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So, I'm creating a medieval setting with a bit of fantasy in it. Like, for example, Druids are really able to heal any wound (if their gods wish so tho.), Griffins are alive and kicking, still, there is no way for one guy to send a fire ball or something. Except healing magic, there is basically no magic, except for magical animals, dragons are able to cast spells. It's also on Earth, albeit with a larger Ireland (Same size as the Britain region in France), a very large South Africa and Atlantis which is a continent between the Americas and Africa/Europe.

I was having fun creating a superpower living in western Europe, they started in the Alps and spread to Danemark in the North, captured Spain and basically own North Italy. These guys use Griffins to help their army , they got a legislative system that ensure you're not screwed if born in a not noble family and basically everyone is equal, as long as you don't involve in crimes that is. Criminals are released outside the Griffin Republic, which basically means "Good luck living in the wildside, hopefully there is no dragons or bandits or slavemasters..." and is dissuasive enough. There is two military reasons that asserts their dominance, they got Crossbows (only one that does.) and Griffins. Griffins are sentient and volunteer in the army, they are quite able at strategy and act as guerilla units in war time.

Then I realized this was cool and fuzzy but they need at least another super power that simply would make them not conquer the world.

I created an Irish druidic kingdom, they got healing magic and are incredible seafarers. They discovered every continents and possess trade routes with every civilization they discovered. They dominate the British Islands and a fair part of Morocco. They are very numerous, very few of their infants die. They also craft siege weaponry (Ballistae, Cannons, Catapult) that helped them protect their trade route.

Why would these two superpowers fear each other? Everything I think of sounds quite "weird" and unatural (after all before the Cold War, each superpower that found someone that could threaten it felt the urge to strike first.).

What would you recommend? Creating a third party ? "Nerfing" them?

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    $\begingroup$ You don't really need a larger Ireland, just for less of it to be a bog $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 28 '17 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ Your Cold War idea is good. They both have assemblies of powerful mages able to magically engineer devastating devices, ensuring a MAD scenario in case of an open war. $\endgroup$ – Keelhaul Jun 28 '17 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ It was actually to have a sacred grove populated only by druids that was quite big and possibly dangerous. $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ " I'm creating a medieval setting" - no you are not. This isn't an issue because of the way things worked in the middle ages. You would have brothers fighting each other to the death long before you have an empire actually taking over the entire world for more than a couple of years. The closest we got was the Mongol empire, not much more conquering after Genghis was dead because amongst other things his empire was divided. I advice you to read up on what happened to the Franks after Chlothar I died. This would be an issue in a couple of time periods, but absolutely not in the middle ages. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 28 '17 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 I really don't mean to be rude but I don't think you really understand how large were some empires in the Middle Age. The Holy Roman Empire was considered a super power; before the Hundred Years War, France qualified as a super power, England too. Spain became a super power in the late middle-age, the Turks, Timurids, China could also be super power, Persia (Sassanids especially) was a super power... $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 14:57
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Most large empires in the past, expecially those risen until middle age, were not prevented from conquering the world by another power, but rather from the poor logistic. Once your orders need months to reach all the provinces, once your troops cannot be fed in that war far far away, your empire simply cannot grow further.

In a two powers scenario where there is no MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), you can leverage on this logistic difficulty: set the powers separated by a large natural barrier (an ocean, a desert or a mountain range), which is hardly crossable with the technology of the time. You can refer to the following examples, taken from our history:

  • America and Europe separated by the Atlantic Ocean
  • Europe and China separated by the Middle East deserts
  • India and China separated by the Himalaya

A first strike would need such a massive preparations and investments to simply dry out all other resources from the attacker with an high risk of failure, and therefore the two Empires, though being afraid of each other, would have no practical means to attack each other and maintain a reasonable force to protect them from smaller but closer enemies.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is suprisingly easy to implement. I really like the logistic being a major problem, but I made them conveniently close to each other. Will try to write a thing or two about it, if it satisfies me you'll be accepted as answer :) thanks for your time! $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 10:00
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    $\begingroup$ @LamaDelRay Large and high moutain ranges can allow closer proximity while retaining the logistical cost required for large scale attacks. $\endgroup$ – Autar Jun 28 '17 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @LamaDelRay, I edited my answer to embed Autar's valuable comment. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jun 29 '17 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ Really more helpful ! (even tho you were already.) Thanks a lot! $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 29 '17 at 8:12
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I have a few points of logic you should consider, especially about Griffins, but first:

[The Europeans have] Crossbows.

That doesn't stop the Druids, with healing magic. How powerful or fast is the healing magic? Is it a weapon itself, in war? I have shot both a regular bow and a crossbow, it is not instantly easy to hit the bullseye with it. So while a bolt to the head of a druid might kill it; that is a small target, and can be protected by a shield or helmet. Suppose along with healing, druids can also magically turn off pain in war: They might as well, any injuries are going to be healed anyway, and any damage caused to their bodies by ignoring pain will be magically disappeared as well.

Unlike the Europeans, make the Druids extremely hard to kill; it isn't enough to put a bolt in their heart and move on; put ten bolts in them and they are still coming at you with an axe like its a minor inconvenience. A European soldier could get so used to Griffins as to not think of them as magic, but the Druids in war could seem unstoppable.

Griffins are sentient and volunteer in the army, they are quite able at strategy and act as guerrilla units in war time.

Then why aren't they in charge? What stops them from militarily just taking over from the Europeans and subjugating them? I infer they must be better at "strategy" than the Europeans, which makes them more intelligent than their masters, and better fighters to boot, since you intend them to be the reason the Euros dominate.

Given all that, why isn't this a Griffin nation? Or alternatively, why don't the Griffin break away and form their own nation? Do the Europeans prohibit the Griffin from holding political positions within their culture? Are the Griffin considered second-class citizens? Is it okay for them to be guerrilla warriors or soldiers, but never okay to be Mayor or President? Can a Griffin be our modern equivalent of a billionaire, rich and powerful with many human servants and a huge estate? Or, despite their sentience, and capacity for self-sacrifice (volunteering to protect others), and superior reasoning ability (required for superior strategic foresight), are they still treated like horses, forever relegated to the animal kingdom because of their phenotype?

Whatever makes the Griffin loyal to the Europeans, inequality and second-class status can be a powerful driver for them toward independence or a better lot.

Perhaps that political reality is coming to a head: Let us posit that the Griffin, intelligent but warriors at heart, admire the Druids in war as fellow warriors. They note the Druids fight their own wars head on without fear; including their Kings and Priests on the front lines. This is something they don't see in any other culture, especially amongst their own soft and fat Euro masters that stay far from the action.

A Potential Plot Path

The Griffins are second-class citizens in the Euro culture.

Put is in a time of initial skirmishes between the Euros and Druids, with Euros invading the more peaceful Druid territory. The Griffin population is unsettled; and developing an admiration for the Druid warriors; a stark departure from their experience with Euros and other cultures. In one of these skirmishes, a young Griffin doing his duty in the military, but also unsettled as to Griffin status in the Euro community, is badly injured by Druids; with broken wings and a spear through him, unconscious and left for dead on the battle field.

The Druid King, walking the battle field in the aftermath in case any of his soldiers can be healed, finds this Griffin; and using his healing magic; brings him to consciousness. The broken Griffin awakes in horrible pain; the King lays hands on him and the pain vanishes to barely a throb. The King converses with the Griffin, half interrogation, and half questioning the motives of the Griffin.

But this Griffin is not that sure himself about his own motives; he is loyal to a community that does not treat him as an equal. He speaks freely, certain he will die of his injuries anyway. In his mind a Griffin with broken wings is a dead Griffin, period.

In the end, the King chooses to not kill the Griffin. Druids are nature lovers and love animals. The King knows the Griffin may return to war, but so might a horse, and he understands that the horse does not choose battle, it is enslaved and cannot do anything else. So the Druid do not slaughter injured horses left behind by the enemy. They heal them and set them free.

He asks the Griffin if his kind has made the choice to invade Druidic land. Are they capable of their own decisions? The Griffin claims they are. The Druidic King ponders this, but then says, "You have given me no reason to believe that is true," and with a touch of his finger on the shattered wing of the Griffin, the Griffin falls unconscious. He wakes up hours later, the moon high in the midnight sky, fully healed. The spear through his lungs is gone; His wings intact and fully functioning, even the scratches and cuts of battle are gone. He leaps into the sky and climbs, then circles the battle field, there is no Druid or campfire in sight. He heads away, toward the European encampment.

Thus begins the neutralization of the Griffins. This one returns, his story is told and kept amongst the Griffins. They believe him, the Griffin seldom lie to their own kind, and are never cowardly.

The Druid King by touching the Griffin has learned the magic they need, and in war hereafter, a touch of more than a second or two from a Druid leaves a Griffin unconscious. After battles, any Griffin not killed in the battle, awakens healed.

The Griffin allegiance to the Euros has softened, and they are not inclined to fight Druids. They are sentient, they know full well the Druids could behead them on the battle field, but the Druids choose to heal them instead.

So while not all Griffins agree on everything, and some disdain the Druids for being weak and sentimental soldiers, the majority of Griffins have been neutralized by Druidic Mercy. And every time it happens, they question why they are following the orders of the European King at all. Are they really just smarter horses, blindly subservient?

There is a growing sentiment among Griffins that "The Druid fight is not our fight, there are other lands to conquer." A separatist movement is brewing, and the Europeans know it; so they have that distraction of social inequality to keep them politically occupied.

The Druids are smaller, geographically isolated, with no particular weapons or desire to conquer the world.

The Europeans have a standoff with the Druids, and Druids alone, because both Crossbows and Griffins are of limited use against Druids, and an all out assault on Druids might lead to a Griffin revolution. They can still wage war and plunder other human tribes; so they do that instead, it is their path of least resistance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Really liking your plot line actually. I never considered the griffins as "servants". They are good at war, not at crafting. They do not Farm. So I imagined them as a military caste, they choose if the Republic goes to war, they control military affairs but only because they are the best of the Republic at it. They could be a Griffin President, they just don't bother with it, they're not especially good legists. $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ As for the Druids, I imagined them as a support. Sure they could go and fight with their people, they just may as well be captured or whatever. They are at the back of the army, as a rearguard if needed to help the others and whatever happens, heal survivors. The Irish druidic kingdom is populated by humans. Regular ones that really mind getting shot by a crossbow. The point of the crossbow being a gamechanger is that it pierces chainmail (very easy armor to mass produce, since the Druids are really much more numerous...) $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ All answers are just food for thought! If the griffin choose when to go to war, their leader is the de facto President or King. They just leave the details to human staff. And it is the griffin that choose to NOT wipe out the Druids, perhaps because it is only the Druids they respect, or (as in my answer) only the Druids that have ever returned griffin, healed, to fight again. If the griffin are not just psychopathic killers, they may decide the Druid's have "honor", are "civilized", and if they are not aggressors they are to be respected and left alone. $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Jun 28 '17 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ P.S. In fact, the mutual respect can lead to a formal truce and trade agreement between Griffin and Druids, the Griffin need medics and the Druids need something Griffin have plenty of; say food produced by the Europeans, or a natural moss the Druids use for their magic. As part of the bargain; Druidic lands are there own, and Druids do not campaign for more territory (which they were not inclined to do anyway). $\endgroup$ – Amadeus Jun 28 '17 at 17:15
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You are missing internal factors.

I disagree with the premise that the limiting factor of an Empire would be logistics. With the logistics of their day, the Romans reached the Persian Gulf, Alexander went much further, and we better do not talk about the Mongols or the Spanish in America.

If there was an Empire with a clear advantage, poor logistics would not mean that it would not expand, just that at worst it would do slowly (this year campaign captures a small region, next year campaign another one, and so on...).

But internal factors are the limiting factor. As your empire grows, you must organize local power structures because you just cannot manage it from your throne/palace, specially given how slow communications are, so you must give some degree of independent command to your governors. With time, those become more powerful (specially if that is an hereditary position) and any weakening of the central power (for example, in a long conquest war) means an opportunity for the governor to launch a coup that can degenerate in a civil war.

The list of empires that had to stop its expansion due to internal conflict is just too long to complete: Alexander's, Western Roman, Umayyad Caliphate, Carolingian...

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  • $\begingroup$ Liking the internal factor actually. Just not having imagination to do so cleverly :/ Wondering if a griffin governor could be ambitious or not... Thanks for your answer! $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 20:41
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Air power

Air power is everything in warfare even now, a medieaval faction with gryphons would be able to conquer anything they chose. As far as they chose to spread their power. The only way to limit their expansion is to somehow limit the gryphon powered supply lines.

The easiest way is to limit the gryphons carrying capacity, let them only be able to carry enough for their own needs, if they carry a rider then they'll need to hunt, limiting their numbers, or keep a flock of sheep moving with the army and the logistics become as bad as anyone elses.

Healing

This is also a gratuitous war winner. Simply the fact that your army remains healthy regardless of circumstance and injury. Prior to antibiotics even minor wounds could easily be fatal.

You have the druids down as seafaring, until the discovery of the cure for scurvy it was estimated that any given ship would return with only half its crew (if it returned at all). By standards of the period you're depositing a considerably higher number of healthy troops into combat from your ships.


If the druids also have gryphons then my money is on them, otherwise I think it heavily favours the Griffin Republic.

Now all you need is a druish princess

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  • $\begingroup$ That was actually the premise, one of them for each :) Limiting the Gryphons supply seems the most logical thing to do, but I really don't know how they could forget such a thing. After all they are strategist. Why the need of a druish princess tho ? :o $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 9:55
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    $\begingroup$ @LamaDelRay, You really don't need a druish princess, but you did set up the joke. Easiest way is to limit the gryphons carrying capacity, let them only be able to carry enough for their own needs, if they carry a rider then they'll need to hunt, limiting their numbers, or keep a flock of sheep moving with the army and the logistics become as bad as anyone elses. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 28 '17 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ now I get the joke. Thanks ^_^ I like the idea of the Gryphon's logistics being annoying, I really can't put two answers as accepted, can I ? :'{ $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ @LamaDelRay, hold off accepting an answer for a day or so on this site, you never know what else will come along. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 28 '17 at 10:03
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Implementing an important trade between the two factions could solve your problem. By making them rely on each other in order to maintain their status, you could ensure that they won't just outright wage war against each other, while being wary enough to keep an eye on their trading partner.

For example, the western superpower could have access to numerous vital ressources for the survival of the Irish druidic kingdom (Wood, ore, etc...) they'd be willing to trade for hatchable Griffin eggs (As mighty as they are, they could very well be extremely picky about their mating conditions, most being met exclusively in the Irish territory.)

The druidic kingdom, due to their rather small territory, needs to import ressources from other empires to build the weapons protecting their trading routes, ensuring that their way of life remains the same. Yet, their territory happens to be home to Griffins, but their culture doesn't see interacting with those mighty creatures as something they'd want.

The western empire, on the other hand, needs Griffins to ensure that their worldwide-known mounted troops have something to ride on, also ensuring that their way of life remains the same. And yet, they happen to have a bunch of ressources on their territory they can't find any use for.

Still, if for some reason their fate required them to declare war to each other, one side breaking their part of the deal could be the start of a devastating, full-scale conflict.

But really, who would want to fight against druids able to contact gods? Or fight against an army of agile, dangerous, possibly magic-able, mounted cavalry with deadly ranged weapons?

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  • $\begingroup$ Liking the trade idea very much, but Griffins being sentient, I really don't think trading eggs would be tolerated. I mean, this Republic think of every citizen as equal, they would NOT sell their child, very much less buy their cousins' children. I'm thinking of druids being able to heal sick baby griffins easily as a tradeable boon, tho. Thanks a lot! $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't think about this, but like you said, trading Griffin-related services could do the trick. If you keep the idea of the Griffins being picky about their mating conditions, druids could just make sure the Griffins are able to reproduce in optimal conditions on their island, and take care of a baby Griffin if needed. Then the entire family could go back to the Western Republic when they feel like it. $\endgroup$ – Exoset Jun 28 '17 at 10:28
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The simplest way to keep two empires at bay is to simply say that power drops off the farther away you get from the capital due to all the boring logistics associated with managing an empire. Both empires have a long history of border skirmishes but whenever someone pushes too far beyond the other one's border they tend to get beaten pretty bad, much like in real life.

You can also have a lot of fun with semi-lawless "borderlands" that neither empire fully controls where all kind of shady characters inevitably end up as well as semi-independent city states that routinely change hands when they're not playing one empire against the other.

Since it's Fantasy you could even take that to the logical extreme: magical resources are somehow tied to specific locations (Druidic stone circles in fantasy Ireland, griffin nesting grounds, etc.) and once your armies get too far away they start having trouble. The griffin's get restless and the druid's spells are slightly weaker, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ I love the borderlands part. Territory that has little value to the kingdoms (poor in natural resources, hard to defend, etc) and thus isn't worth attempting to claim or fight over, and roving bands of mercenaries/pirates/etc will raid supply lines and caravans that try to cross the territory. Neither superpower tries to eradicate the marauders because it would take significant military resources to do so, and could ruffle the feathers of the other... $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Jun 28 '17 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ e.g. If the Irish try to take or clear the borderlands, the Alpsians get antsy about them setting up forward posts and such as a potential fortified line from which to make incursions into Alpsian territory. Due to the logistics issues for armies in the borderlands prior to setting up established routes and outposts, it would be easy for the Alpsians to launch a counterattack and cause heavy losses for the Irish soldiers in the borderlands (and vice versa). Thus, neither is willing to commit troops to the task of clearing the ruffians. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Jun 28 '17 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! I should really flesh out what's not in the two empires, what lies in it, what prevent those empire to commit in it. Also the border fighting seems very plausible. Really good answer! $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 20:48
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Personally I think your idea has a major flaw that would need to be addressed... you have two nations that value life and equality. By your description, they are far more likely to be allies instead of enemies.

What you really need is a nation that is the opposite in philosophy, nature or intent -- and for each of the nations to justify the "evilness" of their opponent.

For Griffin Republic, it could be aggression (of the Griffins or the people) that drive them. A belief that the Griffin "motherland" is currently occupied by the druids who claim to the land is the strongest because it is the "birthplace of their god". For a real world example, look at the Jewish and Arabic (and Christian) people with their claim to Jerusalem and how many wars over the centuries have occurred because of it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't recall saying the druidic kingdom valued equality. It's a kingdom, it'll most likely dislike a republic. Druidic citizens are valued more than common people, like some sort of nobility. Nonetheless, I really need to deepen both philosophies. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 29 '17 at 7:56
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There are (at least) two factors to consider:

  • It's much easier to have a more-or-less stable balance when several (at least three) parties are involved; balance of two is essentially unstable, at any fluctuation of power whoever has the upper hand will give in to temptation to "end it one and for all". OTOH if the smallest of the "3-faction" is smart enough it can realize it would succumb immediately after one of the two "major" ones is out of the way and thus actively and diplomatically act as a "stabilizing factor" (e.g.: mountain Elves / sentient Eagles alliance, traditionally secluded, able to fight on sea and land, but not really interested in lowlands).
  • If You have two powers You need to divide their abilities so that some natural barrier will keep them apart (e.g.: Griffins hate the sea and Druids simply cannot cope with arid climate); this makes land of the "other" faction less desirable (not to mention to fight at a disadvantage).
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  • $\begingroup$ The problem I have with three parties is that an alliance of two of them would create a terrible world war, my poor setting would not like it very much. And having a faction that hate each other guts would mean it would likely be the first to be aimed. I like the idea of natural barriers. Will work a bit on it, if I manage to do something I'll validate your answer (if no better suggestion) ;) $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 9:28
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    $\begingroup$ I edited the answer to better explain the 3-faction proposal. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Jun 28 '17 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ Something like a subversive power that is able to threaten both of striking in the back but really would like to focus on something else, is that it? $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't call them "subversive". They want to be left alone, but they are armed and unwilling to surrender (something like Switzerland, which has one of the strongest army in Europe). They realize the only way to maintain peace is to keep the balance, so they use their own weight (diplomatically and, if the need rises, also militarily) in favor of the weakest, but will withdraw as soon as the immediate threat is over. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Jun 28 '17 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ Gotcha, thanks for explaining. Will flesh it out as a dragon cult and write it. The other answers please me a lot too, so it will be a mixbag. Thanks a lot! $\endgroup$ – LamaDelRay Jun 28 '17 at 10:18

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