Brigands in the Woods: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Box by Connie Cockrell

Lord Belsing closed his book as he heard his coachmen yelling, “Whoa!” What was this? It was still half a day to Lord Releh’s castle. He heard the Captain of the Guard shouting orders. Belsing pulled the curtains and stuck his head out of the carriage window

He saw guards lined up on either side of the carriage, six more were ranked across the road in front of the carriage horses, Captain Udon in the front. Beyond him were masked men, highway men from the look of them.

“Give us your gold,” the lead highwayman said. “No one will be harmed.”

Captain Udon’s horse danced, the Captain brought the horse back into line without effort. “Be off with you, brigand. You’ll get no gold from us.” He moved his hand to his sword hilt.

The brigand eyed the Captain then the carriage. “Those are Lord Belsing’s colors, Captain. He has enough to share. We’ll spare you, your men and the lord if you accede to our demands.”

“Fancy talk for a thief,” the Captain snarled. “Ready!” he called.

The guards drew their swords. The guard beside Lord Belsing’s window said, “Better get inside, my lord.”

Belsing thought not. He was on his way to propose to Lady Nyesta Releh and wanted this business done and without bloodshed. He was about to get out of the carriage when he heard rustling. He looked into the woods. There, men came out from behind tree trunks and boulders, all ready to fire their bows. They outnumbered the guard five to one. He opened the carriage door and descended.

“Gentlemen,” he called.

Captain Udon didn’t turn around. “Please return to the carriage, My Lord. I’ll deal with this scum.

Belsing strode to the Captain and addressed the brigand. “Sir. Would three purses of gold satisfy you?”

The brigand laughed. “I can see the chests in your supply wagon. You carry more than three purses of gold.”

Belsing sighed. He didn’t want to treat with this man at all. “May I have your name, Sir, since you so clearly know mine.”

The brigand gave a jaunty salute. “Iristan, My Lord. Prince of the woodlands.”

“I’ve heard of you, Prince Iristan. You’re causing a great deal of trouble on the roads.”

Iristan bowed. “Thank you, My Lord. Now, if we could have at your supply wagon.”

Captain Udon drew his sword. “Hold, ruffian. Or you will meet my sword.”

Iristan laughed. He flicked his hand. A circle of arrows hit the ground encircling the Captain’s horse.

Belsing jumped as three of the arrows whizzed past him.

Iristan patted his horse on the neck to sooth it. “You are surrounded and outnumbered. There is no need for you or your men to die today.”

Belsing raised his hand. “Hold Captain. Let us walk back to the supply wagon with Prince Iristan.”

“My Lord!” The Captain began.

“Come, Prince.” Belsing waved to the brigand. “Let us complete this business and we’ll be on our way.”

“By your leave, My Lord.”

Belsing marched back to the wagon and stopped next to the driver. Iristan rode behind him and the Captain followed as half of Iristan’s men came out of the woods to the road. “There,” Belsing said. “The chests of gold are marked. Please leave the rest.”

Iristan made a small gesture and his men came forward. Two men jumped up into the open wagon and hauled the small chests to the back and handed them down to their fellows. “Take just four,” Iristan called to his men. “After all, Lord Belsing must pay his way on his journey.”

Belsing was relieved at that. While he was a Lord, gold didn’t grow on trees and he didn’t have much compared to the other Lords. Udon grumbled under his breath.

Iristan rode up to the wagon and looking in. He picked up a highly-polished box, hinges, clasps and corners capped with fine brass and inlayed with mother of pearl in a swirling leaf design. “This, I’ll keep for myself.”

“No!” Belsing leapt forward. “You cannot have that.”

Iristan wheeled his horse around, box still in his hand. “Why not?”

Belsing swallowed to calm himself. “That is a gift for Lady Releh. A…a proposal gift.”

Iristan laughed. “Men! Lord Belsing is going to propose!” They all laughed. He looked back to Belsing. “What’s in the box?”

Beside him, Belsing could see Captain Udon’s sword rise. “Please. It’s a very rare tea. Grown in China. I’ve had men gone for two years to bring it to me for this gift.”

“A great treasure then.” Iristan put the box in his lap. “What say you, men? Should we give the Lord his tea back?”

Some good naturedly shouted yes, some no. Belsing’s stomach clenched. The Lady was known to love tea. He wanted the box back. “Man-to-man, Prince, return the Lady’s gift.”

Iristan looked around him. Belsing could see his eyes dancing with merriment. “It would be cruel to send the Lord to his proposal with no gift.” Iristan handed the box to Belsing. “Take it and good fortune.”

Before Belsing could respond, Iristan whistled. His men scurried into the woods on all sides and disappeared as Iristan and his mounted riders galloped away, down the road Belsing had just traveled.

Captain Udon shouted, “About! Follow those men!”

“No!” Belsing called. “We proceed to Lord Releh’s castle.”

“My Lord!” Udon pleaded.

“It’s a waste of time. The men on horseback will have already melted into the forest with the rest of the men. You’ll not find them.”

“We need to clear the King’s Way of this rabble.”

“We do.” Belsing sighed and walked to his carriage door. “But not today. Let’s go.”

With poor grace the Captain called his men into marching order and the carriage moved on. Belsing stroked the smooth surface of the box, tracing the mother of pearl. Yes. We’ll catch up with the Prince of the Forest. But first, I’ll propose to Lady Nyesta.

 

Thank You!

998 Words

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Spring is Coming: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Lake Thaw, Sacandaga Lake, Fulton County, NY by Randy Cockrell

Free from my nurse and my Lord mother’s demand to learn needle work, I hurried to my room and changed into riding gear. In the stables, I saddled Dawn, my uhlans, as the stable master eyed me.

“And where are you going?”

“Hunting.”

His eyebrow rose. “Spring is coming. Who are you going with?”

“No one. I want to get out of the castle and breathe the cold air.”

He watched as I fastened my bow to the saddle and my spear. “A lot of gear for a ride.”

I wagged my eyebrows back at him. “You never know what you’ll run into.”

“Hmm,” was his response. “I’ll send Ben with you.”

Ben was his son. He was a good companion. “Sure. Where is he?”

The stable master whistled and Ben hurried through the stable door. “Papa?”

“Saddle up and go with Lady Zung.”

Ben gave me a quick wink as he hurried to saddle his mount. I noticed he packed weapons as well. The same age, fourteen, we learned to hunt together and I was glad to have him along.

We rode out. His father called out behind us. “Be careful. The ice is melting.”

I waved and kicked Dawn into a cantor as we reached the gate.

Two hours later we were at the lake. I knew that the wisent herded on the other side. I guided Dawn down the bank.

“Don’t, Yunki. We don’t know if the ice will hold.”

I sniffed. “It’s too early for the lake to melt.” I kept moving down the bank.

“Lady Zung!” His tone was sharp and he only called me Lady Zung when the adults were around or I was being particularly dense.

I sighed and turned in the saddle. “The melt has only just started, Ben. The ice is going to be four feet thick.”

“Do you know where they cut last?”

I had to stop and think. Where was the last place the men had cut ice? I shrugged. “Don’t know. It’ll be obvious.”

Ben shook his head. “Better not. I know you’re after a wisent. But let’s just hunt for a gulate instead. There are bound to be beds around here. Look,” he pointed at the lake edge. “You can see a thin line of water.”

He was right but I really wanted a wisent before their thick winter pelt started to shed. “Then you hunt for gulate. Summer will last three years. I’m going for a wisent.” I kicked Dawn in the ribs and dashed down the bank and onto the lake. I ignored the faint cracking of ice as I guided her straight across. I could hear Ben behind me and I grinned.

Dawn’s large feet were secure on the ice but I didn’t push her. No sense risking a slip and having her break a leg. I eyed the lake in front of us. It looked completely safe. As we neared the center, Ben four lengths behind me, I heard the ice crack. A loud snap that made Dawn’s head toss.

“Stop, Yunki!”

I tried to get Dawn to back up but more cracking made her dance. Then we were both in the water, the uhlans thrashing all six legs and shoving me into the sharp ice as she tried to climb out.

“Hold on!” Ben was off of his mount and pulling rope from his pack.

“Get Dawn first.”

“Don’t be stupid! She’s made for the cold.”

“So am I.” I argued with him but he was right. Even as cold-adapted as we were, the icy water was having an effect.

He tossed a loop to me and despite Dawn’s struggles, she had her two front legs up on thick ice now, I could grab the rope and pull it over my head and arms. “Ready,” I called.

Ben finished fastening the other end to his saddle and began to back up his uhlans. “Hang on.”

I kicked hard, trying to generate some lift but my fur boots and leggings were already soggy. The edge jabbed into my chest. I could feel the force break a rib and I cried out in pain.

“What?” Ben called.

“Nothing. Keep pulling.” I gasped and did my best to slide up the edge with a wave Dawn caused as she got a third leg up onto the ice.

Dripping, I slid up just as Dawn crawled out of the water. The air caused icicles to form as the water dripped from her. She shook, sending a spray of water over me and Ben as he hurried to me.

“Let’s get you back to shore.” He helped me to my feet. As I grabbed my rib cage he brought Dawn over. “I should build a fire.”

“I’m fine. Let’s just head home.”

“In wet furs?” He looked at me as though the top of my head had just fallen off.

I started to shiver. The water had gotten to my skin. Ice was forming on my coat. My boots were already solid ice. “It’s only two hours.”

“You’ll be dead and then your Lord father will kill me. Don’t be stupid.”

In the end, I gave in and probably as well. Ben left me at a huge fire, Dawn standing as close to it as she could, and rode home for dry clothes. My oldest brother came back with him. He laughed as he dismounted. “So, little sister. Spring is coming.”

I just rolled my eyes.

 

 

 

 

Thank You!

909 Words

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A Flattering Lizard: Flash Fiction Friday Post

little_lizards_by_fauxhead-d8mplla-cropped

http://www.deviantart.com/art/Little-Lizards-521875342 by Fauxhead

 

“You seem nice.”

Michella’s eyes flew open and her head whipped around to where the voice came from her right. How could she be so stupid! She was supposed to be watching the sheep but the gentle sun and warm breeze caused her head to nod.

At first, she saw nothing, then, at a slight motion, her gaze dropped to a nearby rock. There, a green and gold lizard sat, it’s tongue flicking in and out as it’s black eyes studied her.

“Oh,” she breathed a sigh of relief. “A lizard.”

The lizard hissed. “I’m a dragon.” It flared the ruff around its face and raised its tiny wings, making the lizard seem larger and fiercer.

“I beg your pardon, dragon.” She turned to face the creature. “I’m Michella.”

“Forgiven.” The dragon nodded its head, ruff and wings dropping. “I’m Jynryn, future dragon queen. You come up here every day.”

“I watch the sheep. Papa would be very cross if he knew I’d fallen asleep. Bandits could have come, or a wolf.”

The dragon’s tail whipped back and forth. “There is a band of bandits not far from here. You are wise to be cautious.”

The news made the hairs on her arms stand up. “Where are they?”

“In the hills above us. I spy on them, just for practice, you know.” The dragon bobbed her head. “They know you come up here.”

That did nothing to ease her fear. “I should leave.” She jumped up from the soft meadow grass and with her staff, began herding the sheep down the hill.

“Wait!” Jynryn flew beside her. “I can help you rid the hills of these bandits.”

Michella stopped. “How.”

Jynryn told her. Michella nodded. “I’ll tell my papa.”

Two days later, Michella led her father and a group of the lord’s soldiers to the meadow. There, she picked up Jynryn, put the dragon on her shoulder under her hood, and in a whisper Jynryn led the group to the cave where the bandits hid. There was a battle, of course, the bandits had seen the soldiers coming. Michella with Jynryn hid behind some rocks. The soldiers won and all the way back to the village, praised Michella for leading them to the cave and ridding the area of such bad men.

The next day Michella was back with the sheep. Jynryn flew to a nearby rock. “So you are a hero now?”

Michella shrugged. “I suppose, though all the credit is yours. How can I repay you?”

“Keep my secret. I won’t always be tiny. I will claim the bandit cave for my own. Visit me.”

“I can do that.” It will be fun to have a secret dragon, she thought. “Nothing else?”

Jynryn, chuckled. “Nothing for now. But someday we will do great things.”

Michella smiled. It was a good dream for a simple shepherd girl. “Of course, Jynryn. We will.”

 

Thank You!

483 Words

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Black Dog: Friday Flash Fiction Post

Black Dog

Black Dog

The pounding rain nearly drowned out the sound. Milla stopped, rain splashing up her stockinged legs, listening. A tiny sound coming from the alley. She went in and heard it again, coming from a pile of cardboard boxes. There, huddled, wet and shivering, a puppy. Milla didn’t stop to think. She scooped up the bundle of wet fur, tucked it inside her rain coat and hurried home.

Dry, warm and fed, the black puppy with white markings slept in a box in a blanket nest. A mutt, maybe some black lab, maybe some collie, Milla raised the dog, now named, Mave, and trained her well. The only thing Milla couldn’t do was break Mave of growling at people. Not everyone, it seemed, but it was a detail that Milla didn’t like. There was no way to tell why Mave growled at some people and not others.

Two years later, Milla was walking Mave in the nearby park. She was enjoying the soft spring evening when she was knocked off of the path, the leash flying from her hand. A man, full-faced knit cap over his head, was on top of her, fumbling at her clothes. She screamed and from the left, she saw all seventy-five pounds of Mave leap onto the man, teeth at his throat and growling in a way that made Milla’s blood run cold. The man rolled off her, fighting Mave and now screaming in fear himself.

Heart racing, Milla stood up and grabbed Mave’s leash, pulling the dog from the man. Two uniformed bicycle officers rode up and took the man into custody. Shaking, Milla told the officer what happened and left her contact information. Mave stared at the attacker until the police took him away, shouting, “Keep that dog away from me!”

At home, Milla gave Mave an extra treat. “Good girl.” She gave the dog a hug. “What a good girl you are.”

The next day a police officer visited Milla to ask follow-up questions. “Your attacker said your dog’s eyes were glowing red.”

Milla laughed. She looked at the dog at the officer’s feet, on her back, tail wagging, looking for a belly rub. “I’ve never seen her eyes glow red. I think the guy is just trying to get out of confessing that he attacked me.”

The officer closed his notebook and gave Mave a belly rug. “Most likely. The dog hardly seems capable of attacking anyone.”

“I found her as a very young puppy. She’s protective but I’ve never seen her attack anything.”

The officer stood up. “There are no complaints against your dog on file so I don’t think there will be any more trouble.”

Milla walked the officer to the door. “I appreciate that Officer. Have a good day.”

“You too, Ms. Parker.”

She talked to a dog expert. “She’s protective of you. Dogs can sense things we can’t. It looks like Mave thinks some people are a threat.”

Milla stroked Mave’s big lab head. “I can’t have her growling at random people. Someone is going to call the dog catcher on us.”

The expert nodded. “Keep an eye on who she growls at. You may be able to see a pattern.”

That didn’t seem helpful but on their walks, Milla took notice of who Mave growled at. There didn’t seem to be a pattern. Men, women, children, all ages, all social strata, were all growled at. Milla did teach Mave to growl softer, so only she could hear. But it made her nervous that her beloved pet might attack someone.

One Halloween, she was giving candy out at the apartment door. The usually friendly Mave snarled, her hackles up, at a parent.

“Keep that mutt under control or I’m calling the cops.”

Milla closed the door to just a small opening. “My apologies. I don’t know why she does that.” She closed the door and looked through the peephole. She saw the man cuff the boy with him so that the boy crashed into the wall. Grabbing her phone, she called the police. Throwing on her coat and putting Mave on a leash, she followed the man and boy, now crying.

“I have a man, abusing a boy,” she told the dispatcher. “I’m following them.”

Despite pleas from the dispatcher, Milla followed, Mave growling deep in her chest. Milla provided her location at every corner. She saw the man pinch the boy, slap him, and once, knock him to the sidewalk. “Clumsy brat.” He hauled the boy up by the arm and dragged him to the corner.

A few feet back, Milla could hear the man verbally abusing the boy, crying uncontrollably. Mave strained at the leash. “Hurry,” Milla whispered into the phone. “I think the man is going to really hurt that child.”

It was too late. Milla watched in horror as the man said, “I’m sick of you,” and slapped the boy on the back. Mave launched at the man as Milla grabbed for the child. She snatched the boy out of the path of a taxi as Mave latched onto the man’s arm. She saw him spin, Mave still biting his arm, flying through the air. Bystanders screamed. The man punched Mave and slammed her into the side of the nearest building. Milla screamed, “No!” Police charged up. Mave dropped her attack as soon as the police arrived.

Holding his arm, the man pointed at Mave. “That dog attacked me! I want that dog put down.”

Milla’s stomach rolled as she cradled the boy, still sobbing. “No! She was defending the boy.”

The police officers questioned each person. Child services took the boy. Milla turned over her phone. She’d taken pictures of the man hitting the child. She never mentioned Mave’s red eyes. It took some time but both Milla and Mave were released. She gave Mave a big hug and an extra treat. “I’ll have to pay more attention, girl, won’t I?”

Mave gave her a lick and wagged her tail.

 

 

Thank You!

993 Words

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Waterfall: Flash Fiction Friday Post

Waterfall

Waterfall

Cora ran from the house, her father’s drunken rage following her with the sounds of furniture and crockery smashing. As she ran through the forest, her father’s curses faded until, gasping for breath, the only sounds were the wind in the trees and the birds and insects. She dropped to the leaf-littered forest floor and rested, arms on her knees and her forehead on her arms. Why does he do it? Raging when he comes home from the village pub only to apologize the next morning and set to work repairing whatever he’d broken. It made no sense to her.

She flopped back to stare up through the leaves of the oak providing her a dappled shade. It was a beautiful day out here in the forest. Why couldn’t she stay out here? Away from her father. Away from the drudgery. That reminded her she’d left the washtub full of Anna Reed’s washing in the back yard. Cora sighed. Anna was the new priest’s wife, dainty and of ill-health. It was easy washing, the priest and his wife didn’t do hard work so their clothing was practically clean already and the coins the wash brought in helped keep Cora and her father in food and supplies for the winter. That is when papa didn’t give it to the pub-keeper.

Another sigh escaped. By the time she got back, papa would be collapsed across his pallet, sound asleep. She could finish the wash then clean up the mess in the house. But she didn’t move. Cora stared up at the clouds, drifting across the blue sky. She could feel herself relaxing, her mind drifting as her body felt as though it were becoming one with the earth.

“Miss, don’t do that.”

Cora jerked, her mind snapping back. She sat up. A small girl stood a few feet away, staring at her. But no, not a girl, a very small woman, dressed in shades of green, her staff hardly a foot high. “Why not?”

The woman shrugged. “Well, I suppose you can if you want to, but you’d get pulled into the earth spirit realm.”

“Is that bad?”

“You wouldn’t be able to come back.”

Cora nodded. “It seemed peaceful.”

The woman took a few steps toward Cora. “It is, for humans. At least at first. Then unless you really are looking for peace, it is too slow, confining. A human spirit doesn’t usually have the temperament for being an earth spirit.”

“Oh. No, I expect not. We do like to move around. I’m Cora.”

“Nice to meet you, Cora. I’m Lavendar. Fairy.”

A fairy! “I’ve heard stories about fairies.”

“Good ones I hope.”

“Yes, though mischievous, too. But mostly nice.”

“You were feeling sad. Angry, too. I could sense you from a long distance. Is that why you were moving into the earth?”

“I was angry, and sad. But I wasn’t thinking about sinking into the ground. That was just happening. I just didn’t want to go home.”

“Why not?” Lavendar sat down beside Cora.

Cora told the fairy about her father. “So you see, I don’t know what to do about it.”

“That would be a problem.” The fairy tapped her fingers on one of the fallen oak leaves, then jumped up. “Follow me. I have an idea.”

Cora nodded and followed the fairy for several miles until they entered a small glade. A pool was at the center, the water’s surface still and reflecting the woods around it. On the north edge a small waterfall, only about three feet high, poured water into the pool. A stream on the southwest side let the water out with hardly a sound. She looked into the pool. The water was so clear she could see the sandy bottom and tiny fish swimming. “It’s lovely.”

“One of my favorite spots. But it’s the waterfall that I brought you to see.” She led Cora to the falls where a flat stone stuck up out of the water at the edge of the pool. The fairy stepped onto the rock and she motioned for Cora to do the same.

“The water as it falls is magic. Once a year you may come and cup your hands and drink from the falls. As you drink, make a wish or visualize a dream, and it will come true.”

“Oh, my.” Cora stared at the water flowing from the ledge to the pool. It was mesmerizing as the water caught the sunlight and sparkled. “What should I wish for?”

“Whatever you want. But take care. Think about the consequences of your wish.”

Cora thought about her father, reeking of ale, face distorted into something horrific, smashing the bowls and chairs. Her stomach knotted with the remembered fear. “I can make a wish now?”

Lavendar nodded. “It will be this year’s wish. You’ll get no other until next year.”

“Fair enough.” Cora held out her cupped hands and in a moment, they were full of water. She drank, her eyes closed.

“What did you wish for?”

Cora stepped back onto the bank. “For my father not to be a drunkard.”

Lavendar nodded and led Cora back to her hut marking the way so Cora could return. “Farewell, Cora,” the fairy said at the hut. “Take care.”

“I will.” Cora went into the hut.

A year later, Lavendar met Cora at the pool. “How did your wish turn out.”

Cora burst into tears. “Papa died over the winter.”

“What happened?”

“Without the drink, Papa just got sadder and sadder. One night he went out and didn’t come back. The woodcutter found him in the forest, frozen to death.”

“I am so sorry, Cora.” The fairy hugged the girl.

“The priest told me papa came to him. Papa drank to forget. Without it, the guilt of losing Mama was too much. It’s all my fault Papa is dead. Now I have no parents. You were right. I didn’t know the consequences.”

“We never do.”

 

 

Thank You!

993 Words

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Ego and Punishement: Friday Flash Fiction Post

Skeleton Keys by Livefast_x via DeviantArt.com

Skeleton Keys by Livefast_x via DeviantArt.com

This is based on a Chuck Wendig prompt. FLAMBOYANT ELF DRUID FROM THE FREELANDS WHO IS QUICK TO TAKE CREDIT AND ASSIGN BLAME. Let’s see what I can do in 1000 words or less.

Picture: Skeleton Keys by Livefast_x via www.deviantart.com http://www.deviantart.com/art/Skeleton-Keys-130788426

Elanda pulled her cornflower-blue robe around her against the cold winter night. It had been too hot and smoky in the pub for her, especially filled with the stench of dwarf and man. The robe sparkled in the quarter moon’s light, enough to mark her as elf to any passer-by. Not an easy target.

She headed to her room. It was obvious no messenger would reach her this night. She’d watched the guards lock the city gates hours ago after she’d sat there all day waiting, watching the endless line of humans, dwarves and the occasional elf, pay their duty and enter. A complete waste of her time. The pub’s wine and stew sat heavy on her stomach. Not the fine food and drink of her queen’s castle, certainly. Elanda wished briefly to be back with the Queen, her twice removed aunt, but shoved the thought away.

That double damned Marowal had goaded her until she’d lost her temper and the Queen sent her on this mission. She pulled a glamor over herself to further discourage any would be thieves. The tall elf with black hair braided down his back had deliberately angered her. There was nothing she could do about it now, but wait until she returned. Thoughts of revenge filled her mind as she entered the miserable inn. The owner never woke as she passed. In her room she barred the door and the window and set a fire in the tiny stove. It was enough to take the chill out of the air, at least. Not much else could be said for the room, barely wide enough to hold the cot she’d sleep in.

An elf sat on the bed. She started, why hadn’t she seen him? It was Marowal.

“Milady Elanda.”

“Marowal.” Her tone with the young prince was cold. “I waited all day.”

He stood and stepped to the stove, holding his hands above it for the little heat it generated. “I was delayed.”

“I waited at the gate all day.” She swished the skirt of her robe in frustration. “Drinking wine near to spoiling and eating the human’s dried out fruit. Where were you?”

He smiled. A grin that made her want to slap him. “As I said, delayed.”

“Did you find the key?” Would the prince never get to the point?

“I did. And information. I’ll need your help.”

“I was sent to get the key. Nothing else.” Elanda held out her hand.

Marowal shook his head. “It won’t be that easy. The key is worthless. Unless we also get the chest it unlocks.”

“The queen sent me for the key. Just that.” She tucked her hands into the sleeves of her robe. It was obvious the prince would not give her the key.

“We’ll ride to Timate and get the chest.”

“Timate! That’s five days west.”

“We’ll leave at first light.”

#

Elanda was on horseback, gloves doing little to keep her fingers warm, an hour before the winter sun rose over the city walls. Marowal had paid the night guard who’d let them out early and they were on their way. Elven horses went fast and silent and the pair covered many miles by the end of the day. They camped in the woods. Marowal brought back a rabbit as Elanda started a fire. She grumbled as she cleaned the rabbit and set it on the spit. “I had no plan to winter camp, Marowal.”

“I beg your pardon.” He bowed from his lounge on his sleeping bag. “You wouldn’t want to go back to the queen with just half the prize, would you?”

“I don’t have the key. You do. I can’t go back at all.” She detested the smirk on his face.

“We’ll go back together, then. Victorious.”

For a cousin he was less than helpful or friendly. “Why drag me along?”

“You’ll see.”

She fumed but there was little she could do about it.

#

They arrived at Timate mid-day and entered the city. He dragged her back and forth across the town, talking to men and dwarves in whispers. At nightfall, she’d had enough. “What are we doing?”

He pointed at the clock tower in the town square. “you’ll enter the tower, climb to the top, and at the stroke of nine, create a flash in the window. That’s a signal to the owner of the chest to go to a stable at the edge of town. I’ll pay him for the chest and we’ll be away through the gate before the soldiers close it for the night.”

“You trust this owner?”

Marowal shrugged. “We’ll see.”

She was in the window right on time. Fury flowed through her at the childish cloak and dagger antics of the prince. The bell, when it struck, was painful but she made the flash, child’s play, really, then hurried back down the tower to the stable where this mysterious chest would be delivered.

Once there, Marowal was nowhere to be found. She created a finding, but the magic didn’t find him.

She spent months combing the countryside in search until giving up, she went back to the queen.

The court was in full attendance when she was presented, no chance to rest or bathe. She stopped halfway across the hall and gasped. Marowal was sitting at his mother’s feet playing with a kitten. Rage propelled her across the floor. Her bow was perfunctory.

“Majesty. I beg forgiveness for my delay. I’ve been searching for the Prince.” She glared at him, getting a grin in return.

“I do understand, Elanda. But as you can see, he’s returned.”

Elanda could hear twitters of laughter behind her. She bowed her head. “Of course, Majesty. I hope you obtained the key.”

“Oh yes,” the Queen pulled it from her dress, as a necklace. “It makes a nice ornament, doesn’t it?”

She blushed as the court laughed. A punishment, she realized, at her expense. Let them laugh. She smiled at Marowal. He’d get his in time.

 

Thank You!

1000 Words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: http://www.fmwriters.com/flash.html

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Found: Key, Part X of X – Friday Flash Fiction Post

 

Skeleton Keys by Livefast_x via DeviantArt.com

Skeleton Keys by Livefast_x via DeviantArt.com

Part X of X http://www.deviantart.com/art/Skeleton-Keys-130788426 by LiveFast-x

NOTE: This final installment is a little longer than the usual flash piece. Enjoy.”

 

Ying opened the door to the antique shop. “You’ll love this place.”

“I already love it. It’s where I met you!” Jason kissed her cheek as he entered.

Inside, Eleanor was at the counter cashoug out a customer. She nodded at Ying, acknowledging her presence. In the background, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played. It was a little heavy for Ying’s taste but played as softly as it was, it made for a relaxing stroll around the store. Ying inhaled the scent of lemon polish and bees was, detectable but not overwhelming. It provided her a feeling of quiet and comfort.

Jason stopped inside the door and looked around. Ying couldn’t help noticing, even with her annoyance at being manipulated, how nice he looked in his Dockers and polo shirt.

“I can see why you like it here. Lovely things surround you.” He turned and smiled. “Have you bought anything yet?”

“Not yet.” She threaded her arm through his, the one with the watch, and led him to the Chinese screen she’d noticed on her first visit. “What do you think?”

“It’s gorgeous! What are you waiting for?”

Ying shrugged. “It’s kind of pricey.”

“Nonsense. You should get it. It’s perfect.” He dropped her arm and stepped to the screen to examine it.”

Eleanor joined Ying. “Hello.”

“Eleanor. You’ve met Jason.”

Jason stepped away from the screen and held out his right hand, the watch clearly visible on his bare wrist. “Nice to meet you under better circumstances.”

“Yes. It is.” She glanced at his watch. “What a lovely watch.”

He pulled his hand back, left hand covering the watch. “Thank you. A family heirloom.”

Eleanor exchanged glances with Ying. “Would you mind if I looked at it? Professional interest, you know.”

Ying thought he looked uncomfortable. He spun the watch around his wrist several times. She was waiting for the rush of warmth but it never came. Jason was looking at Eleanor, who suddenly looked confused.

“Eleanor?” Ying put her hand on her friend’s arm.

Eleanor gave herself a little shake and smiled at Jason. “I won’t damage it, I promise.”

It was Jason’s turn to look confused. He glanced at the watch.

“Go ahead, Jason. She’s an expert.”

His eyes met hers, then back to Eleanor’s. “Umm, I suppose.” His reluctance to unclasp the ltach and hand the watch to Eleanor was obvious in his slow movements. Jason lay the watch in Eleanor’s outstretched palm.

Eleanor hefted the watch. “Gold, I presume?”

Jason nodded. “It was my great-great-great-grandfather’s.”

“The style is certainly old. Let me get my lupe.” Eleanor turned and strode to the counter.

Ying watched Jason dart after Eleanor as though she were stealing the watch. That was inconclusive proof that the watch was magic. He would do the same if it were simply what he claimed. She followed them to the counter.

Eleanor had laid the watch out on a square of black velvet. Jason’s hands hovered at the edge of the cloth. Ying had to admit it was a handsome watch. The face, also gold, had gold hands elaborately pointed and engraved. The face had what looked like diamons at 12, 3, 6 and 9 with the following numbers in ruby and the last four numbers in emeralds. Mystic symbols were engraved on the face. The antique dealer fixed her lupe to her eye and without touching it, examined the watch closely. She already had her book of artifacts open on the counter beside the watch.

“It’s a beautiful piece, late 1800’s? It must have cost a great deal. Watches for men were only just coming into style.”

Jason nodded. “No one ever said how much it cost.” His voice was tight – as though having the watch on the counter was painful.

Ying put her arm around his waist. “A wondful keepsake, Jason.”

“Hmm,” was his response. He watched Eleanor flip through her book.

“I don’t see anything like it.” She took the lupe from her eye. “It must have been custom made.”

Ying watched Jason stiffen as Eleanor flipped the watch face down. She studied the back. “a lovely sentiment is engraved on the back. ‘To my darling Husband, Love and Long Life, Mary’” She looked up. The elaborate script is right for the time frame. “Your three greats grand-mother? What was her maiden name?”

He sighed. “Mary Whitten. It was her wedding gift to him.”

Eleanor pulled another book from the shelf and began flipping pages. “Ah, here she is. An accomplished woman, your grand-mother.”

Jason picked up the watch and put it back on. “Yes, she was, in her day.”

Eleanor looked him in the eye. “You know she was considered a great Spiritualist?”

“All table knocking non-sense, of couse.”

Her eyebrow rose. “You think so?”

Ying noticed Jason begin to fidget.

“Nice to have met you again, Eleanor. Ying, I have a meeting back at the office.” He twisted his watch.

As the warm glow came over her, Ying clasped the key. The nausea and the glow fought for a moment, then they both disappeared. “I know the watch is magical, Jason.

He stopped and turned back to her. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that I know the watch has magic. You twist it on your arm whenever we meet or when you want me to do something. A few minutes ago you tried to use it on Eleanor.” Ying raised an eyebrow at Eleanor. “I’m not sure why it didn’t work on you.”

“We’re trained to resist magic used on us.” She shrugged at Jason. “Your watch’s magic isn’t very powerful against trained people.”

Jason stared at both Eleanor and Ying. “You’re magicians?”

Ying shook her head. “No. but I carry a powerful artifact. I could feel it every time you used the watch.” She saw his face fall. “It wasn’t necessary, you know. You’re charming, funny, smart, I’d have gone out with you without the manipulations.”

Jason closed his eyes and sighed. “I thought so but you’re so high-powered, I didn’t think you’d take the time.” His eyes focused on the key around her neck. “You have an artifact? A magical piece?”

Her hand crept up to the key. “Yes. I found it. Or it found me. It’s good with business.”

“Wow.”

The two stood staring at each other. Ying was certain he would break up with her and she realized she wanted him to stay.

Eleanor cleared her throat. “I think, if I may be so bold, that the watch is making it possible for you two to be together.”

It was Ying’s turn to be puzzled. “How so?”

“Just a guess, really.” Eleanor glanced at Jason. “No other documented owner has had a family. So something has changed.” She made a pointed look at zjason’s watch. “The watch has to be the difference.”

Ying reached out and stroked Jason’s watch. It was warm to the touch, nothing at all like touching metal. She smiled at him as the familiar warm glow washed through her. “I think this could work.”

 

Thank You!

 

End Part X of X: 1186 Words

 

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Found: Key, Part IX – Flash Fiction Friday Post

Keys III by Catherine-Elizabeth via DeviantArt.com

Keys III by Catherine-Elizabeth via DeviantArt.com

 

Part IX  http://www.deviantart.com/art/Keys-III-63716735, by Catherine-Elizabeth

Tuesday dawned clear and warm. She arrived at work an hour early, just to be safe and was well into her work as the other partners came in. That should reassure them, she thought as Felicity nodded at her when she passed by the door. She’d already been there three hours when Jason called.

“Lunch? One o’clock at Revise. The chef has chicken, fresh from some farm upstate.”

“Sure.” She grinned as she held her cell phone to her ear. She felt good. His call last night had put her in a good mood and her nausea had disappeared. “I have something to talk over with you.”

“Uh oh.” He laughed. “Bad news or worse news?”

“It’s not bad. Just something we need to discuss.” She briefly wondered what he’d think about going to her parent’s for Thanksgiving then pushed the thought away. She’d find out at lunch. “See you at one.”

“See ya.” He blew a kiss into the phone and clicked off.

She sighed and dropped her phone in her pocket. Ying wasn’t sure if he was ready to meet the parents but November was still weeks away. It would be fine, she decided, and went back to work.

#

At lunch, she was shown to a table, the waiter whisking the RESERVED sign away with a flourish. Jason arrived as the water glasses were being filled. “Sorry about that. A call came in just as I was leaving.”

Ying noticed him spin the watch on his wrist. She smiled at him, her usual warm glow returning, just like every time she saw him. “No worries. I just sat down.” She looked around. “Pretty fancy for lunch.”

“The chef is a high school buddy of mine. He was just hired here, a real coup for him since he’s only twenty-seven.”

“Good for him.” Ying sipped her water as the waiter placed menus on the table. “What’s the specialty here?”

The waiter nodded. “The chicken, madam. Organic, local, fresh chicken, roasted or grilled.”

She grinned across the table. “Sounds wonderful. I’d like it grilled and placed atop a salad, no onions please.”

He nodded. “And the gentleman?”

Jason handed the waiter the menu. “Roasted, and I’m starving so I’ll take the scalloped potatoes and the side salad. No onions for me either, I’m meeting a client later.”

“Very good, sir, madam.” He tucked the menus under his arm and left.

“So,” Jason took her hand across the table. “What’s the discussion.”

“Mother was quite cross at me Sunday night, I mentioned that yesterday. She wants us to come for Thanksgiving.” Ying held her breath. This was where guys usually started backing away.

“Fantastic! I’d love to.”

Ying blinked at the speed of his happy response. “Don’t you have family to visit?”

“They’ll understand.” He twisted the watch around again. “I’m looking forward to meeting the people responsible for the lovely young woman sitting across from me.”

Another wave of well-being flowed through her. “You will get everywhere flattering my parents like that. I warn you. Mother can be…demanding. But if she likes you, you’re in and never escaping. Trust me.”

Jason laughed. “I’ll take my chances.”

#

After meeting her client Ying was at her desk, making notes and organizing her thoughts on the best products for her. She absent-mindedly stroked the key she now wore as a necklace. The move made her nauseous, as usual. For a moment she wished it would give her the warm glow she got whenever she saw Jason. It sucked feeling sick so often. She stopped tapping her keyboard. Warm glow. She looked up at the far wall of her office. Every time she saw Jason. Every time he played with his watch. His antique watch.

She called Eleanor, skipping the pleasantries. “Your group have a watch artifact?”

After a short pause, Eleanor said, “Let me look.”

Ying could hear Eleanor pull down the ancient book and flip through the pages. “No. At least not that I can find at the moment. Why?”

Feeling more and more angry, Ying blurted, “Because I think Jason is using an artifact on me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Not totally.” Ying took a breath. Maybe she was just reading too much into it. “He said it’s a watch that’s been in his family. Every time he plays with it, I get a warm, loving glow.”

“Every time? Or just every time you notice it?”

Damn her for being so logical. “I don’t know.” Ying drummed her fingertips on the desk, furious that it could be that she was being manipulated into liking him. “I know it’s every time I notice. How can I be sure?”

“You could have him bring the watch in. Tell him you’d like to get it appraised.”

“If he knows it’s magic, he’s not going to show it to you. And even if I can get him to your shop, how would you know if it’s an actual artifact?”

“We have tests. But it’s up to you.” Her voice was eager. “We haven’t identified a new artifact in decades. It would be a feather in my cap to bring a new one in.”

Ying understood Eleanor’s enthusiasm. “I suppose it would. Is there some way to counteract the magic?”

“You don’t like being manipulated.”

“No. I don’t.”

“Usually not. I’ll do some research. Love artifacts are fairly common. I’ll let you know.”

“Fair enough. I’ll see if I can get him into the shop. We’ll work it out from there.”

“Excellent. Take care, Ying.”

“I will.” Ying clicked off. She had to think about how to get Jason to the shop.

 

Thank You!

End Part IX: 938 Words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: http://www.fmwriters.com/flash.html

 

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Found: Key, Part VIII – Flash Fiction Friday Post

The Jack's Keys by delusional

The Jack’s Keys by delusional

Part VIII The Jack’s Keys by Delusional, http://www.deviantart.com/art/The-Jack-s-Keys-149318217

Saturday night melted into Sunday morning. Jason was attentive, both in bed and out. She woke to the Sunday paper and a tray of croissants, butter, jam, fresh fruit and both coffee and tea. “You’ll spoil me.” She picked up the soft pastry, spread a bit of jam on the end and bit it.

“You deserve it.” Jason lolled across the end of the bed, a mug of coffee in hand. “What’s your pleasure, Miss?” he asked as they finished breakfast. He picked up her hand and kissed the back of a finger. Ying’s spine tingled. “Dress and go out? The day is beautiful. A walk in the park?” He kissed the next finger. “Go see a movie? The new Space Avengers is playing just down the block.” He arched an eyebrow and kissed the next finger. “Or perhaps, you’d rather stay here, indolent and pampered?”

Ying laughed and pulled her hand away to caress his cheek. He hadn’t shaved and the dark beard was beginning to show. She liked the scruffy look it gave him. “You are a tempter, Sir. You know I love the Space Avenger series.” Ying sighed and gazed into his eyes. “But I think I’d rather stay. We’ll read the paper, watch a movie, make dinner.”

Jason grinned. “Just as milady desires.” He reclaimed her hand and pulled her close, breath mingling. “That leaves time for this.” He kissed her.

#

It was after eight Sunday night before Ying returned home. She hummed as she entered her apartment. She felt the most relaxed she’d ever been. Kicking off her heels, she padded to the bedroom barefoot. The black evening dress was peeled off and dropped into the bag for the dry cleaners. When she finished her shower, she put on her pajamas and emptied her clutch. Her cell phone tumbled out with a tiny makeup bag, her credit card and driver’s license and two tens. She was putting them in her purse for the morning when she realized the phone was off. Puzzled, she turned it on. It took a moment. Then message after message alert came in, the phone dinging and buzzing nearly non-stop for over a minute. The office, her mother, her girlfriends, had sent message after message. The last ones were near frantic, especially from her mother. She hit her mother’s speed dial.

“Mom, it’s me.”

“Where have you been? I was going to call the police!” Her mother’s voice was a mix of panic, relief and anger.

“I’m sorry, Mom. My phone was off. I was on a date.”

“Date? What date lasts two days? Who is this date?”

Ying sat on her bed. Mom was ticked off. “Jason. I told you about him. We went to the opera last night, then I stayed over at his apartment.”

The other end of the call was silent for a moment. “You should call. Why your phone not on?”

Her mother drifting back into patois was an indicator of how upset she was. “I’m sorry, Mom, really. I don’t know how the phone was off. Maybe I never turned it back on after the opera. I should have called you today, I know. It’s my fault.”

Ying heard a snort from the other end.

A long breath could be heard then, “You must like this boy.”

“He’s not a boy, Mom. He’s a couple years older than me.”

“Hmmph. Still a boy. An inconsiderate boy who does not think about your family.”

“Stop, Mom. Jason treated me like a queen. I had a wonderful time.”

Her mother hummph’d again. “Maybe. Now we have to meet this Jason. You and him come for Thanksgiving.”

Ying rolled her eyes. That would be stressful at the very least. “Maybe. He runs a big company, Mom. He may not be able to get away.”

“You tell him. Thanksgiving. Our house. Now go to bed. You have to work in the morning.”

A grin spread across Ying’s face. She’d won her mother over. “Okay, Mom. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“You’d better.” The line clicked off.

Ying stared at the phone in her hand. Now to see what work was calling about. She hoped it wasn’t something critical.

#

Ying massaged her temples. The shit had hit the fan Sunday with a client and the office had been calling her all Sunday to come in and help. When she arrived an hour early Monday, every partner was in the conference room and turned to stare at her entry. Felicity gave her head a slight shake as the lead partner sneered, “Glad you could join us.”

“I’m sorry. My cell phone died. I couldn’t get the store to recover my old one until this morning and then all the texts came in. I hurried right over.” She sank into the chair at the end of the table that was hers and quietly opened her portfolio.

After the meeting, Felicity gave her the dressing down of her life. All of the scut work, stuff that should have gone to the newest associate, had been handed to her to handle. Phone calls, deep data entry, excruciating research, it was all hers and she had partners coming in all day to check on her progress. Now it was eight. The partners and even the partner’s secretary had gone home. The crisis was averted and Felicity had stopped at her door on the way out.

“Good work today. We never would have thought to take the direction you uncovered.”

Ying nodded. “Thank you. It just came to me.”

“Well, a bad start but a good end.” She turned and left.

Ying opened a desk drawer and opened the bottle of aspirin. She took two with a swallow of cold coffee, making a face at the taste. She never would have found the solution without the key. She’d used it so much during the day that she was still nauseated. Wearily she stood, gathered her things and headed home. She hoped that never happened again.

 

Thank You!

 

End Part VIII: 1000 Words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: http://www.fmwriters.com/flash.html

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Found: Key, Part VII – Flash Fiction Friday Post

Key by pej0

Key by pej0

Part VII  Photo Key by pej0, http://www.deviantart.com/art/key-110125031

A month later Ying was having tea with Eleanor on Saturday afternoon.

“Why do you track these dusty old relics?” Ying put her empty tea cup and saucer on the tray in front of the sofa in the antique shop. “What do you get out of it?”

Eleanor smiled and dunked a cookie in her cup and delicately bit it. She chewed, lost in thought. “I was 22, just out of college when I was first approached. I had just graduated with a degree in French History and looking for a job.” She smiled and shrugged. “It was a passion. I loved everything about it. I just didn’t think about how that would pay for a roof over my head and food in my belly.” She sighed. “I was approached by a very distinguished gentleman. He took me out for lunch.” Again Eleanor shrugged. “It’s embarrassing, really, how I stuffed my face. I was so hungry.” She took a deep breath. “Anyway, I turned him down. I was young and full of myself. I was going to make my degree pay.” She chuckled. “Six months later, my girlfriend was giving me the eye about crashing in her apartment and the man approached me again. I wasn’t so dismissive that time. Again, I stuffed my stomach full but I actually listened. It was intriguing, being an agent in charge of historic artifacts.” She made a face. “That’s how he put it. But really, job prospects for a French History major are few and far between.” Eleanor sipped her tea. “I agreed.”

“And you ended up with an antique shop?” Ying was fascinated. This woman had taken a wholly different path but still seemed successful.

“Eventually. There was training. By the time I actually realized what they were about, I was fully invested. Talk about history!”

Ying organized her thoughts. “Jason and I have been dating. I’ve told you all of that.”

Eleanor nodded and refilled her cup.

“What I haven’t told you is that I don’t use the key with Jason.”

Eleanor’s cup hovered just off of the saucer. “Not at all?”

Ying shook her head and refilled her cup. She sipped. “Nope. What does that mean?”

The back of Eleanor’s fingers rubbed against the bottom of her chin as her eyes drifted to the elaborate antique tin ceiling, now painted white. “You’ve told me that you and Jason are happy. Good company, fine dining, happy outings.” She looked Ying in the eyes. “You’re in love?”

Ying was surprised to find her face flushing. She shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve only known him a month.”

Eleanor smiled. “That’s enough, isn’t it?” She sipped her tea. “I like that you’re not using the key on him. You’re doing this for real, as the youngsters say. That’s good.”

Another flush rushed up Ying’s cheeks. It was suddenly clear to her why she’d not used the key. She didn’t want a man that had been coerced. Her hand shook and the cup rattled in the saucer. She put it down on the table. “So there’s nothing in your book about this?”

Eleanor shook her head. “Nothing. The previous owners were focused on becoming rich and powerful. You’re different. The key is behaving differently with you than our records indicate.” She grinned. A sheepish one that made her blush. “I have to admit. The other guardians are very interested in this case. It’s seldom that we get new data on an artifact’s behavior.”

Ying grinned. “Ah. You’re becoming a celebrity. Good for you.” She stood and smoothed her pantsuit. “I’ll keep you informed. I have a date with Jason tonight. I’ll let you know if anything unusual happens.”

#

They walked across the opera house lobby floor arm in arm. Ying could see the men’s eyes snap in her direction as they passed. She knew she looked good in her black ankle-length dress, décolletage cut to her navel. But more, she and Jason together were a power couple. She could see it when they passed in front of a plate glass window coming into the opera. Her entire body buzzed with it. The key, made into a necklace on a fine gold chain, hung between her breasts. The buzz must be the key, she thought, the subtle movement creating the magic, but this was different. The key usually made her dizzy or nauseated. This was like electricity flowing through her. She thought that if she held her hand out and pointed, lightening would come shooting out of her fingers. It was heady.

After the opera and stops to talk to people each of them knew, they were seated in a quiet bistro on a side street. The wait staff, even at nine-thirty at night were attentive and smiling. The chef came out to personally take their order.

“Impressive.”

Jason shrugged. “I come here a lot. I tip well.”

Ying grinned. “Maybe. But these people seem to really like you.” She watched a blush run up his cheeks.

“Yeah. Well. What can I say.”

While drinks and appetizers were served, they talked about the opera. Over dinner and wine, they exchanged their plans for the future.

“What about you, Jason?” Ying took a sip of the Beaujolais Jason had ordered.

She noticed him play with his watchband. It was something he did when he was thinking. “I want the company to grow, of course.” He spun the band around on his wrist. “Perhaps rival The River one day.”

Ying grinned. “Ambitious, going from a gaming company to a world-wide distribution corporation.”

“Why not?” He grinned. “The River was just a book seller when they started.”

She laughed. The tingling returned. The power she felt was intoxicating. “I’m sure you’ll get there one day.”

After dinner the night air was cool and refreshing after the heat of the day. “Come to my house for a nightcap,” Jason offered.

Ying hesitated.

“Come on. It’s been a month. More if you count the time I knocked you on your butt.”

She understood. Going to his house meant staying the night. On one hand tomorrow was Sunday so no having to get up to go to work. On the other hand, did she want to move to that step? She glanced at her phone, waiting for it to ring. Her mother always knew. “Yes.” She threaded her arm through his right arm. “It’s time.”

 

Thank You!

 

End Part VII: 1064 Words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: http://www.fmwriters.com/flash.html

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