3.42 The Hunger Never Dies

Location: Fubar in the Orkney Region
Timeline: Sixth Age, Spring, 51

Sometimes the Sands of Time seem to drain quickly, sometimes they appear to be stuck in the Hourglass. Ramssee could certainly attest to the validity of that statement – for during his short time in Fubar, the Viperz had experienced a smattering of good things that ever ended all too soon, interlaced between long periods of insignificance. 

It was the middle of Spring in the 51st Year and Ramssee feared that it was again about to be one of those periods of time which he would not enjoy. He was lounging in bed at the newly remodeled royal suite with his girlfriend Monnik. They were nibbling on some fruit-filled pastries and taking their morning tea (although Ramssee’s was laced with alcohol, as usual). It had been a year since his nemesis Kaoz and that fool Diked had left Fubar and the Royal Steward had very much enjoyed his time as the acting ruler of all the lands.

These were good things. 

However, Ramssee in a black mood this morning because he’d received word via a courier from Primcitta that Diked and Kaoz had arrived there and were already on their way back to Fubar – in fact, the missive estimated that they would be arriving within the week! 

“And I suppose that means Diked will want to be ‘King’ again?”  Monnik said to her lover.  A beautiful black-haired raven, she was a former whore of Fubar that Ramssee had developed a strange attraction for and thus kept her around. (1) When the viperz didn’t answer, the woman trailed her finger down his chest and repeated her question. “Ahem. Honey you did not answer me. Will Diked be return to be king?”

“Why? What do you care?” Ramssee pushed Monnik’s hand away. “Are you asking because that means you want to be with HIM now?!?”

“No, no,” Monnik tried to soothe – she was in fact lying and had every intention of wanting to remain as the ‘bride of power,’ but she didn’t want the Steward to know that. “I just care about you, about ‘us.’ Don’t you know me by now?”

Ramssee didn’t have the time or inclination to analyze Monnik for he was too engrossed in his own problems. “Ach! Diked will get to enjoy all the fruits of MY labor. No, strike that, that nitwit will probably end up screwing things up and then expect me to fix them! Alas, and I was so hoping that Diked and that gray beast would stay in Ramos forever and not bother me anymore! Why can’t they all just leave me alone and let me run MY kingdom?”

“I don’t understand, dear,” Monnik said softly, trying to plant a seed, “You are the one in power now. It’s you whose built Orkney into a wealthy kingdom and I hear the royal families love you for it.”

“Get to the point, bitch.” Ramssee prodded.

“Just this, do you REALLY need to abdicate? Are you not strong enough now with your army to resist little Diked? Surely some of your men can dispatch with Kaoz – I mean, come now, he may be fearsome, but he is only ONE myz.”

“YOU don’t know Kaoz!” Ramssee was frustrated. But then, pondering to himself, I wonder…

Yet, just as quickly then the Viperz raged, “Drat! It will never work! That fiend Alec still hates me. Despite my attempts to fortify the army by giving him all those dwarvish weapons, that traitor still can’t look me in the eye!”

Monnik rubbing Ramssee’s chest again, “Alec is afraid of your power. Why don’t you have him removed?” She moved her hand down to the snakeman’s stomach and then made her way lower still. “Perhaps that doesn’t matter now. Let me take your mind off of things…”

The Steward again brushed away her attempt and pushed her off the bed.“No, what doesn’t matter is YOU! Now, get out! I have work to do.”

Monnik pretended to be upset as she ran from the room (2), yet once she was out of the room, she gathered herself together and retired to her own chambers to plan a wonderful day of baths and such by herself. And after that, some shopping at the markets! She thought.

Meanwhile, Ramssee continued his own introspection. Hmmm. She may be right – why do I have to abdicate? After all, look what I’ve accomplished. The Royal Steward thought back, praising himself for all that he had done since Diked had left.

First off there had been the whimsical experience of Dugan Finch’s visit which occurred just a month after Diked himself had left for Ramos. Ramssee recalled how he had to painstakingly listen to the twit Dugan lament about Diked not caring about him and wondering if they were still friends and whether or not Diked was going to marry his rug rat of a sister. 

Those were perhaps the three longest days of my life! What a buffoon that Dugan was. Yet, he was easy to dispatch with – I didn’t even need my Powers to convince him that he had nothing to fear. I suppose I should be thankful that he took my advice and went home so quickly – else I would have been stuck with him all winter!

Ramssee then remembered more important matters of state – such as the improvements to the Fubar army and defense networks he’d instituted.  It was true that soon after Diked left, Ramssee made the decision to allow Alec and his captains to take part in the review of the Akka treasure – more specifically, The Royal Steward decreed that the Orkney army was entitled to outfitting themselves with whatever dwarvish arms suited them. The only provision being that Ramssee reserved the right to review all items first (3).

When reports came in that a few of Orkney’s high society had some reservations about the ramping up of Fubar’s armed forces, The Royal Steward was easily able to dispatch those concerns – holding numerous social events during which he warned the upper crust that word of Orkney’s new wealth was spreading rapidly and likely to bring all sorts of unsavory peoples to the kingdom. Fortification of the city was the first step, after which the viperz promised to give aid to the lords to protect their lands as well (4). Once Ramssee secured their buy-in, he then commissioned a series of defense projects that offered further improvements to Fubar’s walls and bulwarks.

Ha, Diked and Kaoz won’t recognize the place when they return! The viperz smiled to himself. The walls around the inner city. The great gates. The new battlements. The guards. But…it is necessary. (5)

Meanwhile, Ramssee continued to praise himself for a job well done and in truth the year of his reign had been a profitable one. Although the Akka miners had never succeeded in opening The Deepest Depths or unearthing The Grim, the viperz didn’t trouble himself on that front. Instead The Royal Steward had continued to embezzle most of Akka’s treasures into his own coffers as he saw his wealth soar.

Ah yes, it was a good year. The contented man reminisced. 

Ramssee’s good fortunes followed him on the political front as well. For he’d allowed just enough wealth from Akka to trickle its way into the hands of the other powerful families of Orkney. He coupled this with lavish social events to celebrate the emergence of Orkney as a World Power and naturally, at each of these soirees, Ramssee himself humbly accepted the praise of the kingdom, egraciously allowing others to give him the moniker of “The People’s Champion.” 

How ironic, he thought to himself, knowing he’d done nothing to help the common people of the kingdom. Ah, but theirs is a different lot in life – they neither need nor desire such riches as I do. They are my people and I will live the glorious life on their behalf and they will all love me for it.

Yet not everybody loved Ramssee. With chagrin, the viperz also recalled that the prior year didn’t end quite as he would have hoped – for it was the middle of last year’s winter, on the bleakest day of the season and during year’s longest night,  that I as Grim Death did come to call on him again!


And I was so sure I would have enjoyed that particular glass of brandy! Ramssee ruefully remembered my surprise visit, recalling himself whiling away another night in the King’s Den – a warm room whose walls were lined with dark cherry, whose floor was covered with multiple layers of plush skins sewn together into a thick carpet, and which was outfitted with heavenly over-stuffed armchairs. The private study was kept toasty by a sizable fire in its generous hearth. Nonetheless, it’s best feature – and the reason why Ramssee spent so many of his winter’s nights there – was its particularly well-stocked liquor cabinet. (6)

As it was Ramssee had just poured himself a glass of a rare sangaree – one so costly that even he could only afford a single carafe. With the aged bottle in one hand and a half-filled goblet in the other, he casually walked over to his favorite chair – then it happened.

I came to call.

There was no mistaking the apparition that appeared before him – for I made sure to look as ghastly as ever with my nightmare black robes covering all – leaving only my glowing eyes to shine forth.

The very sight of me caused Ramssee such a fright that he let out a scream as he dropped both his vessel and his glass, leaving him with only the fumes of his precious liquor. Yet the viperz had little time to cry over spilt brandy, for what he thought was going to be a relaxing evening of privacy had suddenly turned into something far different.

“WHERE IS THE GRIM?” I roared at my pawn – and even though it was a vision meeting, I knew Ramssee felt the force of my words. 

When the viperz didn’t answer, I realized he was in a state of shock. Hmm, perhaps that was a bit much? I said to myself before trying again – speaking slowly and calmly I asked my minion, “I will only ask it once, dear boy. Tell me you have my prize…or pay the price.”

The viperz appeared to have recovered himself. “Fear not, My Lord. Hear me now – The Great Shedu Mezai shall have his dagger soon. In fact—”

“What? Are you saying…” Now it was me who experienced a state of shock – for I’d never actually allowed myself to get my hopes up again about The Grim and to hear Ramssee now tell me he’d apparently secured my prize – well, it left me at a loss for words.

I took a moment to gather my composure. But then I turned deadly serious. “If you have my prize, slave, why have you not returned immediately to bring it to me?” Ramssee tried to speak up at this point, but I pounded on, “Tell me that Kaoz is already on his way to me and I will spare your life! Otherwise, prepare to pay the price!” And here I moved my hands towards the front of my robes, intending to exposure my heart-space and act as The Black Harvester once more. 

 Yet, even as I did so I realized it was a mistake. I can’t kill this fool now, not when I am so close to getting The Grim. And I can’t very well drive the man away to rival – who knows if Inanna has already sucked him dry too? I need to handle this with kid gloves. “Ramssee, forgive me. How could I question your loyalty? Let me instead congratulate you on a job well done! You shall have anything in the world you desire – just name your reward. All you must do is complete the mission I gave to you – bring me The Grim.” And, displaying a hunger I could not hide, I asked ravenously, “So, tell me, when can you return? Do you need an armed escort? How many men, just name the amount. I can even have them invade Orkney if need be. Tell me. Tell me what you need to bring me my precious gift?”

Silence.

I remained silent and gave Ramssee every opportunity to talk again. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it seems the viperz hadn’t intended to make me believe that he had The Grim in his position, but instead only that he was close to acquiring it. Fortunately for Ramssee I assumed he had my prize, otherwise I would have destroyed him on the spot. Unfortunately for him, Ramssee realized he was in a precarious situation and was facing the prospect of having to tell a god he was incorrect. The snake man struggle to reply.

I’ll give Ramssee credit – any other mortal would surely have misspoke – and thus experienced my wrath. But, luckily for Ramssee, I’d gifted him with The Power of Persuasion – even though he surely must have known that it was insanely dangerous to try to use my magic against me, I can only assume that he was desperate to try anything to save his skin. It helped that he was now a more skilled user of The Power, and therefore he was able to employ his gift without showing me the more overt signs that he was doing so and he was particularly careful not to let the magic show in his eyes. Thus is was that when Ramssee finally began to speak, his words (unbeknownst to me) were laced with <Persuasion>.

“Master, I do not require an army to return home to you.” Ramssee began contritely. “I long for the day when I can be in your presence again. I yearn to accept the generous praise you have lauded on me. Even now I am making the preparations for the safe – and secret! – transportation of Your Dagger back to you.” The Viperz took a big gulp before pressing ahead quickly. “While The Grim is technically still within the Deepest Depths, I am certain we have it soon. I have had miners working round the clock and the reports are most excellent – indeed, securing of The Grim is so imminent as to be thought of as a matter of course.”

At this point I was ready to explode with delight, and this allowed the viperz <persuade> me to keep listening as Ramssee continued. “Fear not, Great Lord. I say again, you shall have The Grim – in fact, I’m certain you’ll be admiring your prize in by summer’s end! Surely that is but a brief delay; nay, think of it as in ‘investment of time’ – one whose patience will pay you back dearly!” 

Most men – whether they had The Power or not – would have attempted to rest their case, banking on the made-up near-term timetable as enough to sate me for being so close to my long-hoped-for desire.

Most men would then have surely been exterminated by me for attempting such a foolish lie – for whether I was persuaded or not, I was never The Fool.

Yet, neither was Ramssee. And what saved him from instant death was his ever-growing cunningness – for the viperz did not wait for me to answer, and instead continued working to save his own life. 

“Master, I am so glad you came to call. I have tried to reach out to you to ask for your help.” Ramssee lied, changing the subject away from the dagger. “Unfortunately I have no way to call upon you. Nor would I dream of interrupting your important work. Yet, I am at a loss as to how to handle an unexpected problem. Do you think you can help?”

The question caught me off guard. Frustrated yet intrigued I took the bait. “What is the problem?”

“Kaoz is gone.” The Viperz wove his deception deeper, smartly interlacing it with some truth. When he saw my reaction – or lack of one – Ramssee must have realized his guess was right – before visiting him, I’d already tried to contact Kaoz – without success. His play successful, he continued. “Kaoz is gone. He is the reason we are behind schedule. But only just slightly behind!” 

“I knew he was gone.” I hissed. “Tell me more.”

“You know from your last visit that Kaoz wasn’t happy here. Given his size and terrible appearance, we had no choice but keep him hidden from view. Only King Diked knew of him here. But that served my plans. Recall how you previously helped us to install Diked to power. I cannot thank you enough for—“

“I need not your review of my own exploits. Get to the point… quickly.”

“Of course. In any case, Kaoz was like a caged bull – growing ever more restless. I tried to give him as many people as possible to have his way with – those peasants and whores from the streets who would not be missed. But, it was never enough. He always longed to reap more death and destruction. Always did I try to get him to understand that we were here to do YOUR will, Master – I explained the importance of our mission, but he did not care. For you see…Ah, I hesitate to say this…He, ah…”

“What?” Despite his own inklings against doing so, I was finding myself buying in to the viperz’ tale.

“My Lord, although I cannot conceive how he could come take up such heresy…Kaoz kept talking of a different master.” And the viperz bowed his head low after the statement, as if shielding himself from danger by his subservience. When I didn’t reply, Ramssee added depth to his accusation, “This past fall, I could no longer control the myz. Kaoz went berserk – killing two entire families before running out of town. He took King Diked as a hostage.”

“Interesting.” I mused. While I’d been listening to him talk, I’d begun to get a strange feeling. Has this bastard been trying to use Persuasion on me? Yet how can that be – for I see no signs that he is doing so? Hmmm, his tale might be true, yet it is all too easy. Surly he is just trying to save his own skin and rid himself of a rival. Well then, let’s just see where he is going with this. “And where do you believe he went to?”

Now had Ramssee came right out and talked of Inanna or even Gwar, I would have killed him immediately. Whether it was the truth or not was besides the point because the explanation the viperz gave me meant that I could not contact Kaoz to confirm any of this. Furthermore, if the myz actually was being protected by Lust or War, it would have meant a failure on MY part – and I certainly wasn’t ready to accept that! I would have needed a scapegoat and that would have been Ramssee.

Once again the viperz’ cleverness saved him. “Alas. I know not, Master. But, I did not grant myself time to worry about Kaoz. For the prime directive you gave to me was to find The Grim. Removing Kaoz from the picture was my secondary objective.” He dared a slight smile. “It seems Kaoz has done that for me. In any event, I immediately took over rule of the kingdom as The Royal Steward and continued to maintain our mining efforts. The people respond well to me, if I don’t say so myself.” 

Ramssee couldn’t help but let his pride show at that last statement – it was a mistake that almost cost him his life! For then it was that I knew of a certain that I was Persuaded. And while I did not show my anger show, I now wondered just how deep the viperz agenda was. Does he want My Grim for himself? Does he mean to use it against me? Is he in league with Inanna and are they harboring Kaoz away from me? Is Kaoz on his way in secret to assassinate me even now?

Powerless to answer these questions and worse yet, realizing that I could not eliminate Ramssee for his treason – for the viperz was my only link towards knowing this terrible plot against me – I suddenly found myself afraid. It was a feeling I did not appreciate.

Nonetheless, I am a god, and as such, after but a moment, I got my mind back in order. Who am I to be fearful of a mortal?!? Whether this pretender is in league with one of my rivals or not, they will never take ME down! Ramssee must know that I am still the One God here. I must press him for more – eventually he will slip up and then I will have him!

With fire in my eyes, I slowly reached up and began to lower my cowl – revealing my grotesque skull. Ramssee took a step back and blanched white – letting me know I’d achieved the intended result. “That’s good, my slave. You would do well to fear me with your entire being!” I knew I couldn’t kill the fool just yet, however I promised to turn his stomach inside out with fear. “If you are lying to me, I will keep you alive for use in my experiments for 1,000 years, and only then will I tear your soul from your body. Witness what awaits you, cur!”

Here I opened my robes – exposing the nightmare that few had ever lived to tell about as I showed Ramssee my skeleton in all it’s glory – to include not only the missing middle rib of the left side, but more importantly what that gap was the gateway to. For inside my chest cavity were countless forsaken souls, swirling around in agony, the apparitions in endless torment as they had to contend for <Life> with the Evil that was MY Soul!

The viperz was soon on the floor begging for the nightmare to stop as he covered his eyes, trying to shut out the sights.

“I command you to bear witness.” I roared, signing a brief gesture with my finger in Ramssee’s direction – forcing the man to look again upon his my menace. 

“So many trapped souls!” Ramssee wailed at the sight of the swirling wisps of colors raging around inside me. “So many people! Listen to them howl!”

But the snake man’s ordeal was far from over as I advised, “LOOK… AT…ME…” 

And then, from somewhere within and around the other trapped souls inside me, an inky blackness that was unformed before began to coalesce and take shape – and the entity that was my true <Essence> was now visible before my slave!

My Blackness subtly swirled. And then it flowed – outward from the hole of my missing rib. It cascaded out towards the snake man who was locked in place by his own heart-stopping Fear. 

At this point I should probably remind you that this was only a vision meeting and as such I couldn’t really take the viperz’ soul. But Ramssee didn’t know that and as a result he truly thought I was about to suck the life out of him as my Blackness quested to pull rip his soul apart.

“This is the moment.” Ramssee cried. “Death has come for me — too soon!”

In the end, I let my slave off the hook – as with a sinister grin I pulled myself back into my skeleton frame without bringing the viperz’ soul with me. After that I closed my robes, and with that the supernatural sights were gone.

“Ha, Ha, Ha!” I cackled in delight at the power I possessed. “And now you know your future. There is no avoiding the torment you will face with me, fiend.” Here I laid a calculated pause. After which I added, “Unless…”

Despite the nightmares now covered again beneath my robes, the viperz was still terrified. His nerve was gone. He remained in a rumpled heap on the floor begging for his life. And yet, in spite of all that had happened, somehow Ramssee remained charmed – for, whether he intended to or not, there must have been some magic of The Power left that controlled his speech, and thus rather than admit to his own lies and ask for forgiveness – which I would NOT have granted – instead, Ramssee miraculously continued his lies. “My Lord. My One True God.” He groveled. “How could I ever deceive you? You are a Loving Master. Please, please spare me. Let me live to serve you. Wh-what can I do to make you happy? Do you want gold? Jewels? I can have all the wealth of Akka shipped to you. Just tell—“

“SILENCE! I want none of those mortal treasures! You know what I want. Bring me The Grim by the end of summer as you promised or I will send another to replace you who can do the job and YOU will pay the price I described – you will live with me forever!”

“Yes. Yes, Master.” Ramssee buried his head as he writhed on the floor. “I will. Thank you for visiting.” 

“I am not finished!” I boomed. “You WILL tell me more of what you know about Kaoz, else your torture will be even worse!” 

“But, My God, I do not know.” The viperz whined. 

“You DO!”

Silence. Then, “He threatened to kill me if I speak.”

“Fool. Kaoz could only take your mortal life, I can torment you for all eternity! Tell me now or die here!”

“Pr-Pr-Primcitta!” Ramssee bellowed. “I believe he went to Primcitta to get a boat to… the South. After that…I surely do not know…” And he pretended to pass out from the extreme ordeal. 

“And so it goes.” The viperz heard me say in a whisper. “The game is on, Inanna. Yet you shall not defeat me.” 

In a flash, I was gone. Leaving Ramssee alone at last. 


How it was that the snake man’s mind was not permanently marred by the scarring nightmares that I forced on him, who can say?

Many others would have been driven insane or ended with a mind of little more than jelly. Yet this was not the case with Ramssee (7) and soon enough he recovered from the ordeal.

Well, this has not been an evening that turned out as I expected. He thought as he lay on the floor thanking the stars for his ability to escape me. Then, just as he was about to pick himself up, he noticed a pool of spilt brandy to his left and leaned over to lap up the sangaree like a dog. “Oooh, that is soooo good. Curse that fiend for causing me to waste it so.”

In the end, Ramssee drank so much of the liquor that he really did pass out – but this time it was in a drunken stupor. 

Later that evening a servant found him such and took him to bed.


When he awoke the next day, The Royal Steward, finding himself in his own bedchambers, wondered if the events of the previous evening were all just a bad dream or if they truly happened. 

In a flash, he rushed to his study. 

Everything was cleaned and in place.

Is it here? Is it secret? Is it safe? He thought frantically as he ran to the locked cabinet which held his most precious reserve bottles. Fumbling with the key in his haste, he finally fit it in the lock and opened the cabinet door – only to discover that the Fessel of Sangaree was gone!

“So, Death really did call for me.” He said dejectedly. “Alas, my time is growing short.”

Yet rather than give up Ramssee bolstered his spirits. “Ha! Who is Shedu Mezai to threaten me? Oh sure, he gave me a few chills with his parlor trick performance but I was just a little caught off guard; now I know that he cannot hurt me so long as I am not in his presence. One day I will be even more powerful than he; I just need to strengthen my position here. I need to become The Emperor I always dreamed of!

“And so, the question remains,” he continued his self-conversation, “what am I going to do about Diked? Well, I guess that depends on how Kaoz feels about him – right now I am wary to take that myz out, for I may need to use him against The Shaitan.

“Perhaps Kaoz can take out Diked for me?” He wondered. “Then he can incur the wrath of Alec. I could have Kaoz given up as a scapegoat. Since there is no other heir and I am already in power, then surely the people will want me to remain. Given more successes I can then gain enough power to remove Alec as well and eventually declare myself as Emperor – with no one left to dispute my claim!

“Ah, but what if Kaoz won’t do it?”

Silence reigned as the viperz continued his schemes.

Then he smiled. “Well, well, there’s always Monnik. Perhaps she will be useful to me after all…”


Nektar’s Notes

  1. Like any other prostitute, she’d been summoned to the Royal Steward’s bed-chambers – in Monnik’s case it was back in winter of ’49. For reasons Ramssee still did not understand, unlike the other girls he took to bed, Monnik was different. To begin with, he didn’t have a desire to kill her after he’d his way with her. In addition, he actually liked spending time with her even when they weren’t having sex. But perhaps what the viperz liked best about Monnik was that she was a conniving schemer just like himself – therefore, someday, Ramssee knew he would be able to use her skills in this capacity. As a by-product of Ramssee’s attraction to Monnik, the viperz stopped his killing the whores of Fubar – for, except on rare occasions, Ramssee no longer desired to be with other ‘lesser’ women. Now, this is not to say he was foolish enough to parade Monnik around town – for she was after all a whore and The Royal Steward had a growing political reputation to attend to. Even still, he did invite her to frequent secret meetings at his home – telling his servants that the reason he needed to keep seeing this particular prostitute was because she was an unusual case – unlike the others, he explained that this one needed ‘special, long-term counseling’ in order to reach her reform and become a good citizen. Yet, whether or not his servants accepted this explanation did not matter to Ramssee, for, as he told himself, should any of them ever appear suspicious or out of line, he could always have them disposed of. 
  2. In reality Monnik was used to this treatment. She knew it would ever be the same with Ramssee and had thus accepted this behavior long ago – after all Ramssee served a purpose for the girl since he was her means to living a life better than she could have ever dreamed of on her own.
  3. Besides making sure nobody took The Grim dagger if it happened to show up (which it didn’t), Ramssee also wanted to to ensure nobody from the army was taking anything too valuable – as such Ramssee had all gemstones removed from the Akka weapons before Alec or his men viewed them. The gems were then (allegedly) placed in the Royal Treasury (read: Ramssee’s private coffers). When Alec asked about the removal of the gems, Ramssee got him to agree that the stones served no purpose on the battlefield and would only endanger the men by distracting their attentions – this was perhaps the only time the Orkney General and the Royal Steward ever agreed on anything.
  4. This was, of course, a lie – Ramssee had no intention of spending any of his money to help the Orkney lords fortify their lands – especially since he planned to raid them one day and acquire them for himself.
  5. The fool that was Ramssee had actually convinced himself that these extra defenses would protect him against any future minions I might send his way, yet what he didn’t realize was that if/when the time came for me to extract him for his impudence, I wasn’t going to rely on any mortals to do my bidding – therefore Ramssee’s army and his walls wouldn’t matter one wit against what I had planned for him!
  6. Even before the viperz had become the de facto ruler, the Orkney King’s private den had been stocked with palatable potables from the world-over; however, it was Ramssee – and his glorious newfound wealth – that took the selection to a new heights. During the past year, he’d brought in many a case of private reserve label spirits and other grand cru items. And while he occasionally invited others to admire his collection, for the most part, he hoarded the enjoyment of this aquavitae for himself. 
  7. We’ll chalk it up to my prowess at managing the situation.
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