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Re: [ARC 1] Tales from the East

on Sun May 20, 2018 4:02 pm
JEANNE GIROUX
Outskirts of Nariin | Castinis


A sharp pain woke Jeanne from her slumber. The armed woman stood above her, both hands clutching her spear. Using the blunt end, the woman smacked Jeanne in the thigh once more. Getting the message, Jeanne rose to her feet, massaging her bruised leg as well as she could with her hands bound.

“We’ll be moving soon,” the woman said. “Be ready.”

Promptly, the woman left. Jeanne sat in her corner of the room, hands bound to a support beam. The sun had not yet risen. In the adjacent room she could hear hushed whispers and quiet movement. Jeanne’s leg was throbbing. Her hand dropped to her side, searching for a book that was not there. Letting out a low sigh, she crossed her arms and held herself.

Both of her captors walked in, their faces still concealed by scarf and hood. A white braid snaked out of the smaller woman’s hood, a slight betrayal to her anonymity. The spear-woman betrayed nothing to Jeanne, though her stance and well-maintained uniform suggested she was of the military. Years spent in clinics tending to soldiers of various nations gave Jeanne a good eye. Deserters, maybe? she thought as the duo approached her.

“We do not want to treat you this way,” the white haired woman said, hands clasped together like a diplomat.

“Then release me,” Jeanne said. “And give me back my book.”

“We do not know enough,” the spear-woman said.

“She’s right,” white-hair said. “This is necessary, for now. I just want you to know we do not enjoy it.”

“Of course,” said Jeanne, eyes downcast. “What more do you need to know?”

The previous night consisted of lengthy interrogation. To their merit, it had included very minimal violence, usually only consisting of irritated nudges from the spear-woman when Jeanne took too long with her responses. Curious enough, a majority of the questions had little to do with her own background. They were mainly interested in her affiliation with the various governments in Castinis.

“How many times do I have to tell you I am not Castinian?” Jeanne said, ignoring the hard gaze of the spear-woman and staring straight at white-hair.

“We must get moving,” spear-woman intervened. White-hair held eye contact with Jeanne for a few moments before nodding to her guardian. Jeanne’s rope was removed from the support beam and attached to the spear-woman’s belt. They left the dusty clinic behind, slowly ascending from the valley. For now, it seemed, Jeanne would have to deal with being dragged through the desert, her precious book in the hands of a silver-haired thief.

“Pick it up,” the spear-woman tugged at the rope, sending Jeanne sprawling into the sand. White-hair shoved the spear-woman in the arm, yelling at her in their own tongue. After being properly scolded, the spear-woman shuffled over and offered a hand to Jeanne.

“Apologies,” she said. Jeanne looked at the hand for a few moments before deciding it was probably best to swallow her pride and accept the, likely, forced friendly gesture.

“Thank you,” Jeanne mumbled. Their march continued, the sun beginning to peek over the dunes.
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Re: [ARC 1] Tales from the East

on Fri Aug 24, 2018 1:57 pm
AYA, MAYU, and KAZ
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN KUMANO AND TSUKISHIMA | KYOKAI


A fine white mist slowly rolled along the undergrowth of the forest floor. Around them, all was quiet, aside from the distant chirp of birds, the croaking of crickets, and the crunching and crackling of leaves and branches underfoot. Aya and Mayu slowly stalked their way through the woods, keeping low as they kept their eyes peeled for any signs of movement among the sea of trees.

Their prey, they hoped, would be a deer. Being dusk, the time was perfect for hunting. Aya thought back to all of her times going out alongside her father in the woods around Izu. Every technique, every subtle way of moving was taught to her by her father—and through him, generations of other Izu villagers who survived through cold, harsh winters with the hope of meat in their bellies and pelts around their shoulders.

Mayu hunted differently from her father. She noticed everything, from the way she moved to the way she positioned the bow in her hands—she had seen the same sort of characteristics as the soldiers that had very rarely passed through her village.

Crouching low, Mayu identified some tracks. Deer droppings, a nearby tree with a scraped hide. "It's a buck," Mayu said, voice low. "He's big." Mayu gestured for Aya to look at the sighting. Though from different backgrounds and practices, the two worked in sync. They both spoke and understood the language of the hunt.

Aya's confidence surprised Mayu. She moved with purpose, no motion wasted. Initially, Mayu had expected to have to correct the girl on multiple occasion. The girl, obviously, possessed different form and technique than what she was used to, but it was obviously still effective. They both moved differently but equally. Snaking through the trees and moving as silently as possible, the two continued to follow the tracks.

Further ahead, the sounds of rustling caught their ears, prompting them to stop in their tracks to listen. Aya’s eyes narrowed as she slowly scanned between trees for the deer. In the midst of all the greens, browns, and grays of the forest, those unaccustomed to the hunt might find their vision clouded and confused, however Aya felt at home. Her senses were sharpest among the trees and in the fields, or by the creeks. Another rustle and she spotted the deer. Silently nudging Mayu, she pointed in its direction with an arrow, already drawn from her leather-patched quiver.

Mayu followed Aya's movements. The girl was proving her worth during the hunt. For a few moments, Mayu was certain they had lost the buck. Aya's enhanced senses brought them back on the right path. Together, they crawled through the brush until they hit the edge of the treeline. In the clearing, their prize awaited.

The creature was huge, as Mayu expected. If they didn't make the right shot, they would never see it again. Only a critical wound would stop the beast. They had to be careful or all of their work would be for naught. Mayu raised her bow, knocking an arrow. She looked to Aya, waiting for her to do the same. If they both made the same shot, they'd have far better chances of walking away with the buck's hide.

As previously planned before encountering the deer, the two had split, quietly flanking to either side until they reached their positions. Aya took aim, raising her bow confidently in her hands as an arrow was knocked to the string. A finger ran down the dull red fletchings as she drew the arrow back. Drawing in a slow breath, she aimed for the buck’s neck rather than its midsection—at the same time, she knew Mayu would target there. If they could both aim true and hit, there was no way the buck wouldn’t fall then and there.

For the last two days, they had little luck in the hunt. The weather certainly didn’t help—a constant driving rain kept many animals sheltered amongst the undergrowth. Kazco, on the other hand, was waterlogged and chilled to the bone as they slowly made their way toward Tsukishima. That day however was blessedly clear, with yesterday’s rain transforming into a mist that helped to mask their movements through the woods.

It seemed the hidden stars above finally aligned in their favor. Aya hoped they would help to guide their arrows true.

"Together," Mayu mouthed to Aya. Mayu started to draw back on the string, feeling tension. If she and the girl were synchronized, the deer would drop dead in the next few moments. They were critical moments; everything had to be calculated. Her hand trembled a bit when she remembered her failure at the hunting lodge, one of the many reasons they were forced to leave town. Grimacing, Mayu shook her head and steeled herself.

Aya exhaled, and released her arrow.






The deer fell, two shafts protruding from its neck. It collapsed into a bed of leaves, precious blood staining the floor of the woods. Mayu breathed a sigh of relief, giving Aya a smile from across the clearing. Fortunately, her recent failures hadn't crept into this moment. Mayu slung the bow on her back and walked towards their kill. The meat would allow them to eat comfortably for some time.

They began to dress the deer in the field, a grisly process that had to be completed as quickly as possible. Using her hunting knife, Mayu drew a long cut down the carcass. Working together, they removed the entrails, making a pile that would likely feed another wild thing. After letting the blood drain, Mayu wrapped it tightly with a length of rope. They began to drag the corpse towards the wagon.

"You did well," Mayu said to Aya, feeling the urge to fill the dead silence. "I'm happy that we were able to hire someone capable this time."

Aya gave a small smile, a hint of embarasment in the blush of her cheeks. "My father taught me how to hunt. He always knew the best way to track an animal down—I tried to learn as much as I could from him."

As the two slowly made their way out of the forest, the sounds of a crackling campfire, and the pleasant smell of wood smoke greeted them from their campsite. Located within a clearing just beyond the main road southwest toward Tsukishima, their camp was the perfect location for both hunting and fishing. While a dense forestation surrounded them on all sides, several small rivers flowed north from the distant Kamiyama mountain range, emptying into an array of lakes and ponds. Kaz, hard at work getting the fire going, sat on a tree stump nearby their belongings.

"That was fast," Kaz said, offering them a welcoming smile. "I'm assuming this means the girl can carry her own weight?"

"She did just fine," Mayu said. "I hate to say it, Kaz, but you have a good eye."

"Oh, you don't have to tell me. I know what I'm doing."

Mayu dropped the rope and walked towards the fire, taking the tools out of Kaz's hands. Kaz gave her a momentary look of disaproval, one that melted away into a smirk. Mayu would never change and Kaz was fine with that. They caught dinner, now it was his responsibility to cook it. Sighing, Kaz walked over to the deer carcass and crossed his arms. Tonight, they'd eat well. His treat.






For a while, the three ate in relative silence. Over the popping and dull roar of the campfire, the only other thing that could be heard was their chewing. Aya cast furtive glances in her new company's direction every once and a while before looking back at the dancing flames and glowing embers. It had occurred to her that since the trio had started to travel together, they hadn't truly gotten to know one another.

So many questions swam in her head—she wondered of their lives before Kumano, and how they became merchants. She wanted to know of their upbringing, what local customs they knew, and of all the places that they had surely traveled to. Swallowing a mouthful of seared venison off the bone, she sighed happily and stretched from where she sat by the fire.

"Is this the first time both of you have traveled away from Kumano?" Aya asked curiously, trying to spark a conversation.

"First since we've settled there, yes," Kaz said, swallowing before speaking. "We haven't always been homebodies, though. Right, Mayu?"

"Sure," Mayu said, eyes not leaving her food.

"Before Kumano, I was a traveling peddler just like my father. Mayu, here, was a soldier. We've both been around. Mayu's the only one who can read a map, though."

"You're talking too much, Kaz," Mayu shook her head. "Let the girl speak a little."

"Right," Kaz laughed, scratching the back of his head. "I'm interested in what life was like in that little village of yours. Do you miss it yet, Aya?"

Looking to Mayu with admiration, she wasn't surprised to find out she had been a soldier—she could tell just from the way she had moved in the woods as they hunted. Nevertheless, she had never met a lady soldier before—and it was seldom enough that even male soldiers would venture through Izu. The village was far too poor and far too removed from the rest of the mainland for any soldiers to bother making their way so far north to their island.

Aya thought for a moment before answering. "In some ways I miss Izu—it's my home, afterall. But I'm happy to be seeing new places for once too." Taking a sip from her waterskin, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "And I'm happy to not be alone on the road anymore."

"You are very lucky you found us," Mayu said, finishing off the last of her meal. "I don't want to call you naive, but there are a lot of ways for a young girl to encounter trouble traveling these roads alone."

"I'm pretty sure you're calling her naive," Kaz shook his head. "Mayu, please. She's smart and a good judge of character. Why else do you think she chose to help us?"

"Out of kindness?"

"No, Mayu. She saw an opportunity. I know what I saw in her eyes. She's got an eye for business. That's why I think she is a perfect match for Kazco. Give her a year or so under my tutelage and she'll be unlocking that potential. You've got the potential, Aya, trust me."

"All I'm saying is to be careful when we get to these towns," Maya said, ignoring Kaz's tirade. "On the outside things may look good, but experience has shown me that there's always another side. Stick with us and you'll be fine. Hell, maybe when you've decided you've had your fill of adventuring we could come with and take a look at Izu ourselves."

"That is the first good thing you've said all night," Kaz said, chuckling.

"Well, there's not much to see in Izu, but it's a peaceful place. I'd be honored to bring you there one day." Aya said, offering a bright smile.

Having finished their meal, the three relaxed by the fire, only stopping their conversation to tend to the flames. As the evening turned to night, the sounds of crickets and the rustling of leaves filled the forest around them, while nearby their horses whinnied softly from where they were hitched to a tree. Through pockets in the leafy canopy above them, thousands of stars twinkled in a lightly clouded sky, while the sliver of a crescent moon hung high above, casting a dull glow upon the world below. Their flickering fire cast mesmerizing, dancing shadows all around them.

"I wonder what Tsukishima will be like..." Aya wondered aloud, her voice betraying a hint of excitement and anticipation. "I've heard its one of the biggest cities in Kyokai."

"It's a wonderful place for business," Kaz said, grinning. "I'm hoping that I'll be able to sell a bit of my merchandise while we're there. Plenty of buyers."

"If you're lucky," Mayu said, shrugging. "We haven't had much of it lately."

"If is the word," Kaz nodded. "I'll deal with the cards we're dealt when we get there. Aya, you will enjoy the city. The buildings are massive, flawless in design. The streets are filled with wares, swords that never dull, armor that never chips, robes that never lose their color and quality. Tsukishima has much to offer. If you've never been to the city before, you'll have quite the story to bring home to your parents."

"There's also a lot of food," Mayu said. "Good food."

"I know a place that sells magnificent ramen," Kaz laughed. "That shall be our first stop."

Aya's eyes lit up as she listened to the two speak of all that Tsukishima had to offer. She had never had ramen before, though from what she knew of the dish, it was similar to some of the noodle dishes that Izu was known for. Much of the ingredients of ramen, she supposed, were too expensive or too difficult to bring to Hekkaido. Though she had only just had her fill of meat that night, she could practically feel her stomach rumble in anticipation of the food she'd be able to sample while in the city.

"I heard that many foreign ships come to port in Tsukishima. I... I wonder if I'll meet a Ryoku-jin1 while we're there." Aya said. "I've heard many tales of the lands outside Kyokai."

Mayu appreciated Aya's interest in these matters, but it worried her. There was a lot to see in the world, not all of it good. The girl was eager to communicate and quick to trust. In a perfect world that was a wonderful trait to possess. Though she had not been in their company for long, Mayu was already worried for the girl. Once they reached the city, she made a mental note to keep a sharp eye on her. She grimaced at the thought. Is this what it feels like to be a mother? she thought to herself. Gods. I'm not that pathetic, am I?

"I don't trust foreigners," Mayu said, shaking her head. "Too unpredictable."

"Nonsense," Kaz said. "True, you can count on there being some bad apples in the bunch, but they have plenty to offer. Exotic merchandise, for instance. Who knows? Maybe when we arrive we'll meet someone from Flamelle."

Thoughts of her future experiences swam through Aya's mind as a smile crossed her face. She couldn't wait to feel all that there was to feel in the city—the different smells, the sights, and meeting new people. Her excitement and anticipation was enough to make her chest flutter. Surely, Tsukishima would offer an entirely better experience than Fushima had to the north. And this time, she would have the company of Kaz and Mayu.

"I'm excited to see it all!" Aya admitted with a short laugh. "And I'm grateful I won't have to see it all alone."


---------------------------------------------------

1 - Ryoku-jin - The Kyokan term for "foreigner" - literally translated as "foreign person"
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Re: [ARC 1] Tales from the East

on Sun Aug 26, 2018 7:45 pm
ALRIC AND SCRATCH
Bagrada, Maqae | Castinis


“So,” Wadha said, pulling away the damp and bloody cloth from Scratch’s arm. “What happened to Gabriel?”

The medicine was working but the pounding in Scratch’s head had not stopped. Mention of her former partner’s name did not help alleviate it. Wadha wrung out the bloody cloth and dampened it with fresh water. She looked to Scratch, watching the face for a reaction.

“He was a friend to me as well,” Wadha said, coming closer, cloth in hand. “I know something bad happened. Is he dead?”

“Yes,” Scratch said.

“I thought so,” Wadha shook her head, hesitating with the cloth for a moment before tossing it back into the basin. They stood together, the outside traffic became part of the stillness, the only sound that reverberated within the shack.

“You’re not going to ask for details?” Scratch crossed her arms, leaning against a counter that held her equipment. She could feel the gilded sheath of her short sword touching her back. It gave her comfort.

“Figured you wouldn’t give me any,” Wadha smiled sadly.

“You’re right on that.”

Silence filled the room once more. Years ago, silence in this shack would have been a cause for worry. Daily planning, financing, secretive meetings and rendezvous happened within the walls. Knowledge was traded, guards were narrowly avoided, money was earned. In this shack, their profession found a genesis. Now it was only the two of them, fragments of a time when they could make good money off one another. Currently, they had no use for each other. There was no reason to talk. Nothing could be gained from it.

Upstairs, Scratch heard boards squeaking. Wadha noticed her eyes float to the ceiling. They both connected for a moment, a revealing microsecond that told Scratch she wasn’t safe in this house. Not anymore. She watched the dagger on Wadha’s hip, her hand curiously hanging on the hilt. Movement was now quite apparent from the level upstairs. Dark figures were slowly coming down the stairs.

“What is this?” Scratch hissed, eyes flicking back and forth at potential enemies and exit points. Her hand drifted to the gilded sheath. She knew in a few moments there wouldn’t be time to grab anything else. The figures appeared behind Wadha’s shoulders, garbed in black like assassins. On the chest of each one was a pin that signified they were of the Teeth.

“This isn’t a fight,” Wadha said, hand not leaving the dagger. “They want you alive. We tended your wounds for a reason.”

“You were just buying time until you knew Alric was out of the equation, weren’t you?”

“Give us the word,” one of the cloaked men said to Wadha, hand on the hilt of a curved blade. She looked at Scratch with a curious expression of pity. That all passed when she thought of the sack of gold that waited at the end of this diversion. She stood, words not coming to her, as another cloaked man reiterated the statement.

Scratch didn’t wait for the word. Using the sheath of her blade, she flung a flower pot towards the group, the hardened clay shattering into pieces as it connected with Wadha’s face. A dust cloud of dirt filled the room. Scratch pivoted towards a nearby window, diving through the glass, shards scattering onto the streets below. She rolled on the landing, civilians screeching in surprise as she shoved past them, only her short sword in hand.

The Teeth gave pursuit.

* * *

Alric knew they were following. After leaving the fortune teller in a fit of confusion, he had spent some time blending with the crowd, following the paths, looking for the white haired girl. It didn’t take long for his senses to return. He knew she was not in Bagrada. She was dead, no longer a concern of his. Around the time he decided to turn back, he noticed them.

It was the crowd who gave them away. As he pushed through the sea of people, they started giving him worried looks, staring past his shoulder at the hooded men who had been following him for blocks. They wore black cloaks with a silver pin that depicted gnashing teeth. Their features were shadowed. Though he only gave them a second glance, he knew they were carrying weapons. They walked without swaying their arms, shoving those aside who dared walk in their path.

As soon as Alric saw an empty alley, he broke into a sprint.

He could hear the yells coming from behind as the cloaked men began the chase. Alric looked back to see them now brandishing curved blades. One threw a knife, the blade flinging past his ear. Civilians ran into the shacks that lined the alleyway, slamming doors and wailing as the men chased Alric. Ahead, the alley was ending. A clay house with an open window sat at the end. Alric dove through, quickly taking out his spear and launching it at the cloaked figure who was closest behind. The blade pierced his chest, launching him back through the window, slowing the progress of his comrades. Alric was already on the move.

Rushing past the screaming members of the household, he slammed out the back door and continued down a street that neared the market square. He glanced back again, noting that there were now five of them, one who was covered in his friend’s blood. Alric gritted his teeth and charged farther ahead, using the sea of people to mask his movements.

The market was filled with noise. Music blared from every corner, merchants shouted above chatter, drunkards laughed and fought at the roadside bars. Alric moved through the crowd efficiently, zigzagging through the traffic until he was certain that the cloaked figures had lost him. Ducking into another alley, he watched from the shadows as his pursuers cursed to themselves and harshly interrogated passerbys. Catching his breath, Alric sat on the front steps of one of the homes, tucked away from the road far enough that none would take notice of his presence.

Within moments, he could hear someone sprinting closer. Alric pulled out his blade and shield, sticking as close to the wall as possible. A female shape, vaguely familiar, blurred past, a highly decorated blade in hand. It took less than a second for him to register the identity of said figure. More steps were headed in the same direction. Alric took initiative. Cutting the rope of the scaffolding beside him, he sprinted after Scratch. The scaffolding fell as he escaped, timber smashing the first pursuer on the head, making a sickening crack. The other cloaked men jumped over his corpse, yelling obscenities at the two. Alric caught up to Scratch, huffing and sweating. Hardly a glance was shared. They continued to run until an alley came into view, this time featuring an entirely closed off structure. Scratch pulled at the door but it refused to budge. Turning back, she pulled out her blade, throwing the glamorous sheath to the side.

“Who are they?” Alric asked her, watching as seven cloaked figures approached them, swords raised.

“Meat,” Scratch grunted. “That’s all I see.”

“Assassins,” Alric spat. “Why here?”

“They only want you dead,” Scratch smirked. “Seems like the bounty called for me alive. I guess that means I’m the important one. You’re meat just like them.”

Alric laughed and it felt good. Their reunion would be a violent one like before, but this time they were both in fighting condition. Scratch was still injured, but no longer a mess of blood. In the moments to come, that could change once more. As the guards approached, Scratch was smiling, her stance taunting them, luring them towards battle. Alric felt obliged to join in, to accept what would probably be their death wholeheartedly. The rush was coming to him, that familiar lust for blood. This time he wasn’t scared to let it in. He would need every ounce of it.

The cloaked men formed a line, the one with bloodied robes taking the center. Alric could see the killer’s eyes staring at him, thirsting for blood. He readied his shield, waiting for the first strike, Scratch taking his unprotected flank. The assassins edged closer, pushing the two back until they were practically against the wall. No one blinked. The street was silent, save for measured footsteps in the sand.

The assassin with the blood stained robes charged forward, scimitar gleaming in the sun as he whirled his blade. Alric caught in on his shield, bashing the man in the face. Scratch followed up quickly, her blade plunging into the man’s gut. The others began to close in, screaming. Alric kicked the body forward, his limp corpse causing two of them to trip in their attack. A line of blood had been drawn in the sand.

Scratch waved her sword like an animal, screaming and shouting, keeping three of them in check while Alric engaged the three on their left. One attempted to lunge forward, whipping his sword in a measured sword, hoping to lop Scratch’s head off of her shoulders. She parried the blow, using the momentum of his swing to slash the man’s face. The man wailed, blood pouring from his eyes, swinging his sword blindly.

Alric charged into the fray, catching one of the stumbling assassins off guard with his shield. He shoved the dazzled man towards his comrade and slashed the other across the leg, causing them all to stumble in a writhing pile. Alric pounced on them, driving his blade into the mass of bodies multiple times, piercing the chest, face, stomach.

Scratch took advantage of the blinded killer, rushing past him towards the two remaining men. She leaped at him, catching his blade with her own as she slammed into him, knocking him off his feet. The other soldier attempted to stab her while she was down, but she rolled aside in time. Alric jumped over her cracked the assailant over the head with his shield, his skull fracturing. Arms going limp, he fell helplessly into the dust. Scratch finished off the grounded enemy, slitting his throat and letting it spill into the earth. Alric finished the fight by putting the blinded man out of his misery, carefully avoiding his wild swings before cutting him down.

* * *

The alley was piled with bodies, stained with blood. They both were on the ground, laid back, weapons laid alongside them, gasping for air. Exertion overcame adrenaline. Alric became himself once more, not daring to open his eyes to witness the bodies that surrounded them. Scratch lay still, watching the clouds pass over.

“Are you hurt?” she asked him bluntly. “I’m not.”

“I’m unscathed,” Alric said, voice soft.

They drifted into silence again, their breathing starting to even up. Their ravaged lungs were recovering. Some civilians peeked out their windows to view the carnage, though none dared to approach it.

“We need to leave this city,” Alric said. “It was a mistake to come here.”

“They patched me up and gave me my medicine,” Scratch said, arms behind her head. “We got what we came for. If we stay longer, the Teeth might actually send seasoned fighters after us.”

“What do they want from us?”

“They want your head. They probably want mine as well, but it seems whoever placed the mark wanted to have some fun with me first.”

Alric struggled to his feet, offering a hand for Scratch. She took it, allowing him to pull her up. They both looked for a long while at the carnage. The “assassins” were either quite young or quite old. Men who at just entered the Teeth or were on the way out. If Alric’s assumptions were correct, it meant that their mark was not high priority. Once they discovered this mess, however, that would change.

“We leave now,” Alric said to Scratch as they recovered their blades.

“Use some of that qa so we can have transport to the next city,” Scratch said. “Take it out of your paycheck if you want. I want to sleep the rest of the way north.”

“We both have earned at least that much.”

They left the scene behind, disappearing from the alleys of Bagrada. Neither would return to the city again.
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Re: [ARC 1] Tales from the East

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