife happy and it'd been a while since she was so passionate about anything. I... I should've put a stop to it. Put some sense into her. Something." His voice began to shake and he avoided Hain's gaze.

"One night she was just gone. I came home from the Tavern and she was gone. The kids were gone with her. Oh, they'd loved the stories. All I gave them was the stories about the crazy things happening in the Tavern, but those don't give quite the same feeling of awe as what the cult gives. Their Pa just couldn't compete." He abruptly switched his tone, revealing an undercurrent of anger that Hain had only slightly sensed before. The lamp trembled with that fury, but the words continued. 

"That's what they do, you see," Beat spat. "They fill your head with lies. They show you a few tricks and they take your soul in exchange. Palri and the kids went missing a week ago. I told some tavern men the story and they promised to get them back, but they returned two days later with nothing." The wind howled in Hain's ears, chilling him through his coat. Snow crunched under his boots as he shifted. "No, that's not true. They came back with a cultist, and helped him spread more lies. They'd been brainwashed."

Hain frowned. What kind of force were they going up against? Mages, he guessed. A second later, Beat confirmed this. 

"The cult is led by a man named Vryn. He's nothing special from what I hear, but he's got four mages under his thumb that could scare men into a new religion. I've been talking to a few people and I know that there's a pyromancer, hydromancer, earth caster, and wind specialist. They're mighty strong, but I'm guessin' they're brainwashed too. You might be able to use that, I dunno.

"Regardless, from the information I've got there's something big going on. The Journey that my wife had been yappin' about. It's big and it's bad. They've got so many members now, and it looks like Vryn wants to kill them all for some fucking ceremony. He wants to kill my family!" Beat's voice rose against the silence of the night, echoing off abandoned homes and hitting Hain deeply in his soul. He had a question for the man, but he was almost afraid to ask. Still, he went for it. 

"Beat," Hain whispered, "could you tell me why you were gathering all of this information? What were you planning on doing with it?"

Without hesitation the tavern worker looked at them and answered: "I was gonna go to those woods myself and get my family back."

That would've been suicide. Gods, the desperation was clear in the man's face. "I'm guessing that's what the maps for, then?"

"Aye," Beat brandished the map and gave it to Yuel. "They're holed up in the woods west of here. There's a path leading into it, but the actual glade is off trail. They've marked a tree, so you should know when to diverge." He hesitated. "Please help us. The ceremony is tomorrow night. I don't want anyone to die because of Vryn and his lies. They believe they're going off to some sanctuary. I don't think don't know that they're gonna die. These are good people and they don't deserve this."

Hain nodded and gripped his spear tightly. He looked to Liam and Yuel, eyebrow raised and eyes softening. "What do you say? Are you two ready to move out tonight? If we do I'm thinking we'd get there just in time to stop a mass suicide."

@Blackguard  @Godspell

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During the dead of night, the shivering cold and the blackened skies occupied by shimmering stars throughout the dark. As Yeul listened on to Beat's tale she utterly felt a tinge of anger and sadness. A mage herself who sought to using arcane magic for the good of others, not suffering. She wasn't naive enough to think convictions of evil didn't exist but the first being related to magic? She felt like she had to step up, furthered her resolve. "I hear and sympathize with you, Beat. I'll give it my all to make sure these mages won't cause anymore malice, this I swear." She said with determination filling her words. She had taken the map handed to her and pocketed within the inside of her coat. "They will pay for taken advantage of others with the use of the arcane art...!" She followed by, this time, her words filled with venom. Her hands clenched into fists and her tail thrashed against the snow for a brief moment. By the Gods it filled her with an unholy fury. 

Turning to Hain, fully prepared for what likely danger lies ahead of them. " Aye, I'm ready. More lives we can save, the better." She replied with gung-ho. She couldn't help but wonder, what reason would this leader Vryn have for sacrificing so many people? Did anyone notice before or any effort to stop them? The more questions, the more grave the thought becomes of what is the end-goal of this cult.

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Liam made his way to the bar to run his fingers over where he had put out his cigar. There was no mark to be found and he couldn’t be less surprised. After filling up his flask he followed his unlikely company out of the tavern.

The cold air was both a shock to his system and a relief. You tended to run hot when you spent most of your waking hours half-drunk. With Hain, a potentially volatile mage in front of him and Yeul, some sort of demon hybrid leading them, Liam felt comforted by the familiar weight of the sheath on his hip.

Appearing indifferent as Beat told his story, Liam kept watch around them. Normally the mercenary would be more concerned with the payment but he already had that part secured. The Psion back home had been very precise in his plans and had assured him that he need only inquire in the mysterious tavern.

"They will pay for taken advantage of others with the use of the arcane art...!"

Liam raised an eyebrow at Yeul’s proclamation but he remained quiet. She certainly seemed genuine but he couldn’t ignore a funny feeling in the back of his neck.

“Yeah, we’ll find your family,” Liam responded after. He even put a reassuring hand on Beat’s shoulder as he walked past him but he sounded skeptical. “Now let’s get moving, huh?”

 


“What is your fiend’s report, Roh?”

“There are three of them, Insightful One,” a robed man with bandaged hands answered with a low bow. “One a tiefling of arcane power and the other appears to be a human bonded with an elemental. The third is an old sellsword but he carries a broken blade.”

Vryn did not seem surprised by any of this. He was warned that his meddling in this place would bring more attention than he had required. With his former power stripped from him, Vryn had thought gathering the sacrifices would be the most difficult part but that had been simple and even enjoyable.

“Continue monitoring them and when they are out of sight of the tavern, signal our people out of there and have them keep track from behind.” Vryn knew that this would be the most difficult part. “At the halfway mark, strike at them with the Initiated. I want to know what they are capable of.”

Roh bowed again and walked away. He was still unsure what to make of his new master but he kept faith that his god-thing would not lead him astray. This outsider Vryn could very well be the vessel that would carry the coming prophet who would at last guide his people through the pleasures of the promised land. He scratched at the blisters underneath his bandages, shivering in delight as they split and oozed.

“And Roh,” Vryn continued, catching the man before he left the tent. “Have the mages see to the Uninitiated. I want their cooperation and calm when these bandits arrive.”

Roh flashed a grotesque grin.

The Uninitiated knew that underneath Roh’s hood was a bandaged face that covered a terrible affliction. He was not much of an actor and so Vryn had kept him away from them, playing him off as shy and awaiting his promised healing.

Roh did not need healing.

He relished in the pleasure caused by his “affliction”. The Uninitiated would soon join him. His new master had promised that unlike the last Initiated, this batch would be forced into his similar devotion and scarred in the glory and pleasure of their coming prince of pain.

Edited by Blackguard

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And so, an interesting trio made their way through the night. On their backs were the weights of their respective histories, and the understanding that somewhere beyond was a family that needed their help. At the head marched Tarsus Hain, a dying lantern in one hand, and a cold spear in the other. The amber light of the lamp shone a few feet in front of him, and it bobbed with his every step.

Snow had begun to fall from the pregnant clouds above. The flurries spiraled slowly through the night air, but the wind disturbed their descent eagerly, making them dance to a chaotic rhythm as they fell. From the rolling sky, the moon would peak through and, every now and then, its light would cast itself onto their path. Those moments were getting rarer and rarer, however, and the lamp would eventually become their only light. The clouds were claiming the night, it seemed. The next night would be claimed by bloodshed. The deaths of community of people, each with their own story, and each with a flaw that had been used by the cult.

Cultists... gotta love them. The elemental laughed in Hain's head, but it was a cackle underlined by pure hate. A real emotion from the beast? That was rare. Usually it regarded the world with contempt, but this was new. 

Of course you have a history with the deranged, Hain replied. His hair whipped around his head as the wind surged with newfound fervor. Before him was a snow covered trail, the white obscuring the black of night and the air killing his lantern's light. He cursed under his breath, casting a glance behind him to make sure his companions were still there. They were, and he knew that Yuel would correct his path should he drift off course. He eyed Liam a moment longer before turning to face forward. What could the man even do against mages?

Damn youspat the elemental. It pushed against the boundaries with his mind, and he struggled to reassert himself. Promise me we'll kill them all. 

I'll promise you nothing. Hain gripped his spear and scowled as the elemental thrashed within him. It took a moment but, eventually, he was back in control and the sounds of their boots crunching in the snow were all that he heard. It felt wrong. There was a true possibility that they might all die tomorrow. The thought of his own death pleased Hain greatly, but he knew it was unlikely, and he hated the idea of seeing Liam or the tiefling fall. I want your stories, he thought. If I don't perish, someone should hold your memories. 

"So," Hain grunted, "Yuel, I'm very interested in you. You walk into a tavern, clearly smarter than anyone in the damned place. You sit with a pair of sketchy men, and you agree to help an even sketchier man. Why? What's your story?" He chuckled, surprising himself. "Who is 'Yuel?' I'm sure Liam would love to know."

Around them the signs of abandoned households were clear. Broken fences, open doors, and dark windows. The cult's doing? Something else? Hain eyed each home cautiously, fully prepared to unveil his abilities. Still, nothing came. 

And so, they walked on. Three souls trekking through the night. If they'd bothered to look further behind them, they could maybe make out the glint of two amber cat eyes before they faded before the snow. Following them, watching them, and waiting2011-12-26-Winter-Village.jpg

Edited by ticklefarte

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Pondering Hain's curiosity only to be met with a long pause as she continued to tread behind him. Reaching a hand across her chest and resting on her shoulder, rolling her head slightly loosening her form. The chill made her feel stiff. She could only exhale into a sigh before she spoke a flurry of words. "You could say a tainted soul from birth only to be given a second chance." She answered. The answer itself was quite vague but at the same time, literal. She continued in a diplomatic tone that rang in her speech.

 "Us Tiefling's aren't always responsible for how we are, our looks and mannerisms. Our past almost defines us outright. My family branches from a line of sorcerers of all sort, gifted with magic prowess. Some sought to power and that desire only brought corruption to generations to come. Playing the strings of fate like a God, taking and creating life. It wasn't our purpose." Her words filled with brittle detachment. She's not proud of her ancestors, the brief it caused. She kept speaking but more disdain in her flow. "My ancestors caused an ancient sin and striking a deal with Mephistopheles, The Cold Lord. My bloodline has been tainted for generations. Riddled with but a stain that is eternal."

When Yeul was but a babe her tail would curl around her body whenever she had to recall the feeling of her blood boiling. The memories, the backlash, the hatred. They were distant memories now, a new change has been set in motion. After a pause she would say the last of her piece. Her arms cross over her chest as she would look at the dusk filled eyes as snow trickled down onto her blue skin and coat. "Since birth myself and my mother was nothing but monsters in human's eyes. All we wanted was to live an honest life, but we were tossed aside at almost every turn. After my mother's death I swore I would change our fate. Make it a symbol to all creatures alike... We can live in peace and live in the present. Ever since I was adopted into a family of Mage's and honed my talent for the arcane. The powers of my tainted bloodline began to surface but I suppressed them ever since. Became a researcher, a scholar to learn what drives those within the arcane to seek power upon heinous means. Also to understand more about myself as well, I always found the aspect of magic to be interesting, ever since I was a little girl." She ended with a light playful chuckle and a stretch of her arms. Yeul always had the interest of magic even before her powers began to flourish. She read tales and codecs of sorcerers and wizard's adventurous and journal entries and always wanted to understand it herself only to be met with a font of knowledge with each new discovery to her. Her gaze peered over to Hain. "You too seem to have quite the story to tell. An interesting fellow you are I daresay." She could feel a peculiar presence around Hain that sparked her interest ever since she sat at the Tavern, she wouldn't be herself if she wouldn't prod a little bit.

Edited by Godspell
Typo.

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Liam snorted at Hain’s mention of his interest in the Tiefling. Still, he was right. Every lesson of Liam’s childhood told him this woman was inherently evil. But then those same lessons also taught that magic was a curse and yet even back home he had bled and laughed alongside mages who had the same fears and ambitions as any other person he ever knew.

Listening to Yeul talk about her past, Liam couldn’t help but to think of home. He would return there as soon as he was done here. A fortune was awaiting him and he would finally settle down in a small village somewhere and find some semblance of peace. Maybe he’d even find a wife and become a fa-

A stinging like an itch he couldn’t scratch spread suddenly across the back of his neck. He winced and instinctively dug his fingers into the muscle. He was starting to think this queer feeling wasn’t being brought on by Yeul but rather by whatever they were approaching. It was not uncommon for his kind to be overcome with a strange sense when in the presence of magic but this was something else.

“I don’t belong here…” Liam said softly in time with Yeul’s question to Hain. He was visibly uncomfortable and just kept walking with his head down rather than scouting the area as he would have done normally.


When they reach the middle of the old town, strike at them. The voice echoed inside the not-so-feline’s head. So, it sat down on the path the trio had just walked and waited for the Initiated. They were not far behind and though they carried blades and no magic, they were still efficient killers who also carried enhancement potions concocted by its master.


“I mean,” Liam said suddenly, realizing he spoke out of turn. “I’m an Outsider. Not from this world. Never been anywhere else and well,” he chewed on his lip, knowing the words but not wanting to say them.

“My reaction to you,” he gestured to Yeul. “Old Church values. They sit like cheese, you know?” It was a piss-poor apology but they were rare from the old mercenary. Not wanting to give her time to react, Liam immediately shot Hain a glare. “But I’m with Blue over here in that I’d like your story, thunder boy. Are those burnt clothes a fashion statement or can’t you control whatever storm you got brewing in your belly?”

Edited by Blackguard
Formatting

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Hain looked ahead, knowing that he could choose this moment to lie to these people and continue the journey. A short story, satisfying Yeul's question. It would be easy enough. Before him lay the path through the village, a winding snake that cut through the community. He knew that they had quite some distance to go. The lamp had held its light for quite some time during Yeul's monologue.

It'd certainly been revealing. Hers was a troubled existence, with a purpose clearly defined by interactions with unique hardships. She's basically a hero. He almost laughed at the idea, but he appreciated her honesty nonetheless. Candor...it was hard to come by. Here, in this abandoned town, a blue woman had endeavored to be honest with two strangers. She'd done so despite the fact that the world had all but told her to be something else. Something worse. Perhaps it was in spite of this fact. Regardless, he couldn't ignore that. He grit his teeth, mind racing.

Liam voiced his own curiosity, the moment clearly sparking an interest within him. 

So? the elemental intoned. Will you tell them? 

"I don't see why not," he said aloud. They were approaching the village square, a large space that was littered with snow and gravel. Near it was a house with its doors shut and windows alight. Someone still lived here, and they were still awake. Odd. Hain watched the house intently as he spoke. His words were clear over the howling wind and the crunch of their footfalls.

"Now," he began, "I'm not one for oratory, but I'll do my best. I suppose I owe that to you two." He shook his head. "My story? It's a simple one I'd think. Filled with struggle, like most of us. But...it began with joy. Aye, it truly did start with joy."

He stood straight, and turned to regard his troupe. There was a faint smile cutting through his face, his grey eyes touched with an equally vague sadness. The lantern cast a dour filter to the display, but he wanted to see their faces. Wanted to see if they understood. "My name," he continued, "is Tarsus Hain. When I was a boy, I lived in a village much like this one, though if I remember correctly mine had people. Not ghosts."

In his mind flashed an image of a small home. Warm. Inviting. Two faces with smiles that inspired love. My parents. 

A bit dramatic, aren't we? 

"Like most kids, I wasn't satisfied with sitting at home. No... there needed to be more. Excitement, you know? Something to get the heart beating. Something to make the mind wander. So I found it. There was a cave near that village, leading into a series of tunnels. It became my second home. A place for exploring. For mystery." He turned around now, continuing their walk. As they moved, he told his tale. "One night, my friend and I went deeper into the tunnel system. Found all sorts of trinkets along the way. Found something else too."

Darkness. Then that smell. Rot and decay floating in dead air, festering. There, she had lain.

I miss her. She was far more interesting.

They entered the village square, and Hain got to work. He took his spear and used the butt of the shaft to begin an outline of large circle into the snow. The wind had begun to die down, so his voice echoed off the empty houses and amplified his story. "One of the tunnels opened up into a huge cavern. It'd reeked of the dead, and I remember shoving down my vomit before entering. Without my torch, I wouldn't have seen it. 

"A large circle," he said as he finally came back around, "of salt. About this big." He entered his ring and walked to the center, where he stood and faced Liam and Yeul with his lantern held high. "And in the center was a woman's corpse. She...she was my predecessor. Before me, U'el had made a contract with her. I'm not sure how she died, or how she ended up in those caves, but I broke the circle. I reset the cycle. He revealed himself to me, tricked me, and here I am." He paused, his face now expressionless. The remnants of his voice resounded through the town, dying as echoes always do. Then, silence.

You said my name? Surprising. 

"I'm no longer human," he said after a moment. "U'el is an elemental of old and he does this to remain tethered here. He finds mortals and inhabits their bodies, slowly overtaking them until he burns through their bodies. Then, he hops to the next one. Apparently, according to him, I'm slated to last quite a long time with him. And I have definitely lasted a while since our first meeting. I left my home because of him. Left my family. Learned how to keep him contained, resist his pull, and control his lightning."

He turned to Liam, the old man filled with distrust. "My coat? It's burned for a reason, and I suppose your question is fair. When I allow for a full unveiling, the lightning is everywhere. Sparks fly, and I fly with them. I become...him: chaos. I can reign myself back, but it gets harder. Because of that, I only use partial releases. You don't need to worry, Liam. Neither do you, Yeul." Hain sighed and looked to the cloudy sky. "He'll get stronger. I'll get stronger to defy him. For now, however, you two are safe. I have the upper hand."

WATCH OUT.

The elemental's voice went off like a gunshot in Hain's mind. He whipped his head back down in time to see a spear shoot through the air between Yeul and Liam, straight for him.

It cut through the air fast but, before he could react, U'el seized control of Hain's body and they sidestepped quickly out of the weapon's path. It collided with the lantern in his hand however, glass exploding from his hand as the lamp shattered. Darkness now, as shards cut through his cold skin before he could pull back. Hain ignored the pain and let the lamp go. His eyes widened at the elemental's ability to surpass his own will, but he shoved the surprise down as he regained his footing and control. His boots slid in the snow, then found traction with practiced eased. 

He looked toward the path behind Yeul and Liam, cursing. Their light was gone. And now there were guests. He gripped his spear tightly, baring his teeth as he began to call on the beast within. 

 

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It all seemed to have occurred in a flash. Taking in every word of Hain's tale as well as Liam's words, partial but they were meaningful. She didn't have any hatred for Liam, as opposed to previous toxic views of human's she too can learn to forgive. It was the past and so there allows for change. Once she had caught wind of the flying object within their general direction she couldn't help but instinctively pivot backwards the moment the lamp was struck. "By the Fury-" She exclaimed, jumping several feet backwards in hopes of limiting the contact with the explosion. She tail swished violently to the side as she swiftly turned her head in inspection of surroundings. 

"Who goes there!" She yelled in frustration. The last thing she would expect is to be attacked outright in the midst of the dark in such a place. She would swiftly draw upon her weapon. By counting the tenth of her heart beat and extending her right hand, a. object in the shape of a sword would begin to materialize encased in a transmuting, deep blue, radiating mist. She was shaping her Incarnum to bring forth her soulmeld within the chakra in her hand. The blue mist would swiftly dissipate revealing a broad bladed and glyphed rapier that illuminates crimson upon its edges. Along side the rapier a sizable mana crystal encased in ornate metal frames would beat like a heart of magical continuity as it pulsated magical power. 

Yeul would swiftly morph into a battle-ready stance. Brandishing her sword in one hand as she would shift backwards her other hand that's raised upward as the mana crystal seemed to harmonize with her every moment as it would float aimlessly above her hand. Her eyes would gleam a faint blue radiance as enmity filled her person. 

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When Hain told his story, Liam had to stop himself from laughing out loud. He even bit his cheeks to suppress a snort. For a significant portion of his life, Liam had hunted mages for the Church and they revered it as holy work all the while he was practically a heretic himself.

Now he was a stranger in a strange land and walking into a firefight accompanied by a demon-spawn and a possessed man.

“I mean no disrespect,” Liam said quickly to Hain. “I’m just reflecting…” Then everything went dark and Liam heard Hain curse.

They had both reacted quicker than the old mercenary as Liam stumbled back. He quickly set his feet but was unbalanced in the time it took his eyes to adjust to the loss of light.

“Back to back!” Liam hollered at his companions as he drew his broken sword in his right hand and raised his left, palm out as if he were approaching a wild beast. “If either of you can quickly make light, do it! Otherwise eyes peeled!”

Hoping they would heed his advice; Liam kept his back to the duo and focused on the path behind them. This whole thing stank of a set-up and the mercenary cursed himself for not seeing it coming. The pain in his neck flared up but Liam only winced. He could handle dying in the furious throes of a cult but he wouldn’t fall to their scouts in the woods.

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Black. It surrounds them.

Good.

A sound to his right. Footsteps? He swung his spear in a wide arc, catching the edge of some clothing but nothing more. The lucky would-be victim didn't make a sound, but Hain pursued with fervent fury, slapping a hand further on down the shaft and shoving the spear in the man's direction. Blade sank into flesh, and a curse was heard. He pushed harder until the sound died. 

They fight well, though. 

Not good. 

He whirled around, spear free and twirling around his body with great speed. As more men drew close to him, they were whipped by the thick oak or slashed by steel. The fools had taken out his light, but hadn't brought their own? It didn't feel right. With every direct hit, groans and shouts emerged around him, but it wasn't enough. They were getting back up too quickly. Too eagerly. He needed more power.

U'el granted the request with glee. 

Through the darkness, a light began to form. It was bright and white, flashing chaotically as in came into being. This light was Tarsus Hain, now wreathed in lightning. His eyes shone with a hint of his true potential as he allowed for a partial unveiling. Kill them. The air stunk of ozone, sparks flying to cast poor illumination. Snow melted at his very feet from the heat, and his spear buzzed as the metal core began to conduct his power.

From the glow of his body, his immediate vicinity was now visible. Four men surrounded him, various in size but alike in intent. At their feet were a few more fallen who were slowly getting ready to rise. One was just getting to his feet when he looked up to see a radiant man staring at him. Hain frowned at the expression he saw. It wasn't fear. It was anger. What had he done to anger these men? 

Movement. In a flash he pivoted, raising his spear with two hands, then grunting as a heavy club collided with the shaft. Hain looked up to see an ogreish man glaring down at him, straining to overpower his enhanced strength. His boots began to slide in the snow, but he found more resolve.

He pushed back just in time to intercept another blow from behind, armored forearm slapping away a quarterstaff and hand shooting for the coward's throat. There was a pause now, as Hain stared into the man's green eyes. Nothing there. He's gone. Burnt flesh filled the air, a result of a large shock that put the man down. Hain turned to the others who had begun to close in. The elemental...he would get his wish.

He lunged forward, a tornado of lightning and steel, homicidal to its core. As men fell, Hain simply looked for more. His speed was off the charts, reaction time amplified to surpass the mundane assailants. Strength allowed him to propel bodies away with a simple kick, but in their craze these people didn't understand that staying down was the better decision. Why didn't they get that? Just lay down. Put down the blade, please. No, don't swing it. I'm sorry, you were too slow. There's already a spear two handspans in you. Rest now. Over and over, with the momentum from one kill carrying him on to the next. He couldn't see how Liam and Yeul were doing due to the darkness, but he knew they would see him. Let him be their beacon. 

Spearhead scratching against the pavement as he dragged it up and out in a two handed swing, right into a young man's chest. It sank inside but he pulled it hard and, as the body fell, Hain slammed the butt of the staff into a shorter assailant, shoving him to the ground. Another? YES! Electricity shot out of his spear, right into the poor soul. Hain's mercy wold be for the families in the woods. Not these fools. 

I...didn't expect this. 

Phase two, then. 

Yes, sir. 

From the shadows, a black cat sat in front of a large group of waiting men and women. The vanguard of the attack had numbered a dozen, and from this vantage point it appeared that the group was handling them with relative ease. That damn lightning wasn't what they'd expected, unhindered by the weather. It seemed this elemental summoned his own as opposed to calling on the clouds. Quite surprising. 

At the order, the cat let out a smooth purr and bowed its head. In an instant, the reinforcements lit their torches, rose, and began to run into the square with their flames held high. Three of them focused on the Tiefling with haste, an arrow flying straight for her head upon arrival as another lunged forward with her longsword.

The other two challenged the human man, though they were both twice his size. They brandished their torches as clubs, slashing and laughing at the man as if he were a pet. 

The remaining three surrounded the elemental man in a practiced manner, crossbows trained on his person with flaming bolts locked in place. He looked up tiredly at them, lightning snapping and cracking like a whip around him. "Listen-" 

Pfft! 

Hain twisted from the impact of a thick bolt as it shot into his side. The pain blossomed like a jagged flower, but the power coursing through him nipped that progression rather quickly. He looked down at the quarrel, seized it, and snapped it at the shaft as numbness took over. It'd punctured his jacket... 

In response, he allowed U'el more access. He grew brighter, hotter, and surged forward with his own rage. The square was now illuminated, so he saw his companions in their own trouble. He would need this bowmen out of the way first. 

Edited by ticklefarte

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Looking around them seeing their numbers dwindle only to have more swarm around them. Yeul clicked her tongue in annoyance as Hain was swiftly dealing with such daring harriers, his strength is definitely genuine. The azure radiance that filled her eyes morphed into a wisp of flame as aggression filled her person. The enemies before her drew near. An archer that was several yards away had her in his sights. The swordsman only several feet away from her sword brandished his own ready to strike at a moment's notice, Yeul knew to keep herself on her toes for any surprises. Lastly, a hulking man stood on the left side next to the swordsman, jarring metal plates covered most sections of his body as he wielded a sword and shield. Yeul would sneer at the foes in front of her as she readied her sword. 

The archer began to take aim as the swordsman and hulking harrier inched forth. Azure blue mist spiraled along her body before releasing a stream of a faint illuminating brilliance of magical power. Flipping her sword downwards as the held it in reverse as she brought the mana crystal medium with the sword, she would conjoin them at the pommel as the crystal slotted into the sword's hilt to create one item, it represented a stave as the crystal now shone with intense magical power. The air would warp around the stave as the air began to heat up as wisps of white fire would gather in front of Yeul in a large sphere as the center burned viciously causing the ground beneath her to sear as snow and ice rapidly melted. The temperature is rising as the center of the orb shone a cobalt blue. The orb was almost two feet in diameter as it was separating herself and the foes before her. The archer took no time firing 3 arrows in her general direction as the swordsman and the large warrior sprinted forth. Assuming they would attack simultaneously to prevent her from finishing her casting, she could help but smirk. "Foolish!" She yelled. She swiftly released the inferno before her. with a wide flick of her arm.

Level 4 spell: Infernal Verflare. The orb of fire would split into 5 smaller orbs each 9 inches in diameter in a line formation several feet in front of her. Each orb would explode outward into a large plume of white flame. The acceleration of the two melee attackers hardly would have enough time to stop before the flame would consume them. The shielded harrier would brace for impact as the other wasn't as unfortunate as trickles of white flame consumed him, perishing screams as his own armor was melding and burning into his own flesh. The sword he wielded ignited red from the intensity of the heat. The arrows were consumed in the flames rendering them useless. Yeul wasted no time in sprinting towards the archer's right flank as the shielded warrior was still recovering from her first spell. Brandishing her sword she would grasp at the hilt and thrust the tip of the blade at the archer's left abdominal area before he would have a moment to draw another arrow. Grunts of pain resounded due to the wound. Before he could recover she would spin on her heel to land a swift kick to the side of the head around the temple in hopes to stun the archer. She proved to be successful as the archer would stumble backwards dropping his bow. Yeul would exhale before she would catch notice of the shielded foe. She decided to end them both before they had a chance to regroup. Streaks of incarnum would surround her stave. With another swipe of her arm she would send forth two grey-white orbs that would fly towards the two men with great speed before colliding. Upon impact they orbs would enlarge into sphere's of ethereal blades of a furious gale that engulfed the two men into a storm of wind and arcane might as blood and snow would mix and flurry till the two men dropped, gashes covered their bodies and dented their armor. 
"Level 4 Spell: Further Ruin - Wind's Bite." She muttered as she would turn her attention to her companions.

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Two men twice his size and probably half his age stood before him and the look on Liam's face was panicked. He continued to hold out his left hand, palm out as if trying to calm a pair of braying beasts. His sword was held behind him in an expected position except that the iron blade was broken and what was left of it appeared old and rusted. The two men grew more confident as they waved their torches at him, forcing him to stumble back. They howled at his nervous whimpers and then one of them stepped forward, finally deciding to end their game.

"Not all you were told to be," the brute said with a grin as he pulled out a long knife with a wicked looking blade. Liam's panicked expression turned to one of genuine confusion as the man spoke with some sort of familiarity. The man raised his torch to strike but as he did Liam's eyes glanced to the flame and then quickly turned his outstretched hand and snapped his fingers. There was a loud pop like the cracking of burning wood and a sudden flare of light. The man felt the increased heat on the back of his head and immediately dropped the torch so he could swat at the perceived threat but spun around when he heard his companion screaming.

The torch he had been holding had erupted behind him and burned his companion's face, causing him to fall to his knees and rub his eyes in a desperate attempt to regain his vision. The brute immediately turned his attention back to the cowering old man but Liam was already striking. The big brute didn't have a chance to respond when Liam charged him, gut-checking him with his left shoulder. The unexpected strike knocked the wind out of him but he still managed to get his left hand up to try to stab the mercenary with his knife.

With a guttural howl like that of a young soldier trying to brave his way through his first kill, Liam stabbed the man in the stomach with his broken blade. The man's eyes bulged and his knife missed the mercenary but he managed to keep a grip on it. That would have been well and fine if the man had been able to get away from the crazed mercenary but Liam kept howling and pushing the man back, all the while slamming his broken blade into the brute's gut and side over and over.

The other man was at last regaining some of his vision. At first all he could hear was Liam's wild howl and the dying groans of his comrade but then his friend's groaning faded away and all he could hear was Liam's low growl and another sound like a wet slapping. Dark shadows and outlines came to the man first as he struggled to his knees. The old mercenary was saddling his companion's corpse, still stabbing at it as if he were looking for some sort of treasure in his intestines.

When he at last made to his feet and stumbled forward, the man's vision returned to him. Liam was no longer straddling the corpse of his victim but was standing a mere five feet away from him, his sword held behind him and his left hand outstretched before him in the same posture he had held before. The man looked down at the burned out torches and then back up at Liam. This was not a panicked old man but rather a trained and true veteran of countless conflicts just like this one. And now, covered in the blood and gore of his fallen companion, the cultist thought he looked more like a monster than a man

"Now hold on," he said softly, patting his hands in the air. "We can tal-"

The look on Liam's face stopped him. He hadn't been struck even once and yet he looked like he was in terrible pain. It also looked like that pain was making him angry and the cultist thought it best not to provoke him with a false offer of peace.

"We're gonna' talk alright, boy," Liam said between gritted teeth. "Or at least you're going to. And if you don't, I'm going to rip out your tongue so you at least have a reason." His voice was like a low growl as if he were having a difficult time controlling himself.

He couldn't explain the sudden burning pain in the back of his neck or this overwhelming desire to bask in the warmth of this man's blood. Although he certainly enjoyed the thrill of a fight, Liam had never been a bloodthirsty warrior like some he knew. But now he found himself blinded by a rage he has not felt since he was a youth. He glanced back at the man he had practically mutilated. He had not killed with that sort of passion since his first time when he had watched his mother at last succumb to his father's frequent beatings.

That glance back proved almost fatal because when he looked back up, the man across from him was throwing his knife. From that distance, a normal soldier would have been too close to dodge and only heavy armor would prevent the fine blade from piercing. Acting on instinct, Liam curled his fingers into his palm and threw his hand to the side. As if caught by some invisible force, the dagger followed and stuck to the ground. The cultist didn't seem surprised, however as he had already began his charge when he threw the knife.

The brute tackled Liam to the ground and immediately secured his right arm to stop from ending up like his friend. The mercenary began thrashing about beneath the man's bulk and even tried to knee him in the groin a few times but the cultist was no novice and kept squirming away to minimize Liam's strikes. Pinning Liam to the ground with a strength that exceeded his impressive bulk, the man managed to at last obtain a full mount. He grabbed Liam's right arm, accepting a few left strikes to the head and side as a result and tried to rip the sword out of his hand.

Liam took in a deep breath and then wrapped his left arm around the brute's head. The cultist tensed, preparing for Liam to try to roll him over or something equally futile but instead the mercenary pulled him down. Not expecting the maneuver, the cultist slipped a little as he tried to seize Liam's right wrist. Then suddenly the mercenary wasn't pulling on his head anymore and when he realized what was happening, it was too late.

So focused on keeping his sword arm pinned, he didn't see Liam bring his left arm up so he could transfer his sword from right to left. The brute started getting up to re-secure his full mount but Liam's left arm came down hard and stabbed him in the shoulder with his broken blade. The cultist yowled in pain and flung himself off of the mercenary, remembering how he had stabbed his companion over and over in a flurry. That didn't happen this time as Liam let the man roll away and then got back to his feet.

He'd rather fight this brute toe to toe than on the ground where the larger man would surely have the physical advantage. The cultist hissed at the pain as he got to his feet, giving Liam time to check on his own companions. Hain seemed to be handling himself well, a testament to what happens when you give a youth such great power. Then he saw Yeul and seemed confused by the appearance of her strange weapons.

"Keep one of 'em alive, would ya'?" Liam called out to Yeul, eyeing those she had felled. He had hoped he cowed his own opponent with his unintentional display of brutality but like those who surrounded Hain, he only looked angry. "And give Hain some back-up." Liam couldn't see the wound from the crossbow bolt, but he saw the young man twist from the impact and knew he had been struck.

In the eerie glow of Hain's light, Liam glanced the crossbowman but knew he was too far away to do much of anything and so he focused squarely on the man in front of him. The cultist scowled but Liam smirked. The two men circled each other slowly and as they did, Liam removed his cloak. He had one more knife left in there and though it didn't match the quality of the one used by the cultist, it was actually made for throwing. The mercenary whipped his cloak to the side, drawing the cultist's gaze for moment and then threw the knife.

The man winced but needn't worry as the knife had not been aimed for him. As they circled each other, Liam had put himself in better vantage of the crossbowmen who had struck Hain. The knife soared at the marksman but from this distance, it couldn't possibly do any damage. Still, it distracted Liam's opponent and he hoped that it might distract the them enough for his companions to strike him down. With no time to witness his handiwork, Liam charged at the cultist in front of him.

The larger man smiled as he thought he had the mercenary's style figured out. He had a few tricks here and there but he was not as dangerous as their leader had lead them to believe. He would make short work of this fool and the ritual would have to do with one less sacrifice.

 


 

Vryn watched the fight unfold from a safe distance. Roh was beside him, smiling at the pleased look on his master's face. They watched a mirror that showed them all that Roh's familiar could see. This sort of remote viewing was difficult and it didn't offer them any sound but the party was close enough to them that Roh was able to easily maintain the connection.

His primary concern was the young boy and his lightning. At least the Tiefling was a mage, something that Vryn was familiar with and could prepare for even if she was powerful in her own right. But this Hain had to hold himself back or be taken over by this entity inside of him. That meant that if Vryn's plan worked, the boy would be forced to either run away or unleash the elemental enough to save him and Vryn found himself hoping he'd choose to run.

Focusing on Yeul, the cult leader wondered if he could get inside of her mind the way he did some of his other members. Hain was already possessed, more or less and Vryn wouldn't dare trifle in a territory already claimed by an elemental. As an Outsider, Vryn had to quickly learn that even things that were familiar to him from his home world could be drastically different and more dangerous here. But Yeul...

"When they arrive here, Roh," Vryn said confidently. "I want you on the demon bitch. Weaken her will enough that I can get inside her mind. She will be of exceptional use once the mercenary is turned."
 



The cat with glowing eyes trotted away from the scene with Hain and made its way to the mercenary who was currently engaged with the two brutes he had been specifically paired with, It climbed a tree and perched on the lowest branch, watching with an intelligence that belied its animal form.
 



Vryn watched Liam's fight even more intently than he did the others. His two companions would pose a problem if left unchecked but it was the mercenary that Vryn truly wanted. The pain in his neck was likely already getting to him and soon the distant screaming would begin in his head. He smiled when Liam charged the larger man. He had a feeling that he knew what was coming next and cackled excitedly when he was proven right.

The bulky cultist had braced himself for the mercenary's charge but Liam had stopped short at the last moment. If he had been carrying a normal sword, he would already be in striking distance but the cultist had already clocked the broken blade's reach. So when Liam dropped to one knee and slashed the sword at the cultist's shin, he was confused by the burning pain that shot up his leg. The cultist immediately fell to the side, his left leg no longer supporting him and before he had a chance to react, he was looking down the length of ghostly blade, pulsing with an energy insensible to the Arcane.

"Prepare the mages," Vryn said with a grin. "And pull back the remaining Initiated. Commence the ritual and be prepared for the final summoning. Soon we shall know Paradise."

Edited by Blackguard
I released too early. Hey it happens to every guy at least once.

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His boots slammed into the ground, accelerating his passage as he neared his quarry. His body low to the ground, spearhead dragging like a tail behind him, and legs churning as if they were engine-driven. Closer, now. He was closer. The crossbowmen swung into sight and his body sparked in response. 

Pfft!

A flaming bolt shot past his face. It'd missed, but the sight still threw him off for a split second. Insolent ass. Keep going, boy. You're right there. 

It was rare for Hain and U'el to share a goal. In fact, it frightened him. However, as he neared the man who shot him, Hain cast aside that fear in favor of ending this quickly. In the pit of his chest, something thudded. The pulse that flashed from his body was the physical consequence, lightning arcing out and striking the poor man. He cried out as Hain and electricity collided with him, the butt of his spear slamming into the archer's gut and driving them both into the ground. Snow puffed into the air as they fell. Hain reacted quickly, looking up to see crossbows trained on him. He raised his spear and threw it at one of the shooters, the weapon wreathed in white-hot sparks as it soared through the air at a high speed. 

The woman it hit let out a guttural cry upon impact. She stumbled to the side, then whipped around as a knife slammed into her temple and sent her spinning into the ground. Hain blinked in confusion but turned to look at the man under him just as he slapped his crossbow into Hain's face.

He saw stars. His nose buzzed with pain, but this didn't stop him from clapping his hands together and bringing down a heavy handed strike from above his head in response. His fists slammed into the crossbowman's face once, then twice, then thrice. With each blow the man struggled less and less until there was nothing left to fight. That's it, he thought, his breathing heavy and forced. Blood dripped from his nose, though it did nothing to combat the blood that caked his hands. He rolled off the man, then flinched as he stared down the wrong end of a crossbow. The last man. Damn. 

Behind the crossbow, the bandit who operated it was glaring down at him, lips pulled back to reveal a snarl. Hain stared at him with cold grey eyes despite the elemental cursing in his head. Why wasn't he shooting? Do it. Please. 

Just as U'el began to take control of his limbs, the crossbowman shook his head and stepped back. Hain watched as the man jogged away, then as some of the able attackers limped after him. What? 

Do notthe elemental spat, let them go. 

We're not on the same side, you and I. Quiet down.

Hain rocked back onto his heels, then got up to his feet. His synapses were still on fire, his gaze snapping around the village square to take in the dead bodies and his companions. Yeul looked fine, and Liam had even managed to capture one. A few torches lay scattered on the ground, their flames snapping and crackling, and their light sufficient enough to illuminate the square. The battle was a victory then. Hm. Good, right?

He clutched his side as the bolt shifted within him, groaning. He needed it out. First, however, he had questions. Stumbling, Hain trudged toward his spear and looked down at the body it was buried in. It'd been a woman, and the spear jutted out of her leg. She would have lived if not for the knife in her head. Liam's doing. Hissing, he bent down to retrieve the knife, and then freed the spear. The flesh around the impact site was charred as if it'd been struck by lightning. He'd gotten a bit reckless. 

From there, Hain approached his group. His lightning was still active, arcing from his body in fast tendrils that whipped and died on a whim. "How are you two?" he panted. "And who are you?" 

This question was to the only bandit that hadn't retreated. The man regarded Hain with angry eyes, but that rage peeled back against the apathy in Hain's own regard. The elemental kneeled next to him and let out a long exhale. He removed his hand from his side and showed the bandit a blood slicked palm. "Your friends did this to me. Who are they? Who are you? Why were you willing to die, tonight?"

The strange blade that Liam held pulsed next to Hain's head. He glanced at it, then Liam. "That's new. Thanks for the help." With that he handed the man his knife and applied more pressure to his seeping wound. Fire. He needed to remove the bolt and cauterize. This first. 

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The skirmishing rapidly began to dwindle as the numbers of their attackers suffered by the moments that passed. Yeul never once doubted her companion's combat capability but she could only assume this was but a taste of what endeavors they will eventually encounter. The snow steady as the ground beneath them tinted a slight red with streaks of blood from combat. She would exhale before she would look around. She could hear the crunch of the snow behind her where she once had her own bout. The armored harrier was still breathing, at a crawl to what appears to be an ally way between two buildings short yards away from her.

With a click of her tongue she would briskly walk towards the critically injured man with her weapon in hand, still in its staved form. She raised it forward by the shaft as the mana crystal shone with a dull brilliance once more, ethereal azure chains would creep and constrict along the body of the armored bandit. She stood several feet from him, letting go of her sword as it would dissipate into a blue mist from the drop of her palm. Crossing her arms over her chest as she stared daggers into the poor man's gaze. 

The bandit couldn't help but feel a shivering fright crawl up his spine. The fear of death is something that's cold and unwavering, in this scenario his death would have been in nothing but vain. That realization was devilish on its own. 

"Wh-what do you want with me? I was just doin' what I was told!" The man spat in frustration. Sure, Yeul could have killed him, her previous hatred for human's ate at her so that it would deem it a passable act on her conscious.. She would sigh before shifting her gaze towards her two other companions. "We got a live one! Hopefully could answer some questions for us. Don't worry, he's binded." She exclaimed. She would narrow her eyes towards her captive. "I hope you're aware the consequences of foolish acts, eh?" She said, her words cold as the snow around them.

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It was a curious thing, to see true hate burn in the eyes of a stranger. Hain saw it now, honest and pure as the two bandits stared at him. The contempt there...it was inhuman. Or, he supposed, all too human instead. 

He set his jaw and sighed. "Tell me," he murmured to Liam's catch. "Do you know what happened to this village? Why is no one here?"

At that, the two men began to laugh. Hain looked at his companions in confusion. What the hell was so funny? Around them the wind began to pick up, threatening to drown out the cackles from the bastards. He was thankful for this, but shivered against the cold. He was in no shape to continue walking in this weather. He turned his attention back to the men and fixed them with a cold gaze. That seemed to do it. 

"No ones here," spat the first man after too long, "because they're all Believers. True people of the faith go to the Homeland." 

The other man nodded furiously. He strained against Yeul's chains, but eventually relented. "Aye. The Homeland. Its where we're from. Over there we don't deal with perversions like you two." He looked at Hain and Yeul when he said this. "Or traitors like you." This time he glared at Liam. 

Not thieves? Hain thought with a start. 

No. Definitely cultists. 

He groaned and shook his head, mind racing. "You were testing us," he stated after a moment. "Someone at the Tavern warned you. It couldn't have been Beat but...someone. Some drunk that was more than he seemed, maybe. Damn." This meant they'd lost their element of surprise. He'd been counting on that to take out at least one mage, but now he was wary of that plan. Hain rose, cursing as a lance of pain shot through him. He stumbled and leaned on his spear. He needed to think but, first and foremost, they needed to rest. "This Homeland," he began. "is it in the woods?"

Both scoffed at the suggestion. "No, fool. The Homeland is the end goal. We will arrive there soon. Jealous?"

Hain grimaced as they confirmed Beat's information. Lovely. 

"Leave them here," he said. "Or kill them. I'm not sure why the cultists didn't try to overwhelm us here, but that worries me and I don't want them to have any more numbers. I say we rest for a spell and resume the journey at dawn." 

His eyes turned to face the one house that had its lights on. Someone was there. Someone who could help, maybe? He limped in that direction, boots sliding in the snow as he left his troupe to decide the fates of these damned misguided men. The cult explained that fire in their eyes. That fervent bloodlust. Brainwashing. How many foolish sons did I kill? The question didn't scare him. It did, however, infuriate him. He quelled the rage as he approached the house and, as he walked up the steps of the porch, he made sure to subdue the lightning that licked the edges of his skin. He knocked on the flimsy oak door at the top, breathing hard from exertion. Still, he forced an awkward smile on his face. 

The woman who opened it was older, face lined by pain and time. She frowned at him. "Who the hell are you?" she demanded. 

Hain opened his mouth to answer, but found that he couldn't even speak. He fell to his knees first, swooning until he collapsed against the doorframe. Black took his vision but, as he fell unconscious he could feel hands clutching him.


Within the black, he found himself in a echoing chamber. Before him sat a small figure, hunched and facing him with a sneer. 

U'el? 

Yes? 

We should talk. 

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