Macen Illustri's thoughts on Demos's speech had been much the same as those of his brother. Of course, Macen knew perfectly well that their parents thought the same way; but unlike Benj, they'd never say so. At least, not without using the same opinion to back up an almost completely opposite perspective on... He sighed, not wanting to go down that road of thought yet again. It was so boring, tedious, and pointless. As luck would have it, his sigh came just as the concert began, which led directly to a new line of thought: he supposed his brother and parents would interpret his sigh as indicative of displeasure at having to sit through orchestral music. The thought of this misinterpretation disturbed him for only a few moments, before he found himself sighing again; this time, in fact, because he wasn't enjoying the music.
It's not that bad, he said to himself, I just can't see how anyone can sit through it as long as they do. If each piece lasted a few centhours, like a normal song, it'd be fine. Except, of course, that the next piece, and all those that followed, would sound virtually identical to me. Though I suppose that can be just as true as some of the styles of music I do like; variety is subjective. Still and all, I really do think lyrics can help differentiate one song from another, unlike this purely instrumental stuff. In fact, maybe if someone put some words to this, used the music as more of a background than a foreground thing... But nah, for that to work, the singing would most likely have to be a style, well I can't quite imagine it exactly, but no doubt it'd be a style I'd like even less than the instrumentation itself....
His thoughts went on in this fashion for some time, and it was about twenty-five centhours after the concert began that Macen's musings were interrupted by a quiet chirp from one of his t-mail bubbles, just as the second composition was beginning. Looking down at the bubble, which had been set to display text which automatically identified the caller, Macen read the name "Tulo Streetrat." He knew that one of his best informants wouldn't be contacting him unless he had valuable information to impart, so he excused himself, quickly exited the spectator box, and then the park itself. Once he'd made his way to someplace thoroughly private, he returned the call.
Tulo answered immediately. "Salutations, Mr. Illustri. Enjoying the concert?"
Macen knew that Tulo knew his feelings about such music, and was therefore making one of his dry attempts at humor. The street rat's delivery was always so matter-of-fact, so devoid of any discernible emotion, that those who didn't know him as well as Macen did would think he was serious. In fact, most of Tulo's acquaintances were under the impression that he had no sense of humor whatsoever. At first Macen sighed, momentarily feeling that he wasn't in the mood for jests, but then suddenly realized the longer they took to get to the point, the longer he could wait before returning. Which was good, because while the first piece of music had seemed interminable, he knew it would probably be the shortest piece in the entire concert. Damned preludes, he thought to himself, before putting on a smile and responding to Tulo's query. "Oh, indubitably. I daresay it was only with the greatest reluctance that I managed to tear myself away in order to answer your call, so whatever you have to say had damned well best be of vital importance to national security. ...By the by, how's every little thing with you, these days?"
"Oh, can't complain. I mean, one can always complain, but sometimes it'd just be for the sake of complaining; you know, idle conversation. And of course it's best we get straight to the business at hand..."
"Oh, no, surely we've time for a friendly chat! I'd like-" but suddenly he cut himself off and said instead, "I mean, of course. Fun is fun, but if it really is of immediate importance... do proceed."
Tulo smiled inwardly (he almost never smiled outwardly), and replied, "Well, I'm sure it could wait until after the concert..."
Macen sighed. "No, no, no. Enough of that game. Seriously, what's up?"
"It's about the Chaos. It seems they're here in Triscot."
"Hardly surprising, given that they were last seen in Tanq. Although it is a bit odd that our people in InterGang haven't spotted them yet. Well, no doubt they're preoccupied with that impending Illuminatus matter, whatever it turns out to be."
"No doubt," agreed Tulo. "In any event, the street rat who's traveling with Lonewander and the others was just talking with a group of 'rats in whose company I happened to be. Apparently, he's been recruiting 'rats in every village the Chaos have been to over the past few weeks. The leader of this particular group has promised to speak to other local 'rats on his behalf, and no doubt Tiejo has friends in other villages doing likewise."
Macen suddenly turned quite serious. "Wait. You're saying the street rat who's with the Chaos is Tiejo?"
"Ah, I thought that would get your attention."
Macen turned his head and chewed his thumb in contemplation. "Damn, I thought we'd seen the last of him," he said, half to himself. Turning back to the bubble, he said, "Well then, I think we know where they'll be heading next. To be sure, this information should prove useful. In fact, I think I ought to contact Demos tonight, after the bubblecast. So, was there anything else you had for me?"
"Not really. Though perhaps I should mention that I've been thinking recently, it would be much easier to keep track of potential enemies of the state, or even common criminals, if their images could be passed around among contacts such as myself, or the police, or even spies within the gangs. The vast majority of people who are looking for the Chaos don't even know what its members look like, which obviously severely hampers the search. In fact I'd say it's not as odd as you suggest that they can go about their business without being detected. It's a stroke of luck that I happened to encounter Tiejo myself, and that I remembered his face from ten years ago."
"Yes, and lucky too that he didn't recognize you."
"Indeed, though I don't think he was ever aware of my position, when last we met. I was, at the time, basically just on the sidelines, after all. In any event, I covertly recorded his face tonight, though it really is absurd that we can use magic to capture video, but not mass-produce still images. Perhaps a video bubble could be somehow hooked up to a printing press..."
"An interesting thought. I suppose I could mention it to Zeke, or somebody..."
"Actually, I was thinking about it, too, when Demos mentioned 'drawings and portraits' in his speech. I'm sure such a combination of magic and technology, for producing more accurate images of people, would be useful for more than just manhunts. It could also be used for increasing the recognition factor of politicians and other noteworthy individuals, between villages. It could certainly save periodical publishers time and money by not relying on illustrators so much. Especially now, with this whole 'movie' and 'radio' business about to take off; surely a great many actors and musicians will become famous, and people might pay for images of them."
"Not sure I know this word 'radio,' but I assume it refers to the audio-only bubblecasts that are planned."
"Just so. Anyway, there were any number of aspects of Demos's speech which I found interesting. Put me in mind of old times..."
Macen was sure he knew what Tulo meant by that; it led him to reply, "Come to think of it, since I'm going to be talking with Demos tonight anyway, I might as well mention this image-printing idea of yours."
With a slight bow of his head, Tulo replied, "You're too kind, sir."
During the king's speech, Poss Primus had exchanged a glance or two with his lieutenant at certain points. They were both concerned about some of what Demos was saying, and they both knew it was up to the marshal to reassure the men and women of both the Army and the Navy (starting with the people in this room) that they'd still have jobs, after the election. But Primus was feeling very tired; too tired to allay the fears of the present company. He sat at the back of the room, and those assembled began turning to face him after the address was concluded.
Primus tried to collect his thoughts, but at present his mind was skipping forward to the call he knew he'd have to make later that night. The people under his command knew he wouldn't offer them false assurances, but that left him with very little he could say. Once again, he wished he could have talked with Demos earlier. As the music began emanating from the bubble-screen, Primus stood up, and rubbed his temple. Before he could speak, Gregory deCamp rose from his seat on the marshal's left, nodded toward the hand Primus was holding to his head, and quickly asked, "Head still bothering you, sir?"
Primus knew instantly what his lieutenant was up to, and without missing a beat, he grumbled, "I'm afraid so."
DeCamp replied, "Well, perhaps it's best not to sit around listening to a symphony, then."
"You're right, of course, but an old soldier like me isn't going to let a little thing like a headache stand in the way of duty..."
"Marshal, I'm in charge of your schedule, so I know full well that you're not currently on duty. Your presence has been appreciated by everyone here, but I'm sure no one will mind if you retire for the evening, as you normally would have done hours ago. Honestly, sir, I think we're all quite capable of enjoying a concert without your supervision."
Primus allowed himself a fleeting smile, and said, "Very well, Lieutenant, you win. As usual." Turning to the woman on his right, who had stood up moments after deCamp had done, the marshal said, "Colonel, I'll leave this assembly in your capable hands, if you don't mind."
Siobhan Muttonchop flashed a warm smile and replied, "Of course, Marshal. Though of course you realize I'm not on duty, either..."
The marshal chuckled at that, as did some of the troops listening to the entire exchange (those close enough to hear it over the music). He said, "Your dedication is exemplary, as always. Clearly, your reputation for going above and beyond the call of duty is well-earned. Well, good night, then. Do enjoy the concert."
"Good night," said the colonel.
Primus nodded a farewell to the troops, and the lieutenant saw him to the door. When they stepped into the hallway, closing the door behind them, deCamp asked, "So, I expect you'll be calling the king, rather than wait for your appointment on Wor'ginday?"
With a conspiratorial grin, Primus replied, "Assuming I can shake this damnable headache. Of course, I'll have to wait until after the concert, anyway."
DeCamp sighed. "Well, I'm guessing that'll be at least an hour yet. Perhaps a headache is just the thing you need to keep you awake til then."
"Perhaps, though I can think of some remedies I'd like to try, but they'd probably just put me to sleep."
"Well, maybe it'll disappear on its own. Some medications are best not used before an interview with one's boss. Especially this boss; might give him too much incentive to make new laws against such things."
"Oh, would you look at that! All of a sudden my head feels fine. ...But don't tell anyone in there," he said with a nod to the door behind them. "If I had to go back in there, I really might get a headache."
"Your secret's safe with me, sir. As always."
"Thank you, Lieutenant, that's much appreciated. And thanks for getting me out of there in the first place. If I'm to properly represent my people, I'll need time to get my thoughts together. That hour you mentioned will be well spent, believe me."
"You're welcome, sir. And good luck."
"I'll need it. Now get back in there and enjoy the rest of the concert. That's an order... which holds whether either of us is on duty, or not."
DeCamp grinned and said, "Of course, sir." And with a quick salute, he returned to the common, as Primus headed back to his office.
As Darius and the others entered the barn, they suddenly saw two figures jump out of the back of the wagon. The strangers immediately drew swords, and the Chaos members (excepting Tiejo) did likewise, assuming a defensive posture. By the light of lanterns hanging nearby, it could be seen that the figures were both boys in their early teens, though they looked like they had training and experience in handling swords. One of them called out, "State your business!"
Darius replied calmly, "Why don't you state yours?"
"This wagon belongs to... a friend. We've just arrived this evening for a visit, but found he wasn't home. We figured since his wagon is here, he wouldn't have gone far, and would likely be back soon. So we're waiting for him. Your turn."
"The wagon's owner is a friend of ours, as well. We're supposed to meet him here."
"How do you know Evan?"
"He's a business associate."
The second boy, the one who hadn't spoken yet, said, "Yeah, you look like about the type he'd do business with."
"As do you two," said Darius.
Tom mumbled, "Must like his business associates young."
Everyone ignored the comment. Still addressing Darius, the first speaker said, Still, I wonder how we can be sure you're not here to rob the place."
"Well, we could ask the same of you. But to answer your question, if I was going to rob a noble estate, I think I'd try the manor, rather than the barn."
"Fair enough. But it could be that you already tried the manor, and found it quite impregnable. Maybe you thought you'd see if there was something in here that'd make your efforts, you know... not entirely wasted."
"Fair enough," echoed Darius. "Well then, I think the only reasonable solution is for all of us to wait for Evan to arrive, so he can confirm each of our stories."
As it turned out, they didn't have long to wait; just a few centhours later, Evan walked into the barn. The two boys were standing to the left of the wagon, while Darius and his allies stood to the right; all but Tiejo, who sat on a hay bale against the wall. No one had put away their swords, but neither were they pointing them at each other, anymore.
Evan looked from one side to the other, and grinned. "Ah, Doog, Thew, what a pleasant surprise. Darius, I see you've met your cousins."
Everyone looked at Evan in surprise, then each party looked at the other. "Darius?" asked Thew (the primary speaker). "You mean he's your...?"
"Son, yes. He and his friends got here a couple of days ago. By the way, Thew, we got your letter, so I should say I didn't mean it was a surprise to see you; but we didn't know Doog would be with you."
"Well, I didn't know myself, I just happened to run into him when I got into town tonight. So we returned to the estate together. When we found your wagon was here, we figured you'd be back soon, and we could ride back to the other estate with you. But then they showed up."
By now, everyone had gotten over their shock, and Tom asked Darius, with some annoyance, "How could you not know your own cousins?"
"Well, the last time I saw them, they were like six. They've changed a bit since then."
Addressing Darius's cousins, he said, "And you didn't recognize him, either, eh?"
"He's changed, too," offered Thew. "And also, we were six. I doubt our long-term memories were fully developed; besides which, it's been about nine years since we saw him. That's half again as many years of not knowing him as years of knowing him."
"More, if you consider our long-term memories really weren't developed for at least the first couple years of 'knowing' him," added Doog.
"Well, now that that's settled," said Evan (or as he might now safely be called, Adam), let's all get home. It's been quite a long day for everyone."
"Damn right," agreed Tom, who immediately sheathed his sword and started climbing into the wagon.
As everyone else put away their own swords, Darius said, "Oh, but Jasp had something he wanted to talk to everyone about. Assuming the others are still up when we get back."
"That's right," said Jasp. "I'd almost forgotten."
"What a relief to know Darius isn't the only absent-minded one in the group," said Tom dryly.
Everyone got in back, except Adam, who sat up front to drive. Once they were under way, Thew says, "So, Darius... maybe I would've recognized you if your picture appeared in any of your books, like some authors' pictures do."
"Well, I enjoy my anonymity. Besides, I'd be too impatient as well as self-conscious to sit still while an illustrator drew my picture. Anyway... you've read my books?"
"Yeah, actually they're one of the things that made me want to become an adventurer, myself. And now that I am, they make good reading material while I'm on the road, or camping out in some forest. In fact, I just finished your latest book, before getting into town." He added with a grin, "By the way, did I ever mention I hate you?"
Darius returned his grin and said, "Oh yeah, Joss mentioned you and he both want to be writers. Well, like I told him, I'll see what I can do to help. Though considering you're already a world-traveler, and my mother said you and he both go by 'Protestant' rather than 'Lonewander,' I don't know why you don't just use that name. It's common enough, shouldn't raise any suspicions."
"Well, I probably will. I haven't been adventuring very long, though; I mean, I'm only fourteen. Your own first book wasn't published til you were older than that, I think. I figured I should get some experience as an adventurer before I try doing any serious writing of my own, I mean anything I'd consider potentially worthy of publication."
"Right, of course. Anyway, good luck with that...."
They all rode on in silence for the remainder of the short trip home.
"Well, that was wonderful, wasn't it?" Demos asked rhetorically. He smiled as it occurred to him that rhetorical questions are so much better when the people you're talking to aren't actually there, and the communication is only one way. He made a quick mental note to talk to one of the Sorreters in his employ about a possibility which suddenly occurred to him: designing bubble-speakers which might covertly listen in on the unwitting public. But he gave it no more than a moment's passing thought, as he was in the middle of his closing remarks. "I hope you've all enjoyed tonight's concert as much as I have. Good night, my loyal subjects, and sleep well!"
With that, he ended the transmission. Bubble-screens around the world went dark, and after a moment of static, bubble-speakers fell silent. Turning to the orchestra, Demos said, "Thank you kindly, everyone. It was perhaps your finest performance to date... it makes me wonder if you've been holding back a small fraction of your true potential, when you were just playing for me and my friends. But I'll try not to take it personally." There was a brief swell of quiet laughter from the pit, as the musicians began putting away their instruments. "Good night, and have a safe trip to your homes. The streets are sure to be crowded, and I don't doubt there'll be some pickpockets among the crowds. Do take care."
Even before all the musicians had made their way out of the throne room, Demos's private t-mail bubbles began chiming. He waited until the last of the orchestra had exited and shut the door behind them, before sighing and answering the first bubble.
"Marshal Primus, I trust you enjoyed the concert?"
"Actually, your majesty, I-"
"Good, splendid. Listen, I'm dreadfully sorry to cut this short, but you must understand, it's been a terribly long day. I'd gladly postpone my slumber a brief while to talk with you, but I'm afraid there are many other calls I must answer before I sleep; calls from people who either don't have appointments with me in the near future, or have appointments farther off than yours. I know you've been anxious to speak with me about I'm sure very important matters, but unless you have to report that war is imminent, which I'm sure you would have made known sooner than this if it were, I really must insist on waiting until Wor'ginday. I'm sure you're every bit as tired as I, after your long trip and all the day's excitement. So please try to get a good night's sleep, and relax tomorrow. The very next morning, I intend to listen with rapt attention to all you have to say, and answer any questions you may have to your complete satisfaction. For now, well, I expect you have some concerns over certain points in my speech earlier tonight, but there is no need to worry. All will be well, I assure you, so get some rest, and rest easy. Good night!" And he cut the connection.
An hour well spent, indeed, thought Primus to himself. With a sigh, he resigned himself to the situation. Oh well, so I get one more day to compose my thoughts. Perhaps it's for the best. At least now I can have that drink, and I'm sure a good night's sleep really will do me some good... Meanwhile, King Demos dealt with the rest of his incoming calls from various friends and fellow politicians, getting rid of most callers even more quickly than he had Poss Primus. It was a nuisance, having to listen to so many people who had nothing better to say than "Great music tonight; really looking forward to watching some magical movies soon, ha ha." He wished he could just ignore them all, but instead he grinned and told himself, After all, one must be politic about these sorts of things.... Oh yes, I like that, I'll have to remember to use that line, sometime.
Once the last of the callers had been attended to with just the right mix of patience and haste, Demos took a few moments to close his eyes and simply breathe. Then, he made a call of his own. Taking a very special t-mail bubble from a magically locked drawer, he said, "Mr. Gold for Mr. Yellow."
It was not long before his call was answered. "Your Majesty, good to hear from you. I enjoyed your speech, and your orchestra, as always. But it's late, I'm sure you must be tired, as am I. I suppose this is important."
"Important, yes, though not too urgent. Still, I thought you wouldn't want to be disturbed on We'ginday, and I did want to speak with you before Wor'ginday."
"Ah yes, you have a meeting that morning with Marshal Primus, I believe. I've heard he's been trying unsuccessfully to move that meeting up. He must be quite anxious to talk to you about something."
"Congressman, you are as well informed as ever. Might you have any idea what weighs so heavily on his mind?"
"I'm sure you know as well as I, and I'm sure that's why you called. That bloody Colonel Supprus has been poking around in our affairs, and I fear he may be getting close to learning something potentially damaging. He couldn't possibly have proof of anything, as yet, but I'd be surprised if he hadn't at least hinted about his suspicions to the marshal, by now. Of course, there's nothing we can do to silence Supprus without lending credence to his claims, so the situation must be handled delicately. Which makes me wonder how wise it is to be hinting, yourself, about the possible demise of the military. That kind of talk is bound to put Primus on the defensive."
"But Congressman, I thought you said you liked my speech," said Demos in a mock-wounded tone, and with a devious grin. "Anyway, I thought I made it clear that the military would at least do better with me in office than someone like Localpride. Which is not to say I don't want Primus concerned about what I might decide. After all... if things don't go our way in Su'yet, we'll need him on our side. And my feeling is, if he wants me to act favorably toward him and his people, he should do all he can to make me happy."
Daily shook his head. "Yes, yes, but it's a dangerous game you're playing. In the first place, you may just make him feel he'd be better off without you. But perhaps more importantly, he sees himself as a tool of the system, not the other way around. Not like you. If you fail to accept the dictates of the system, a man like Poss Primus may very well feel it his duty to oppose you, even if he knows it means he'll be hurting himself. So... just be careful how you handle him, okay?"
"Of course. But Feng..." and now Demos's tone and countenance both grew quite serious, "assuming you're right, and he does turn against us... I'm counting on you to ensure there are more soldiers and sailors loyal to me, rather than to him. I'm also counting on you to deal with the Supprus problem. Quietly."
Daily sighed. "Naturally, your majesty. Things will be ready on my end, if necessary. But meanwhile... I'd advise you to concentrate on winning the election, so none of this will even matter."
"Naturally, Congressman. Well, good night."
"Good night, your majesty."
Darius, Adam, Doog, Thew, Tom, Alecstar, Jasp, and Tiejo walked into the living room, where they found Alyn, Cameron, Ginger, Emma, Tino, and Cara all waiting. Darius began to have a mild panic attack from being around so many people, but mentally chided himself, Idiot, you've just spent the evening surrounded by way more people than this; and these are your friends and family. Get a bloody grip.
Doog, meanwhile, grinned when he saw his sister, and said, "Hello, Miss MakeDo, how ya make-doing?"
Cara smiled back and replied, "Oh, hi, Mr. MakeDo. I'm quite well, how 'bout you? Actually, I've been meaning to say, don't you think 'Doog MakeDo' sounds a bit sillier than 'Cara MakeDo'?" With a little laugh and a wave of her hand, she hastened to add, "Oh well, it doesn't matter. A lot of Landians have silly names. Anyway, maybe after Darius's rebellion, we'll both start calling ourselves Lonewander. We'll see."
Doog turned to Darius and asked, "What's this about a rebellion?"
"Oh, nothing, my friends and I were just thinking of overthrowing the government, or whatever. I dunno. A better question is, how did you have nothing better than 'how ya make-doing?' I was given to understand you'd been planning to embarrass your sister in front of the family, next time you were both here. Surely you've had time to come up with something better than that. You know, I almost mentioned to you back in the barn that Cara was here, but then I remembered this whole silly surname thing, so I kept silent, so as not to spoil the surprise. So you could say whatever you had to say to her, and she could make a comeback. Now I'm just disappointed."
"Well, I, uh, had something better, but... I didn't want to waste it in front of a room full of strangers and hardly any family at all."
"Oh, I'm sorry," said Cara. "Maybe I should've just gone to bed, and surprised you with my presence at breakfast tomorrow. But since I'm sort of part of the rebellion now, I wanted to stay up and hear what um, that guy had to say," and she pointed at Jasp. "Sorry, I don't remember your name."
"It's Jasp Underground," said Jasp. "Now if everyone's done with this nonsense, I'm sure we all want to get some sleep." He waited a few seconds, and no one spoke, so he took a deep breath, and continued. "Okay. So, earlier today, I was surprised by a visit from Cabbit, who I've mentioned to some of you is an old friend, as well as one of the spies who work for me back in Tonad. She was accompanied by our chief Sorreter, Merril RD. Apparently, Chief RD is going to Woodstockade sometime in the next couple of days, to secretly meet with one of InterGang's sorcerers there, Silas Des'Caina. And I've been offered a chance to join him. Which, as some of you already know, is something I've been wishing I could do. Cabbit also mentioned that once the new t-mail network is up, there'll be no need for the Chaos to have a liaison with LandOrder; you'll be able to contact us yourselves. Though of course we're still waiting to hear whether that actually happens or not; if it doesn't, I suppose I'll stay with you all. But if it does, I'll be leaving fairly soon. I definitely can't wait more than a day or two."
Jasp waited for reactions, and in a moment, Darius spoke up. "Well... it's been good having you with us, and t-mail is no substitute for having a person handy. Especially, you know, since we can't be pestering your dons- I'm assuming only the capo and dons would be given these special bubbles- with any little question we have. It's definitely convenient having someone, especially someone as knowledgeable about pertinent matters as you are, around to explain things to us. You've been most helpful, and also... well, you know, not unpleasant to be around. So, like, I very much hope to see you again, and... best of luck finding out what you can from Des'Caina."
When Darius was finished, Emma exclaimed, "Jasp, we'll all miss you! And maybe next time we meet- which we definitely shall- you can introduce us to Cabbit."
Jasp smiled and said, "Maybe. Anyway, it's funny... not long before Cabbit and RD showed up today, I was thinking about how much I missed Tonad. But now that I'm about to leave, I'm struck by how quickly I've gotten used to you all. That doesn't happen to me often." With a glance at Darius he added, "As I'm sure it doesn't happen much to you. It really is nice to meet people it's not unpleasant to be around."
"Well," said Tom, "if you're not leaving right this centhour, I suppose there's no need to say goodbye tonight. So, if that's all the business at hand, perhaps it's finally time for bed."
"Actually," said Darius, "I thought maybe we could all compare notes on what each of us did today, while we were separated."
"Then what would we talk about over breakfast?" asked Tom. Without waiting for a reply, he said, "Good night, everyone," and exited the room.
After a few moments of silence, Alyn said, "Well, Darius, tomorrow is We'ginday. I know when you were a kid you didn't much like going to church, but nowadays none of us can go. So, church comes to us. I trust you won't mind joining your clan in listening to Spivin's service."
"I guess not."
"We'll be there, too," said Ginger, referring to herself and Tino, whose arm she was holding.
"Of course, everyone's welcome to attend. Well, breakfast should be served around Second One, and the service begins at Second Three. It shouldn't last more than an hour, after which the day is free, so everyone can do what they will, either here or in town. Though probably a lot of businesses will be closed for the day, I'm sure some things will be open."
Everyone nodded, and 'good night's were said as they all headed to their rooms. As Darius walked down the hall, he heard Doog saying to Cara, "Seriously, what's up with this rebellion thing...?"
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