By David Pontier
The Reality of Fear is the property of the author, David Pontier and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email David with any comments and feedback on The Reality of Fear and visit his website at: http://www.geocities.com/piqsid/stories.html.
Chapter 5: Getting Attention
Cal Grotciem watched the cloaked figure from across the sparsely populated tavern in the northern section of Garrilport. He drank very little and seemed to be peering out of his cowl at everyone in the room. Though Cal thought he could see what looked like two violet eyes, he could not clearly see the stranger's face, or any skin for that matter. The mysterious man wore gloves and long sleeves. It was a cool night outside, as the season was changing to spring, but not so bad as to warrant the extra attire.
Cal was a man in the information business. He made a lot of money at it. This mystery man reeked of information, and it was information that Cal did not have, but knew instantly would be very valuable. News of the dead city guards had reached him only moments after it had happened, and with that information came the tidbit that the murderer was a dark skinned man.
Dark Skins were common much further south, but none of them ventured very far north. Most entrepreneurs in this town who shipped down the river refused to do business with them, and from all reports, the feeling was mutual. Neither side had any real beef with the other, besides the fact that they were different. People seemed to be scared of change.
Cal was not scared of change. He loved change. He liked the jingling sound it made in his pocket and the clean golden reflection you got from a new coin. He smiled to himself at his cleverly turned phrase. This stranger might easily put a lot of change in his pocket.
Cal drained the last of his glass and proceeded to walk over to the stranger. The cloaked figure made no obvious recognition of the approaching man, but Cal did notice him casually shift his drinking glass to his left hand so the hand closest to Cal was free to draw a weapon if need be. This tiny display of battle awareness let Cal know all he needed. The informant sat down across from his new friend without asking.
Drizzt did not want company right now. His gut was still a little stiff, but it was nothing that should seriously hinder his fighting ability. At the same time, he wanted the conditions to be right before he met Artemis again. What he wanted now was to be left alone.
He peered at this man that now sat across from him and made a snap judgement. The man was a weasel, someone who sought a lifestyle through shady dealings and information distribution. He saw Drizzt as a chance to increase is flow of coin and nothing more. Drizzt readied his right hand to quickly drop below the table and stab the man in the gut.
He played through the action in his mind, confident he could do it in less than two seconds, but he held off for now. If this man dealt in information, he might know about Artemis.
"Greetings, friend," Cal started, "would you mind if I bought you a-"
"What do you know of Artemis Entreri?" Drizzt interrupted, not caring for traditional social graces.
Cal choked on the question. He knew Artemis Entreri, and also knew that he suddenly wanted nothing to do with this stranger. He knew that Artemis was Captain John Irenum's personal project, and if you dealt with one, you invariably wound up dealing with the other. Cal did not like dealing with the Captain of the City Guards. However, because he had reacted so unprofessionally to this stranger's question regarding the assassin, deniability was no longer plausible.
"Yes, I've heard of Artemis Entreri," Cal responded slowly.
"That was not my question," Drizzt replied sternly. Drizzt did not repeat his original question. If this man was not quick enough to catch on to what was happening and who was in charge, he did not want to waste time with him.
Cal desperately needed to get back the upper hand in this conversation. This stranger knew what he was doing, and the confidence that flowed off him was almost over-whelming. Also, his accent was nothing like he had ever heard before. "Artemis is a deadly assassin that came to this city almost a year ago," Cal replied. "He came from the north, but by all reports he was a stranger there as well. His origins are unknown."
"They are not unknown," Drizzt replied, "they are just unknown to you. I wish to pay him a visit. Where might I find him?"
Cal knew Artemis' exact address, and he also knew that if he gave it to this strange man, that would be the end of this meeting and the end of his chance for turning a profit. Half of him thought that was a good idea. This man was dangerous and smart. This man would never pay for any information he needed. However, the other half of him still thought he might be able to salvage this encounter and turn it in his favor.
"Artemis' living quarters are unknown to me," he said, admitting to a deficiency to appease his conversation partner. "But he has several business ventures within this city at which he frequently spends his time. I'm not even sure he has a home besides his offices."
Drizzt missed his earrings. With them he would be able to tell if this man was lying. Instead all he had to go on was Cal's facial expressions. It sounded like he was lying. Of course, everything Cal said sounded like a lie. It was a conscious effort to force people into taking what he said on face value. If Drizzt did have his earrings, they would let the drow know that this man was lying even if he stated that trees were made of wood.
On face value, what this man said made sense. Artemis was a man of power; Drizzt could see that easily. In Menzoberranzan, your power was directly related to your ability to dominate each encounter you faced. Drizzt had been able to do that quite successfully and was the most powerful drow in his home city. Here, power was directly related to physical wealth. It only made sense that Artemis would adapt and succeed.
"You know of these offices?" Drizzt asked.
"I do," Cal replied, thinking quickly of the most profitable businesses in the northern section of the city. "I will take you to them."
"You will take me now," Drizzt said, rising from the table.
"I can not guarantee we will find him," Cal said quickly. "He might be many places."
"All I wish is to get his attention," Drizzt said.
"Can I know your name?" Cal asked.
"No," Drizzt replied bluntly. "Let's get on with this."
Cal shrugged his shoulders and led the way out of the tavern into the night.
* * *
Brian and Edgar stood guard outside Borgian's Construction, the largest of three shipyards in the city. The main warehouse was cleverly built into the side of a large hill that rose up next to Garril Lake. This gave the building extremely good insulation allowing for no drop off in activity during the winter months. The other two shipyards struggled to find people willing to work during the cold and expended too many resources just trying to keep their warehouses warm enough so the water inside would not freeze.
Because of the profitability of the shipyard, it was able to hire the best mercenaries the city had to offer. Brain and Edgar guarded the facility from the outside, and four more guards operated inside. There were few theft attempts against the well-guarded warehouse, but that did not cause any of the guards to slacken their patrol. They knew that their vigilance was the only reason no one tried to rob the place. Their pay was directly proportional to how many potential thefts they were able to thwart, and they liked getting paid.
All six guards would be dead within the hour.
It was almost a good thing actually, because even if they did survive, after it was learned that they had been on duty during the Lakeside Massacre, none of them would be able to get work anyway.
Brian saw the shadowy figure approaching first. The lake had been manually widened around the warehouse so that the only way to approach the front of the building was over an extensive dock. The front of the warehouse stood on support pillars over the water, and a canal was dug to extend into the main section of the warehouse. Most thieves tried to swim through the canal or cut up into the dock under the front of the warehouse. Neither method was very successful. The direct approach had never been tried before.
Brian unslung his bow from his shoulder and bumped Edgar to get his attention. Edgar had been staring off at the lake, half-hypnotized by the gentle sway of the waves and the rhythmic pounding from the night crew hard at work within the warehouse. Edgar came to attention quick enough when he saw the figure walking toward them. There was at least 200 feet of pier one had to walk to reach the front of the building, and this figure was taking his time.
"Halt!" Edgar called as he too readied his bow and knocked an arrow. "Come no further or we will be forced to fire."
The figure obeyed, still 150 feet away. "Identify yourself!" Brian demanded.
"I am Drizzt Do'Urden of Daermon N'a'shezbaernon, House Do'Urden, Sixth House of Menzoberranzan."
This response cleared up little. "Well, Drizzit Duoa, uh, turn away and return during normal businesses hours. This is private property and all intruders will be met with lethal force."
"I come on urgent business," Drizzt replied, "and do not wish to be detained further."
"What type of business?"
"I have come to kill you," he replied quite frankly.
Before either guard could properly process this interesting and vitally important piece of information, Drizzt exploded into motion, running full speed toward them. With his magical bracers on his ankles, he crossed the remaining length of the pier in seconds. Brian and Edgar let fly with their bows, and even if Drizzt had not rolled under the shots, both arrows were so hastily released, neither would have found their target. The guards dropped their bows and pulled their swords.
They tried to swing at the dark blur that raced past them, but their blades cut through only air. They turned to track their prey, but felt suddenly weak. Drizzt had cut a deep line above each of their waists, just below their ineffective chainmail vests. They dropped their swords and clutched their gaping wounds. Looking down as they were, they saw the boots of their killer standing in front of them. As their knees began to weaken, they looked up into Drizzt's face.
The drow had pulled his hood back and the angry blue glow from Twinkle cast frightening shadows across his elven face. "I will not be detained," he repeated, and thrust both scimitars forward. The blades easily parted the links of the cheap vests, and plunged into the guards' chests. They fell to the wooden dock, not to get up any time soon.
The sound of approaching footfalls alerted Drizzt, and he looked up in alarm, but it was only Cal trying to run stealthily along the pier. In actuality, he was making very little noise, but Drizzt heard it plainly. Cal was still quite amazed by what he had seen, and tried not to think about what would happen to him if this hastily thrown together plan should backfire. He started to pull out some rope to lower the bodies quietly into the lake, but Drizzt heaved them both off the dock before Cal could tell him otherwise.
The splashes sounded especially loud on this peaceful night. "Are you crazy?" Cal asked, earning him a deadly look from Drizzt. Cal calmed his demeanor a bit in an effort to keep his life, but not much. "That noise will alert them to our presence."
"Then they shall rush out to their deaths," Drizzt said simply. "I do not slink in darkness like a coward or a weakling. I will meet my challenges head on or not at all."
Cal looked into his associate's eyes and noticed for the first time that Drizzt was not human. He had tried to reason with Drizzt that walking directly up to the front of the building was probably not the best way to initiate their attack, but his argument had not been given much consideration. After seeing the success of the drow's plan, he wondered what kind of killer he had hooked up with.
"As you say," Cal agreed. As long as he got money out of this deal, he could care less how often he had to be humbled in front of this dark skinned stranger. "Artemis' office should be on the main floor of the warehouse. Between it and us will be more guards and several workers. If you insist on walking through the front door, I will support you from above." Cal pulled out a small crossbow.
"Why are you doing this?" Drizzt asked him. He had been so eager to get at Artemis that he had not bothered to consider why Cal was so anxious to help him.
Cal smiled. "Artemis is a rich man, but after we leave here tonight, not as much." That was good enough for Drizzt. Cal walked along the docks and stopped beneath an elevated window. Using his rope and small grapple, he latched onto the window and lifted himself up. Drizzt watched him carefully pick at the lock and thought about jumping up there and breaking the window open for him. He shrugged, if Cal wished to slink into the building like a coward, let him. Drizzt stepped up to the front doors, pushed them open on their noisy hinges, and walked in.
The front entrance led directly into the main section of the warehouse with the offices in the back and along the balcony that surrounded the main floor on three walls. Running directly down the middle of the warehouse was a canal connected to a lock system that could lower the water level so the constructed hulls could be floated out underneath the docks, or it could drain the water completely in the winter. The masting and above deck cabins would be added to the ships outside on the lake. Right now there were half a dozen fully completed hulls that had been built during the winter and were now waiting for the weather forecast to predict continued warm weather before they were taken outside. A dozen workers were also busy pounding together two more partially constructed hulls. At least, that was what they were supposed to be doing. Instead they were all looking in wonder at their drow intruder.
Drizzt held both of his bloody scimitars in front of him, leaving nothing to the workers' imaginations. He was not here on a social call. There were two guards at work on the floor, and they both pulled their bows. Drizzt easily dodged the first two shots, and was soon swarmed with workers who effectively protected him from any further arrows.
The workers attacked with hammers, saws and, crowbars. They died with nothing but an expression of terror. One hefty man swung hard at Drizzt with a sledgehammer, forcing the drow to hop back. He blocked the attack just below the massive iron head, cutting cleanly through the wooden handle. The head of the sledge spun off out of control and hit an attacker's nose, smashing his face in a plume of blood. The initial attacker now held a severely misbalance handle, and as he awkwardly tried to bring it above his head for another blow, Drizzt opened his chest at three different angles.
Two more men came at him from either side, one with a smaller hammer and the other with a long metal pole. Drizzt baited the one with the pole, and then ducked under the high swipe just as the man with the hammer stepped in. He dropped the hammer as the metal pole struck him in the ear, and fell to the ground as Drizzt literally cut his legs out from under him.
The other man disliked the fact that this clever killer had used him, but he liked the feeling of cold steel shoved into his chest even less. Two more men came in, and they reeled back seconds later with blood gushing from beneath desperate fingers.
One of the floorboards Drizzt was standing on flexed slightly, and he wheeled about in a defensive stance. The sharp metallic sound of the block let Drizzt know he was now facing one of the guards. Drizzt swept his block and the guard's sword to the side and sprang forward to skewer the man. The guard was quick on his feet and managed to sidestep the thrust and then slam his bulk into the smaller elf.
Drizzt rolled away under control, but cried out as if he was taken by surprise. The second guard joined the attack and meant to cut the sprawling intruder in half. Drizzt came out of his roll suddenly and swiped at the guard's unprotected legs, his scimitar grating loudly against the man's shinbones. The guard cried out in pain, and Drizzt shut him up by thrusting his other blade up under the man's armor and into his lungs.
The man fell dead and Drizzt spun to meet the first guard. The man was too shocked by what he had just seen to put up much of a fight. He was dead in a few seconds. The rest of the workers scrambled in fear, trying to escape, but Drizzt had other ideas.
Up along one of the side balconies, Cal tried to ignore the violent screams coming from below and kept his attention focused in front of him. He had is eyes on the main office where Gary Borgian, the owner of Borgian's Construction, and two other guards were going over some details. They heard the noises from below, and sprang into action. The guards led the way out of the office and Gary followed, leaving the office empty. Cal smiled.
By the time the two guards and Gary made their way around the balcony and to the stairs down at the back of the warehouse, there was only one person still drawing breath on the main floor. The two guards stopped on an intermediate landing just above the wide steps that ran perpendicular from the back wall of the warehouse. They tried to draw a bead on Drizzt with their bows, but each only got off two shots as the elusive elf danced his way to the base of the stairs, leaped up onto the railing, and then again to stand next to them.
Neither guard had time to pull a weapon before Drizzt cut the bows from their hands, taking several fingers with them to the floor. The two guards screamed in pain, but shut up a second later by virtue of having cut open their only means for vocal noise. Drizzt stepped over the gargling men and recognized Gary as the man in charge.
The owner turned to run back the way he had come, but Drizzt gave chase, vaulting up the remaining steps and then racing along the balcony's railing to leap in front of the fleeing man. Drizzt leveled a bloody scimitar at the man's chest, effectively freezing him in place.
"W-wh-what do you w-want?" Gary stuttered.
"I want you to take a message for me to your boss. I want you to tell him that unless he comes out of hiding to face me, every one of his business ventures will end up like this one. Do you understand?"
It took a while for Gary to find his voice. "But I am the boss," he croaked, realizing that whatever gripe this black demon had was now with him.
"You do not know Artemis Entreri?" Drizzt asked, his scimitar coming down a few inches.
The overweight man shook his head, hoping he might be able to escape after all. Drizzt lowered his weapon completely. "Artemis Entreri does not own this facility?"
"No sir," Gary was slowly gaining his motor skills back. "I have never heard of him."
Drizzt turned in anger and looked toward the main office that Gary had come from. Through the window that looked out onto the floor, he saw an open and empty safe. There was no sign of Cal. "Ilhar kai'vith iblith!" Drizzt cursed violently, and swept his scimitar blindly behind him at shoulder height. Unfortunately for Gary, he was about an inch shorter than Drizzt. So vicious was the swipe and so sharp was Twinkle's edge, that Gary's head actually stayed on his shoulders after the blade passed through his neck, which only made things more confusing for him. Fortunately, he did not have much time to think about it.
Gary's body fell backwards slowly, his severed head bouncing hard on the well-built balcony floor. It rolled several feet before it hit the stairs and tumbled down, leaving a bloody trial on the steps. Drizzt took what pleasure he could from the slightly humorous display, and then sheathed his weapons. They were not really his, and he did not bother wiping them clean.
This night had been a waste. He had wanted to get Artemis' attention, but all he had done was play the part of the puppet while Cal robbed this shipyard. The list of people Drizzt had to kill before he left this town in search for a way to get back home kept getting bigger.
* * *
"Often more important than your actual skill is other's perception of your skill."
Drizzt had done a lot of thinking and had finally come up with a workable solution to his problem. It was not without risk, but it was the only solution he could find. He now stood in front of his two students. He had been neglecting his duties as weapon master for obvious reasons. And while he did not feel guilty about it, he realized he would begin to set off alarms about the house if his odd behavior continued.
"If you fear an opponent that has built a reputation for himself as an exceptional opponent, you have little chance of beating him regardless of how good you might be. Many great fighters have little skill, but have only gotten lucky against a few good opponents and are allowed to live off that reputation without ever having to do any real fighting again."
Kelron and Triack stood attentively before their weapon master. Triack was Drizzt's son. Drizzt had looked through the family records in secret earlier that day and had found he had sired almost a dozen drow within this house. None of them seemed to exhibit any moral qualities. And why should they? Drizzt thought. Whatever good qualities Zaknafein might have possessed had apparently gotten lost long before they made it to Drizzt, at least in this reality. He would have nothing to pass on to his offspring. Any ideas of getting to know his kids were discarded, knowing it would be too painful for him to realize what could have been, and still might be if he were to have children.
"I rarely have to fight anymore," Drizzt said, continuing his lesson. "People respect my skill and they allow me to do what I wish. They also know that the reputation I have built is an honest one. I have often noticed that fighters I had thought skilled, fight as if children when they draw their blades against me. I often do not need half of the skill I posses when fighting against these demoralized opponents because in their minds they have already lost."
Drizzt looked at each of his students to make sure they were listening closely. "I wish to test your knowledge with regard to judging someone's skill. I have trained or fought against every fighter in this house. I know exactly who the best fighters are. Now I want to see if you do. By noon today I want you to present me with a list of who you believe to be the twelve best warriors in our house, myself excluded."
The two students looked at each other curiously. Drizzt's training regimen was usually fairly straightforward. It was just one drill after another. This type of assignment seemed a little odd.
Drizzt noticed their confused looks. "Do you understand me?" The two youths nodded their heads quickly. "I want you to treat this assignment as seriously as you take any of my other orders. Now go." The two students ran back to their quarters.
* * *
Drizzt had wanted to get Entreri's attention, so he could end their feud. Instead he had gotten John's attention. The result would be the same. The captain had been called to Borgian's Construction early the morning after the massacre. As he surveyed the bloody mess, he could not help but think of the killings that had plagued the city almost a year ago. There was a clear difference between the two sets of killings, though.
Before, the murders had been brutal and bloody, but they had also been efficient. These new killings seemed almost playful. The men lying on the warehouse floor were cut up like raw meat, with no killing wound the same. While they were all different, each wound had clearly been made with the same type of weapon. They were the same weapons that had killed Kraygan, and they were the same weapons that had killed the four city guards. They were Drizzt's weapons.
There was another similarity between the two sets of killings that John could not get his subconscious to ignore: Artemis Entreri was involved. He had obviously not committed the first murders, and had eventually been the one to bring the killers to justice, but he had been involved. He was also not the perpetrator here, and John was far guiltier of bringing Drizzt to Garrilport than was Entreri, but that changed little in the captain's mind.
Any time there was trouble, Entreri seemed to be in some way involved. He also realized that the only way to get the trouble solved was to get Entreri even more involved. There was little investigative work he need to do at the shipyard other than make his presence known so everyone would see he was on the case. He had known who the killer was before he had seen the first body. He paid his silent respects to the dead men and then left.
Entreri was eating breakfast when John burst into his small shack without so much as knocking. "I'm sorry," Entreri said, not in the least bit startled, "I have not made enough for two, however if you would care to wai--"
"Shut up! Just shut the hell up!" John screamed, kicking the offered chair at the breakfast table across the room. "When are you going to get off your ass and end this mess you've started?"
Entreri swallowed his anger and turned to look at the captain. "What are you talking about?" he said slowly.
"What?!" John was flabbergasted. "What do you think I'm talking about? Your friend killed 20 men last night and put out of business the most productive shipyard in the city. The deaths aside for a moment, shipping season is right around the corner, and what happened last night might have a ripple effect that could bankrupt several other businesses."
Entreri took his time, keeping his temper from flaring. "When I heard you clanging about in my front yard I understood you were here about Drizzt. What concerns me is that you feel it is my responsibility to take care of the problem. Drizzt has a fight with me, and that fight will take place. I value my life too much to foolishly seek him out where he might be lying in wait for me. He is far more impulsive than I. He will come for me, and I will kill him. In the meantime, it is not my job to protect your city."
"You listen here," John started, but Entreri cut him off.
The assassin finally let his temper get the best of him as he stood. "No, you listen. I did not ask for him to come here, you did, so don't start blaming me for things that are your fault. And then don't expect me to bail you out when you find that you are in over your head. I will take care of all my problems on my own. I don't need your problems to get in my way. Drizzt is after my head. I understand that, and it is my problem. I will not ask you to protect me. By the same token, if Drizzt is after your city, that is your problem, and you should not come to me for help."
John opened his mouth several times, and then closed it again. He wanted to strike this man down, but he was not that foolish. Instead, what Entreri had said was slowly seeping through his shield of anger and having an impact on his thought process. "Fine," he said finally. "I'll take care of it. But if in a few days this city comes to ruin, I better not hear you complaining." He stormed out.
Entreri remained standing for several minutes after the captain had left, deep in thought. "No, John. When this city comes to ruin, you will not hear me complain. If you go against Drizzt and fail, the only sound you would be able to hear is your men nailing the lid shut on your coffin." Entreri sighed. There were times he wished he had never left Calimport. For now, he sat down and finished eating breakfast.
* * *
Jarlaxle was relaxing behind his desk when Drizzt walked in. He had plenty of warning this time, and Berg'inyon was hiding safely within a pocket plane. "Welcome my good friend," Jarlaxle said jubilantly. "Please, make yourself at home."
"This will never be my home," Drizzt replied indignantly. "Have you looked into what I asked of you?"
"You wish to be returned to your normal plane of existence," Jarlaxle said. "I must say that I don't know why you are in such a rush to go. I mean you live a very good life here. There is nothing that you can not have, and I've seen the females in your house. My oh my, if I only had one chance to--"
"You have the means to send me home." There was no question mark at then end of the question.
"Yes, yes," Jarlaxle replied. He had not even begun to look into it. "I have a wizard that says he can perform the task. He will need a sample of your blood and perhaps a lock of your hair. You know, the usual thing wizards like to have. I'm sure it is the same on the surface. By the way, how many times--"
"This is what is going to happen tonight," Drizzt cut off the rambling mercenary. "I will take two hundred of my best fighter to the north end of the Baenre compound. We will breach the fence and destroy the compound."
"Just like that?" Jarlaxle asked. If it was as easy as Drizzt made it sound, Jarlaxle wondered why he had not done it himself yet.
"Yes," Drizzt replied. "Just like that. All of the high priestesses and most of the common priestesses of my house will be gathered within our chapel. They will be deep in concentration to assure our victory and to nullify the unsuspecting Baenre females. We will hit them while they sleep and they will never wake up. When the rest of this city does wake up, there will be a new house in charge."
"You believe you can take the entire Baenre compound with only two hundred fighters?" Jarlaxle asked. "The last I remember the first house boasted an army of eight hundred strong. It is down in recent decades, but still a formidable force."
"They will be sleeping and unprepared," Drizzt replied. "Besides my house barely numbers four hundred fighters. I can not leave my own compound defenseless."
"Indeed," Jarlaxle said. "You said you wish to leave the city in chaos before you go? Is their some ulterior plot you have brewing?"
"Nothing more than what I have already told you," Drizzt replied. "The rest of the city will be in uproar at our bold move and there will be a war. I won't be a part of it. Before Narbondel's heat begins to rise a new, you will have transported me away from this hell. Your wizard is ready to perform this task tonight?"
"Good," then I will return here tonight after all is taken care of. Until then," Drizzt nodded and left.
Jarlaxle sat in quiet contemplation as a portal opened behind him. "Tonight will be a good night," Berg'inyon said as he stepped out of the pocket plane. "Tonight House Baenre will defeat their biggest foe and regain the prominence they should have never lost. One way or another I will be allowed back into our house and order will return to our city."
"Indeed," Jarlaxle said, barely listening to what the outcast noble had to say.
Berg'inyon was too wrapped up in what he had to do to notice his new friend's apathy. He could not bring this news to Triel. She would not believe it and would probably try to kill him on sight regardless. He needed to go to one of his other sisters. Sos'Umpto and Bladen'Kerst were the best candidates. They would be able to organize a resistance, and with his knowledge and the defeat of Drizzt and his foolish house, he would be welcomed back as the weapon master and the best fighter in the city.
Jarlaxle still sat unmoving as Berg'inyon left. "'My house barely numbers four hundred fighters,'" Jarlaxle said to himself, repeating what Drizzt had said. "House Do'Urden has six hundred fighters if they have one, probably more. What are you up to Drizzt?" Jarlaxle did not know, but he would find out soon enough.
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