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CALDORA: Chapter 6: Fight or be Trampled

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Fight or be Trampled  

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            Lynn walked through the North Forest with the raven as his guide. His usual white attire was gone, replaced by a resilient black tunic and pants. With Elvina awake and trailing behind him, he hid his white hair under the hood of a dark green cloak. It was nearly impossible to tell him apart from the forest shadows.

            Immediately Lynn realized that he was right, Acora powers were useless inside Aloquin’s psychic barrier. Here one had to rely solely on the five physical senses, and though his were alert as ever, the dark elf still couldn’t help feeling tense, wary, and even scared – feelings unknown to him for centuries. The North Forest seemed an unfamiliar and threatening place where the raven was his only eyes. There was no hint of nostalgia on his mind, coming back only reaffirmed his original decision to leave. But he would play Aloquin’s game again, as he did hundreds of years before, when he helped Dinictis defeat him.

            “Gaisa,” Lynn turned to the raven, “Take me to Raven’s contact.”

*          *            *

          Keramis sat on a stone ledge in the family cave, surveying the scene below as the bonfire was being lit and barrels of wine were rolled in from the back rooms. Suddenly a raven flew into the main chamber. It made several circles around the cave before settling onto his head. Keramis took the bird off his head, straightaway recognizing it to be his cousin’s pet. He watched it push off his fingers and flutter onto the arm of a person standing in the hallway leading into the room. The elf hopped off the ledge and approached the hooded figure cautiously, hands resting on his daggers.

“You are Raven’s contact?” the stranger asked, looking Keramis up and down before throwing back his hood.

“L-Lynn? Acora Lynn??” Keramis nearly fell over backwards, “Are you with Jason?”

“I told Jason to go home,” Lynn slid back his cape to reveal Raven’s sword.

“Acora Lynn! Welcome to our cave!” Keramis bowed, “Keramis, fifth rank, at your service.”

“I’ll be blunt,” Lynn’s sharp eyes darted about warily, “I need your help in getting Raven and Lakai out of Kayintas.”

“Me and you get Raven and Lakai out of Kayintas?” Keramis asked, hoping the Acora was joking.

“No,” Lynn clarified, “But if we get at least five high ranks together, us included, I believe it is possible. Do you know anybody who may be willing to help?”

“Maybe,” Keramis nodded, still doubtful of the feasibility of the dark elf’s harebrained plan. He motioned for Lynn to follow, “Lianna and Karaci are here now, they will probably want to help.”

The elf led Lynn through the back corridors, towards the sound of giggling and rustling of leaves. The tunnel opened into a cavern lit by a single torch, where Lianna and Karaci were rolling around on the floor, their bodies wrapped around each other and their lips locked in an amorous kiss. Keramis coughed to attract attention and they swiftly sat up.

“We were just playing,” Lianna grinned mischievously, picking leaves out of Karaci’s downy-soft hair.

“Is that…?” Karaci asked, peering at Lynn through the dimness.

“Yes it is,” Keramis confirmed, walking past to light a second torch.

“Lianna,” Lynn bowed to Lianna, “Karaci,” Lynn bowed to Karaci, “I am Acora Lynn.”

Lianna and Karaci stared at him in awe.

“He’s looking for people to get Raven and Laika out of Kayintas,” Keramis said, sitting down on the ground.

All felt uncertain regarding Lynn’s brash plan, but only Karaci found the courage to contradict the Acora. “Even Keramis’ cave, Lynn’s cave, and all the karaci combined won’t be enough to defeat the entire Kayintas army,” he objected, “And any survivors would be hunted down and killed.”

“But it won’t be the entire Kayintas army,” Keramis corrected, “They live in their own caves, and there is only so many of them actually in Kayintas at a time.”

“I am not here to raise an army,” Lynn interjected, “The four of us would be enough and Raven would make five.”

“The four of us against Kayintas?” Lianna chuckled, “You’re kidding, right?”

Karaci frowned.

“You are afraid, and you have good reason to be,” Lynn speedily explained, trying to win their support, “You know why you are afraid? Because you are thinking ‘Me against the Kayintas army? They can easily kill me.’ But the Kayintas army will not be thinking ‘We can easily kill them because we outnumber them.’ No, it would take time and significant outside force to achieve that kind of organization. Every individual in the Kayintas army will be thinking ‘Me against the high ranks? They can easily kill me.’ This fundamental individualist mentality that is so ingrained in the North Forest consciousness is the only thing that we have going for us. But intimidation is a very effective strategy.

“This is not a war,” Lynn stressed, “This is a rescue mission. We go in, grab what we can, and get out!”

“You are the Acora,” Karaci reasoned, “If you say it will work, then it must work.”

“Acora powers don’t work here,” Lynn reluctantly confessed, “I have no way of knowing whether or not this will work. In truth, I don’t even know if any of us will come out alive. But I am willing to try, and if any of you wish to come along it will be out of your own free will.”

There followed a silence that Lynn mistook for unwillingness.

“For Raven?” Keramis spoke up, “I’ll go. I swore to Shalaya I’ll guard him with my life.” Raven was his cousin through Shalaya, and blood ties were not to be taken lightly.

“I’m sick of feeling powerless over anything that Aloquin does,” Lianna growled, gripping her whip, “I can only live in denial for so long.”

“I’d rather have my body die than let my spirit wither a little every day,” Karaci joined in, “We don’t have much to lose.”

“We must also get Lakai,” Lynn smiled in relief, “He’s a powerful psychic probe and a dangerous weapon in Aloquin’s hands. Besides, the East Forest faeries would never give me peace if we didn’t.”

“How will we recognize him?” Karaci asked.

“Unarmed human blond kid, probably well guarded, can’t miss him.”

*          *            *

There was much feasting in Kayintas this day. Brightly lit torches lined the walls of the main chamber. A long, crudely-made table was laid out with various meats and liquor which were rapidly being gobbled up by the disorderly horde of Aloquin’s minions. The god himself waited patiently, eyeing the stretch of rope that hung down from an opening in the ceiling. A large wooden cage was brought in from one of the back corridors by Kranti, Beyati, Kentabri, and a few no-ranks. The crowd fell silent when they saw Raven inside.

On cue, Aloquin rose up from his throne. “Friends!” he shouted as the cage was being hooked onto the rope over the table, “Today we begin preparations for the war for dominion! And to mark this momentous occasion,” he waved a hand towards the cage, “You will watch your former first rank die for our cause!

“We left him to heal for a few days,” the wizard smirked, “I needed him healthy for the spell.”

The crowd, many of whom had their share of kicks at Raven, snickered derisively. Kranti, Beyati, and the no-ranks who brought in the cage took a seat around the banquet table.

“I must leave to prepare now,” Aloquin pulled on Lakai’s chain, “But I will be back soon!” Signaling for Kentabri to follow, he disappeared into the back corridors. The group resumed its drunken revelries – a noise so deafening that it was difficult to tell if there was festivity or battle.

Elvina flew into the cave as a faint twinkle of light. She looked around, spotted the cage, zipped over to it, and easily fit between the bars. “Get up! Be ready!” she buzzed around the half-elf’s head, “They’ll get you out!”

Before Raven could ask who, the faery had flown away. He peeked out through the bars only to get food pelted at him. Seeing nothing, he sat back and waited. Abruptly the half-elf felt the cage shake ever so slightly as something slid down the length of the rope and dropped lightly onto the top of his confines.

Keramis cut the base of the rope with a single swipe of his dagger and the cage came crashing onto the table. Lianna and Karaci landed on the table as well. Kicking away the top of the cage, Karaci handed Raven the sword. Raven clasped the weapon, grinning, his eyes gleaming with bloodlust. The half-elf ran the blade through an orc sitting nearby and sent him hurtling into Kranti, who was just beginning to scramble onto the table. Lianna lashed her whip across the stunned company as Keramis and Karaci kicked them out of their chairs.

The crowd panicked and ran, some for their weapons but most for the exit. Beyati timidly backed up against the wall, then dashed into the back corridors. Kranti threw the dead orc aside and got up only to be trampled by the stampeding mob. The throng screeched to a halt at the sight of a cloaked figure blocking the exit.

Lynn threw off his cloak and held up a fist. “I am Acora Lynn,” he eyed the terrified crowd, “Faster, better, and know your every move before you think it!”

Shrieking, the creatures scampered backwards over each other and scattered throughout the cave, climbing up the walls to reach the windows and running for the corridors.

“But I thought you can’t-” Elvina began to ask the dark elf.

“I was bluffing,” he grinned, running into the cave.

Lianna whipped at the running swarm while Karaci hurled chairs in their path and Keramis tossed throwing knives at their backs. Raven didn’t miss this chance for payback. The half-elf swung his sword with extraordinary precision, hacking into the side of a goblin and lifting it straight off the ground. He kicked the squirming creature off his blade and into a wall. Twirling around, his sword cleaved into the skull of a gnoll, shattering bone and spraying fresh blood onto his tattered tunic. He shoved the body into a nearby orc and impaled them both on the spikes of the split cage.

“Raven!” Lynn called to the half-elf, who turned to him, astounded. “We have to go,” the Acora tugged on his hand, “Now.”

Raven stared at him, speechless.

Now!” Lynn emphasized.

“No,” the half-elf finally shook his head, “I have to get Aurora.” Pulling his hand out of the dark elf’s grasp, he dashed for the inner passageways. Lynn threw up his hands in frustration but couldn’t help following. The Acora knew Raven to be one of the very few people in Caldora who went into battle praying for an honorable death, so this suicidal behavior was not overly surprising. The mentality did, however, make the half-elf a relentless and deadly opponent, for an honorable death required being slain at the culmination of one’s efforts.

Kranti managed to get up in time to see Keramis, Lianna, and Karaci run for the back tunnels.

*          *            *

Deep within the cavernous maze of Kayintas, Aloquin managed to set up what would be most properly called a laboratory. A rainbow of crystals, gems, and metals lined the walls, sparkling in the candlelight. It was here that he fashioned various magical devices, and combined ingredients for some of his more elaborate spells. The wizard sat in meditation, stirring the cup of Raven’s blood with his finger while chanting a cyclical incantation.

Lakai sat in the corner, aimlessly staring at the floor. Kentabri stood outside the entryway, staring aimlessly into space. Beyati ran for the door and was cut short by the tamunid’s staff.

“We’re under attack!” the orc panted.

Kentabri withdrew his staff.

“By who?” Aloquin asked, snapping out of his trance and grabbing Lakai’s chain.

“Lianna, Keramis, Karaci,” Beyati recounted, “A-and Raven is out!”

“Get him out of here,” Aloquin told Kentabri as he handed him Lakai’s leash.

The tamunid bowed low in acknowledgement.

Kranti rushed into the room. “They’re in the tunnels!” he said between gasps, “Intruders are in the tunnels!”

“Why are you both here??” the god asked annoyed, “Who’s fighting the invaders? Nevermind! Kranti! Beyati! Go with Kentabri and guard Lakai! I’ll take care of the main room. Go, go, go!” he snatched the cup of blood and lock of hair.

*          *            *

Keramis raced through the tunnels in wolf form, hot on the trail of a human scent. Lianna and Karaci tried their best to keep up with him. His lead wrapped around a bend after which he came to a sudden stop. Kranti, Beyati, and Kentabri ambled across a torchlit cavern with many intersections. Keramis had no doubt that the unarmed human blond kid being towed along on a leash was Lakai.

“Well guarded,” Keramis grumbled, changing back into an elf.

Lianna and Karaci groaned dolefully.

“Lets divide this up by rank,” Karaci whispered, “I can take Beyati, no problem. Keramis, you distract Kranti. Kentabri only has one free hand so it should be easier for Lianna to get Lakai.”

“I can’t fight Kranti,” Keramis laughed nervously.

“Don’t fight him,” Karaci clarified, “You’re the best dodger in the North Forest, distract him long enough for us to get Lakai.”

Nodding to each other in agreement, they set the plan in motion.

Lianna and Karaci engaged in a long and passionate kiss, reaffirming their love for one another. Lianna then drew her weapons and Karaci turned invisible. Keramis leaped into the middle of the room, his daggers out and ready.

“How considerate of Raven and Lynn to leave me a plaything,” Kranti smirked, unsheathing his two-hander. He swung it down at Keramis, but the elf nimbly stepped away. The half-were reacted by veering his sword sideways in the direction Keramis had moved, but the elf merely jumped over the blade.

Kentabri heard the whistle of a whip coming towards his wrist and quickly caught it with his staff, yanking hard when it coiled around the stick. Lianna let the whip go. She ran forward and skid under the arm that held Lakai’s chain, kicking at the tamunid’s elbow as she did so. Kentabri stopped her foot with his staff and spun it clockwise to strike at her head, but she blocked it with her short sword. Grabbing the handle of her whip, Lianna wrenched it free from the staff, the barbs leaving visible dents in the wood. Both her weapons now in hand, she rolled a safe distance away and turned to face her opponent.

Kentabri and Lianna glared at each other.

Lakai didn’t dare move for fear of becoming an obstacle.

Beyati stood trying to decide which of his two comrades he should help in order to gain the most praise for the least injury. But before he could make up his mind, the orc intercepted a powerful dual-foot kick to the chest that disrupted his train of thought. Beyati struggled to block the phantom attacker but to no avail. Karaci boldly hammered away at the orc with no concern for strategy whatsoever.

Keramis deftly dodged and parried every sword maneuver Kranti could muster. Growling in frustration, the half-were threw his weapon aside and pulled out his claws. “Fight me, elf!!” he snarled, swiping at Keramis’ legs with his foot. The elf flipped backwards, breaking into a sideways roll as his foe’s other foot smashed into the ground where he landed.

“You are afraid!” Kranti taunted, exploding into a frenzy of rapid kicks and punches, “Because you know I can beat you to a pulp!”

Keramis glowered at him hatefully, gripping his daggers tighter. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to keep focus, to never let his concentration waver from his defensive tactics, for it was no lie that a single one of the half-were’s mighty blows could render him completely helpless.

“And do you know why?” Kranti slashed diagonally with his claws which Keramis evaded by leaning away, “Because you are weak, elf! You always were weak and always will be weak!” The half-were punched out with his other fist, but Keramis ducked down just in time, “And for the rest of your pathetic life all you will ever know how to do is run away!

“Dogboy!” Kranti teased, kicking out with a side snap.

“I’m a wolf!!” the elf scowled, baring his fangs. He grabbed the half-were’s leg and swept his own foot hard into Kranti’s support leg, dropping him to the ground. Keramis twisted his dagger into a stabbing position and plunged it at the fallen half-were.

“Too slow,” Kranti sneered. He caught Keramis’ hand and used the momentum to toss him overhead and roughly into the floor. Grabbing the disoriented elf by the collar of his tunic, he proceeded to ram him violently into a nearby wall, where he elbowed him in the side, and kneed him in the stomach. His dazed victim was too weak to fight back and easily overpowered.

Karaci saw that Keramis was in trouble. He threw down Beyati and jumped at Kranti, wrapping an arm around his throat in a headlock. Kranti hissed and let go of the elf, who crumpled limply to the ground.

Though barely conscious, Keramis felt himself being pulled along the floor and something wooden being placed across his neck, threatening to snap it if he moved. Opening his eyes, he saw Kentabri, who was looking off to the side at Lianna, silently warning her not to do anything stupid.

Kranti thrashed about wildly trying to unhook the invisible assailant. He clawed at a distance from his throat he realized that he drew blood. Taking the hint, the half-were sank his fangs into tangible flesh and lashed his head back to hit something solid. He slammed his back brutally into a wall over and over again and, feeling the grip weakening, pressed hard against the stone, grinding his adversary into the rock. Karaci lost the focus needed to stay invisible and dropped to the ground.

“Don’t you think that’s enough, Kranti?” Kentabri interrupted, eyeing him severely.

“No,” Kranti quaintly replied. The half-were closed in on his prey and dug his claws deep into Karaci’s abdomen. Karaci uttered an involuntary cry of pain as Kranti cut upwards, lifting him up the wall with sheer force and shredding through organs and tissue. But the pain did not last long, for Karaci died almost instantly, still held aloft by the half-were’s sharp claws. “This is enough,” Kranti asserted.

Lianna watched in horror from the shadows. Kranti may as well have slashed through her being and tore out her heart, for she felt every excruciating moment like the pain was her own. Lianna stifled a forlorn gasp, clutching her hair and shaking her head in vehement denial. She refused to believe that her love, who just minutes ago was alive and well beside her, could so suddenly and so gruesomely be ripped from her life.

Keramis looked on helplessly as his worst enemy killed his best friend, his body quaking with rage and his eyes welling with angry tears. That should have been him impaled on Kranti’s claws had Karaci not stepped in, and the elf would have gladly taken his place – his friend was a far greater loss than he would have been. Karaci was the leader of an entire tribe of people, and would be missed by many, whereas Keramis was unable to make close attachments with others ever since… Bitter memories washed over him as he shot a hateful gaze at the tamunid.

Kentabri was no less shocked by the half-were’s brash actions. He lowered his head and let Lakai’s chain slip from his hands.

“Is this the best you can do?!” Kranti bellowed into thin air. He thrust Karaci’s corpse aside and turned to face Keramis.

Lakai ran to Lianna and tugged on her skirt – the intensity of emotion he was bombarded with from a distance was strong enough without needing to amplify them through direct contact. Even bleary-eyed the woman realized what was offered to her; she would not let Karaci’s death be in vain. Grabbing Lakai and his leash, Lianna poured all her anguish into the formation of a blazing fireball. She launched it into the chamber and it exploded in a cloud of smoke.

The room quickly filled up with a suffocating smog. Through the confusing din of spasmodic coughing, Kentabri raised Keramis to his feet and pushed him towards Lianna. The elf did not stop to question his luck and scrambled blindly towards her. Lianna clenched his hand and the three dashed back through the web of earthen tunnels towards the entrance. They sprinted across the nearly empty main chamber and escaped into the safety of the forest.

When the smoke cleared, Kranti and Beyati saw Kentabri rolling on the ground, moaning in pain. Looking around some more, they noticed that Keramis was gone, and so was Lakai.

“What happened??” Kranti demanded.

“The girl!” Kentabri groaned, “She hit me over the head in all the smoke and–”

“Everybody to the entrance!” Kranti ordered, “Organize the soldiers and block the exit! I don’t want anything leaving or entering Kayintas until Aloquin gets there!”

The half-were gave Kentabri a dubious glare before running off after the others.

*          *            *

Raven and Lynn hurried through the corridors. The half-elf stopped to look in every cavern they passed, frantically searching for Aurora. He knew his way around from long before, when he had to fight Kranti in these very passages. Lynn had lost hope of finding anything except an armed barricade on their way out, but knew that he would not be able to get the half-elf to leave otherwise.

At last Raven spotted a bright shadow in the alcove of one of the rooms and ran in. Aurora got up from scrubbing the floor and gaped at him in fright; he did not realize that he was soaked in blood. Upon closer inspection she recognized that the blood was not his and cautiously came nearer.

“We have to get out of here,” Raven said, taking her hand.

“No, you shouldn’t have come for me,” she begged, “I can’t leave. You need to go before Aloquin finds you!”

“Why can’t you leave?” Raven asked.

“This enchanted iron choker,” she explained, moving the tresses of blond hair from her neck, “It blocks my magic and keeps me inside the boundaries of Kayintas.”

Raven stepped back at a loss.

“It can only be removed by another god,” she said softly.

Raven stared at her, miserable and defeated. He was prepared to stay with her in these dreary halls and die in a futile attempt to make Aloquin take off the damned choker; that would be an honorable death, would it not? No it wouldn’t. The half-elf turned pleadingly to Lynn.

“Take it off, Raven,” the Acora smiled favorably.

Raven peered at him skeptically, then slowly shifted his gaze back to Aurora and looked deeply into her emerald eyes. Though every rational thought in his mind told him that Lynn must be mocking him, the half-elf was pulled by an undeniable longing as he reached out with trembling hands to the forest spirit’s choker; he had to at least try. To his amazement, it snapped open at his slightest touch. Aurora could feel the magic return to her as her body pulsed with renewed power. Raven laughed in disbelief and enfolded her in a joyful hug that she happily returned.

“We have to go now,” Lynn interjected.

They heeded his advice, retracing their steps through the network of tunnels heading for the entrance. Running into the main chamber, they were met by the entire residential Kayintas army brandishing drawn weapons. With no other option available, Lynn and Raven charged straight at them, determined to fight through the living wall.

Lynn cartwheeled into the soldiers, snapping their weapon handles with a series of swift chops by the knife of his hand. Dipping down, the dark elf did a round sweep to their legs with his foot and watched the fighters fall over like a string of dominoes. He tread on top of them and pushed off the ground, flipping through the air to land a double kick on his next target. Lynn sensed a foe coming in from behind and swiftly reversed the momentum of his elbow to thrust it into the throat of the unsuspecting orc. More enemies rushed at him from all directions, but the Acora was ready for the onslaught. He batted the wrist of an overhead sword slash aside with his arm, tripped a reasonably skilled elven opponent with some fancy footwork, twisted the hand of a goblin to its back, jabbed it in the side, and shoved it towards its incoming buddies.

Aurora stood a ways to the rear, calling up the foliage of the forest to sprout through the stony floor and bind the hands and feet of the Kayintas army.

Lynn stumbled onto Kentabri, who held out his staff defensively. Moving fast, the dark elf kicked into it, breaking it in two. Kentabri stepped back, twirled the two sticks and dropped them to the ground. Bowing, he exposed empty hands in a gesture of submission and rolled out of the way. Lynn then turned to Beyati, who shrieked and ran away.

Raven ruthlessly cut through the drunken army, clearing it away as one would forest overgrowth. Anyone who looked into his eyes would shrink away in terror for they burned with the ravenous bloodlust of the Warrior Spirit. Dancing around the shoots of vegetation, he hacked, slashed, and sliced through skin and bone with astonishing speed and grace, letting nobody in his path crawl away unscathed. But though the craving for blood of the spirit inside him was insatiable, his body was beginning to tire.

Kranti stepped into his path, roaring and holding up a sword in his bloodstained paw.

Raven growled back.

“ENOUGH!!” a voice thundered throughout the cave, followed by a gust of wind that blasted everything in the cavern hard into the walls. It was strong enough to uproot the entangled soldiers, in some cases yanking their limbs right out of their sockets and leaving bloodied stumps still caught in the foliage.

Aloquin stalked over to the half-elf, pulled him away from the wall, and sprawled him on the ground. Kneeling down, he dipped the lock of hair into the cup and drew a circle around them with Raven’s blood. The wizard put his hands on the half-elf’s chest and forehead, and lapsed into an intense concentration. A powerful forcefield sprung up along the border of the circle, forming a shielding sphere. The god began to steadily drain away Raven’s lifeforce, breathing it into his own being, and when the half-elf regained consciousness, he found himself paralyzed and gradually growing weaker.

Aurora looked up to watch the spectacle unfolding before her, unable to find a weakness in the magical barrier. Some of the Kayintas army began to stir. Lynn shakily got to his feet.

Aloquin continued sucking up his victim’s energy at a smooth, regular rate. Raven felt himself losing consciousness again, except that this time it was not just fading, but literally being ripped out of him. It was then that the wizard sensed a fierce resistance coming from deep within Raven’s unconscious. A resistance so great that it disrupted his concentration, causing his barrier to waver for just a fraction of a second. But that fraction of a second was enough time for Aurora to dive at him, pushing him off Raven and out of the circle. What remained of the barrier was instantly dispelled.

Lynn dashed at Aloquin, bombarding him with a blurred succession of kicks and punches. Aurora summoned an enormous wall of brambles to rise from underground, stalling the Kayintas army. She grabbed Raven and dragged him out through the exit. Lynn landed a roundhouse kick across the god’s head, then spun about to elbow him in the ribs. A well-placed punch to the face sent Aloquin reeling backwards to fall on his rear. Wasting no time, the dark elf seized Raven’s sword and ran out through the entrance, leaping into the thick of the forest. The doorway overgrew with vines behind him.

“Krantiii!!” Aloquin shrieked, calling for the great dragon. The mighty black-scaled beast stomped in from a large hallway and the wizard hopped to his feet and mounted its back. “After them!” Aloquin yelled at the army, “I want them hunted down! All of them!! Kill Raven! NOW!!” The dragon breathed a stream of singing flame at the doorway, incinerating the overgrowth, and marched out into the woods.

Kranti plodded through the trees, crushing everything in its path. The ground shuddered with its every step, letting all the forest know that the great dragon was out of its lair and on the prowl. The bewildered remnants of the Kayintas army hastened out of the cave and spread out in disorganized search parties.



Copyright © 2003 by Yumeni www.twilightvisions.com. All rights reserved.
Revised: 27 Jan 2013 22:57:43 -0700 .




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