13 – 1

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“Mission accomplished,” Merry announced, planting the butt of her lance on the floor. “We have successfully reported to this empty conference room. What’s next, Sarge?”

“What I know, you know,” Principia said, uncharacteristically terse. “And keep a lid on the attitude, private. We were ordered here for a reason, and you sassing out of turn in front of the bronze will result in them landing on my neck. Guess how many times that headache will be magnified before I pass it on down to you?”

Merry cleared her throat and shifted to attention. “Apologies, Sergeant.”

“You’re both turning into actual soldiers,” Ephanie said with a small smile. “It’s quite touching. And a little bizarre.”

“Thank you, my loyal and dedicated XO,” Principia replied, sighing.

Nandi cleared her throat. “Someone approaching. Those are Rouvad’s footsteps.”

Principia’s eyes cut to her momentarily, but she didn’t bother to ask if she was certain. “Attention!”

The entire squad, already lined up along one side of the small conference room, snapped to attention as ordered. And there they stood. It was another half a minute before the door opened—suddenly, to those who lacked elven hearing—and High Commander Rouvad stepped in, alone. She paused, glancing across them with an unreadable expression, then shut the door.

“Sergeant Locke,” the Commander said curtly, “remove your insignia.”

Principia hesitated barely an instant before reaching up to detach the striped pin from her pauldron. It gave her a moment to think, as they were designed not to come off accidentally during battle. She’d done nothing court-martial worthy, and anyway, it wouldn’t be standard policy to have her whole squad report to an out-of-the-way spot like this and watch if she were about to be demoted or something…

“I apologize for the lack of ceremony, but everything will be made clear soon,” Commander Rouvad said, reaching up to begin attaching a new pin to the now-bare spot on Principia’s shoulder. “Principia Locke, you are advanced to the rank of Lieutenant, effective immediately. My congratulations.” She took a step back.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Principia said, saluting and concealing her bemusement. This she had not been expecting; that promotion should have followed either an act of conspicuous valor or another year of service…

“Conceal your old pin, Lieutenant,” Rouvad ordered. “And the rest of you are not to reveal the circumstances of this promotion, in general but particularly to any of the women you are about to meet. As far as anyone needs to know, Locke has held this rank for a suitably long period. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am!” the squad chorused, saluting.

Rouvad nodded once. “Good. You will now report to the west sub-basement assembly room B to be briefed on your next mission. Afterward, Locke, I want you to return here and meet me while Corporal Avelea prepares your squad for departure.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Principia said crisply.

The High Commander nodded again. “Dismissed, ladies. I’ll see you below in not more than five minutes.”

She turned and strode out through the door opposite the one they had come in.

“Well…you heard the woman,” Principia said, stepping toward the other exit. “West sub-basement assembly room B. Which is…?”

“Follow me,” Nandi said with a smile as they exited into the hall. “And congratulations, Locke.”

“Yeah, congrats, Sar—I mean, LT,” Farah added brightly, followed by a chorus of agreement from the others.

“This may present an operational obstacle for the squad, though,” Ephanie added gravely. “We’ve been relying rather heavily on your personal expertise, Locke, but you are now required by all protocol and military tradition to know nothing.”

“I don’t know when you decided to become a comedian, Avelea, but you’re lucky you already have a job.”

They were on the ground floor in the western wing already; it was a journey involving two flights of stairs and one right turn, taking no more than three minutes, before they approached a door currently guarded by two Legionnaires. Nandi fell back, letting Principia take the lead. As they neared, the soldiers shifted to cross their lances across the door.

“Name and squad,” barked one, staring expressionlessly at Principia.

“Locke, Principia, Squad 391.”

Both immediately returned their lances to the upright position and the soldier on the right, who had spoken, saluted; the other, having her lance in her right hand, simply remained at attention. Principia saluted back, then pulled open the door and stepped through.

Casey was the last in and shut it behind them, and then the squad clustered together, falling automatically into parade rest. The assembly room was large, and no less than six other squads were already present—fully-sized units of at least twelve women each. Squad 391 were not only the last to arrive, but the smallest group by far, and gathered several curious stares.

Before anyone could speak or approach them, however, the door on the auditorium’s low dais opened and Commander Rouvad herself emerged. Everyone immediately stood at attention and saluted.

“At ease,” Rouvad said in a clipped tone, striding to the center of the platform after sweeping one quick look around the room. “This mission and everything about to be discussed in this briefing are classified. You are being mobilized in response to a crisis, ladies. The Fourth Silver Legion has been completely neutralized.” The stir which went around the room was subdued considering that news, discipline relaxed only to the extent of a few indrawn breaths and shifted boots. “Along with a supporting group of Salyrites from all four Colleges who were assisting with their last mission. They have suffered only a dozen fatalities, but all surviving personnel are afflicted with a malady clearly magical in nature and are unable to act.”

She paused, shoulders shifting slightly with a deep breath.

“The situation is this. A small cult has been active in Puna Dara over the last year, known locally as the Rust. Our intelligence from Punaji territory is sporadic at best, but what we do know is that these Rust are set apart from the average run of fringe religions by the practice of grafting machine parts onto their bodies—and in some cases, replacing their limbs entirely. Reports vary and some are difficult to believe, but there is strong indication that these mechanical additions grant them physical and magical power beyond the human norm. And they are, by necessity, magical in nature, because there is no purely mechanical technology which can achieve the effects described.

“Four weeks ago, I was alerted by the Archpope and the Imperial government that both had suffered incursions of some kind.” Her expression became distinctly annoyed. “These reports were frustratingly vague, as they concerned matters which are highly classified by both organizations, but in both cases, they involved artifacts of the Elder Gods in storage by the Church and the government being abruptly activated to potentially deadly effect. The Archpope believes, on the strength of intelligence he declined to share with me, that the Rust were responsible. The Empire did not repeat this assertion, but offered tacit support to an investigation of the matter.

“At issue is the nature of Punaji politics and culture. Their windshamans see to most of the spiritual needs of their people; only a few cults have a presence in Puna Dara, all very small, and the Church has none. Naphthene is the only Pantheon goddess revered there, and she has no actual worshipers. More specifically, the Empire is not able to act unilaterally in Punaji territory per the terms of their treaty, and the Punaji government is unwilling to accept overt help from Tiraas on any internal matter, which would apparently make King Rajakhan look weak and invite dissent—or so he clearly thinks. It is therefore a testament to how seriously he takes this matter that the King agreed to host the Fourth and an attached party of Salyrites to assist in investigating this cult and taking whatever action he deemed necessary.”

Again, she paused to breathe before continuing.

“Immediately upon entering the mountain tunnel leading to Puna Dara, the entire Legion and their companions were struck by a plague. Immediately, and simultaneously, in a fashion totally unlike the normal progression of any disease. The symptoms are severe physical weakness, exhaustion, and lethargy; several perished due to the aggravation of preexisting conditions, but overall the effect seems designed to neutralize victims without killing them. Those afflicted were evacuated to Rodvenheim for treatment, where they have remained stable. The condition appears not to be contagious, and shows no sign of either worsening or abating. I simply have an entire Legion apparently cursed, by an effect which has resisted all efforts at diagnosis, much less treatment. We have not even identified the vector for the affliction. The Fourth reports they were not attacked or even approached prior to being struck down.

“It is obvious,” Rouvad said grimly, “that this was in response to the threat of a major Avenist presence in Puna Dara, and at this point we are considering the Archpope’s theory the correct one: the Rust have hitherto unseen capabilities, are extremely dangerous, and have grave ambitions, or at the very least a willingness to exercise significant power when threatened. Rajakhan’s stipulations remain in place, and with this force active in the streets of his city I firmly agree that the stability of the Punaji nation needs to be preserved. The Empire is still barred from intervening—for now. Tiraas will not suffer a hostile force to overthrow an ally with whom it shares a border, which means that eliminating this threat will be necessary to prevent an outright war of conquest.

“The Church is not acting directly, either, but organizing the cults who have volunteered personnel to go to Puna Dara and assist. After the disaster which struck the Fourth, all insertions into the city are being undertaken with careful discretion. We do not know how the Rust identifies threats, nor how they achieved this retaliation, so we cannot expect every attempt to succeed. However, the Thieves’ Guild and the Huntsmen of Shaath are sending agents to assist; the Guild already has a small presence in Puna Dara. The Collegium of Salyrene is dispatching more agents, far more carefully this time. I have been notified less formally that Omnist monks and several miscellaneous Vidian personnel are making their way to Puna Dara. It was not made clear to me exactly how they intend to help. And then, of course, I am sending you.”

She nodded to each squad in turn as she addressed them. “Each of you is a Squad One of your respective cohorts. Squads 221, 241, and 611 are dedicated rangers. You will attempt to enter Puna Dara unseen via the difficult mountain passes leading to it from the surrounding Stalrange and Dwarnskolds. Squad 351 are clerics and healers, and will proceed to the city via ship; I will be making it clear, with the cooperation of the Punaji government, that your mission is pure humanitarian relief, which will hopefully not invite retaliation by the Rust. Squad 371 are more diverse spellcasters and will attempt insertion via teleportation. Squad 211 are dark ops. You know what to do. And finally, Squad 391 are part of a diplomatic and interfaith cooperation initiative. Your method of insertion I will leave to the discretion of your commanding officer.

“Once you enter the city, those of you who succeed in doing so will find one another and coordinate without assembling at the sole Avenist temple in Puna Dara. The temple has not been attacked or otherwise disrupted by the Rust, and you will not draw their attention to it. The exception will be Squad 351; you would create suspicion by not assigning yourselves there, and so that is where you will go. All of you will link up, establish communication and cooperation with one another, the participating cults—specifically the Eserites, Shaathists, and Salyrites—and the Punaji government. Your chain of command is as follows: Lieutenant Locke of Squad 391 will command this operation in the field and be responsible for determining, organizing and executing a course of action. In Locke’s absence, Lieutenant Ansari of Squad 611 will take command, followed by Lieutenant Intu of 211, Lieutenant Raazh of 241, Lieutenant Carstairs of 371, and Sergeant Steinbrenner of 221. Captain Ombanwa, your squad will remain based primarily at the temple, and provide support to the mission as Locke or her successors require, but your goal is humanitarian and in the event of mission failure I want you to be able to distance yourselves and continue working without having to evacuate. That means, Locke, that the healers will be under your orders, but you are to leave them be until and unless you have a specific need for their services. There are Omnist, Salyrite, Izarite, and Vidian temples in Puna Dara—small ones, and only one of each faith, but they will provide starting points from which to locate one another. There is no permanent Shaathist presence and the Guild’s safehouse is of course not publicly known; you will have to find them as well, Locke.”

She paused once more to frown and inhale deeply.

“Your mission, ladies, is first and foremost reconnaissance. I want you to find out the goals, capabilities, and character of the Rust in as much detail as possible. What you learn will determine your next course of action. You are under no circumstances to politically destabilize the Punaji nation, nor endanger the established or visiting personnel of the other cults which are offering assistance. You will also, within the tolerances of those goals, protect your own welfare. We are frighteningly in the dark, ladies; this mission is perforce an open-ended one. If, having done the above, you deem it necessary to withdraw and report back, do so; if you choose to take more aggressive action, take steps to ensure that whatever you have learned is transmitted back here so that the Sisterhood’s next actions will not be taken in this same state of blindness. However, if you find the chance to end the Rust, do whatever you have to. They have struck down our own in large numbers; I have no desire to normalize relations or continue to tolerate their existence. Lieutenant Locke, I expect you to listen to the recommendations of the other squad leaders, but ultimately, the determination is yours.

“Dossiers have been compiled with all known details on this situation, which will be issued for you to read en route to Puna Dara. You will fully absorb this information and destroy them before arriving.” Rouvad gave them a beat of silence before asking, “Questions?”

There was a momentary pause, before the officer she had indicated as Lieutenant Intu spoke in a quiet tone. “Based on the reports from the Archpope and the Empire, are we assuming these Rust to have some connection to the Elder Gods?”

“We are assuming nothing,” Rouvad replied. “I consider that prospect remote, despite the suggestive connection. You will reconnoiter and answer these questions yourself before taking direct action.”

Lieutenant Ansari cleared her throat. “I mean no disrespect, Commander, to you or Lieutenant Locke, but who is she, and why is she to command this mission?”

“Your lack of disrespect is noted, Lieutenant,” Rouvad said flatly. “It is a fair concern. Squad 391 is, as I said, a unit with a diplomatic mandate; its members have connections to multiple cults and have been training specifically to cooperate and coordinate with them. As you will be relying on compatriots from other cults, including some with which the Sisterhood has historically poor relations, that experience will be immediately relevant to your success. Principia Locke, specifically, is relatively new to the Legions, but she has earned my trust. She is also two and a half centuries old, a highly seasoned adventurer, and a member in good standing of the Thieves’ Guild. I would place a more experienced officer in command of a straightforward military exercise. This mission, however, requires lateral thinking and adaptability more than military strategy, and I judge her the woman for the job. Am I clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ansari said, nodding.

The Commander gave them another moment, sweeping her eyes again across the group, and then nodded her head once. “You have your orders, then. Each squad will move out on its own, as soon as you are able, and regroup in Puna Dara with as many of your sisters as are able to make it. Goddess watch over you, soldiers. Dismissed.”

All seven squads saluted her in unison, then turned and began filing toward the doors. Squad 391, having been the last to arrive, were closest to one of the entrances and thus the first into the hall.

“I’ll meet you back at the cabin,” Principia said to them. “I trust you’ll have everybody ready, Corporal.”

“Count on it, ma’am,” Ephanie said crisply. “How are we to proceed?”

“I’ll have an insertion strategy by the time I rejoin you. Just get yourselves squared away and be ready to improvise.”

Ephanie saluted, then turned on her heel. “Forward march, ladies.”

Principia watched them go for a moment, then glanced at the other soldiers now emerging from the assembly room. Several of them studied her with open speculation, before she turned and followed her squad. At the top of the stairs, she diverged from their course, heading back toward the small conference room where Rouvad had ordered them to meet her.

She waited only a few minutes before Rouvad rejoined her.

“At ease,” the High Commander said upon being saluted. “Well, Locke, since it’s likely to be some time before we speak again and it’s been two weeks since I had a progress report, how are your permanent projects coming along?”

“Training and practice is proceeding to my satisfaction,” Principia said. “Being an experimental squad, we don’t really have a yardstick against which to measure our progress, but the members of my squad have done well at sharing the benefits of their respective histories, and I’ve moved beyond that to actively seeking out opportunities to help other cults, and build connections.”

“Yes, Captain Dijanerad complained about having to put her foot down. It seems a handful of temples have made a point of requesting you specifically for guard duty.”

“Being out of the city for a while should hopefully wean them off the habit,” Principia said with the faintest smile. “With regard to my ongoing projects, I am similarly plugging away at the firing surface problem. I’ve no way of telling how close I am to a solution; all I can do is try things, and then try other things when they fail. It may not ultimately be practical to create a lance head which functions equally well as a bladed weapon and an energy weapon, at least not with the current state of modern enchanting. I have some more theories to test before I give up on that, but it may prove necessary to either make that two separate weapons or accept a loss of efficacy in one or the other function.”

Rouvad nodded. “And your other weapons project?”

“There, Eivery and I have had a recent breakthrough. We still haven’t figured out exactly how, but it’s become clear that dwarven device is augmented somehow through magic or alchemy. The projectile we recovered appears, to all our scrying, to be a simple lead ball, but we discovered by testing our own prototype that when you subject a metal as soft as lead to the kinds of forces involved, it turns into a sort of smudge. There are mundane tests we can run, but they tend to be more destructive, and I’m hesitant to dismantle our only sample, especially now that we know there’s an unidentified magical element at work.”

“Mm,” Rouvad said noncommittally. “Any headway in improving the device?”

“Well, it’s not very accurate,” Principia said thoughtfully. “Even less so than a comparably-sized lightning wand, and has nothing on the accuracy of an enchanter wand. I do have a theory about that. Arrows are fletched in a spiraling pattern to make them spin while in flight, which stabilizes then and increases the accuracy of the projectile.”

“Odd that the dwarves didn’t think of that.”

“Dwarves have never used projectile weapons, ma’am; between their innate hardiness and the heavy armor their forces have always favored, arrows have never made much impact on them, and they never bothered to use them on others. Projectile weapons are of limited use in tunnels and the dwarves have very seldom come out to fight anybody except to defend their own realms. They may simply not realize that lateral rotation stabilizes objects in flight. The scientific method doesn’t help you with things on which you haven’t experimented. Then again, they may just not have gotten around to it yet; this is clearly a very new technology. Regardless, I think shaping the projectile in a spiral of some kind will help with that, but it presents its own challenges. Metal balls are simple to cast; a more complex shape is trickier. It will also unavoidably make the ammunition more fragile.”

“Mm.” The Commander pursed her lips. “What if you shaped the firing mechanism rather than the projectile? Say, with spiraling grooves on the inside of the firing tube. That would be sturdier and needs to be done fewer times, and would make even a spherical projectile spin, which should help.”

Principia stared at her, momentarily dumbfounded. “That…actually would probably work. Well…blast. Now I regret I’m off to fight cultists instead of trying that out.”

“With regard to that,” Rouvad said, heaving a soft sigh. “I assume you understand the reason for your abrupt promotion, now. I trust you to have the wits to put that together, even without the help of Ansari’s rather pointed question.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Principia replied, nodding. “You can’t have a sergeant giving orders to lieutenants.”

“In point of fact I can, as Corporal Avelea could explain to you in detail, but I would rather not. Every one of those squads is seasoned and highly distinguished; every one of the women leading it has the chops to command more than seven squads on one mission. If a viable alternative exists I prefer not to insult them. Anyway, it’s sooner than I would ordinarily have had you promoted, but I would not have done this if I doubted you could handle the responsibility. I’ve placed you in charge of three captains, Locke, though with the exception of Ombanwa they are accustomed to taking temporary grade reductions for situations precisely like this one. The only reason each of those officers is not commanding a much larger unit by now is because they are all highly specialized and serve extremely well in their current positions. And then, there is your squad. All six of you, with individual records far too short to be so spotty.”

“Shahai notwithstanding,” Principia agreed. “Commander… I’m not going to question your judgment, but honestly I’m more surprised by this than Ansari was.”

“Well, we’ve made some progress if you’re not questioning my judgment.” Rouvad’s wry expression quickly faded into sobriety, however. “I’m not going to claim a great deal of affection for you, but in your relatively short time here, you’ve proved you can get things done, under great pressure and in uncertain conditions. In fact, that is where you thrive, you and your squad. You’re the right one to organize this mission. And…more to the point, I am fully confident that you will make it into Puna Dara.” The Commander hesitated, then turned her head to stare at the wall. “We have no idea how the Rust identifies or strikes its enemies. No way to know what methods will get through this defense. This strategy, trying multiple tactics to see what works, carries the presupposition that some of them won’t. I am sending good women straight to their likely deaths. Even if they use the same non-lethal methods, the situations in which they risk being incapacitated…”

“That’s the job, Commander,” Principia said quietly. “Ours to die in Avei’s name, yours to order it. We all signed up. We all serve.”

Rouvad’s gaze flicked back to her, and sharpened. “A year ago, I think I would have punched you in the mouth for saying that.”

“A year ago, you wouldn’t have believed I was serious.” Principia did not go so far as to smile, but her expression softened. “And no, Commander, you’re far too disciplined to do such a thing. You would have ordered someone to punch me in the mouth.”

She shook her head. “Goddess preserve me, Locke… Well, it is what it is. The other reason I called you here was to issue you a piece of equipment.”

Rouvad reached inside the neck of her tunic and pulled out a golden eagle talisman on a simple chain, which she lifted over her head and held it out to Principia.

“That,” the Commander explained while the elf studied the piece, “is a divine power augmentor, operating on fae energy. For a priestess, it would boost the amount of energy she could handle before risking burnout considerably. For someone with no divine ability at all…well, it may theoretically grant that power, without needing a connection to the goddess.”

“Theoretically?” Principia murmured.

“Experiment with it on your way to Puna Dara. You’re an enchanter; if anyone can make it work, you can. Trissiny recovered that thing from the Crawl last year; who knows how long it was lost down there. Mary the Crow showed up not long after to claim that she was the one who created it, and said that it will work with the most strength for someone of her bloodline. I’d been thinking of giving it back to Trissiny with that information, but frankly, no magical doodad is going to augment a paladin’s connection to the goddess all that much. You are the person who can gain the most from that device, so I am issuing it to you. Because,” she added almost reluctantly, “to my great surprise, you have earned enough of my trust and respect to warrant it. And because I am sending you and your troops into unknowable peril; I want you to carry every advantage I’m able to give you, which isn’t much. But there it is.”

Principia very carefully tucked the icon into one of her belt pouches, then saluted. “Thank you, Commander. I’ll do my best not to disappoint.”

“I believe you.” Rouvad stepped forward, then reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder for a moment. “Goddess watch over you, Locke…and good luck out there. Dismissed.”

 

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105 thoughts on “13 – 1

  1. And away we go. The goal this time is a tighter and faster style of storytelling; this book shouldn’t be nearly as long as the last one, and will have a lot more action and less exposition. It’ll also contain our last major installments of Infinite Order hoopla before the story moves on to a different focus.

    This chapter is late because I paused in the middle of writing to move furniture around. We’ve had a couple days of heavy rain, and a patch of my floor has suddenly started sinking; I shifted bookcases away from it, obviously.

    I mentioned before that my house is slated for demolition in two years at the most. Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s going to last even that long. I have got to get out of here–and that means I have got to be making a good bit more money than I am now. It would of course have been lovely for all these years to be living in a place fit for human habitation, and if I could afford to I would have.

    I’ve got a little saved up–both cash and paid time off, and I’m taking some time from my day job to work on a few things toward this goal. I have three immediate plans:

    First, I’m going to start submitting articles for money. Cracked.com is always calling for writers, and I think my style is a match for their preferred kind of content. Second, I’m going to start working on merchandising for TGAB. I’ve mentioned this previously, but never gotten around to actually doing things; I need to not only design products but set up the store somehow, a thing on which I am totally in the dark and need to research. And speaking of research, I’m also going to work on ebooks for the story for sale via Amazon. To do this the way I want to, I’ll need the services of an editor and cover artist, which cost money. As readers suggested last time I brought it up, I’m going to start a Kickstarter campaign to cover that, as soon as I’ve done some investigating and figured out how much money will be needed.

    Beyond that, I’m very much open to suggestions, both on the ideas above and with regard to anything I haven’t thought of. I’m not in the kind of bind that requires an immediate influx of cash, I just need to reposition myself so I’m making more money in the long term, and frankly if I knew how to do that I’d have been doing it already. Advice and info will be greatly appreciated it anyone has any.

    We’ll see how it all goes. Stay tuned!

    Liked by 9 people

    1. I offered before, I’ll offer again. I’m monetization and marketing specialist – among other things, I have games like League of Legends and software like Adblock Plus undwe my belt.

      I’m already pledging money, I’m happy to pledge my expertise, too, and help you set up things like a shop – which isn’t really hard to do anymore.

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      1. I would appreciate any help you’re willing to offer! My “research” involves googling whatever questions I can think of, which is obviously pretty unfocused. I’m in the dark with regard to this subject.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Now that is a really interesting idea, and one that hadn’t occurred to me! But it seems almost tailor-made for this story. There are four schools of magic, and no shortage of characters to serve as face cards… Thanks for the tip!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I am looking to expand my own editing business, but I do think going with a more experienced editor is a good choice. I do have a few contacts with editors that specialize in self publishers, My number one recommendation would be Danielle Poiesz, http://doublevisioneditorial.com/ I first worked with her and saw her style when she was Penguin’s coordinating editor for Book Country, which was a writers group / think tank that Penguin ran for a while. Since then, she’s edited a few books that have become my favorite, and finding out she was the editor has sold me on a few books I wouldn’t have bought otherwise, and I’ve never been disappointed. (I wish there were an apprenticeship position for editors, and she was offering. I’m planning on using her for a book once I have it finished, largely to see her editing process as well. )

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  2. >Arrows are fletched in a spiraling pattern to make them spin while in flight, which stabilizes then and increases the accuracy of the projectile.”
    *stabilizes them

    RE: merchandising – look into what YouTubers use. A lot of them have online stores.

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    1. I don’t think the university group is coming. While I disagree that the class of 1182 would be a good fit (especially without Trissiny), I don’t think that’s as relevant as what’s going on with campus. Professor Tellwyrn is very busy, and this is a delicate situation to just drop them off and leave them there. Plus, bringing Princess Zaruda into the city when they don’t know what’s causing the illness would be extraordinarily irresponsible. Plus, we don’t know whether this is going to be like most of the other books (2 or more story threads running at once in different places) or like book 11 (everyone is in Tiraas and there’s 1 set of events driving the timeline). If it’s the former, then we still need the second plot, and I’d bet on it being in Last Rock. If it’s the latter, well, book 11 is my favorite so far, so I’d be very excited to watch a bunch of people collide in Puna Dara.

      Speaking of, I think it’s possible that Trissiny will end up in Puna Dara with the team that the Guild is inserting. If it’s a small group that all knows who she is, then she can help make sure someone makes it into the city, and in combat she’s probably the most effective in a pinch. I’d also bet on Lakshmi going in, since she grew up there (and also it would be fun to see her meet Prin again), but not Rasha, because they’re in the wrong field for this. Also, I’d put money on Herschel Schwartz being one of the agents the Collegium is sending, just saying.

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      1. I think the princess under naphtenes “curse” may be quite save. But she may not be the right medium to make a hidden incursion into puna dara

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      2. Naphtene’s curse only protects against mundane poison. If it’s magical in nature or even just a normal illness Ruda would probably be vulnerable.

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  3. “And no, Commander, you’re far too disciplined to do such a thing. You would have ordered someone to punch me in the mouth.”

    This was a really damn good line, if I’d been drinking something I would certainly need a new keyboard.

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    1. Was planning to start with T-shirts, just because they’re the easiest thing to have printed up and the go-to starting point for most webcomic merchandise. But yes, both cult sigils and the Circle of Interaction figured on my list of things to use. Keychains and necklaces and such would be cool to work up to.

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    1. Favorite quote “Have you seriously never heard of Horsebutt the Enemy?”

      Speaking of, did we ever learn what honor name the Stalweiss gave Arachne?

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      1. I’m almost certain we did. Someone mentioned it in hearing range of someone who could translate it, and they yelled out “The Golden Bitch?!?!”

        I believe it was in the Horsebutt chapter. When they were in his tomb, in fact.

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  4. In terms of stores, maybe try redbubble? I’ve never tried it out myself, but a few friends and a couple of online acquaintances use it for exactly this kind of thing. Also, I would 100% buy every TGaB ebook, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity since forever.

    I’m embarrassed to say I’ve forgotten everything about the Rust, and never really bothered to fully understand all of what Milanda discovered, so my reactions are probably going to be slightly more incomprehensible than usual. I’m halfway through Book 11 on my reread, though, so I’ll pay more attention to Book 12 this time around. I’m not really feeling the same tension Rouvad is though; it’s Prin and her wonder squad, they can do practically anything. Which is possible the least genre-savvy thing I’ve ever said, and is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.

    My favourite line was definitely ‘It was not been made clear to me exactly how they intend to help.’ Continue the sass, Rouvad! Was that Avenist perception of Omnists and Vidians, in which case must be taken with a pinch of salt considering the Avenist attitude to everything, or actually how most people see them? Because if it’s the latter I can completely understand why Vidius wants to Gabe to clean house, that makes two members of the Trinity who people see as kinda useless.

    Does the tying up of all the Infinite Order plots mean we get to see Darling again soon? It’s been ages since we had a proper look inside his head for more than a chapter at a time; I’ve missed his moral ambiguity and endless sass.

    I loved the bit about the bullet; ironically it reminded me a lot of Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. Fantasy cultures discovering technology is always interesting.

    Anyway, great chapter! I can’t wait for the Fellowship of the Prin to kick Justinian-associated steampunk ass! (I can’t remember if the Rust were actually working with Justinian? Oops…)

    Like

  5. I honestly cant say what the difference is, but this chapter was amazingly well written. Any extra time taken to write it was well and truly worth it.
    That said, it’s been long enough since we’ve seen Prin’s squad that I had a moment of confusion upon seeing Merry’s name. That shame aside, I’m very glad we’ve gotten back to them, and very excited for future chapters.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Projectile weapons are of limited use in tunnels”

    Everyone assumes this, but my experience playing multiplayer FPS games (notably the Halo series) has taught me that using a sniper rifle to hold down & control a long hallway can be DEVESTATING. N00bs always take the rifle someplace high up with a view, but that only makes you a target. Staying low with it is much more effective, especially against competent opponents.

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    1. I think she says that because of how limited bows and arrows are in close quarters. Mythbusters once did an experiment where they had Jamie run at Adam with a fake knife to see if Adam could draw and shoot his fake gun before he was stabbed, (look up “mythbusters knife to a gunfight” to watch it). At 16 feet, Jamie got his knife in Adam every single time, and at 20 feet Adam only barely got the shot off in time, with Jamie’s momentum still driving the point home. In a tight tunnel with limited lighting, there’s no way any competent melee ambush would fail against bows and arrows, hence the dwarves’ preference for the former. Plus, guns have another disadvantage in tunnels that their ancient counterparts don’t: ricochet. If you fire a gun in a rocky tunnel and miss, there’s no telling what that speeding metal slug will hit before it stops. Mind you, the dwarves might not have run across that problem yet, but someone is probably going to get hurt when they do.

      Like

  7. Guns, interesting.

    Rifled bullets in smoothbore barrels are actually a thing. For that matter they could just use multiple smaller projectiles. I am curious where this goes..

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      1. From my file of all chapters 1 876 000 words equivalent to 5126 paperback pages. According to Wikipedia all Harry Potter is 1 084 000 words, all published Martin Song of Ice and Fire 1 700 000, and Jordan Wheel of Time 4 410 000 words.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So it would take almost a month (22 days) of staying awake 24-7, and reading at a rate of 1 word/second the entire time to catch up. If you did nothing but read and sleep for 10 hours a night, were up to 37 days.

        So anyone claiming to have caught up in less than 2 months is flat out lying. Anything less than 3 months is doubtful

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      3. It should be pointed out that a reading speed of one word per second is actually really slow, and normal reading speed is actually 200 words per minute. Adding to the fact that many who read often (which im assuming is the norm for readers reading web serials) learn to read much faster than that, with twice or thrice the normal speed, it’s actually quite possible to catch up within a week or two.

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      4. @The Warren Peace NFL Report

        At 1 word per second, yes. But the average college student reading rate is 300 words per minute. And I’d guess that most people reading a behemoth of a story like this would read faster than the average college student.

        My reading rate personally is a little under a 1000 words per minute. When I first started reading this story I read a couple hours a day and it took me probably a couple weeks to catch up.

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      5. 1,000 words per minute? Sorry, but yeah right. That’s 16 words per second. You can skim that fast, I’ll bet, can’t possibly understand anything, let along enjoy it, at 16 wps.

        So you read this comment in a second and a half? Ha!

        Like

      6. Look up speed reading and how to train yourself to do it. I’ve actually been meaning to take it up for the longest time, but I can never find the motivation.

        Anyway, what does it matter how fast people read the story? Even if they say they did faster than they really did, that’s not hurting anyone. I see no need to get confrontational with anybody over it.

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  8. 1 word/second seems awfully slow to me, considering it took me about 5-10 to read your comment, which has 64 words (not counting numbers). So, even with the higher estimate of 10 seconds im still at 6.4 words/second, which, using the numbers you calculated, would put me at a time of approximately 6 days to catch up. It actually took me ~9 days, since the story does encourage you to think about what’s happening, but it is entirely possible to catch up within a week if you don’t have much else to do.

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    1. Huh, turns out you guys are correct, the average reading speed is about 200 wpm, which is 3wps. But that still doesn’t include time to reflect upon and appreciate what you’ve read. What the hell is the point of reading for pleasure if you’re pushing so hard you can’t actually appreciate the writing? You can’t possibly retain memories of it if you squeeze 1.8 million words into a week and a half. I suspect the reader who claims that would flunk any simple quiz trying to place events in the proper order

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      1. Some people just process information faster than others, and fantasy in general is pretty straightforward and easy to understand. Watching a movie at 0.5x speed wouldn’t necessarily increase your enjoyment of it, the same holds true for reading.

        Like

      2. I read at something like 570wpm, and more importantly I can read for like 10 hours straight, only stopping to eat. Now of course I can’t remember every single word, but I can remember character arcs and the plot very well, and of course story themes.

        I think I caught up on book 8 or 9, and I’d read the story in less then a week.

        It took me just over two weeks to finish all of worm.

        Like

  9. I was hoping to do a Wednesday chapter this week, to continue catch-up, but didn’t get to it due to a combination of having messed up my sleep schedule and working on other things. I’m doing prototype designs for T-shirts, which is a lot more time consuming than I’d expected! Fun, but my lack of experience slows me down. Still, I have one that I like so far, and am about to start on the next; I want at least three designs ready to go before I try to launch any kind of store.

    What do you guys think of this?

    Is that something you would be interested in wearing? Or back to the drawing board?

    My plan is to start with cult logo shirts; that god’s sigil, and a statement of their core philosophy. My reasoning there being that this would be very central to this story and thus meaningful to readers, but also any of these are more general philosophical statements, which when coupled with a cool (fictionally sacred) graphic would make a design people would actually like to wear, irrespective of the fandom. This one, of course, is Avei’s. I really like how the golden eagle sigil turned out.

    If nothing else, once I have a lot of the sigils done I will probably put them up on the site somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Meh. The thing I don’t like about the design is that it doesn’t scream TGAB for me. It looks like a generic design that could have come from anywhere. Maybe a politician’s campaign even. So not something I would be interested in, personally. WAYYY too many ways for people to misinterpret it, in the worst ways possible. My .02

      I still really want the Welcome to Suffering, with a tropical island or hibiscus flower design

      Like

    2. I really like the Eagle (is that how it looks in-story? not really what I pictured, but it looks awesome), but I’m not really a fan of the text. The motto is a bit weird (why the “for none” part?) but also doesn’t really fit the rest of the design. I think it’s too big? Not sure.

      Like

      1. Exactly.

        I hear what you guys are saying about it not seeming very TGAB-specific. Not to sound like a sellout, but that was honestly kind of the point. With the cult logo/slogan idea, I think there’s potential for some things that have appeal beyond this story’s readership.

        That doesn’t mean it’s the only thing I’m planning to do. The designs I’m working on now are cult shirts for Avei (pictured), Eserion and Izara, chosen because they advocate ideas which I think resonate strongly in the current social climate. I am also, however, working on Circle of Interaction shirts; I want to do four, each themed to emphasize one of the four schools.

        And this, of course, is just to start. I am always open to idea, and taking note of your suggestions. A more general TGAB shirt would be a good one, with just the series logo. A Kingdom of Suffering one hadn’t occurred to me, but once suggested I like it; that’s just amusing enough to be worth wearing even if you’re not a reader! I also liked the idea of a University sweatshirt and a themed deck of cards.

        There’s only so much I can do at a time, though. For a launch line, I want to keep it fairly simple, and add things as I go.

        Like

    3. See the artwork on Alliance by Mark Frost.
      I was imagining Avei’s eagle to look like a golden front view of that, with wings in a lower position, about 30 degrees off horizontal, but with feathers like on the national seal.

      Like

  10. I like the golden eagle design! Reminds me a bit of Pokemon Go Team Instinct shirt.

    Have you sourced for a t-shirt printing service yet? They may use different methods of printing and for some methods the color blending and ‘white ray’ effect may not turn out as nice as in the drawing, unless you are going for higher end printing services.

    Like

    1. I’ve not looked for printers yet, but that did occur to me. I have seen T-shirts with that effect, but not as often, and it may not be feasible. If not, no great hardship. I’m using layers in a vector graphics program so it’s easy enough to replace the gradients with flat colors.

      I’ve already decided that if that ends up being necessary I’ll be using the same basic designs as posters, but with even more gradients and effects! I just really like the look, is all. And you can print just about damn near anything on a poster.

      Like

  11. My Tshirt (mug, poster, whatever) idea:

    THE GODS ARE BASTARDS* (bold, shouty font)

    WEBSERIAL (flowery font)
    https://tiraas.wordpress.com

    *actually they’re not that bad (small print)

    Concept: Attention getting, a little funny, should be obvious we are talking about fictonal gods so you don’t get lynched by religious people, and advertises the webserial while raising a little curiosity and topic for conversation. I’m thinking to convey the fantasy aspect by a flowerly “ye olde” font and maybe some decorative framing of the words.

    Like

  12. I would buy the shit out of a shirt or mug or whatever that just had the circle of interaction diagram drawn in the first book (no extra explanations or labeling wanted). I would probably buy a cult shirt or two, but I echo the statement that I’d want cult shirts that were more clearly connected to TGAB, at least to someone in the know. I find the Justice for All shirt far too generic—if I’d seen someone wearing that today before seeing this here I wouldn’t have guessed you had created it. First random thing that pops into my head: keep the eagle, but do some sort of Avei themed take on Uncle Sam Wants You.

    Like

      1. Yep, I think putting Avei above that eagle and Wants You below would be a pretty rad shirt. I’ll buy that the moment it’s available.

        Like

  13. Hmm, after reading the rest of the comments, I think I will actually be quite hesitant wearing a shirt with the words “The Gods are Bastards”. Might be taken the wrong way by religious people, especially if you want to cater to international readers who comes from societies that might more easily take umbrage at perceived religious slights.

    I agree with this comment too: “I’d want cult shirts that were more clearly connected to TGAB, at least to someone in the know. I find the Justice for All shirt far too generic—if I’d seen someone wearing that today before seeing this here I wouldn’t have guessed you had created it.”

    I do like the idea of shirts with poster-like content, e.g. recruitment posters (Avei wants you!), wanted posters (Shook), dangerous (beware of dryads) etc.

    Like

    1. “I do like the idea of shirts with poster-like content, e.g. recruitment posters (Avei wants you!), wanted posters (Shook), dangerous (beware of dryads) etc.”

      I like all these ideas!

      And I also like the new Avei-eagle design. As others have said, it still needs something, but it’s hard to identify exactly what. But. It looks good and it’s almost there!

      Like

  14. Something like this?

    Except not with that font. Honestly, finding the right font is by far the most time-consuming part of this. Or maybe it just feels that way because it’s boring and frustrating; the actual graphic design I’m finding I quite enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thinking about it more, you may want to play with the design a little bit. Take a look at various Uncle Sam posters, see things they do to create the right sense of enthusiasm, the sense that Avei specifically wants you, potential soldier, to come join up! As opposed to, I don’t know, there’s some person out there named Avei who wants to bone you. This might mean, for instance, some combination of putting the words “wants you” on the same line, underling you and/or adding an exclamation point. Maybe all three.

        Apparently t-shirt design is hard, and it’s easier to kibbitz from the sidelines!

        But I really do think that there’s some version of this could be a solid shirt.

        Like

  15. All right, guys, imagineering time. While I’m working on the Eserion and Izara designs, which are pretty straightforward, what do you think we should have for the Avei shirt? The golden eagle, obviously, but everybody’s thoughts on the slogan seem to contradict each other. I believe I see where you’re all coming from and would thus focus on a TGAB-specific motto rather than the more general statement I’d started out considering, but after that, I’m a little lost. “Avei wants you” seems a little drab to me, and others have pointed out it’s just confusing to anybody who doesn’t know who Avei is.

    What are your ideas?

    Like

    1. Personally I’m okay with it being confusing to random onlookers; occasionally one of them will come up and ask me about it, and if not, who cares? Then if another reader actually recognizes who Avei is and says so, then that’s an instant new friendship for us.

      Or you could put the URL in smaller letters below everything, so randoms will then have a clue about what it means (and who knows, you might get a few new readers that way too)

      Like

      1. I probably won’t go with the URL idea just because I have strong opinions on the difference between “selling” and “selling out.” I have zero problem making money from my work, which is why I’m fine selling shirts. To my mind, though, turning my customers into billboards crosses a line. Maybe not a big, dramatic one, but a line nonetheless. In researching this project I’ve looked at the stores of every webcomic I follow that sells merch, and none of them put in their URL.

        Like

      2. Ive seen a lot that put the URL on the sleeve. But I would suggest putting the “The gods are bastards” logo in a corner somewhere of all of them, it gives a talking point, for ease of conversation for the wearer to tell the viewer about the serial.

        And speaking as someone who buys a few comic themed shirts, I buy them specifically to be a walking billboard!

        for avei,

        Justice is a B*tch

        Personally, I want the Eserion shirt. I will wear the HELL out of a shirt that says, All Systems Are Corrupt.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. I would think TGaBS contains a handfull of really good quotes from Avei, or those that are Avei-alligned. Trissiny is one of the books main characters, surely she’s said something that look good on a t-shirt.

      I’m aware you probably want to avoid anything political. Even aside from possibly annoying people, social issues and movements so not translate perfectly from stories to real life. That said, maybe something vaguely femmenist, if not subtlety political, could be pretty cool and socially relevant.

      Like

      1. Actually, I have a list of quotes from my last read-through, up through early Book 12. There are some pithy ones if I do say so myself, but nothing that jumped out at me as shirt-slogan material.

        Like

    3. Fashion is a weapon against all women or whatever it was Mother Narny said? If only for the irony of wearing that on a t-shirt. I’m skimming through Trissiny’s tag right now and I haven’t found anything that jumps out yet, but she’s had some good quotes so maybe something she’s said? Maybe…something like ‘people fear the Hand of Avei’. I’m not sure how good that would be on a t-shirt, but a quote like that which someone has said about Hands of Avei, or Trissiny. At this point I’m just throwing out ideas, but I’ll have a skim through tags like Trissiny, Avei, Prin etc. later today.

      In terms of not knowing who Avei is, I think that’s fine. It’s pretty much the same deal as all fandom merch, things like Harry Potter or Star Wars aside. Pretty much no one from where I live would understand the reference if I wore a homestuck or Discworld t-shirt, but that’s part of the fun. If anything the ‘Avei wants you’ slogan gives a bit of context, because everyone will then know it’s vaguely militaristic. Like how even if people don’t get who Darth Vader is, or whatever, a ‘The Empire wants you’ shirt makes a small amount of sense anyway.

      The Eserion one is absolutely perfect, btw, I would buy it right this second if I could. In terms of general ideas of things, though, maybe some other gods t-shirts as well as Izara? I would buy the hell out of a Vesk one and a quote about spoony bards, or ‘great me in fancy breeches’. You could use a floppy hat as a logo, or something.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Hey, I’ve never posted before, but love your writing. I’m posting now because I see you making a new-graphics person error (design by committee gets ugly) and I have had 20 years in that field. May I assist you with the graphics on your products? Honestly, I don’t have much time to help you, but I would do it pro bono due to the fact that I’ve never gotten around to sending a payment to you for this fantastic story and feel I owe you something for the hours of fun. Please contact me by email since I also don’t often read these commments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a nice one and I think I even get why you put the circle of interaction on the background (or maybe I am just overthinking it). Just a question btw. is there some kind of sigil of eserion? Like Avei’s Eagle or the Moon and Stars of the Godess of Magic. I can’t remember if it was described in the series.

      Like

    2. I planned on buying the Eserite shirt anyways, and I like this one as far as style goes, but why is there a circle of interaction in the background? shouldn’t it be the symbol of eserion, (iirc something with a dagger)?

      Like

    3. For everyone wondering why the circle of interaction is on the shirt.. its a pattern of energy interaction, created by the gods. its THE system of power. And its corrupt. (Honestly, why is he an Izarite and not an Eserite, I’ll never know)

      Liked by 2 people

    4. I’d totally buy this shirt and a deck of cards, but… well, if I have to get it from an American manufacturer that might be a bit costly. Are you planning on using a more global manufacturer or are the majority of your readers in America? (In which case I would completely understand the decision to use American manufacturers.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As a Belgian, importing anything from America costs more than the product itself as a rule of thumb. I’d buy TGaB related merchandise anyway, but saving 30 bucks on import taxes is always nice lol

        Like

      2. As someone who lives in Ireland I second this question! (Wish there was a noun other than Irishwoman with which to say that…) Do small internet stores ship outside of America? I didn’t even think of that but it’s an important question. Shipping costs wouldn’t deter me from buying an Eserion shirt but I wouldn’t even begin to know how to get it to where I live if there’s no shipping there.

        Like

      3. That is one of the matters I’m considering. I haven’t looked at manufacturers yet, but TGAB’s audience is international and the last thing I want is to create hurdles for readers who are outside the USA, which is the largest single demographic according to my stats tracker but slightly less than half of the whole.

        It narrows the options somewhat, but I will see what I can do. If I can’t find a print-on-demand company that distributes globally without excessive cost, I may open multiple accounts, one for the US, others for other regions. I’d definitely need vendors for Europe and Australia; beyond that we’ll have to see.

        I’m feeling my way slowly, here. All of this is a bit over my head, and educating myself on it takes time. Please don’t hesitate to voice concerns; I do not want to settle on a solution that cuts people out or imposes bigger costs than I can help.

        Like

      4. Maybe pick one reigon to start with, then roll out to one more at a time? Seems simplest. People dwelling elsewhere than your first pick will wait patiently I’m sure, we’ve all stuck around for nearly two million of your words, you’re not going to be rid of us in the next few hundred thousand 🙂

        Like

    5. I like this one, too. Are you going to get these as dyed pattern, or as a rubber overlay on the shirt? I find that the overlay does not last as long, and I find them uncomfortable.

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      1. Or, you know, the male readers who would wear that t-shirt. Much as I hate ascribing gender to colours anyway, even from that perspective it’s not that pink. Unless it was on a pink shirt. I guess I personally wouldn’t really know, but even so; not all of Izara’s followers are women and it’s a nice t-shirt 😉

        Like

      2. Interestingly, the association of pink with femininity was concocted by American department stores in the 1920s, along with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

        The shirt design is pink because it carries Izara’s sigil, which canonically is a pink lotus.

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      3. @The Warren Peace NFL Report I apologise for jumping down your throat then, that’s on me for jumping to conclusions! I completely misunderstood what you were saying and I shouldn’t have been so rude, I’m sorry.

        @D. D. Webb Huh, wow. I knew it used to be the opposite way around, at least in Victorian England (blue for girls, and pink for boys because it was closer to red which is a stronger colour, I think). At least, that’s what I’ve heard but I could be wrong. I had no idea it was specifically department stores which started that, they have a lot to answer for! Izara’s definitely got the cutest sigil so far though. Avei’s is more badass, but Izara’s is prettier.

        Like

  17. I’d love to buy the ebooks.

    Please note, I will not buy if they have DRM. I do not support it ideologically. If you agree with what Eserion said, I’m sure that this wouldn’t be a problem though. 🙂
    (And it’s not Linux compatible. I hope it never is)

    Like

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