# Thread: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

1. ## How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

I'm writing a fantasy story about a peasant who prayed to the goddess of war to save her home from an impending invasion; in exchange, the goddess demanded a certain number of souls to be delivered to her, and cursed the girl so that she couldn't die until she had done so.

The story I'm telling takes place a thousand years later when the woman is near to finishing her task, having been killing people professionally (sometimes as a barbarian, sometimes as an assassin, sometimes as a mercenary, sometimes as a pirate, etc) for the last millennium. This is all in a pre-modern setting; I'm thinking she made the bargain in the equivalent to the bronze age, and the present day is late medieval. And only personal kills would count, not for example ordering someone else to do the deed. So I need to work backwards from the assumption that she's almost finished with her task after a thousand years, and figure out how many souls she was tasked to deliver to the goddess of war in the first place. If the number turns out way bigger than I think the number of people she saved is, I can always say she owed some significant multiple of that number (like "seven souls for each one saved" or such). How do I go about estimating this?

2. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

1. Is she doing indiscriminate killing, or targeted?
2. Is she hiding her presence, or behaving like the Slaughterhouse Nine?
3. Does she have physical enhancements, or is she limited to the speed, strength, and stamina of an under-nourished late teens peasant girl?

If she's indiscriminate, she can wipe out entire families at a time, racking up 3-6 kills per household in the space of a half-hour, especially if she strikes while the adults are asleep. She could potentially achieve 10-50 kills in one night, then spend a day or two traveling and repeat.

If she's hiding her presence, her rate slows down. If she walks into the town with a bow, a sword, and 200 arrows, and just starts killing until there are no living humans in the town, her rate goes up - but people know to look out for her, run away, attempt to contain her, etc.

If she's physically limited, then she may require more strikes to kill someone, she may run out of strength in her sword arm before she runs out of targets, she could be outrun or ridden away from, etc.

I'm kind of assuming you're going to go for targeted killings, keeping her presence on the down-low, and some sort of Captain America type package. Otherwise, a half-dozen knights in full plate armor could totally pin her down, put her in stocks or chains, and then lock her up or bury her someplace.

Even so, I'd expect at least one per week (every town has someone who needs to die, she could play bait and see who tries to commit a crime upon her, etc.), with the count going up in wartime. 50-70 per year x 1000 years = 50,000 to 70,000.
She should probably take a few vacations somewhere in there, though. I would expect multiple mental illnesses resulting from this.

3. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

You need to specify what "Immortal" means here, I'd think - at one end of the spectrum, there's the style of immortality of Ed the Undying from Kingdom of Loathing, where he can't die but he can be smashed to pieces, swept into a corner and left there. At the other end, there's not being able to be injured at all. If your character still has to recover from any injuries she recieves, she would potentially be bedbound for anything from days to literal forever by her injuries - immortality without all the ancillary powers that make it work actually kinda blows.

Mind you, if she plays smart, she can probably get to a fairly high number without even needing immortality, assuming she doesn't care who she kills, and while it's not as easy as with modern technology, catching her isn't as easy either. She could probably kill some random nobody every few days tops, after all, it's just that torching a few houses or stabbing a peasant isn't as glamourous as you probably have in mind. Assuming she doesn't get stopped and imprisoned, she might easily face the problem of running out of people in whatever country she's in before she actually hits any kind of time constraint.

4. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Your assumptions are correct vis a vis keeping her nose down and having high-end natural physical abilities, and I'd add that she's not exactly pleased that this is her lot in life so she pretty much stays to professional killing as it "feels better" to her to kill in a battle than just to murder random innocents; though a thousand years is a long time, I'm sure she tried a variety of tactics over the course of that millennium.

5. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by Unavenger
You need to specify what "Immortal" means here, I'd think - at one end of the spectrum, there's the style of immortality of Ed the Undying from Kingdom of Loathing, where he can't die but he can be smashed to pieces, swept into a corner and left there. At the other end, there's not being able to be injured at all. If your character still has to recover from any injuries she recieves, she would potentially be bedbound for anything from days to literal forever by her injuries - immortality without all the ancillary powers that make it work actually kinda blows.
Yeah, I'm working on the details of the immortality. I feel like she has a healing factor of some kind, but probably not enough to make a difference during a single combat. And I want her to *appear* roughly middle-aged in the present day, have a grizzled veteran sort of look, so either she aged to a certain point and stopped, or she made the bargain when she was already like 40.

6. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Mercenary work is almost certainly more efficient than assassination, so let me throw out some numbers for that.

Deliberately picking jobs to maximize the chances of engaging in battle and choosing a sub-tropical or other climate with a long campaign season, your immortal killer might manage to fight in four battles per year, on average (it was the rare Bronze Age or Medieval Campaign that included multiple major engagements). And, without being ridiculous about their kill count, they might manage to kill an average of twenty individuals per battle (some scenarios, like sieges would be much higher, while others, like cavalry clashes, probably much lower). Throw in a small number of skirmishes, bar brawls, peasant riots, and other scraps and that might amount to another twenty per year. So that's 100 kills every year. If that was happening linearly that'd be one person every 3-4 days, but it's going to mostly come in big spikes.

Over a thousand year lifespan that'd net you 100,000 kills. At a 5:1 killed:saved ratio that would give you an initial population of 20,000, which could easily be an entire Bronze Age city state.

Originally Posted by genderlich
Yeah, I'm working on the details of the immortality. I feel like she has a healing factor of some kind, but probably not enough to make a difference during a single combat. And I want her to *appear* roughly middle-aged in the present day, have a grizzled veteran sort of look, so either she aged to a certain point and stopped, or she made the bargain when she was already like 40.
So, if you haven't watched Netflix's 'The Old Guard' you definitely should with regards to this idea. The immortals in that film (and presumably the comics its based on, which I have not read) have a sort of delayed healing factor where if they take a lethal level of damage they go down for around 1-5 minutes, depending on how much tissue they have to recover, before getting back up otherwise unharmed. Also, grizzled but also seemingly ageless way Charlize Theron plays the lead character of Andy seems like exactly what you're going for (Charlize is 45 years old, but could easily claim to be 15-20 years younger and get away with it).

7. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

This is a goddess of war not death.

The souls have to be havested in battle, from someone who was prepared to fight and die that day, or pillaged after a battle.

That places a better ceiling on it.

Let us suppose 50% of the time days she was involved in war. We can then find estimates of how deadly war was. If there are 1000 people in a battle and 200 die, and this is the major battle of the year, then this means a kill rate of 0.1 per year is a good ballpark.

Then throw in "awesome" multiplier and the like.

Finding knock down battles is hard; by definition, high fatality battles have to be rare, as producing soldiers is expensive. I believe in some periods of european war, mercenaries would jocky for position, then the outmaneuvered ones would quit the field and give the victory with minimal bloodshed (because who wants to both fight and die and lose).

8. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by Yakk
Finding knock down battles is hard; by definition, high fatality battles have to be rare, as producing soldiers is expensive.
Producing highly trained, well-armored and equipped soldiers retained by the upper classes is expensive. That was the mid-to-late Medieval European model. Drafting tens of thousands of peasants with mass-produced spears and basic lamellar coats is cheap. That was the mid-dynastic Chinese model. The Song dynasty supposedly had upwards of 1 million men under arms when they got conquered by the Jurchens and a stupidly huge proportion of them got killed during the conquest (probably considerably less than the number who deserted, but still, it was bloody). So location matters a lot and maximizing the kill count means moving to an area with high population density and large armies.

Note with regard to killing in battle: the best way to rack up a high kill count is as light cavalry. Infantry in massed ranks can only engage a handful of people directly in front of them, archers are inhibited by the limited killing power of their bows against armored opponents, and heavy cavalry lack the endurance to continue the engagement after the charge dissipates, but light cavalry can ride down and/or spear and shoot literally dozens of foes per person during a rout.

Alternatively, an immortal could take advantage of their immortality to accumulate a large number of kills fighting for hopeless causes. Sieges, assaults, and sackings all allow immense opportunities for a dedicated defender to kill large numbers of attackers, just with little hope of conventional survival. However, when you can't actually die that problem mostly vanishes

9. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by Mechalich
Mercenary work is almost certainly more efficient than assassination, so let me throw out some numbers for that.

Deliberately picking jobs to maximize the chances of engaging in battle and choosing a sub-tropical or other climate with a long campaign season, your immortal killer might manage to fight in four battles per year, on average (it was the rare Bronze Age or Medieval Campaign that included multiple major engagements). And, without being ridiculous about their kill count, they might manage to kill an average of twenty individuals per battle (some scenarios, like sieges would be much higher, while others, like cavalry clashes, probably much lower). Throw in a small number of skirmishes, bar brawls, peasant riots, and other scraps and that might amount to another twenty per year. So that's 100 kills every year. If that was happening linearly that'd be one person every 3-4 days, but it's going to mostly come in big spikes.

Over a thousand year lifespan that'd net you 100,000 kills. At a 5:1 killed:saved ratio that would give you an initial population of 20,000, which could easily be an entire Bronze Age city state.
I think 100,000 is probably the low end for somebody who's really trying to run their numbers up. If you think about how leveled-up she would be after the first few years, she could walk into the front lines of a battle and kill at least 2-3 people every round even if she just had Fighter levels. If she was really into killing people, she could skip joining the army and just go where wars are, walk onto battlefields, and kill soldiers on both sides indiscriminately. For flavor, I kind of like that idea - there's this woman wandering the continent, and wherever there's a battle she could just show up as an angel of death. Alternately, she could sign on as the state executioner for a particularly nasty empire and kill a steady stream of criminals and dissidents.

OTOH, somebody who really wasn't enthusiastic about the whole killing thing probably wouldn't just kill people day in and day out for a thousand years, and she probably wouldn't be trying to optimize her numbers the way we are. She'd probably try something, get burned out, go on a bender for a few years, sober up and try to just live quietly somewhere, get bored with that, try some other way of killing people for a while, etc. And 100,000 people does have the advantage of being a nice round number.

10. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Colone Dupuy has published books about attrition in warfare. The TLDR as best I recall from when I read it was that, until modern days, disease was a far greater killer than combat. Winning armies tended to lose 5% or so, losers tended to break around 15%, although obviously that varied. The downside of being the loser is that after you broke, if the winners had plenty of aggressive cavalry or if there were, your losses could go way up.

If you're sticking to honorable fights with ready opponents, you could probably count on a couple per year but you'd be pressed to get more than, say, 40 per year. And that's assuming she's working at it every year. Maybe she wants to live somewhere peaceful for 60 years.

With some wild handwaving, I'd guesstimate somewhere between 500-20,000, abd I'd probably lean toward 2500ish.

11. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Is this a sensible idea of war or the Hollywood thing where everyone charges and suddenly ends up with both sides mixed together and dueling a very small number of opponents each?

Because if you're doing "war," war and your healing factor means the girl drops down incapacitated long enough for the fighting to pass over her, 20 people per battle isn't something I find reasonable for a typical individual. Now, 20 people as a light cavalrymen on the winning side, sure. So I suppose we need the girl's fighting style, or we can assume she eventually trained for light cavalry for a time to get her task over with.

The "showing up like an angel of death," works well in a d&d style setting. For a more realistic type of war, any lone person on the lines is probably going to be overrun if they try to start attacking a formation. The stereotypical "expert of war" skill level does little when multiple enemies can cover each other's openings and exploit your own from more than one angle. There's a reason the martial arts masters in the movies get attacked one or two at a time.

Piracy pumps up those numbers; assassinations probably deflate them. I'd stick somewhere in the 2 to 6 thousand range depending on how consistently she's been working toward this goal. Although I'm interested in why she hasn't been protecting the descendants of those she saved for as long as possible.

Maybe worth noting "10,000" is traditionally treated as "infinity" in china and nearby cultures, in case the story is set in a fantasy parallel. Where this is ignored, avoided, or used is entirely up to you, but it might feel incongruent to some readers if the number technically implies something symbolic but the story goes somewhere else. A concrete number higher then 10,000 is probably fine. If its "seven souls for each saved" from a town of 2384 people, 16,688 should avoid such connotations completely.

12. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Is there any reason that she doesn't just sarcastically say "I have to be immortal until I kill a bunch of people. Oh nooOOoo!" and then just enjoy immortality without killing anyone?

13. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by Xuc Xac
Is there any reason that she doesn't just sarcastically say "I have to be immortal until I kill a bunch of people. Oh nooOOoo!" and then just enjoy immortality without killing anyone?
Oh that's easy. The war god can just have claim upon the souls of the people saved until such a time as the soul debt is discharged, and can torture them mercilessly if the immortal is anything less than sufficient enthusiastic in reaping duties.

14. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

How immortal are we talking here? Doesn't age? Can't die but can be maimed? Eventually regenerates from anything? Or flat out can't be hurt?

EDIT:
Originally Posted by sandmote
The "showing up like an angel of death," works well in a d&d style setting. For a more realistic type of war, any lone person on the lines is probably going to be overrun if they try to start attacking a formation. The stereotypical "expert of war" skill level does little when multiple enemies can cover each other's openings and exploit your own from more than one angle. There's a reason the martial arts masters in the movies get attacked one or two at a time.
This sort of thing is why I ask. Someone who can't be hurt can go ahead and attack that formation unafraid. And someone who always regenerates has nothing to lose for the attempt but time (which this person has an unending supply of)

The trick is to not attack anyone who's gonna try to capture them.

Originally Posted by Laserlight
Colone Dupuy has published books about attrition in warfare. The TLDR as best I recall from when I read it was that, until modern days, disease was a far greater killer than combat.
That's a good point. They could inflate their numbers easily by flinging a dead plague victim into a city somewhere.

15. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

One thing i think people left out (or i might have missed it, apologies if i did)

is she would need to disappear for a few decades every so often so the current generation and/or culture would forget her THEN she could 'come back on scene' and continue her work.

You would also need to define 'home' Does it mean just her and her immediate family? If that is the case then yes a multiple would be needed (your 7 for every one example for instance) If by home you mean her hometown, then a 1 for 1 would be enough.

It would take a while for her to get the requisite number if that number was say, a few thousand. Especially when you take in the smart choice of dipping out for a while every so often so nobody is the wiser on her immortality.

16. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by Mechalich
Producing highly trained, well-armored and equipped soldiers retained by the upper classes is expensive. That was the mid-to-late Medieval European model. Drafting tens of thousands of peasants with mass-produced spears and basic lamellar coats is cheap. That was the mid-dynastic Chinese model. The Song dynasty supposedly had upwards of 1 million men under arms when they got conquered by the Jurchens and a stupidly huge proportion of them got killed during the conquest (probably considerably less than the number who deserted, but still, it was bloody). So location matters a lot and maximizing the kill count means moving to an area with high population density and large armies.
Calories are expensive. Food Calories are the core of the economy up until the industrial revolution.

Feeding a peasant from birth to adulthood is expensive.

The Song dynsasty could not afford for those 1 million men to die, and then raise another army in a few months, and repeat indefinitely.

Maintaining a million men under arms has a cost, but the number of men under arms isn't number of people dying.

That Song Dynasty probably could afford to have forces of 1000 slaughtered repeatedly, but a force of 1000 is a trivial force fighting a trivial battle for the scale of that Empire. If they cared, they could send 10,000 or 100,000, lose a few 1000 and end up winning the war instead of repeatedly losing 1000 in some kind of stalemate.

17. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by genderlich
I'm writing a fantasy story about a peasant who prayed to the goddess of war to save her home from an impending invasion; in exchange, the goddess demanded a certain number of souls to be delivered to her, and cursed the girl so that she couldn't die until she had done so.

The story I'm telling takes place a thousand years later when the woman is near to finishing her task, having been killing people professionally (sometimes as a barbarian, sometimes as an assassin, sometimes as a mercenary, sometimes as a pirate, etc) for the last millennium. This is all in a pre-modern setting; I'm thinking she made the bargain in the equivalent to the bronze age, and the present day is late medieval. And only personal kills would count, not for example ordering someone else to do the deed. So I need to work backwards from the assumption that she's almost finished with her task after a thousand years, and figure out how many souls she was tasked to deliver to the goddess of war in the first place. If the number turns out way bigger than I think the number of people she saved is, I can always say she owed some significant multiple of that number (like "seven souls for each one saved" or such). How do I go about estimating this?
I'm going to assume she has to do it with a specific weapon, so she's Jason Vorhees but always on. Probably a few thousand a year. She descends on a thorpe or hamlet, kills everyone, then moves along.

If it doesn't matter what she kills people with, tens of thousands a year. Poisons wells, sets fires, destroys granaries in winter, etc.

18. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Maybe not the answer you expect, but I wolud go with "the number you (GM) wish". I don't know the rule this peasant will have in your story, I would say that the souls she has to collect are souls of people who should have died but didn't, so she can't kill anybody but only given target. Like Final Destination, but with a killer sent by gods. This can also lead to some moral question if the players must stop her, or maybe the curse can pass on them if they kill her before she finishes the job... I'm quite sure I've seen it in a movie or similar, but I can't remember the title.

19. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by sandmote
Maybe worth noting "10,000" is traditionally treated as "infinity" in china and nearby cultures, in case the story is set in a fantasy parallel. Where this is ignored, avoided, or used is entirely up to you, but it might feel incongruent to some readers if the number technically implies something symbolic but the story goes somewhere else. A concrete number higher then 10,000 is probably fine. If its "seven souls for each saved" from a town of 2384 people, 16,688 should avoid such connotations completely.
Amusingly, the 6s and 8s in that particular number make it sound pretty symbolic in its own right.

20. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by P.LOC
or maybe the curse can pass on them if they kill her before she finishes the job... I'm quite sure I've seen it in a movie or similar, but I can't remember the title.
I don;t think this is what you're thinking of, but this happens with the office of Grim Reaper in the Incarnations of Immortality novels

21. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by Yakk
Calories are expensive. Food Calories are the core of the economy up until the industrial revolution.

Feeding a peasant from birth to adulthood is expensive.

The Song dynsasty could not afford for those 1 million men to die, and then raise another army in a few months, and repeat indefinitely.

Maintaining a million men under arms has a cost, but the number of men under arms isn't number of people dying.

That Song Dynasty probably could afford to have forces of 1000 slaughtered repeatedly, but a force of 1000 is a trivial force fighting a trivial battle for the scale of that Empire. If they cared, they could send 10,000 or 100,000, lose a few 1000 and end up winning the war instead of repeatedly losing 1000 in some kind of stalemate.
Irrigated rice paddies are a vastly more efficient source of calories than anything in Western Europe until roughly the 19th century. The death tolls in South and East Asian warfare are just higher than that of Europe, by an order of magnitude or more, because there were simply so many more people living in the region. Wikipedia has a list of wars by death toll that makes this point quite clearly.

22. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by Mechalich
Irrigated rice paddies are a vastly more efficient source of calories than anything in Western Europe until roughly the 19th century. The death tolls in South and East Asian warfare are just higher than that of Europe, by an order of magnitude or more, because there were simply so many more people living in the region. Wikipedia has a list of wars by death toll that makes this point quite clearly.
Rice paddies are a form of equilibrium trap, because it is labor intensive instead of space intensive. So every time you want to increase the amount of food, you increase the population by a similar amount. Want to tap your labor? Prepare for massive famines as you have very little surplus.

23. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by Tvtyrant
Rice paddies are a form of equilibrium trap, because it is labor intensive instead of space intensive. So every time you want to increase the amount of food, you increase the population by a similar amount. Want to tap your labor? Prepare for massive famines as you have very little surplus.
But that's not the question at hand. The point I was making is that if you want to kill the largest number of people over time you need to go to where the people are and where they fight en masse. These questions vary by geography and culture. The number of people you can kill via warfare in fantasy China is simply higher than in fantasy Europe, because there are more people overall, more of them end up fighting in wars, and their individual competence and materiel quotient is significantly lower due to mass conscription. That's how you plan to maximize your carnage at the strategic level.

At the tactical level, you also have options. You want to chose combat methods that allow you to maximize your kill count. Cavalry pursuit is a big one there, since you can wrack up a massive death total once a foe has been successfully routed. Alternatively, a sharpshooting defender facing assaults from an essentially endless enemy can accumulate a incredible kill count as well. Simo Hayha the sniper with the most confirmed kills on record, fought in just such a conflict. Sniping is less effective prior to the development of firearms, but still impactful.

24. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by sandmote
Maybe worth noting "10,000" is traditionally treated as "infinity" in china and nearby cultures, in case the story is set in a fantasy parallel.
In Western Greco-Roman cultures too. The word "myriad" means "10,000" but it's used to mean "countless".

25. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by genderlich
And only personal kills would count, not for example ordering someone else to do the deed.
What about stuff they've done personally but indirectly (ie. poisoning wells, starting avalanches, setting traps, etc.)

26. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by Bohandas
This sort of thing is why I ask. Someone who can't be hurt can go ahead and attack that formation unafraid. And someone who always regenerates has nothing to lose for the attempt but time (which this person has an unending supply of)

The trick is to not attack anyone who's gonna try to capture them.
If the girl wants to remain hidden on any level this is a bad idea.

Originally Posted by ngilop
is she would need to disappear for a few decades every so often so the current generation and/or culture would forget her THEN she could 'come back on scene' and continue her work.
This assumes she stays in one place. She could just travel to a distant portion of the continent (or an adjacent one) and skip the waiting.

Originally Posted by sreservoir
Amusingly, the 6s and 8s in that particular number make it sound pretty symbolic in its own right.
I suppose then you'd want something with a lot of fours. Still, the implication that would significantly impact the story is whether or not there actually an concrete number for how many she has to kill.

Originally Posted by Xuc Xac
In Western Greco-Roman cultures too. The word "myriad" means "10,000" but it's used to mean "countless".
I vaguely remember the term coming up repeatedly in the Iliad (an English translation, anyway), but no teacher I've had mentioned this. Neat.

27. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

If you don't want the number too high, you could pad the timeline by having her be in prison for a couple hundred years. That could also work into why she continues the mission. She could have given up, let herself be captured, regretted it because of premodern prison conditions, and been broken out by the god on the condition that she continue her mission. This could even happen more than once.

28. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Originally Posted by sandmote
I suppose then you'd want something with a lot of fours. Still, the implication that would significantly impact the story is whether or not there actually an concrete number for how many she has to kill.
Or where the sum of the digits adds up to four. Which is a property shared by both four and thirteen (edit: and 2020).

29. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

A slow day on Skyrim is about 1 thing that meets the business end of my mace. Sometimes its some assassin or even a thief that thinks it's a good idea to rob someone in full ebony...

Then you have the not so slow days where about a dozen or more die. Then there are the days were at the end a breath a sigh of relief of everything being done and over with me sitting atop murder mountain as lord death...

365 days in a year

365,000 days in a thousand of them.

36,500,000 people... give or take a million... that are now dead.

30. ## Re: How many people could an immortal warrior kill in a thousand years?

Given the requirement of "personally killed", I don't think any of the disease-based or burning-a-city-based methods would count towards her total.

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