The Doomed Bastards: Reckoning (story complete)


Chapter 55


“Light,” Jasek said.

The small stone in the thief’s hand flared, casting a steady illumination that fully revealed the small chamber. There wasn’t much to reveal; the entire place was maybe six paces across, the irregular stone walls crowding close to a ceiling that was too low for a man to stand without brushing it in most places. Walls, floor, and ceiling alike were all of that odd banded stone that repaired itself when damaged. There was one exit, a low tunnel that was really little more than a crawlspace.

Falah was on his knees, coughing. Jasek touched the necklace he wore under his tunic; with it he could breath easily, but he could still taste the taint on the air.

“The air is bad here,” he said. “We need to find a way out.”

Falah could not reply, but he nodded. Jasek led the way, fitting into the low tunnel easily. He glanced back at Falah, but the Razhuri followed without comment, his sword scraping on the floor behind him. The man could be single-minded in his actions.

The tunnel continued on, curving slightly to the left. There was one particularly close spot where he feared that Falah would get stuck, but the man merely shifted his sword and then dragged himself through, using his strong arms and legs to navigate the tight squeeze. And then they were through into a larger space. The tunnel opened onto a ledge that ran along the edge of the cavern, which was large enough that Jasek’s light failed to illuminate the floor below. The air was thick and moist; likely there was water below. The toxin in the air was also strong, as Falah’s distress continued.

“It looks like there’s another tunnel at the far end of the ledge,” Jasek said. “Let me check it out. If necessary, I’ll find us a way to get down to the floor of this room.”

Falah managed a grunt between coughs that Jasek accepted as agreement. The ledge was tight, ranging from a scant foot to almost three, but he was used to negotiating such obstacles, and he felt little danger of falling. Behind him, he heard Falah moving forward along the ledge, not really following him, but just trying to find a place where he could maneuver.

Some primal sense warned him, even as a sudden chill filled the air.

He looked down to see a massive form emerge from the darkness below. It was a huge worm, its black hide glistening, sucking the light into it. It moved with silence, and as Jasek looked at it, he felt as though someone had stabbed an icicle into his chest. His heart froze, clenched in sudden terror.

A noise came from Falah, and the thief realized that the monster’s long head was rising toward the fighter, not him. And then a blast of pure, unrelenting cold hit him, swallowing sight and sound and everything except for the feeling of being frozen. He was surprised when it passed, but before he could see clearly again he heard a potent THUMP that nearly caused him to plummet off the ledge.

Stumbling forward, he looked back, and wished he hadn’t.

The ledge was covered with slicks of ice all the way back to the mouth of the low tunnel from which they’d emerged. Falah was no longer there, but where he’d been standing Jasek could see gobs of red clinging to the ice-streaked stone. His gaze shifted to the chamber below, where he could see the black worm, its body rippling at the edges of his light. Its head had turned away, panning a leisurely course away from him, but as he watched it continued full around until it was starting to come closer again.

He didn’t hesitate further, and dove forward. Reckless, his boots just starting to slide on the slick rock with each step, he nearly toppled off the ledge a dozen times. His focus was on the tunnel opening on the far side of the chamber, where the ledge came to an end. It had looked like a tunnel, anyway, when he’d entered the room; if it was just a niche that came to an end, he was dead.

Of course, he might be dead in any case. He could feel the cold of the creature again, somehow piercing even the chill that had suffused him from its cone of cold. A lassitude seeped into him, but he fought it off, knowing that to falter, even for a moment, would end him.

He didn’t have to look back to know that the monster’s head was surging forward to engulf him. An involuntary shriek was torn from his lips as he leapt forward, diving for the tunnel mouth.

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Richard Rawen

First Post
Lazybones said:

Aldos did not feel the impact. He was only dimly aware of the body of the Drusian under his. His vision was already growing dim, but he could just feel the man’s body, convulsing. The knight’s lips twisted into a faint smile; the man’s neck was broken.

And then, everything dissolved into black.
That was inspired LB
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Thanks for the posts, everyone. This should be an interesting week in Doomed Bastards-ville. :)

* * * * *

Chapter 56


The red beam filled the chamber with a bright crimson glow. The room was an almost perfect hemisphere, with the floor slanting down slightly to form a shallow bowl. In the center of the floor a tall pedestal that seemed to rise out of the substance of the ground, the only feature of the place other than the source of the beam. That source seemed to hover above the top of the pedestal rather than be supported by it, a translucent sphere of brilliant red energy with a diameter that approached five feet.

Ghazaran held the dagger-key tightly as he stepped out of the beam. Even with the protection of that device, he’d felt a penetrating sensation during his brief transit down the tunnel from the prison chamber, and he had a deep conviction that without the key, that beam would have torn the very flesh from his bones. His eyes were drawn to the sphere. If Ozmad was right, the key was the only thing that could damage that sphere, and bring down the energy beam.

He took a step forward, but before he could approach the sphere, there was a flare of power, accompanied by a stinging explosion of ash and flames, and a sudden odor of brimstone. Ghazaran barely had time to fling up an arm to protect his face before the pit fiend stepped into the room.

The devil did not mess around, immediately hitting him with a meteor swarm.

Ghazaran staggered back against the wall as the streaking spheres struck. Two of them clipped his arm and shoulder respectively, but he fared decently well against the explosion of fire. The attack penetrated his spell resistance—a pit fiend was no trivial caster—but his warding against fire absorbed almost all of the damage from the swarm.

The fiend, immune to the flames that swirled back from the blasts around it, grunted slightly as its foe absorbed its attack. It started toward him, preparing a greater dispel as it came.

Ghazaran did not wait for the devil to come within reach. Unrolling another scroll from the Camarian church’s cache, he held it up so that the fiend could see the sunburst etched into the back of the parchment. He held the depleted chrysalium crystal he had used in the battle with the mummies and their lich master, but he felt barely a flicker of power from it. Still he channeled that flicker into his casting, and drew as well upon the might of his own patron, the chaos that was anaethema to lawful beings such as the pit fiend.

It was a close thing, very close, but the banishment spell took hold, and the devil was cast screaming back into the Hells.

After taking a deep breath to steady himself, the cleric stepped toward the radiant sphere.

* * * * *

Ozmad stepped warily out of the blue beam into a room that seemed to be a smaller version of the vast hemisphere that housed the pyramidal prison of the Ravager. The ogre’s skin still tingled; the dagger had protected him personally from any ill effects, but the beam had nevertheless completely suppressed all of his magic items. It was similar to what his own antimagic field spell did, yet the feeling had been... alien.

He held the mithral dagger with the star sapphire in the hilt in one hand, and lugged his huge mattock with the other. He looked at the glowing sphere in the center of the room, the source of the beam, but made no move toward it, not yet.

Only a faint shimmer in the air announced the arrival of the guardian. The thing that appeared, floating above the floor, was familiar, if massive for its breed. Ten eyes on twisting stalks quickly swiveled to focus on him, and as its body turned, Ozmad could see the last already opening, a big orb that bulged so wide that the ogre could have spread both hands across and still not fully covered it.

The ogre didn’t wait for that eye to face him. He summoned his magic, held at the ready for just this confrontation. His antimagic field erupted not an instant too soon, as several beams lanced out from the beholder’s eyestalks, vanishing as they struck his barrier. The invisible cone of antimagic that issued from the creature’s central eye filled the space between them, but the two auras simply met without further effect. The blue beam was completely unaffected by the clashing fields, and the blue sphere did not so much as flicker, even though it was within the effect of both.

Ozmad tucked the dagger into his belt and charged, lifting his huge mattock. Even with its magic nullified, it was a considerable weapon, and the room, though large, was not big enough so that the beholder could escape its long reach. The creature seemed to recognize that as well, for it stopped firing off its beams, and slid toward him, rows of long teeth appearing as a big chunk of its lower body split open into a truly fearsome set of jaws.

The beholder was an impressive combatant, but its main potency lay in its magical abilities, and it could not overcome the ogre in a solely physical confrontation. Less than a minute after his arrival, Ozmad stepped forward over the deflated corpse of the thing, and approached the blue sphere.

* * * * *

Zafir Navev seemed utterly unfazed by the yellow beam as it stepped out of the tunnel into the smaller domed chamber. A golden sphere hovered atop a pedestal in the center of the room, radiant with light that gathered into the beam of energy that departed through the passage it had just navigated. The mithral dagger shone brightly in that light, especially the small globe of yellow topaz set into its hilt; that glowed like a small sun.

The mummy looked around; it had grown wary. Part of the thing wanted destruction, craved it, but another part clung to existence like lichen on a rock, unable to break free. Power flared around it, a cloak that it wore constantly now, enough power to have already sundered the grip of sanity, had the creature been mortal.

The guardian appeared from behind the pedestal. Navev faced it without concern, although the thing was the strongest yet of the three entities bound to the power sources. The skull hovered in the air, flashes of light coming from it as the gems set into its eye sockets and jaws caught the glow of the golden sphere. The demilich drew upon its powerful magic and unleashed a green ray intended to disintegrate the mummy.

The spell was potent, unbelievably so, but as the beam struck the mummy, it flared against a frisson of red energies that flared bright against the emerald lance of the demilich’s spell. Navev’s entropic warding invocation deflected the energies of the spell, which flashed in a bright cascade around it, causing no harm to the creature within the bright display.

Navev countered immediately with an eldritch blast that arced a black line that slashed into the glowing skull like a whip. But the demilich’s defenses were far more potent than those of the mummy, and the dark bolt merely dissolved into nothing as it struck.

The demilich tried again with an empowered fireball that unleashed a blazing fury of heat and eager flames throughout the small chamber. The spell was appropriately selected against the typical weakness of a mummy, but Navev’s amulet offered a strong defense against fire, and while the undead warlock did not escape unscathed, the flames failed to consume it.

Navev stepped forward as the fire of the spell died. The demilich drifted back, wary of a physical confrontation, but the warlock’s focus was not upon the guardian. Instead, it lifted the mithral dagger-key, and lunged forward to strike at the sphere of golden energy in the center of the room.

The noise of the impact was terrible, like the crash of a dozen glass windows being smashed in all at once. The sphere withstood the blow, the dagger rebounding from its surface as though it had been made of stone rather than light. But as the mummy drew back, a narrow crack was visible in the sphere, and tiny filaments of golden substance trailed from the tiny opening, like hints of fog leaking out from within.

The demilich pressed its attack, hitting Navev with a lightning bolt that blasted solidly into the mummy’s back, passing through it to flash against the sphere. The spell had no effect upon the translucent orb, but Navev was staggered by the impact. Its wrappings hung from its body in blackened streaks, now, revealing the corrupt flesh beneath, scabrous strips of flesh trailing in long swathes from its frame to reveal the stark white of bone beneath. It created the horrible image of ribbons trailing from the coat of a reveler on Harvestide, the grim spectacle making a mockery of everything that was wholesome and good in life.

Navev did not turn to face the demilich. Driven now by something beyond even the unlife that sustained it, it lifted the dagger, and lunged forward again to assault the sphere. The trailing wisps of fog coming out of the damaged globe spun around his body as he moved, and another resounding crash of power filled the chamber as magics collided once more.


First Post
Bastards-ville :D :D :D :D
I'm confused though. I thought Ghazaran died with Aldos on the railing. Or was that Jasek? To echo, that was a great death scene with Aldos.
Also, Oh Noes!! Again!! Teh ward iz brokenz! Or allmost!


Faren said:
Bastards-ville :D :D :D :D
I'm confused though. I thought Ghazaran died with Aldos on the railing. Or was that Jasek? To echo, that was a great death scene with Aldos.
Also, Oh Noes!! Again!! Teh ward iz brokenz! Or allmost!
It was Parzad, Ghazaran's psionicist flunky/henchman.

* * * * *

Chapter 57


Looking into the eyes of the ravager spawn, Dar saw the certainty of death staring back at him. The creatures were not intelligent, at least not in any way more than a cunning beast, but it had marked him and his blade, and recognized him as the foe most capable of harming it.

There was naught to do but to press his charge, and meet it in a last confrontation.

But as the monster lunged, it suddenly screamed out in pain. Dar saw Kiron, his huge sword blazing with holy power, draw back from the powerful stroke he’d just delivered to the juncture where its foremost leg met its body. His sword trailed droplets of the creature’s blood, but there was far more trailing from the knight’s armor

Dar knew what the man had done, what he’d sacrificed to give him an opening, even before the creature’s head snapped back. The wedge-shaped head slammed into the knight with the force of a battering ram, and he went flying back, twisting into a spin as one of his legs clipped the hindquarters of the beast. His flight ended only when he struck the ruined threshold of the vault door at the chamber entrance, and he fell hard, motionless. Maricela was running toward him even before he stopped moving, but Dar could not guess if he still lived after accepting a blow like that.

The spawn had gotten revenge for the painful wound it had taken, but it still remembered Dar. But as it swiveled its head back around, the veteran fighter was already moving. Everything seemed to slow down around him. He felt the jarring of his boots on the hard stone, each long stride sending a painful jolt up through his battered body. He had not been healed, but he no longer wondered at what gave him the strength to keep going. The sword in his hand blazed with a power that seemed to pour into him, and he felt a surge from it, something so familiar that it just seemed right. He and the sword were one.

The dragon’s head came down to meet his charge, its jaws opening so wide that for a moment it was as though those huge teeth were all that there was in the world. Yet it seemed almost trivial for him to duck under that sweeping lunge. The creature’s foul breath washed over him in a flood, and something hard grazed his back, but then it was past.

He planted his feet. One of the monster’s feet was already coming forward. The foot-long claws were like daggers; they would tear into his guts and spread his organs all over the ground. His armor would be of no use against a foe that could dig through solid rock the way that a child tore through sand. It was coming, but that inevitable contact was just a distraction; it meant nothing.

A hum filled his head as he thrust upward with Justice. Upward through the leathery flesh under the creature’s jaw, flesh that parted before his sword like taut cloth before the tailor’s shears. Blood spouted down onto his hands, burning as it hissed against his flesh. It meant nothing. The creature, its dim brain feeling pain, started to jerk away, but Corath Dar would not be denied. His hands tightened around the hilt of his sword, and he thrust deeper, penetrating through the back of the creature’s mouth, and then again into hard, muscled flesh. The sword penetrated the roof of its mouth and into the cavernous gap within the interior of its skull. Dar thrust still deeper, the crossguard and hilt of the sword vanishing along with his fists into the opening he had cut in the base of its jaw. He somehow knew when the tip of the blade entered its brain, and he cried out as the power flowed out of him, or through him, into the creature. Order flared where nothing but chaos had existed, and he felt the link binding the creature to life abruptly severed.

But momentum could not simply be destroyed so easily. Everything returned to normal speed even as the claws pierced his gut, and then he was spinning away, his hands empty, clutching at the air trying to regain what he’d lost. By the time he hit the floor, his lower body slick with his own blood, he’d already lost everything but a vague sensation of quiet, and then that too faded into gray as he slipped into unconsciousness.


Chapter 58


A reverberation that was part sound, part echo of raw power, filled the small chamber as Ghazaran struck the red sphere with the dagger-key. The glowing orb withstood the impact, but as the cleric drew back a faint wisp of crimson fog trailed after him, oozing slowly out of a crack in the surface of the sphere. The red beam continued unabated through the shaft that led to the great vault that was the Ravager’s prison, but flickers of light began to play about the interior of the sphere.

Ghazaran stepped forward to continue his destruction of the sphere, but before he could strike it again another entered the chamber, exploding in a sudden flurry of motion from the round tunnel. Letellia darted to the side and spun to a stop as she emerged from that passage. Fresh blood, garish in the red light that filled the room, spread across her body, seeping through her robes. She had not been able to escape the red beam in her navigation of the tunnel, and while her overland flight spell had enabled her to move through it quickly, she had not escaped the painful effects of that deadly ray. She was pale, and had to be weak from the blood she was losing, but the silver staff in her hands did not quake as she focused her attentions on Ghazaran.

“I had hoped to confront Zhunxa here, but his lackey will do,” Letellia said, her voice tightly focused, the antipathy there barely contained.

“Chaos will not be denied,” the cleric said, uttering a word of blasphemy. But when the echoes that dread syllable faded, the sorceress stood there utterly unaffected.

“My soul is not so weak,” she said, lifting her staff. Ghazaran took a step toward her, as if to attack her, or draw close enough to deliver a touch spell. The dagger in his hand looked menacing, but Letellia knew enough to recognize that it was among the least dangerous of the cleric’s weapons. The sorceress drifted back and up, toward the domed ceiling. The chamber was not especially large, but the ceiling was high enough so that she could easily ascend out of his reach. An unarmored man might have been able to leap up and seize her, but it looked like a dubious feat for the armored cleric.

But Ghazaran’s threat had been a feint, for he suddenly reversed course and lunged again at the sphere, the dagger flashing in his hand. But Letellia merely gestured and invoked her magic, and a wall of force sprang into being, cutting the room in half, with her and the cleric on one side, and the glowing sphere on the other. The priest bounced off of the barrier, the mithral dagger scraping harmlessly off its surface.

“It ends here, cleric,” she said. She extended her staff, and bright tendrils of electrical energy began to flicker down its length.

“Yes, it ends here!” Ghazaran shrieked. Lowering the dagger, he drew his other hand from a pouch at his throat, his fingers clenching into a fist around something small in his hand. He fell into a crouch even as Letellia blasted him with a chain lightning spell, the magic empowered by her staff. But the cleric had already called upon his own magic, and even as the last syllable of his incantation were torn from his lips in a scream of pain, he smashed his fist into the floor with what had to be enough force to break bones in his hand. Letellia could feel the power that erupted from that contact, a power augmented by a sudden surge that she could feel but not identify. Something in that surge of power felt... familiar.

The power traveled outward through the surrounding stone, amplifying several times over as the energy from a shattered Tear of the Gods took Ghazaran’s earthquake spell and transformed it into something greater. The chamber buckled as that power seized it, and the magical stone buckled under its grip. The wall of force could not stop the ceiling on both sides of it from collapsing. Letellia darted back in alarm, but she could not escape the sudden deluge of falling stone. The last things she heard were the laughter of the cleric, and a noise that sounded like a million glass crystals being shattered all at once.


First Post
Parzad! That was his name! Thanks.
A couple of questions if you don't mind.
1.The final scene with Dar and the spawn was well-written, but I got the impression that he was somehow bonding with his new weapon. Was something going on other than a really effective attack roll in that scene?

2. Did Ghazaran just use his last Tear there with that earthquake, breaking his promise with Aerim? I seem to recall him saying he had only one left, but I guess he could be lying.
Again, fun read!


Faren said:
Parzad! That was his name! Thanks.
A couple of questions if you don't mind.
1.The final scene with Dar and the spawn was well-written, but I got the impression that he was somehow bonding with his new weapon. Was something going on other than a really effective attack roll in that scene?
Well, remember that Dar had 9 levels of the Battle Scion prestige class, levels that were specifically tied to the sword Valor. The chapter above represented Justice (which included pieces of Valor, after all) awakening to him, so that he could fully draw upon that nascent connection.

In game terms, there wasn't much real effect, since the ravager spawn aren't technically fiends, which most of Dar's custom PrC was geared toward facing. However, I also allowed the re-bonded sword to penetrate the ravager spawn's DR.

2. Did Ghazaran just use his last Tear there with that earthquake, breaking his promise with Aerim? I seem to recall him saying he had only one left, but I guess he could be lying.
Again, fun read!
Heh, pretty much every time Ghazaran opens his mouth, he's lying to someone. Lying when he said that he was out of tears, in the Bloodways, lying again when he told the Seer that he had one more tear, but it wasn't with him (after the first confrontation with Amurru) and lying again when he'd said that he was going to save a tear for Aerim.

Those CE priests, can't trust them at all. :)

* * * * *

Chapter 59


Even as the crumpled form of the beholder trembled its last at his feet, Ozmad stepped over it and approached the brilliant blue orb that floated over the low pedestal in the center of the chamber. He dropped the oversized mattock, knowing that it would be of no use against the seemingly fragile globe that powered the sapphire beam. The dagger with its blue gem was still tucked into his belt, and he drew it out, savoring the cold feel of the bare mithral against his fingers. All of his years of planning were finally coming to fruition. The power contained in this place was vast beyond comparison, and he would soon have possession of it. The release of the Ravager was almost incidental to that goal, but unleashing it should give him time to collect the prizes contained within these spheres, including first of all the one that was now literally within his reach.

But even as he lifted the dagger to destroy the warding sphere, he paused. It was not any remorse or doubt that stayed his hand, but a sudden awareness of power. The ogre mage turned back toward the tunnel, just in time to greet the newcomer that stepped out of the blue beam into the chamber.

“You are persistent, guardian,” he said.

“The Ravager must not be unleashed upon the world again,” the lich said, its voice sounding hollow from within the depths of its skull.

“You grow repetitive,” Ozmad replied. “You cannot defeat me; your sorceries cannot harm me.”

The lich took a step forward, but paused at the edge of the antimagic field, as though it could see the invisible threshold of the effect. The ogre let out a small chuckle.

“A wise decision. Neither your magic nor the fell properties of your undead state will have any effect within my ward.”

But then Amurru said, “I wish that your ability to use antimagic not function for the next sixty seconds.”

Ozmad’s eyes widened in surprise, even as he felt the lich’s invocation take hold. Inside his defensive field, no magic should have worked, yet something tore at his spell from within, and he could feel the familiar tingles as his dormant wards took hold as their normal function returned. Some of them, anyway; most of the shorter-term protections he typically wore had expired since he had originally created the antimagic field.

Ozmad knew that the guardian’s power far exceeded his own; the wish confirmed it if nothing else had. But with the power inside the blue sphere within his grasp, he could not bring himself to flee.

To buy himself a moment’s respite, he invoked a resilient sphere around himself.

But even as the magic flowed at his call, he felt an invisible knife rip through it, sundering the spell. Ozmad’s surprise deepened into a sudden fear... how could the lich have reacted so quickly, so soon after casting another spell?

He realized, too late, that the lich’s dispel magic had been quickened. The ogre tried to teleport away, knowing it was too late, even before the lich invoked a power word that slammed through his spell resistance as though it were not even there, knocking him reeling. Stunned, he desperately tried to clear his mind enough to summon his magic. He was strong enough so that the spell’s effect would last only a few seconds, but the small part of his brain that was not befogged was shouting that the lich would not spend those few moments idle.

Just as the wisps of mental fog were beginning to clear, Ozmad felt a cold chill that stabbed through his body like a knife. Looking down, he saw the lich standing before him, careless of the huge arms that had crushed it once before. Ozmad realized now that he’d critically underestimated this foe, even as the paralysis took hold, and his muscles clenched into frozen immobility. He knew enough of the undead to know that his fate was sealed now, even as gravity took hold of him, and he toppled over, hitting the ground with a loud thump.

He could only see what was directly ahead of him, the chamber floor and a slice of the wall. His senses told him of the lich’s presence, even before he felt its cold hands, prying the blue dagger from his grasp.

“I must attend to your allies,” it said. “But I will return for you. You belong to this place, now.”

Ozmad tried to struggle against the paralysis that held him, but he could only quiver slightly, helpless even to speak a word against the fate that awaited him.


First Post
Ohohoh, and here goes down Ozmad. Really, you should never grow too confident in antimagic a druid would happily demonstrate, especially with a lot of space around. Or a wizard who is willing to cast wish.


First Post
Hah! I wanted to laugh at Ozmad when the lich cast wish. That was very nice fight with a nice use of spells and abilities. I wouldn't want to fight a lich in one of your campaigns Lazybones :).
EDIT: grammer
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First Post
The part that worries me is that the Antimagic Field should come back in 60 seconds. And lich paralysis is (Su).

So hopefully the lich is a lot smarter than I am and has already thought of that one... :)

Maybe Ozmad would have to re-cast the field, which he can't do while paralyzed?


First Post
wolff96 said:
The part that worries me is that the Antimagic Field should come back in 60 seconds. And lich paralysis is (Su).

So hopefully the lich is a lot smarter than I am and has already thought of that one... :)

Maybe Ozmad would have to re-cast the field, which he can't do while paralyzed?
Hmm...nice spot on that. I have to say that the wish was spelled in a strage way. Lets see how it goes on.


wolff96 said:
The part that worries me is that the Antimagic Field should come back in 60 seconds. And lich paralysis is (Su).

So hopefully the lich is a lot smarter than I am and has already thought of that one... :)

Maybe Ozmad would have to re-cast the field, which he can't do while paralyzed?
That did occur to me, and I almost revised the story to have the lich kill the ogre mage outright. But I figured that the dispel that it fired off during the battle could have affected the suppressed spell, and that the lich (with Int 18, Wis 30, and +21 Spellcraft) would know whether the ogre would be able to wiggle out of its effect. I guess I wanted to keep the creepy effect of leaving the ogre alive; I should have known that at least one person would have recognized the "out". :)

* * * * *

Chapter 60


Allera’s mind swum in a haze as she staggered forward through the tunnel. The yellow beam had assaulted her mind from the first step she’d taken, and even through the protective glow of her holy aura, she constantly found herself hesitating, on the brink of being overwhelmed by that constant attack. The beam’s effect did not cause permanent damage, or at least she hoped that was the case, but it clouded the brain, lulling one into a torpor where the mind and body wandered off on separate tangents. She suspected that without her discipline, she would be standing yet in the entrance of the tunnel, caught in a stupor that would likely have lasted until she starved to death.

The self-analysis of her situation helped steady her thoughts, and she became dimly aware of the tunnel opening up into a larger space just ahead. Driving away everything but her goal, she reached the opening and slumped out of the beam.

For a moment she could not make sense out of what she was seeing, and then everything snapped into clarity with an abrupt jolt. Her eyes were drawn first to the golden sphere that was the source of the yellow beam, but then she saw the figure standing next to it, partially obscured by tendrils of golden fog that seeped out of cracks in the sphere. She did not have to get a clear look to recognize Zafir Navev, or rather what the warlock had become.

And then she saw the floating skull, and the darkness she sensed coming off the undead warlock felt like a tiny flicker in contrast. The demilich turned to face her, and she could feel the evil in its stare, with a deep malevolence shining in its gemstone eyes. That hatred was directed at all living things, but Allera felt it as though it was focused upon her personally, as though she was an affront to its very existence. She felt the thing’s power penetrate her, and then she was fighting for her life, trying to marshall her will to hold against the blackness that threatened to drag her soul away. She cried out as she held on, and the darkness drew back, hovering around the edges of her holy aura.

Then Navev hit her with an eldritch blast. The impact knocked her back against the adjacent wall, and for a moment stars floated in front of her vision. She could smell the stink of burned skin where the blast had scored her through the fabric of her robe.

Her own magic was largely depleted, but she was not helpless. Power surged through her, and the healing energy of a mass cure light wounds spell poured outward. She felt the tendrils of magic simply came apart as they touched the demilich, but the spell caused blue fire to flash from gaps in the rotten wrappings covering Navev’s frame. The mummy had already been seriously damaged, she recognized, and now wavered, weakened but not quite down.

Unfortunately, that spell had been her last mass cure.

The realized that the demilich was drifting slowly closer toward her, but it had shifted its attention back to Navev, almost reluctantly, it seemed. A stream of magic missiles erupted from its gemstone eyes, blasting black pits into the mummy’s back. Navev stumbled forward, and sank almost to one knee, off balance.

Allera was already running, her focus entirely upon the foe. Navev seemed to sense her coming, and lifted its head. She was surprised to see—regret?—something almost unreadable in the fading glow of its eyes. If lifted a hand, and the healer tensed, expecting another eldritch blast.

But instead of attacking her, Navev lurched toward the sphere, the mithral dagger coming up in its other hand. Allera launched herself at the mummy, even as fire exploded around her, another attack from the demilich. It had no effect upon Navev, she saw, the flames flickering against the decaying wrappings without catching. Her magic flowed through her, and she pressed her hand against the mummy’s side, unleashing a cure critical wounds spell in the same instant that Navev drove the tip of the mithral dagger through the golden sphere.

A sound filled her, and a bright light swallowed her senses. She was vaguely aware of falling, and then the light burned through everything, until even her consciousness was lost within it.


We're coming up on a cliffhanger of a different sort, tomorrow.

* * * * *

Chapter 61


“Come on angel, wake up. We need you here, Allera... I need you...”

She heard the words as a faint presence against the edge of the muzzled gray that surrounded her. The next ones were louder, but no less insistent.

“Damn it, Maricela, get in here!”

“I...” Allera tried to speak, found the simple word escape her. She tried to get up, but her body felt alien, like an unfamiliar shell. It did not obey her commands.

“Hold on, angel,” he said.

Summoning her will, she forced through the gray with sheer doggedness. As it retreated, she blinked—could blink, unable to keep her eyes open against the bright glow.

She was still in the spherical chamber, lying on the floor, her head cradled in Dar’s lap. The bright light was Dar’s torch; the sphere was gone, and with it the bright yellow glow. But to her damaged eyes the torch seemed like the light of the sun, and everything had a hazy look to it, even Dar’s face slightly indistinct, as though she was looking upon a painting where the artist had blurred out the lines.

“I am all right,” she said, although she felt anything but. Dar put a hand on her shoulder, as if expecting her to try to get up. Instead, she felt at her magic, letting out a sigh of relief as the power of a cure serious wounds spell seeped into her. The magic felt soothing, although her injuries were not just of the body, she knew. But her muscles tingled as control over them returned, and her vision sharpened incrementally, although she still had to avoid looking directly at the torch. Dar noticed her ailment, and shifted the torch behind him with his free hand.

“Thank you,” she said. “I think I can get up, now.”

“Just wait for Maricela,” he replied. She opened her mouth to protest—there was nothing that the priestess could do for her that she herself could not—but froze as she got a look at the pedestal in the middle of the room over Dar’s shoulder. He followed her stare, and held her as she started to struggle, trying to get away.

“It’s all right,” he said. “It’s just a skull, it’s not undead.”

She stopped trying to resist him, and took a deep breath. The skull sat atop the pedestal, and would have been inside the sphere, when it still existed. She could now see that it lacked the gemstones set into it that the demilich had possessed, but she disagreed with Dar in one respect: there was something there, a presence, within the skull. Something ancient, and powerful.

She could hear someone approaching through the tunnel. With the yellow beam gone, passage through it had to be a lot easier than when she had done it, but its circular shape, a low shaft bored straight through the stone, made navigating it still slightly tricky. With Dar helping her, she pulled herself up to a sitting position, deciding it was easier to let Maricela help her if it eased her husband’s worry.

But it was not the priestess of Soleus who appeared in the doorway, but rather Amurru. The lich, still clad in its ancient armor, regarded them with a look that was somehow just as penetrating, just as cold, as the stare she’d gotten from the demilich just a short while before. The creature said nothing, turning and walking to the pedestal. It took up the skull, tucking it into the crook of its arm. It headed back toward the exit, where it paused to look back at them again.

“Come. There is not much time.”


Burningspear said:
Demi lich getting a piggyback? :D

Interesting how you play the attitudes of the undead npc's, not the mummy i mean...he is just evil :D
I see the "good guy" undead as being basically all insane. I mean imagine, they were all living individuals, transformed into immortal undead, incapable of feeling the normal inputs of a corporeal body, tasked with spending thousands of years on what is essentially guard duty with a single "inmate" with whom they don't interact directly. Pretty dull stuff, I'd imagine.

As I noted earlier, we're at sort of an unusual cliffhanger today; I'll post more after this update.

* * * * *

Chapter 62


The difference was immediately evident.

Allera’s stare traveled upward, to where the top of the pyramid of translucent energy approached the summit of the huge chamber. The barrier, however, was now a solid blue, and seemed almost insubstantial, as though she could push through it with a gentle thrust of her hand. She did no such thing, of course, and withdrew from it as she and Dar, following behind Amurru, entered the prison of the Ravager.

“So only one beam is still working,” Dar was asking. Allera drew her attention back to the moment; she could not afford to let her mind wander, even if she was still suffering from the aftereffects of her clash with Navev and the demilich. Suddenly, she realized that she’d seen no trace of either creature in the room with the pedestal. Had the warlock been destroyed?

But as she caught sight of the others, that thought faded into the back of her mind. The entry of the chamber had been the site of a gruesome and terrible battle. The ravager spawn lay in a bloody heap upon the floor near the doorway, its body riven by deep, penetrating cuts. Its head lay at an improbable angle, nearly severed from its thick neck.

The spawn was not the only casualty. Bodies lay nearby, covered with cloaks that were soaked through with blood. Allera did not have to see their faces; she knew them by their absence in the small group of people who were present. Kiron was pulling Aldos’s body over to join the others where they were arrayed in a neat line by the far wall. Maricela was tending to Selaht; while the monk seemed hale and whole now, Allera instantly recognized the hints that indicated that he’d been nearly dead not long ago. The shredded remains of his robe, lying in a puddle near his feet, followed smears of blood that ran all the way to wall, not far from where the dead beast lay.

Zethas and Tertius, the only other survivors, were guarding a pair of captives that knelt nearby, tightly bound and gagged. With a start, Allera recognized one of them as the wizard that they’d battled in that temple of Orcus where Talen had been brought back to life as a vampire. The wizard sagged against his bonds, and looked as though he might collapse at any moment; he looked as though he was in shock, overcome by some unidentified trauma. The other man, clad only in an undertunic and loincloth, had strong features and an expression that was far too calm for this circumstance; he met Allera’s gaze as though he were not restrained, and they were equals meeting in the street. There was something odd about the way he leaned, and it took a few moments for Allera to realize that his left leg was missing at the knee, and likewise his left arm ended suddenly at the elbow. He wasn’t bleeding, at least not as she could see, but she would have guessed that his amputations were recent nevertheless.

Kiron finished his task and straightened as they approached. “Report!” Dar snapped.

“Qatarn, Aldos, and Secundus are dead, sir,” the knight said. He looked haggard, and Allera could tell that he’d been brought back from death’s door by magical healing as well.

“I thought I told you to follow me, with the healer,” Dar returned, an edge on his voice.

“He was in no condition to follow your order,” Maricela snapped, helping the restored monk to his feet. Selaht wavered, and Allera knew that only the monk’s discipline kept him upright; being suddenly restored after taking a beating took something out of a man. She’d seen Dar do it enough, sometimes multiple times during a single battle, but had also seen him pay the price, after. Sometimes it seems that the normal rules just didn’t apply to her husband. “Once you killed that... thing, only Zethas was still on his feet,” the priestess continued, “and we needed him here.” She glanced meaningfully over to the captives. “That one,” she said, nodding at the crippled man, “We found him crawling over the remains of his severed arm and leg to get to his sword. He almost put his knife into Zethas for all that, before Kiron was able to help subdue him.”

“You can cut his freaking throat for all I care,” Dar said. Allera put her hand on his arm and asked, “What about Letellia? She went for the red tunnel, as Aldos went for the blue.” The presence of the dead knight indicated that he had never reached it, but the blue beam remained intact still.

“We found Aldos lying on the ground under the gantry with his neck broken,” Kiron said, “But he took the bastard that killed him with him. I... I don’t know what happened to the sorceress.”

“She failed,” Amurru said. The simple declaration drew them all around, to where the lich stood facing them, the massive blue wall of the Ravager’s prison rising up behind it. “We have all failed, and the Ravager’s time has come. Soon, it will walk free upon the surface of the world again, and there is naught that can stop it.”

“We killed these,” Dar said, nodding in the direction of the slain spawn. “We’ll kill the big one as well.”

“You do not know of what you speak, warrior,” the lich said, its sonorous voice echoing deep from the cavern of its skull. “The Ravager is to these, as dragon is to a newt.”

“How long?” Allera asked. She leaned against Dar, more for the reassuring presence of him, than for her own physical weakness. She knew that she would need a restoration spell to fully recover from her own experience, but there would be time for that later. For now, she focused her attention upon the ancient guardian.

The lich raised its mace like a scepter. “Days. Possibly one, no more than six. And the remaining spawn will likely stir themselves before then.”

“And the beams? They cannot be restored?” Dar asked.

The lich’s cold stare seemed to suggest a negative answer, but after a moment, the creature shifted, and it lifted the skull cradled in the elbow of its off arm. A red glow flickered deep within the cavernous sockets of the skull, and Allera could feel her companions tense, ready for battle even in their depleted state. But while the healer could feel the cold presence that indicated undeath, she felt no malevolence there, only an ancient sadness.

And then a voice issued from the skull, startling her. The voice was that of a woman, speaking in an accented but clear common speech. The words came out in a whisper, but despite the distance Allera could hear them as clearly as if they had been whispered in her ear.

“I am Nycristi, one of the Three set to ward this place, to keep the Ravager bound for all time. Long have I slumbered, but now the bindings falter, and the day against which we have struggled has come. Those who set us here, they knew that it might, knew that entropy is a constant, and all things that are can change. A hundred years, a thousand, a million millions, so long as the Ravager existed, then our watch would continue.”

“So how do we beat it?” Dar asked. He clenched and unclenched his fists, and Allera thought he kept them from the hilt of his sword only through an effort.

“Our civilization was old and mature, and commanded great power. The Ravager was our greatest creation, and our biggest mistake. What was done, could not be undone, only kept bound.”

“But the wards have been broken,” Maricela said. “Can they be restored?”

“It is possible,” Nycristi said. “But it will require a fresh sacrifice. Two new guardians must come forward. The third of our original cabal, Obares Sin, long lost from us and from himself, must be found. Then the ritual may be completed, and the beams restored, if it is successful. It will difficult, and dangerous, and there is no guarantee that it will work. Many died, when the prison was originally created, so many aeons before.”

“I don’t like where this is going,” Dar said. “Speak plainly. What do you mean by a ‘sacrifice’?”

Amurru lowered the skull. “Artifacts of power maintained the beams,” the lich said. “But they were created through the sacrifice of the life energy of the Three. I was one, Nycristi another, and Obares Sin the third. Two beams have failed, and so two more must give all of themselves to save the many.”

“I will make the sacrifice, for Camar,” Kiron said. Maricela gasped, but she met the young knight’s eyes, and nodded, in understanding if not acceptance. “Whatever must be given, I will give it willingly.”

The lich nodded. “You are brave, dragon knight, but your soul is not strong enough to withstand this burden. There are only two here who can complete the ritual.” Its stare left no doubt as to whom it was referring.

Under that stare, Dar and Allera stood quietly, each holding close to the other. Finally, Dar spat. “To the hells with that,” he said. “I’ll take my chances against the beast.”

“I stand with you, my love,” Allera said, “But can we put our lives, even our souls, against those that will die if we do not do what they say?”

“You trust them?”

“I... I do not believe that they are lying. I’ve communed with Amurru, I’ve sensed what’s in there, beyond the barrier. It’s... I cannot describe it, but it is immense, in all senses of the word.” She leaned into him, and shuddered.

Dar reached down and lifted her chin with his hand. “I know it’ll be tough, maybe impossible for us to beat. But you heard what the skull said. The prison will fail someday, eventually, and when that thing gets free, somebody’s going to have to stop it. We may as well do it now.” He looked around at the others, but against the enormity of the decision that faced them, none of them could find anything to say. Finally his gaze dropped back down to Allera, lingering for a moment before he looked back up at the lich.

“You must decide,” the lich said. “The fate of the world is in your hands.”


Okay, readers!

The fate of Camar is in your hands. As I stated before, when I got to this point I paused. I had originally planned on one ending (I won’t say which one), but as I thought about it more, I found myself drawn to the other, ultimately vascillating between them. I have sketched out two plotlines going forward, one where Dar and Allera agree to sacrifice themselves for the good of Camar, and one where they elect to fight the Ravager to the death of one side or the other. Neither choice will be quick or easy for the Camarians, I fear. So which will it be? I’m going to start a poll thead so that my readers can weigh in on the question.

I’ll resume the story on Monday, June 30!

EDIT: the poll thread is located here.
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Chapter 63


"No. It ends here.”

The wind blew cold and hard, tugging on cloaks as though it were angry. Corath Dar stood along the crest of a hill, exposed to the full fury of that breeze, but he paid it little heed as the words replayed in his mind. There were a dozen people close enough to speak to without raising his voice, even with the wind, but standing there, his eyes scanning the surrounding countryside, he may as well have been alone.

There was the entrance to Rappan Athuk, a blemish upon the landscape the drew the eye. But Dar only glanced at that black opening, surrounded now by a lattice of wooden boards that supported a half-dozens ropes that descended into the darkness. His attention was focused more on the adjacent hills, and the buzz of activity that echoed that going on around him.

To his left, he could see a group of men and dwarves assembling another scorpion on the next hill over. They had discarded their cloaks, almost useless against the wind, and they worked quickly and with purpose despite the chill in the air. Completing his circuit of the hills surrounding Rappan Athuk, Dar noted eight of the siege engines, emplaced in positions hastily excavated from good places at the summits where the scorpions could target wide swathes of the surrounding area. There was another crew made up almost entirely of dwarves working in another spot further down, building an onager of some sort. Despite his long martial career he’d encountered many siege engines, but he’d never seen one that looked like that, with a short, almost squat throwing arm attached to a massive axle covered over in heavy cords. The whole sat in a frame the size of a small cottage. Dalvev Gorr, the leader of the dwarf contingent, had not gone into detail on its workings, but if it was as effective as he’d claimed, then it would be an important part of their defense.

His gaze turned to the elves, who were working on something behind a set of folding screens that somehow resisted the force of the wind. He could just make out the outlines of a metal frame, but he couldn’t see any more details from his current vantage.

The arrival of the elves had been as fortuitous as that of the dwarves, but the presence of neither was an accident. Jaduran had not been idle since enabling the wind walking of their party to Rappan Athuk. From what Maricela had told him, sendings had crossed the breadth of the continent in the last week, and more aid was on the way, with reinforcements trickling in every few hours by various magical means. The elvish ambassador had appeared just that morning, teleporting in with five other elves. He’d greeted Mehlaraine Alderis warmly enough, but there had only been time for a few minutes of idle chatter before the pressing hand of time forced them to practicalities. He felt it pushing him, now, from the moment he work in the morning, until the last minutes late at night when exhaustion claimed him. Three days. Three days had passed since they’d left the Vault, and Dar knew that any minute could mark the end of the time they’d thus far been able to eke out.

Selanthas, standing at the edge of the ring of screens, caught his eye and nodded. The elf looked barely older than he’d been when they’d last met, twelve years ago. A few subtle lines around the corners of his eyes, perhaps. Grimacing at the protests of his back, sore from the intense labor he’d been engaged in these last days, Dar thought it was unfair. Still, he was glad to have them, and not just for the skills of Mehlaraine and Selanthas; they’d brought an archmage with them, an elf that looked as though he might have been sixty—and thus was likely somewhere between four and five times that in years. Sultheros had already proven his worth, using his magic to augment their preparations, and from what he’d told Dar his spellpower would be vital in the upcoming confrontation. His apprentice, a slender woman elf named Callyse, had gone off to help Jalla Calestin, who had been helping them secure lumber from the copses several miles to the east using levitate spells in conjunction with flying magic. It was disconcerting, watching women he could have picked up with one hand, streaking low over the hills carrying a log weighing hundreds of pounds. But without them, there would have been no siege engines, and their fortifications would have been much more ad hoc.

“Another cohort of reinforcements will be here before noon, general,” Kiron said behind him. With a single lingering look out over the work going on over the varied hilltops, Dar turned toward the man who had become his second-in-command.

Kiron carried himself with the same easy confidence he’d possessed before, but there was something new as well, a quiet air of experience that Dar had seen before, surrounding veterans who’d survived a difficult engagement. The knight had been almost as busy has he’d been, the last few days, working with the dwarves, humans, and elves that had struggled to prepare this place for what was coming.

“See that they’re situated and given assignments,” Dar said, unnecessarily. Kiron knew the plan almost as well as he did, perhaps better, given his training at the War College that had grown out of Talen’s school at the headquarters of the Order of the Dragon Knights. There were holes in the plan; it was impossible that there wouldn’t be, given the haste with which they had to put it together, and the nature of the thing that they faced. It was possible that Allera and Amurru were right, that they wouldn’t be able to stop it. But even if they fell, they would do their best to give Jaduran and Camar time to prepare.

To prepare. For what? Armageddon? Dar couldn’t fully stifle a wry laugh at the thought. He’d refused to sacrifice himself and Allera for a chance to restore the prison that held the Ravager, but if they’d failed, the two of them were only going to be among the first that lost their lives. It was too late to turn back now, but there was only one thing that could stop the stabbing knives of doubt that kept pushing at his gut.

“Something the matter, general?” Kiron asked.

Dar waved a hand. “No, I’m fine. Where’s Allera?”

“She was talking with the prisoner, last I saw her,” the knight replied. Dar’s expression darkened, and his hand fell to the hilt of Justice. “Do you think he’s really as old as he claims to be?” Kiron asked.

“I don’t care either way,” Dar said. “He didn’t have anything useful to tell us about the Ravager, and that makes him just another hindrance.” More than that, perhaps. They’d sent their other prisoner, the enemy wizard, along with a pair of guards back to the secondary camp they’d set up about a mile back from the area, off to the northeast. The idea for the camp had originally been a necessity, to give their teams a chance to rest and recover in a protected spot far enough away from the constant activity surrounding the entrance. Dar had initially intended to send Aerim back with him, but the man had suddenly fallen ill almost immediately after leaving the close environs of the entrance. The guards had been alert for a scheme, but Allera had confirmed that the man was too weak to move, and that his breathing had nearly faltered entirely. He’d recovered when they’d brought him back, and now was kept carefully bound in the tent set up for quick workbreaks between a clump of boulders in the lee of two of the hills facing Rappan Athuk. Of course, in the long run they were going to have a problem if they couldn’t move the self-declared “Duke” from the immediate environs, but that was an issue for after. If there was an after.

“Any word from the guardian?” Kiron asked.

“If it had contacted me, I wouldn’t have kept it a secret,” Dar snapped. “I’m sorry. If Allera was here, she would have put me in my place for that.”

“It’s a lot of pressure,” Kiron said, and Dar realized that the young man felt it, although he seemed to be doing a better job of hiding it than he was. Dar’s gaze dropped to the unusual weapon riding on the man’s hip. “You figure out how to use that thing?”

“Yes. I mean, it’s strange, and the weight’s a bit off, but it’s basically just like my sword. Almost too much like it, in fact. And it’s strange, the way that it... changes. And how it goes through a boulder like it’s not even there, but it sliced a chicken in half like the world’s sharpest razor, bones and all.”

“The elf called it a ‘brilliant energy’ weapon. The guardian says we’ll need it to stop the bastard.” He didn’t add that Amurru had tried to get him to carry it. He’d refused, and it wasn’t just the new bond he’d felt growing between himself and Justice. The lich’s weapon had felt somehow wrong, as though it were resisting him. The knight didn’t seem to have any problem with it, and Dar was content to leave it be.

But the thought of the lich opened other doors in his memory. Amurru had promised to notify them via a sending once the Ravager or its spawn penetrated the failing prison. The defenses of its vault were no longer regenerating, ever since the power sources bolstering the pyramid had collapsed; the complex would not slow the spawn for long, let alone the larger creature. The lich had briefed them on the properties of the creature, but they’d already divined most of them in their encounters with the spawn. The thing regenerated quickly, and drew strength from the injuries it inflicted upon others. They would have to strike fast and decisively. It had some innate resistance to magic, but lacked the potent spell resistance of most fiends. It was, however, utterly immune to magic that would drain it, or which could kill it outright. Not that a death spell would have any affect upon a creature of its raw stamina, in any case.

The Ravager itself was at its simplest just a larger and stronger version of the spawn. But for all its legendary prowess, it was mortal. It could be killed. But it wasn’t going to be easy.

And there had been one more thing that Amurru had told them, in response to something Allera had said about diamonds and resurrection magic. Apparently the greater beast had the ability to sunder a soul from its anchor, to devour a living creature so thoroughly that even the most powerful magic could not bring it back across the veil. It seemed almost overkill, but it reinforced the finality of this confrontation, if they needed another reason.

Dar hadn’t realized where his feet had been carrying him until he looked down into the bowl nestled between several hills, at the fluttering tarp that marked the top of the temporary camp. The place was little more than a niche in the rocks, a sheltered place where the defenders could grab some hot tea, or maybe, if they were lucky, an hour’s nap in between shifts. A few people were coming up out of the tent now, a man clad in the breastplate of the Watch accompanying a pair of young clerics of Soleus, one man, one woman. They had over a hundred people here now, and more were on the way. But Dar knew that numbers alone would not decide this fight.

“Are you going down?” Kiron asked him. Dar almost started; he’d nearly forgotten the knight’s presence. But of course, he hadn’t dismissed the young man, who would have stayed there until the end of time, maybe. No, that wasn’t quite fair; the knight was not an automaton, and he’d demonstrated tactical initiative on several occasions just in the limited time they’d been together. But he had a strong sense of duty that Dar couldn’t quite identify with.

His fist tightened around the hilt of his sword. Or maybe he could.

He turned away from the narrow, steep track that led down to the tent. “No,” he said. “I—”

But he abruptly trailed off, his eyes growing unfocused as he stared at nothing. Kiron saw it, and tensed.

“Is it—”

But Dar’s response was already coming. “INCOMING!” he yelled, loud enough so that his voice sounded over the wind, filling the valley between the hills, rebounding from the jagged ridges on the far side.

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