July 2, 2019

Khayr Coronnar, Capital of the Empire

The chief city in the Opaline Sea basin is magnificent Khayr Coronnar, capital of the Aryamehran Empire. Khayr Coronnar has a population of about two million, with perhaps two hundred thousand more living unrecorded in its prehuman, subterranean bowels.

Location
The city is located by the excellent harbor of Hydralis Bay, and northeast of it is the Port Tartessos spaceport. On a hill to the east is the ruin of Old Hydralis, whose subterranean undercity reaches all the way to the Khayr Coronnar. All around the city for many miles stretch the plantations of the nobility, worked by legions of slaves. Together with the heavy tributes the Empire levies from its conquests, this fertility has concentrated here a level of wealth unmatched anywhere else on Maruzar and enabled the city’s rulers to build lavishly in the style of the First Empire. 

Architecture
The capital is a vision of soaring white towers, many with landing pads for skyships, magnificent palaces, fountained gardens, the pyramidal temples of the Primogens, and tall, stern monuments to past Emperors. All this is surrounded by a triple wall bristling with both cannon and ancient energy weapons. The Imperial Palace alone is the size of nine city blocks. All the major buildings of Khayr Coronnar are faced with white marble, and the palaces and temples have walls inlaid with onyx, malachite and gold. 

Beside the Imperial Palace is the gigantic Grand Arena, which is domed over with tinted glass and climate-controlled with machines provided by the Spaceclans. It is considered a wonder of the age. Nevertheless, all this is but a shadow of the First Empire’s capital, Az Coronnar. The highest finial of the Imperial Palace stands four hundred feet high; the tallest tower of Az Coronnar was over a mile high. The rest of the city is occupied by residential towers, the first two floors of which are occupied by shops and markets.

The Imperial Palace
The largest edifice in Khayr Coronnar is the Imperial Palace, which occupies the northern quarter of the city and forms its strongest bastion of defence there. It is made up of five towers standing over a common base, the central tower four hundred feet tall while the the flanking towers are a hundred feet shorter. Notorious for its extravagant opulence, the Palace is not just the dwelling of the Imperial family and the center of the Empire’s government, it is a statement of power in every stone and chamber. 

The cyclopean-scale throneroom is lined with captured banners on the walls and First Empire statuary plundered from various dead cities, while the walkway to the throne is now a massive glass-topped pool stocked with iridescent, twenty-foot long Gamilan dragon-eels, telling the world that the Emperor controls enough water to use it extravagantly and claims rule of planets beyond Maruzar. There is of course provision for abruptly dropping unwelcome visitors into the water, an event the intelligent and ever-hungry dragon-eels greatly enjoy.

The Grand Terrace above the throneroom is occupied by five glass-domed gardens. One houses a large bathing pool, surrounded by exotic Vashtian and Karkushan jungle plants. Another houses a vishra, the Maruzarian sand dragon; another is the personal fencing salon of the Emperor; and yet another is a sealed menagerie of zoa-trees and savage insectoids from the Viridian Deep, for Imperial scientists to study. 

The central tower contains the Imperial family quarters and those of their servants, complete with kitchens, banquet halls, conference rooms for the Imperial council and favored petitioners, private libraries, and so on. The flanking towers house the Imperial Guard and hangars for the Emperor’s personal warships. Stables, food storage, and machinery are located in the basements. Access to the towers is by external stairs or lift shafts with levor disks. The grounds are a magnificent public garden with fountains under glass domes. 

The Grand Arena
The Grand Arena is the second-largest structure in the city. It is not only a coliseum for the bloody games beloved by the Azhir nobles, it is also their favorite playground, for the structure surrounding the arena is made up of tiered galleries housing luxury shops, restaurants, pleasure houses run by the city’s most famous courtesans, and so on. 

Beneath these are quarters for gladiators, trainers and guards, and armories, and below these, kennels for the many kinds of beasts made to fight in the arena. The inner rim of the arena is entirely taken up by seats, with the Imperial box at one end. Combatants enter the sands from the tall Gate of Valor located right opposite the Emperor’s box, giving the ruler the pleasure of seeing the gladiators first. 

The wealthy citizenry love novelty in the arena, so they are always demanding more exotic beasts and new fighters. There are many ways to make a fortune here — as many as there are ways to die on the sands.

The Grand Temple
The Grand Temple is the main Primogenist temple in Khayr Coronnar. It stands on the north side of the Plaza of Glory, in the very center of the city. The temple is a huge step pyramid of nine levels, crowned at the top by a quincunx of towers which form the temple proper. At every tier are statues depicting the Primogens, the First Men and Women, while the sides of each tier are carved with reliefs depicting the history of the First Empire and the founding of Khayr Coronnar.
The pyramid interior is honeycombed with chambers, and it is here that the city’s mentalists are trained by Primogenist priests. A great library is housed deep within the pyramid, and some say there are secret chambers within the library of which not even the Emperor knows, hiding curious experiments or forbidden knowledge. 

The Shrine of Aryamehr
Princess Aryamehr, the founder of the Empire, is honored in a shrine opposite the Grand Temple. The shrine is a vaulted dome, the top of which is open as a skylight shining down upon the thrice-life size golden statue of Princess Aryamehr below. Many military rites are held in the shrine, such as awarding recognitions for valor and the swearing of fealty to the city’s lords.  

The Undercity
Beneath all this are the labyrinthine tunnels and reservoirs of the Undercity, the prehuman ruins atop which Khayr Coronnar was built. Many aliens, denied a place in Imperial society, live underground and may not see the sun for days on end. The Undercity is a hotbed for the cultists of Balaor, the Mad Moon, who periodically stage sudden, violent bacchanals and grisly sacrificial rites. The complex reaches all the way to the abandoned city of Old Hydralis, and despite attempts to seal off the tunnels running below the city walls, the tunnel dwellers have always managed to dig through or find other ways yet unknown to the authorities.

The Waterfront
West of the city lie the marinas, warehouses, and fishermen’s towers of the waterfront, practically a town in its own right, surrounded by its own walls. This lively district never sleeps, for half the population works all day, and the other half works all night to cater to carousing sailors, fishermen, marines, and dockhands. There is a large Orokko population here, which is carefully watched because of recent rebellions in Orokkonda, their homeland. Seafolk sometimes infiltrate this area, causing havoc and panic before they are driven off.

Desalination Plant
To the southwest of the marina is the complex of glass domes, pumping stations and pipes of the Hydralis Desalination Plant, the largest of the desalination facilities on Maruzar. Every day this plant yields enough fresh water to supply the entire city, and the surplus is pumped inland to Port Tartessos and Khayr Coronnar’s satellite cities. The plant is now guarded day and night from watchtowers and patrolling galleys against Seafolk attack. 

June 16, 2019

Types of Lost Cities on Maruzar

First Empire Cities
First Empire cities are sprawling, unwalled, complexes of colossal towers often more than a thousand feet tall and several hundred feet on each side. The towers are built of fused stone and glass, in an airy and open style with clean flowing lines, elaborate surface decoration, and terraced landing pads for private aircraft on most floors. Many towers are built with complex polygonal cross-sections, and delicate-looking yet sturdy aerial bridges link many of the buildings. The cities however extend as much downward as upward, for their foundations are honeycombs of tunnels, machine rooms, armories, and reservoirs. Quite a few of these ruins still contain a water supply in their depths -- not enough for resettlement, but enough to sustain some Dryland wildlife and even tribes of feral humans. Save for some battle damage incurred in the Nightfall Wars, First Empire structures are usually preserved in excellent condition.

Latter Empires Cities
Ruins of the Latter Empires are either walled imitations of First Empire architecture with its towers and terraced landing pads, or partially, even fully, subterranean. Many are set into remote and hidden or easily defended locations -- hanging off a vertical cliff face, built into a mountain, hidden in the walls of a chasm or sinkhole, and so on. The structures are of stone or brick, with a wide range of quality and decoration -- some towers look like rude bandit strongholds, while those of the rulers may be entirely faced with marble, their delicate windows, minarets and buttresses rife with carvings and inlays of semiprecious stones. Latter Empires towers are always square or round, with a massive, heavy look instead of the towering delicacy of First Empire architecture.

Bandit Kingdoms Strongholds
Bandit Kindom strongholds are usually quite small, built on easily-defended heights or in desert oases, and of crude, blocky architecture as befitted their builders. Many were abandoned when their sole water supply was cut off, and so are good for no more than a night's shelter. A few lost strongholds however may hold interesting surprises. Because of their crudeness, Bandit Kingdom era strongholds are usually found in terrible condition, with many collapsed and dangerously unstable sections. 

Lairs of the Sorcerer Kings
The palaces and fortresses of some sorcerer-scientist kings still lie inviolate in the remotest corners of Maruzar. Most date back to after the Shattering, but some are even older than the First Empire. These ruins vary widely in architectural style, often hinting at the madness of their builders and rulers, and may still hold working arcane technology, stockpiles of treasure or weapons, or even living remnants of the sorcerer-scientists' breeding experiments and transdimensional trapping. Some may even have automated defense systems that still work. 

Anuuran Cities
Anuuran cities, built by slaves for the apparently amphibious Anuuran race, are entirely subterranean save for monuments and possibly religious arrangements of black monoliths at ground level. In most Anuuran sites these monoliths have been cast down or destroyed without a trace, as many human settlements are built over Anuuran warrens.  Surviving monoliths are often said to give off disturbing psychic resonances or worse. Belowground, Anuuran sites are confusing mazes of curving and criss-crossing tunnels, many with canals built into them, and there is always a massive reservoir at the very bottom. Some Anuuran cities have never been fully explored or destroyed, and there are persistent, hushed rumors that this evil race of telepaths may not yet be extinct as most of Maruzar believes.

Neshemite Necropolises
The Neshemites were a pre-First Empire human culture that dominated what is now the northern Drylands. While the cities the Neshemites lived in are now gone or built over by other cultures, many of their necropolises, on which they seem to have lavished most of their art and energies, remain. These necropolises are always set in remote hilly areas and are composed of massive flat-topped pyramidal tombs hewn out of the native rock. Monumental statuary, specially of mythical guardian beasts, surround each tomb and mark the gates of each. Unless previously looted, Neshemite tombs will be found hermetically sealed and guarded by devilish traps and sometimes even by robotic sentinels. 

Eshkorian
Eshkorian ruins are among the most haunting on all Maruzar. Once a mighty coastal empire, Eshkor's cities line the old shorelines of the Opaline Sea. Their simple, elegant architecture can still be seen in what were once verdant garden temples, colonnades, and sprawling palaces artfully blended into the landscape, with many courtyards enclosing pools and fountains -- stark reminders of Maruzar's gentler, wetter past. Eshkorian ruins are considered holy sites in the Irajin, Keshai and Marazhiran cultures, but Spaceclan greed for artifacts has led to renewed exploration and plundering of the ruins. 

May 3, 2019

Warfare on Maruzar

Maruzarian tactics are shaped by the arid environment, the strong fortification of cities, and the limited availability of aerial transport. On the defense, airships form the first line to detect the enemy from afar and  prevent their landing troops in the city. If the enemy gets into the city, they are met with all available ground forces. If they mass outside to lay siege or scatter to raid the plantations, the ground forces sally out and may fight a pitched battle outside the walls. 

Pitched battles rely on a complex interplay of combined arms. The usual object of the defender is to destroy the enemy artillery or command. To do this, infantry and artillery are used to fix the enemy while cavalry first destroy or rout their counterparts, then assault the foe’s main body with the aid of warbeasts. It is usually these titans which actually destroy or capture the enemy artillery. While all this is happening, the aerial forces of both sides do what they can in support; if one side gains aerial superiority, they can bomb the other’s ground forces and artillery.

On the attack, Imperial generals prefer to make surprise aerial landings aided by agents within the target city. When a landing cannot be made at acceptable cost, and no other means of assault is feasible, the attacking commander may try to lure out the foe by raiding their herds and plantations, or if he has enough artillery, lay siege with his heaviest cannons and catapults. 

As Aryamehran and Inland Kingdom cities have strong walls, and the Inland Cities are often built in highly defensible locations, the defense always has a formidable advantage. Moreover, sieges are limited by the availability of aerial transport. A single siege cannon can weigh more than a thousand men, and so takes the largest airships to transport.  Only when an attacker has enough of the ancient heavy weapons to destroy the defenses does a siege stand good chances of success.

The pace of warfare on Maruzar is suprisingly fast despite the archaic weapons used due to air transport. Surprise is truly achievable, and large forces can be massed quickly by airship. Likewise, airships can ferry supplies far and fast, and can only be stopped by other airships. Even when the whole army cannot be transported by air, shipping supplies by air allows for much more rapid marches.

Not all warfare though is against opposing armies. Small units of cavalry must periodically sweep the deserts and nearby ruins to seek out and destroy dangerous wildlife, particularly feral humans and Swarmlings, as well as bandits and raiding nomad bands. The jerdars of both the Empire and the Inland Kingdoms consider this a sport, going out in gay parties bedecked in rich trappings, followed by their children, concubines and retainers on floater-chariots or on ranagors fitted with luxurious howdahs. 

In the meantime, a grimmer kind of campaign is always going on in the Undercity, where infantrymen must hunt dangerous subterranean creatures in the dark. No warrior can ever keep his sword sheathed for long on Maruzar.

April 24, 2019

Maruzar: The Keshai Tribes

The Keshai or Sand Marud tribes claim to be the oldest nomadic culture on Maruzar, dating back to even before the First Empire. Their tribes, they say, survived intact through the Shattering and the following Age of Chaos, retaining their old names, languages and ways. This history makes the Keshai extremely proud, even arrogant. 

The Nine Tribes
Only nine tribes of Keshai survive, but all of them, save one, claim to descend in continuous line from their forebears of the same name. The tribes are: the Shanur, which defeated and absorbed two other tribes to become the largest tribe, but is riven with feuds between its member clans; the Zoai, who nurse an ancient feud with the Shanur; the Ammatar, who have taken over the dead city of that name, wiping out the Irajin who lived there; the Illuar, who occupy and farm the Jerafan Sinkholes; the Jerafa, who were driven from their homes by the Illuar; the Zikandar, who claim their leaders used to be high kings over all the tribes; the Keshvar, who are notorious marauders; the Isali, who say their ancestors used to live by a great lake, and were pirates; and the Gozashtar, a ‘new’ tribe that took shape only after the Shattering.

Keshai Culture
All  the nine tribes have some variant of the basic Keshai culture, which is based on pastoral nomadism, matriarchal clans, and equestrian warfare. All Keshai wear white robes and headcloths when outside their tents, each tribe differentiating its members by the color of their sashes. Every Keshai wears up to five finely-made knives, Honor Blades, which are given as signs of accomplishment and respect. 

The tribes are notorious for their propensity to raid settled folk, caravans, and each other, and for their long-burning feuds, some of which have lasted more than a thousand years. Keshai tribes are extremely territorial, jealously guarding their precious wells and water caves and demanding tributes for safe passage.

Keshai warriors are always in high demand as mercenary light cavalry. They are excellent riders, often with some of the best gannors, masters of the lance and javelin, adept at scouting and ambush, and loyal as long as they’re paid. Their great weakness however is their tribal feuds, which seem to follow them wherever they go. Keshai mercenaries of feuding tribes will often fight inspite of orders, and Imperial patrols have been ambushed merely because they passed through the land of a tribe who had a feud with one of their nomad scouts.

The tribes are ruled by councils of Clan Mothers, who between them own all the herds and tents. Each Clan Mother appoints a warchief for their clan, who may be of either sex. 

March 14, 2019

Barbarians of Maruzar

The aftermath of the Shattering saw the highly civilized, technology-dependent Maruzarians uprooted from their cities to wander in search of the basic necessities. Billions died. The survivors lived any way they could, the strong and aggressive taking from the weak. Many who fled to the remotest regions never managed to rebuild their societies but instead formed savage and insular tribes; they became the new barbarians of Maruzar. 

As a rule these barbarians live only in village-sized settlements, wear only hides and furs, and live by hunting and gathering, some crude farming, and raiding. Their technology is crude, many tribes not even knowing how to make iron. Barbarian tribes are scattered across the western shores of the Opaline Sea, and both sides of the Nacreous Sea, where they are beyond the reach of the annual Swarm. A few hold out in mountain fastnesses between the Inland Kingdoms, at heights too cold for the Swarm. Indeed, most barbarian settlements are in hidden dales among high mountains. 

Other than these common characteristics, barbarians are highly diverse, each tribe different in some way from every other. There are dark and fair barbarians, giants and pygmies, warlike and peaceful tribes and so on. 

The Karanthori
The Karanthor Hills were once an island chain fringing the coast; now they are a range of hills on the mainland, but the easternmost hills face the Opaline Sea. These hills are honeycombed with enormous sea caves now left high above the water, and these are inhabited by the numerous Karanthori barbarians. These warrior tribes live most of the year in scattered  cave settlements, but when the drift kelp rises they gather by the sea to hunt the giant sea lizards from leather coracles. 

The Karanthori sometimes cross the equator in coracle fleets to raid the Empire's coastlands. Most Karanthori wield weapons tipped with sea lizard teeth, and wear armor of scaly sea lizard hide. However many of them now have swords and other metal weapons, thanks to visiting traders who bartered these for sea lizard glands and ivory.

The Barutar
The Barutar are a barbarian tribe who settled near the site of an ancient air-space battle, littered with the wrecks of ancient skyships. Their ancestors salvaged the metal of these and a single working power plant, and with it crafted enough wondrous suits of armor and weapons to equip all their men before the power plant died. 

Now the Barutar treasure these items as precious heirlooms, proudly passing them down from father to son along with a tradition of an egalitarian warrior republic. They rule a swath of the Zireyan Hills from their citadel at Castle Akumon, but because they forbid intermarriage with outsiders they are in decline. Many suits of armor no longer have any to inherit them. Quite a few Barutar have left the tribe with their armor to serve as mercenaries.

Barutar armor is a full-body suit of plate, all black cerametal and gleaming like glass, but every suit has now been customized and barbarized by generations of barbarian warriors. A Barutar's armor may be decorated with garish painted patterns -- usually crimson, beast claws and teeth, and worn with a mantle of fur. 

The Sigkari
The Sigkari are a barbarian tribe renowned for their skill with javelins. These equestrian hunters live at the edge of the Karboulian Marshes far to the north, where they spear lizardbirds in flight, and also harvest the marsh lotus for the southern drug markets. They have frequent conflicts with the Beastmen, to whom the disappearing marsh lotus is a necessity for winter hibernation. The Sigkari are normal humans and do not have the ability to hibernate, so when winter comes they migrate south to their winter homes in the caves beneath the Sigkarran Mountains. 

The Guoroon
The Guoroon tribe lives beneath the Abaddai Mountains, in a labyrinthine cave system that stretches for over a hundred miles and with many hidden exits. Widely feared as cannibal bogeymen, the Guoroon are said to be pallid, hideous pygmies, mutated by centuries of isolation and their cannibalistic diet; few have ever seen one as they attack only by ambush, and rarely leave survivors. It's believed that they are led by mentalist 'wizard-priests,' who also lead the hunts for human prey and subdue the victims by telepathy.

The Vanavar
The Vanavar tribes live amid the high crags of the Comyrium Mountains. A powerful warrior tribe, they live by hunting and raiding. They are alternately the terrors and the leaders of neighboring tribes, who sometimes join them for big raids against Alcyonis. The Vanavar are tall and muscular, bearded, and because of their rocky highland environment are excellent climbers. 

Once, they liberated some Gliders from an Alcyonian merchant who was going to sell them as slaves, and inspired by the Gliders' ability to fly they began experimenting with crude hang gliders. Now they often soar for sport, and some Vanavar warriors enter battle on hang gliders.

March 11, 2019

Mount Zom

Mount Zom is an extinct volcano some 12,000 feet high, with a horseshoe-shaped caldera four miles wide. The inner face of this caldera is pocked with hundreds of manmade caves, along with enormous relief carvings of anthropomorphic and esoteric figures. This is the home of the Zomi Order, where its Ten Immortal Masters live and teach the novice Zomiin warrior monks. The Ten Immortal Masters are not literally deathless, but instead whenever one passes on he or she is immediately replaced by another who takes his or her name. Thus the Zomi Order appears to be led by the same ten masters that founded it centuries ago. 

The mountain is located nearly in the middle of the Sepulchral Plains, in the southern Drylands -- that is, in the middle of nowhere. Those who wish to join the order must either find their way to the mountain on their own, or convince a sand monk to bring them there. Aspirants are advised to prove their humility and commitment by coming on foot. 

Novices can expect to spend up to ten years on the mountain, hardening their bodies by walking around the mountain daily, learning to use the halberd, and and doing manual labor. The monastery has fungus and hydroponic farms, forges, and all it needs to be self-sufficient. It is defended from the Swarm by a sonic defense system that uses the unique acoustic properties of the caldera; the monks have been unable to duplicate the effects anywhere else. 

Visitors other than aspirant sand monks are not welcome at Mount Zom. The monks will succor any who are shipwrecked, lost or fleeing from attack, but even such supplicants are sent away as soon as they can travel again safely. Nor are such visitors allowed freedom of the complex, particularly the chambers deeper inside the mountain. The Zomi Order it seems has secrets it will not share.

March 8, 2019

Forgotten Gods of Maruzar

While Primogenism, or veneration of the First Men, has become the sole religion officially practiced on Maruzar a number of ancient cults still survive among secret pockets of followers -- in hidden cities and tribal villages, among secret cabals, and in the criminal underworld. Many of these gods and cults have disturbing, even horrifying aspects. 

The Old Ones
The Old Ones are worshipped as the true masters of Maruzar by some secret cults, and by communities of feral men. Worshippers sacrifice humans at ancient altars hidden in the wastelands or deep underground where the Old Ones were supposed to have lived, hoping by these offerings to bring the Old Ones back. The cult of the Old Ones harbors a special hatred for the Azhir race and the Azhiran Empire, and by extension the Aryamehran Empire its avowed successor.

Great Yargul
Great Yargul is the god of the Yarguun race, depicted as an eight-armed Yarguun with a different weapon in every clawed hand. Little is known of this god, save that all Yarguun seem to worship him and that Yarguun tribes occasionally come together into ravaging hordes in his name. Apparently the god promises to return the Yarguun race to their lost glories, and the uprisings are led by warriors who are able to claim that Great Yargul has spoken to them.

Zorgorath
Worshippers of Zorgorath believe he grants them good fortune and protection if they aid in restoring him to his original status as the primary god of mankind on Maruzar (he never was). To this end worshippers preach, make pilgrimages, and try to acquire ancient artifacts connected with his cult. The truth is Zorgorath is an extradimensional being trapped somewhere on Maruzar, and started this cult in order to get worshippers to find his prison-tomb and liberate him from it. 

Gozairon
Gozairon is believed to be a unique colossal beast that once roamed Maruzar, crushing tyrants beneath his clawed feet. His worshippers pray to free him so he can rise again and destroy the Aryamehran Empire, the rule of the Azhir, and the Spaceclans. Proof of his existence is shown by incredibly ancient carvings deep in the subterranean ruins of previous civilizations. The cult of Gozairon is unsurprisingly popular among slaves.

The Speakers of Oro
The Speakers of Oro are a septet of immortal priestesses living in a secret temple somewhere in the mountains of Orokkonda, or some say beneath the sea. They claim to have contact with the spirits of all dead Orokkon kings, and act as oracles. Officially the Orokko people no longer believe in the Speakers and the spirits, but some still secretly send offerings and prayers to the Speakers for oracular advice. What's disturbing is that the priestesses really are immortal, and know things beyond human ken. Where does their power really come from?

Mardammor
Mardammor is an ancient god of wealth who continues to be worshipped by some merchants. His cult is two-faced: The benign side worships with offerings of food and wine, and festive processions of dancers and musicians, and is tolerated everywhere as an excuse to feast and make merry. The dark side of the cult involves child sacrifices, performed in secret at hidden locations. Most worshippers of Mardammor know nothing at all about the cult's secret side. Mardammor is depicted as a fat, grinning, bearded and robed humanoid sitting cross-legged; the dark version of the cult however adds a fanged, gaping mouth in Mardammor's abdomen.

The Chained Gods
Chained Gods cultists believed that the Azhiran Empire 'enslaved' the ancient gods and imprisoned them in hidden tombs scattered across Maruzar. A brainwashing campaign then led the rest of mankind to forget about these Chained Gods, so their powers remained in the hands of the conquerors. By reviving the worship of these deities the cult hopes to free them, an event that will trigger an apocalyptic war and liberate all oppressed peoples of Maruzar. Cultists explore ruins hoping to find artifacts of the ancient gods and uncover lost religious practices, and practice human sacrifice. 

Ahriazar
Ahriazar, the Black Sithan, is an ancient god secretly worshipped with human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism. The cultists believe they gain power through consumption of human flesh, particularly those of telepaths and Azhir. 
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