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D&D General I'm reading the Forgotten Realms Novels- #202 The Howling Delve by Jaleigh Johnson (Dungeons 2)

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
As is so often the case with these trilogies (the previous Netheril one, with Sunbright and co., being the big exception), the second book is always the most difficult for me to recall, since it's easy for its events to bleed into the first or third book.

In this case, the scene that sticks out most to me is when Princess Alusair tries to negotiate with the phaerimm. Mostly for the part where Alusair has her guards gag Galaeron (present as a resident expert on the phaerimm and shadow magic both) when he speaks out of turn (this is after the phaerimm tried try to mind-control everyone present, and Galaeron angrily points out that there's no reasoning with alien monsters), only to turn around and kiss him passionately when the meeting's over. I mean, he at least can claim to be somewhat schizophrenic thanks to the shadow magic he's using; what's her excuse?

The other characters just didn't make a big impression on me. I seem to recall that Telamont Tanthul (I think it was him) went on a rant about how unfair it was that everyone was against them reclaiming their place in Faerun, where "reclaiming their place" meant, "introducing ecological changes that, while they might be beneficial in the long-term, will cause serious famine in the short-term." Yeah, who could have thought that everyone else on the continent would have a problem with that? I mean, I know that bad guys with a lot of power tend to slip into Bond-villain-esque levels of insanity easily, but even back in AD&D 2nd Edition this guy had a Wisdom of 14 (as per Netheril: Empire of Magic; affiliate link), and I bet it would have been even higher in 3E, so you think that would help with that sort of perspective.

Malik el Sami yn Nasser (seriously, that's a name that's as much fun to say as Inigo Montoya) throwing in with Telamont is something I don't recall too much. I know that he did, just not that much ever came of it; the only things the little guy has going for him are that he seems too craven to be dangerous, will stab anyone in the back if it seems like a good idea at the time, and is fanatically loyal to Cyric. So if the much smarter guy with all the magic (i.e. Telamont) knows all that, then there's not much that Malik can do. Maybe that's why I don't recall him doing very much at all.

Of course, that's more than I can say for Vala et al. Heck, I didn't even remember that Ruha was in this, though I shouldn't be surprised; authors like to reuse familiar characters, and Denning is no exception. I'm amazed that Prince Tang didn't show up in here somewhere.
 

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Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#142 The Sorcerer by Troy Denning (Return Archwizards 3)
Read 19/10/21 to 25/10/21


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Well, what it did it did really well- all the characters do their thing, and their stories are mostly all resolved at the end, significantly the central guys and girls, and there's lots of cool ideas in the final skirmish. That said about two thirds of this one is all action- dispensing with the Shadovar (sort of) and then winning the war against the Phaerimm, so- lots and lots of action.

Towards the end I was in a Vietnam movie, with the Cold Hand playing the special forces style patrol, leading the line, and taking the battle to the bad guys. The Vaasan's obviously steal the show, and Khul's last run... just glorious, particularly the idea that he sacrifices himself to his dark blade. Very nice.

But...

You knew there was going to be one.

It's really well written, and a page turner- I had lots of work on so I didn't get time to sit down with this one, I could have easily read it in just three days.

But, Phaerimm, beholders and mind flayers by the dozen. There's so much CR inflation for the various fights here that... I just got a bit tired of it. Particularly when, for example, Valla, with a little help, takes on six, or eight, or else ten, Phaerimm. So, the next encounter, in which just one Phaerimm (a leader type), and with an army up against the foe- well, I don't care because the Valkyrie with the magic blade just took down more bad guys than that without getting a hang-nail.

If you keep throwing very high level enemies into the mix, beholders getting killed by a single sword thrust, same illithid etc. It just gets a bit... meh! For me.

I think there's some of my fear and trepidation about high level play here, I've been DMing for 40 years, and I can still count on the fingers of both hands the number of D&D games I've DMed beyond about 12th level.

But, here's a positive- at least we get to talk to the Phaerimm in this one, the treat however is short-lived, and a bit underwhelming. The Phaerimm do not work together, and so... they're all emotionless, unconvincing, as super-villains I mean. The thing about the maulgrym (although I dislike these too), or the Zhent, or Dragons (or the Cult of the same vain), or the Shadovar, or the various terrible high level undead, or the Drow, or... and on it goes. The thing about all of these other villains is they come alive, they're bastards, and/or clever, and/or lots of other stuff. They're interesting folk, good to get to know- particularly for a DM making mental notes.

Then there's the Shade denouement, what next- I take it there's a follow up to this somewhere along the way? Is there?

But (again) it all seemed a little easy. In the end.

I liked Denning's handling of the Chosen, they're remarkably palatable in this one, but still... a bit easy.

I guess you can't mess with another author's creations though, and nor do you want to give your own creations up. If the author really wanted to up the ante, and make it seem much more credible/tougher then you need to bury a significant N/PC. One of the Chosen maybe, Galaeron possibly- making the ultimate sacrifice, or Aris, or... anyone significant.

My point, I think, both enemies seem to be fatally flawed, the thing they do- kill, kill, kill; is pretty much all they do (for the Phaerimm). The Shadovar are much more twisty-turny, but they miss several clues and... they've been on the back foot since the end of the last book. Galaeron's accepting the shadow side of himself is... okay, but I guessed that a while back, or else that was one of the several theories I had going on. The favourite being some sort of ultimate sacrifice to save the mythal/Evereska/Faerun. That kind of thing.

Read.

A much better series than I expected, well written- all the characters pull their weight and come across as good D&D. But... 50% of the bad guys were much weaker, less interesting.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
The third one seemed like a strong closer, but that might be because I mostly remember the final scene, which made a pretty good impression. There were some other parts that stuck out, like Malik el Sami yn Nasser managing to fumble the "shadow stone" or whatever it was, and seeing a divine sign, and realizing to his dismay that it couldn't have been from Cyric, since Cyric never sent him signs (except when he was angry). Oh Malik, will you ever win? (Probably not, considering what fate awaited him at the end of the book.)

While I don't rightfully recall the heroes mowing their way through hordes of illithids, phaerimm, beholders, etc., I do agree with the problem inherent in that imagery, as any one of those is a mid-tier boss character who shouldn't be used as cannon fodder. Not so much because each of them is a potential tyrant/manipulator in their own right (although they are), but also because their game stats don't really lend themselves toward being dispatched like mooks...at least, not unless the heroes' have levels far in excess of what the bad guys' Challenge Ratings are. Mystra's Chosen can pull that off; the local adventuring company, not so much.

I agree Galaeron's whole "you must embrace your own dark side to master yourself" thing seemed pretty obvious. I mean, Star Wars notwithstanding, that bit of pop psychology seems like it's everywhere now, to the point of being trite. Just ask Michael Cera:


I'm still not sure how that even works in terms of game mechanics. I mean, I've mentioned the Wisdom loss associated with the original version of that feat; was this him gaining it back somehow? An alignment change? I recognize that there are issues involved with turning D&D into narrative fiction, but I still prefer the former to inform the latter. Things like this are why I maintain that D&D isn't a game about telling a story (or, for that matter, a "storytelling game"), and shouldn't really try to be, since that gets into issues of pounding a square peg into a round hole.

I'll also agree that the Princes of Shades don't do their best as a collective of powerful, evil arch-wizards. I mean, I get that the good guys have to win, and that if you have villains who are equally powerful, perspicacious, and prepared as the good guys - plus have superior numbers and a home-field advantage - that probably won't happen, but it's still frustrating to see the same villainous flaws put forward again and again, where people who should know better spend their time trying to sabotage each other even when the opposition is fighting to make them all lose. It's depressing, and a bit redundant; we already have the Zhentarim for that.

But at least that closing scene, where Telamont intimidates a dracolich, was pretty cool.
 

Mirtek

Hero
Oh Malik, will you ever win? (Probably not, considering what fate awaited him at the end of the book.)

While I don't rightfully recall the heroes mowing their way through hordes of illithids, phaerimm, beholders, etc., I do agree with the problem inherent in that imagery, as any one of those is a mid-tier boss character who shouldn't be used as cannon fodder. Not so much because each of them is a potential tyrant/manipulator in their own right (although they are), but also because their game stats don't really lend themselves toward being dispatched like mooks...at least, not unless the heroes' have levels far in excess of what the bad guys' Challenge Ratings are. Mystra's Chosen can pull that off; the local adventuring company, not so much.

I agree Galaeron's whole "you must embrace your own dark side to master yourself" thing seemed pretty obvious. I mean, Star Wars notwithstanding, that bit of pop psychology seems like it's everywhere now, to the point of being trite. Just ask Michael Cera:


I'm still not sure how that even works in terms of game mechanics. I mean, I've mentioned the Wisdom loss associated with the original version of that feat; was this him gaining it back somehow? An alignment change? I recognize that there are issues involved with turning D&D into narrative fiction, but I still prefer the former to inform the latter. Things like this are why I maintain that D&D isn't a game about telling a story (or, for that matter, a "storytelling game"), and shouldn't really try to be, since that gets into issues of pounding a square peg into a round hole.

I'll also agree that the Princes of Shades don't do their best as a collective of powerful, evil arch-wizards. I mean, I get that the good guys have to win, and that if you have villains who are equally powerful, perspicacious, and prepared as the good guys - plus have superior numbers and a home-field advantage - that probably won't happen, but it's still frustrating to see the same villainous flaws put forward again and again, where people who should know better spend their time trying to sabotage each other even when the opposition is fighting to make them all lose. It's depressing, and a bit redundant; we already have the Zhentarim for that.

But at least that closing scene, where Telamont intimidates a dracolich, was pretty cool.
Well

He did techincally win in The Sentinel, as he achieved his original goal. He just did not also get the stretch goal that Cyric set later

 


Zardnaar

Legend
#141 The Siege by Troy Denning (Return Archwizards 2)
Read 7/10/21 to 12/10/21


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Well, I was dreading this one- although that's a bit harsh on reflection, and it didn't start well but half the way through it and I just figured I was lugging around my (low) expectations.

This then is my mea culpa, because it got good. I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but it got to be a page-turner. Up to the bit that our intrepid adventurers/good guys flee the Enclave of Shade, well- it was a bit too similar to what had come before. But then, seemingly, everybody started saying what they meant, and Galaeron grew his balls back- or else just figured out that there was a black shadowy worm growing in his head.

At last he decided to take this into account- and stopped being a schmuck.

Then Vala turned into the heroine, her antics with the Baelnorn were a delight, the confounded Phaerimm were made to suffer. Then, when the terrifyingly clever/smart Vaasan got her audience with the numero uno shadow lord, well- she won that round too.

Is there a book about Vala out there, or have I (its very possible) already read it.

Stop the press, it's coming back to me- Sellswords trilogy, and I did it on my own- without recourse to Google.

Then there was Vangy- I loved his rune enhanced disco ball- groovy, and what's her name that took over Cormyr- the daughter, and better still all of them started talking sense.

There seems to come a point in some of these novels (and novels in general) where the reader is just fed up of the pro/an-tagonist just doing and saying dumb things. I prefer when we get to this point earlier rather than later. Don't get me wrong, I know how this works- they're doing/saying dumb things in order to get the plot to this point, to get the hole dug. What comes next is the plan/progress to fill the hole back in again. So, I get that.

But the second half of this one just fills me with hope, this could end well, by which I mean I may enjoy what comes next.

There's no doubt Mr Denning is a good/great author- everything makes sense, comes alive, and the characters (the ones that count) are all handled really well. Aris is just fantastic- every novel/adventuring party should have one. Ruha is great in here, Malik is also starting to show his talents, now that he's bezzie mates with the king of shadowfolk. Vala, as stated above, rocks, and lots of the other walk-ons are handled well.

So, a good read.

Still don't like the Phaerimm, still don't like the inflated CR encounters- particularly because the Phaerimm are pinned as the ultimo-bad guys at times, with shadow lords vowing to vassal themselves to Vala if she kills six- and then she does, but then so do twelve other folk that we know, or something similar.

Also, still don't dig that we don't get to see into the Phaerimm hive mind (or whatever they have going on). There was a moment when I forget who got to stand before a Phaerimm, any second I thought- we'll have a soupcon of telepathic communication, the big reveal- what does a Phaerimm sound like? What does it say?

Nope.

I like talky villains, like the shadow lords- they're easier to appreciate, I mean even the stringy fellers with the funny heads in Independence Day got a few lines.

Feed me.

Read. Liked it, nice one Troy!

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers goonalan

Troy Denning is a good D&D author and above average author in general.

His Darksun books are fun reads and he wrote a good New Jedi Order Star Wars book and that series was underwhelming at best.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#143 Realms of Shadow Anthology Ed. Lizz Baldwin (Return Archwizards 4)
Read 29/10/21 to 3/11/21


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It was okay, better than that- good in places. I tend to struggle with the anthologies as some part of my brain lets me get away with just reading one story a day, rather than doing my minimum of fifty pages. Also, when I'm reading a less good story, and sometimes two in a row, I get to asking myself- why am I doing this.

When reading the less good full length novels I tend not to despair that often, I keep kidding myself (at times) that something good is coming just around the corner, something to enlighten or lift the story. Better still, sometimes I get my wish.

But the 'why am I doing this?' question didn't get asked here, I was genuinely interested in the other things that were going on in the realms while the Archwizard's anthology was unfolding, or else post the destruction of the Shadovar and phaerimm.

Trial by Ordeal, Lisa Smedman- like a page or two from any number of ENWorld forums in which folk debate the many interpretations of the RAW. Justice, as it turns out, is a many edged sword- a lot like Soloman's.

Assassin's Shadow, Jess Lebow- I've read this one before, in the Best of the Realms anthology-

I dislike Karsus, and everything Netherese, and yet even here the story is achingly simple, we're about to behold for the first time the magnificent floating city, and... water and people get to strange places, and that's about all of the breath-taking beauty/magic/weirdness etc. that there is to feat the eyes upon. It's sparse, as is the plot- and a little, well... meh.

Too Long in the Dark, Paul S Kemp- A strange tale about life in the shadow, the best thing in it- the quasit, it's okay- just a long hike for an answer already given, and received. I'm not coming back, she already told you.

Darksword, Troy Denning- again, previously read in the Best of the Realms anthology-

I'll be honest after reading this one I'm not looking forward to the Return of the Archwizards series, which- of course, is coming up next. I'm not sure why Melegaunt Tanthul is popular, he does absolutely nothing for me. The story, and this is a terrible thing to say- I've forgotten it, it made not a mark.

Liar's Game, Jessica Beaven- A strange and weird discourse which appears, at first, to be better than many of the others here because of the style in which the story is delivered. It's a low budget niche movie, screened alongside a bunch of spectacle/epic(-ish) encounters. Which makes it stand out. But, it's okay- nothing new, just a (slightly) different (and therefore interesting) way of doing the same. Should I know Cheever?

That Curious Sword, RA Salvatore- this pair, Jarlaxle & Entreri, should get a theme tune, or else a designer range of something-or-other. The golden boys, the odd couple, whatever you want to call them they're the semi-cool dudes that many players want their PCs to be. It's all tropes of course, but at the time- was Salvatore ahead of the curve? Or did he just figure out that cool in the real world could be the same as cool in the realms. It works, and it's a romp.

A Little Knowledge, Elaine Cunningham- one of those stories to which the word nice can applied, nice in this instance meaning clever, well-written and satisfying. As I say- nice. Nothing much happens here but its well observed and you feel better for having read it in the end, which is no bad thing. And again, nice.

Astride the Wind, Philip Athans- everyone likes an outsider, and how more outsider can you get than Astride the Wind, that's the heroes name. He's a kenku, and the information already given should be enough to make you want to go and read this one. It wont change your world, but as with the previous story you'll feel better for having done so.

The Fallen Lands, Murray JD Leeder- oddly fantastic, and I'm not going to try too hard to analyse why I liked it so much. A mage meets the Uthgardt, most times that'd be a very short story- die magic using horror. But, and again- as above, just well-written, a good idea although very obviously contrived for the purpose of the tale. I liked it immensely, best one in the book.

When Shadows Come Seeking a Throne, Ed Greenwood- the really odd thing is that his style just doesn't seem to change, and while his world compiling knowledge is still unmatched the reader is still left empty handed, and with a shrug or two simmering. Meh!

King Shadow, Richard Lee Byers- I like a hero who is in the process of falling from grace (sorta) and I was interested in meeting a prospective hero called Kevin, it's not a hero's name- I know this for a fact, my brother is called Kevin. It's an okay little adventure, more an excuse to write about a Kevin.

The Shifting Sands, Peter Archer- Bedine, spies, the Zhent; there's plenty to get your teeth into. The deal is we know its a set up when Garmansder gives up his companion Avarilous to the Zhent, and so, well- all we're waiting on is the end. It works though. Nice.

Read.

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

goonalan
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I distinctly recall enjoying Lisa Smedman's story; that's not really a surprise, since I've found myself liking almost everything of hers that I've ever read (she absolutely blew my socks off with S5 The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga; affiliate link), and in this case, I particularly like the theme of "damned for doing the right thing." Of course, that's sort of a misread of what's there, as that story was about the folly of applying justice without compassion; either way, it made a good impression on me.

For the Salvatore story, I seem to recall this one being somewhat important with regards to Entreri's development, not in terms of characterization but rather that (if this is the story I'm thinking of) he gets sort of a new power:

by absorbing the essence of a shade, it's implied that he's slowed down his aging.

Darksword, Troy Denning- again, previously read in the Best of the Realms anthology-

I'll be honest after reading this one I'm not looking forward to the Return of the Archwizards series, which- of course, is coming up next. I'm not sure why Melegaunt Tanthul is popular, he does absolutely nothing for me. The story, and this is a terrible thing to say- I've forgotten it, it made not a mark.

You know, I didn't realize you were cut-and-pasting the comments you made about the stories you read previously before this. :p
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#144 Dissolution by Richard Lee Byers (War Spider Queen 1)
Read 11/11/21 to 14/11/21


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Well, everything is better with Drow, who would have thought it.

I really enjoyed this book, and for a variety of reasons (although mostly down to the DM in me).

I enjoyed it so much that it made me think, if this had come first on the reading list- would I have enjoyed Drizzt's escapades in Menzo less? The answer, of course, would be yes. I'm not saying this one (this series?) is better than the original, but- there's a lot of meat on this particular bone.

Also, Drizzt is the exception to the rule, he's the drow that sees the drow for what they are, he's a hero- an anti-hero (maybe) but more likely, and having read this one, he's not nearly anti-hero enough. For me.

Is there another FR book, that I have read so far, that employs more dastardly folk as the central characters here?

In this one we follow Pharaun & Ryld (Masters both) as they go about their detective business, we also spend plenty of time Quenthel (the third Master of Menzo) as the daughter of Baenre struggles with Lloth's departure/withdrawal and the subsequent loss of priestly powers.

So, here's the first thing- none of these folk are traditional heroes/central characters, don't get me wrong they're awfully good company, but mainly for the reason that, well... anything goes. Even atrocities are an option- the loss of innocent (or other) lives- commonplace, to be expected.

These are very bad people, but y'know, in a very bad world.

Drizzt was a good fellow in the same bad world- we wanted him to escape, to get to the surface- to see the sun, the wind, and rain (sorry, I went all rangery)... and all of that other hippy-dippy shiznit. The three named above, less so...

Don't get me wrong Pharaun & Ryld could be the next Jarlaxle & Entreri (or similar), they're the best at what they do, they're cool (super-cool), Pharaun is glib and funny; Ryld is the brooding menace. So far, so good- so recognisable.

Quenthel is a tyrannical maniac- but logic-based, so- explainable, and, of course, everyone that's against Quenthel (and the P&R double act) is even worse, even more nasty- so, hurrah for the Master's of Menzo!

That's not a bad place to be- for a reader, watching and willing on as a trio of funny/terrifying drow masters detectivise their way out of this one...

Just take a moment to appreciate the cleverness of this idea.

These aren't the trad. good guys you are reading about, they're not even the least objectionable, they (and particularly Quenthel) are just the folk that were there at the time- to make sense of it, the clever (evil?) folk that made some of it happen.

Nice!

Why else is this one great- it swings by, when its not action its places (squalid places) that the previous Menzo-based novels have not gone before. The Alhoon revolution, the uprising of the slavers/fodder, that's okay but better still its an excuse to take us for a wander through the bad places in Menzo, and that's enlightening. I can see how it all works now, before I was sorta guessing.

The same is true for Quenthel and her defence of Arach-Tinilith, which we explore repeatedly- and get to meet the cast, as the demon hunting game goes on.

Obviously then there's the other little side plots- Greyanna trying to kill Pharaun, and Gromph (the source of the demons) also trying to kill his sister. It's a joyous place is Menzo, just a great venue for adventure- why isn't there a WOTC mega-dungeon set down here. I remember DMing G1-3, D1-3 & Q1; but that was a million years ago. I sorta remember a Return to the Demonweb Pits (or something similar) was that 3.5E? I'm not stopping to look it up.

Memory jog- I also remember a Menzo book in 4e, but I never got around to reading it, and sold it on- like I did with all of that edition.

Surely time for a revisit? But I guess I'm shouting this because I'm still sitting in Menzo right now.

So, villains as heroes- and I mean proper villains, I get that Pharaun & Ryld are relative moderates but neither of them have the moral/ethical ying-yang that so infects Drizzt going on. It's just kill or be killed, or else- this person needs to die to forward my plan, therefore "DIE!"

Menzo is a delight, it's a place I want to DM, it's a place I want to live (in-game).

The writing is good, Ryld and Pharaun are suitable brooding/comic, and in the end the latter is more than capable of abandoning his partner in order to extract himself from the situation, and save his skin. They're the best of friends, in a world in which best friends take it in turns to plot and/or kill each other.

That really works.

Quenthel is just as detective and just as insightful, and particularly as she takes the time to explain to us (the reader) what's going on atm, and what her next move should be, and why. She's Margaret Thatcher reborn as a drow (but hang on) an iron fisted tyrant with a heart of... actually, I'm not sure she has a heart at all. But what a character.

I think we're going to Ched Nasad in the next one, I am so looking forward to that.

But again, these are villains, or else- if only the villains in other books were half as cool/cruel as these two/three.

You'd want them to win.

Oops! I think I've just worked out the problem with too-cool villains.

Recap- the nastier your central characters are, the more dystopian and cruel the setting needs to be- got it, and it works.

I really enjoyed this one, and can't wait to get to the next.

What's with the "RA Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen..." thing atop each of the novels. Did Bob plot it all out? Did Bob come up with the idea? Did Bob... I'm sure there were lots of politics involved in the creation of this series. Dilute the source, diminish his power, as it turns out other people can write really good drow novels.

Oh, and Elaine Cunningham's Liriel- too nice, too bratty (at times), and too quickly to the surface; I hate to say it but this is my favourite drow-based book so far.

More fun than Drizzt et al.

Sorry. I just really enjoyed everything about it, oh and Pharaun is Danillo Thann, only less posh- more approachable, with better lines and with a refreshing- smart/glib/zingy(?) outlook.

I heart Pharaun.

And Ryld.

And Quenthel, more than a little.

Oh, and I want a Draegloth for Christmas, can you fix that?

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

TheSword

Legend
I love that you really enjoy this, as it’s one of my favourite fantasy books, let alone D&d books. When I read it the first time it was a pleasure and it’s got better over time. You’re in for a real treat with the rest.

My particular favourites…
  • Gromph, and his tower outside of time and space.
  • Quenthals whip
  • Rhyld’s sava (chess) hobby - great to see in a fighter.
  • The Alhoon/drider/disaffected males as chief antagonists
  • Stonefire bombs - which would be terrifying!
If I recall the series was quite collaborative and even though written by different authors they did get together to plot the series. They did so well to create continuance and I think Bob Salvatore acted as an editor and kept the consistency between episodes.

I’ve bookmarked this thread as I’m fascinated to see how you find the others!
 

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