THE DARK FORCES--If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

THE DARK FORCES--If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

A Chapter by Scott Free
"

Meet Lutch, orc commander, Barrow, faceless dark lieutenant, and Legerdemain, elf steward with nervous tic.

"

Chapter One

 

The Dark Forces

 

If You Cannot Beat Them, Join Them

               

“What just happened?”

                The King had finally spoken after a blank fifty seconds. Like every man in his entourage, his eyes were rooted on the city and the battle plain before them.

                “What just happened?” the King asked again.

                The war leader wet his lips. “Not exactly, um, sure, sire. It seems as if the forces of Hurst are in a bit of a quandary, Your Lordship. Like, standing around? Good time to attack, sire, if you…er…yes.” His voice trailed off.

                The King raised his visor. His eyes blinked out at the war leader and he swayed a bit in the saddle. “Attack? Oh, yes. Who are we fighting, again?”

                The war leader tried to be taken aback, and then realized that he didn’t know either. He had known fifty seconds ago, though, he was sure. And then something had happened, like, something? He wasn’t sure. Something like that.

                It was sort of lie the sky had switched places with the earth, but that was alright because the men had switched places also, and gravity had as well so they were in the same celestial situation, just juxtaposed. It was as if the settings were the same but they were in a completely different universe.

                “Who are we fighting, sire?” The war leader scratched his neck. “I, um…I’m not quite sure, sire. Should we do eenie-meenie-miney-moe?”

                “No, there’s a much more direct, civilized way to go about this.” The King drew his sword.

                “And that would be?”

                “Fight everyone.”

###

                The beast hit the ground with a slushy thud, sounding like a bag of mud slamming against stone. The rider flew out of the beast’s saddle and landed in a tree. The weight of his armor carried him to the ground with a thump.

                It was a minute or two before he came around.

                The helmed face lifted and let out a gasp. A gauntleted hand pulled up the visor of the gaudily crowned and engraved metal hood�"and there was no face behind it.

                There was darkness, and quite a lot of it. It was an alive darkness, a darkness that pulsed with character. Empty darkness is, of course, empty; this was very full darkness.

                The darkness groaned. “Marshall?”

                He scanned the horizon and then turned. He gasped, scrabbled on his gauntleted hands, tried to stand, and fell against the beast.

                “Marshall!” he sobbed.

                A great scaly eye opened�"an eye that was so malignant he couldn’t help but love it. And then the eye closed, and a shudder filled the beast’s body.

                “Oh, come on, Marshall. It’ll take more than this to best you, boy. Come on, boy, whatever happened up there, we’ll get through it. You and me, boy. Come on, don’t leave me here alone, Marshall. You know I’ve never had any friends except for you. Oh please, Marshall, please. Don’t die. Don’t die, Marshall.”

                The beast sighed. The eye closed, and Barrow, Lieutenant of the Dark Lord Hemming, Commander of the Nameless Horrors of Hurst, buried his face in Marshall’s hard, scaly flesh and cried.

###

                Captain Lutch opened his eyes. He saw an orcish mouth, full of sharp teeth, descending toward him. Now he really regretted giving the troops that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation class last week.

                “Argh, get off!” Lutch pushed the mouth away. “I’m fine, you hear? And I don’t need no kiss of life, alright? I’m absolutely fine.”

                “Just trying to help,” the orc said, sitting back.

                “Besides, after mouth-to-mouth with the likes of you, Bagrat, I’d kill myself anyway.”

                “Sorry,” Bagrat muttered. He was a small and deep-voiced orc, called ‘runty and grunty’ by his comrades. He was incredibly ugly. All orcs were ugly, but he was a deeper level of ugly, an ugliness that stressed the ug.

                Lutch pushed himself to his feet and glanced around at the orcs and at the line of catapults, trying to calculate what he had been doing before his sudden collapse. Then his slow orc-mind ground to a halt and tried to rewind.

                “Wait a second…Bagrat!”

                Bagrat saluted. “Sir?”

                “Did you just say sorry?”

                Bagrat looked around him, probably trying to get his own mind, which was a good deal slower than Lutch’s, to do a slow-motion replay.

                “Um…yes, sir?”

                “Why in peaches would you ever say that?”

                Bagrat blinked. “Sorry, sir, did you just say ‘why in peaches?’”

                “Shut up and�" I’m sorry, please shut up and�"“ Lutch felt something like panic coming over him. He had to think orcish thoughts! Orcish thoughts! “I mean that I’m not sorry. But I do hope you understand�"I mean�"Al damn it, fire the catapults or something. Yes, that’s it. Load the catapults, orcs!”

                The other orcs, who had been dawdling or wondering or both, ran with a shared, panicked gait to the siege weapons. They loaded corpses of dead soldiers of the enemy into catapults�"a conglomeration of heads, arms, legs and the odd torso. There were a few complete bodies, Lutch noted. Yes, there was one waving to him right now…

                “Wait a second!” He raised his arm to stop the orcs and strode forward just as the body was plopped into the sling. He poked it and a head swiveled around to look at him. Lutch cleared his throat. “Are you…ahem…alive, there?”

                “Um, yes, actually. And rather not wanting to be chucked through the air at my friends.”

                It was one of the men. He had a symbol of a large bush on his breastplate, painted in faded green and dented. His arm was soaked in blood.

                Lutch itched his chin. This was stupid! Of course he was going to toss the man at the battlements. That’s what orcs did. That’s what they had always done. They’d been doing it earlier on in the battle, at least, and laughing while they did. For the first time in his life, the prospect struck Lutch as…inhumane.

                “Um…you’ll have to take it up with our complaints department.”

                “Oh good. Who should I speak to?”

                Lutch glanced around, his eyes alighting on Trebucket the mountain troll. For Trebucket, ‘mountain’ wasn’t so much an area of origin as a description. “That…that troll over there.”

                “Thanks.” The man sat up. “And can I get a bandage for this arm?”

                “Um…talk to our…medic.”

                “Who’s that?”

                Lutch’ mind was already speeding forward, and even though it was beginning to rock dangerously he was able to point to Bagrat. “That nice fellow right here.”

                Bagrat stepped back. “Me?”

                “You worked in mummification once, didn’t you?”

                “Yeah. As a prentice.”

                “Bandaging isn’t an awful difference. You are now our medic.”

                Bagrat took a deep breath and drew up his scrawny shoulders. “Alright, then. Better than fighting on the front lines, I suppose. C’mon, man, let’s get your guts out and preserve them in some jars.”

                Reflecting, Lutch concluded that perhaps there was a little bit more of a difference than he had supposed.

                What had happened to the elves, anyway? They had been on the battlements of the city moments before, but now there wasn’t a single sight of them. A pocket of orcishness in his mind told him to attack, but it was overwhelmed by the remembrance of his status; he was only a captain, after all, and he had to wait for orders from Higher Up. That was being a responsible soldier.

                But when the peaches had he ever cared about that before?

###

                “Sire! Are you alright?”

                Legerdemain ran towards the throne, his grey steward robes swishing lightly and with an elfish effect around his elfish body, just like they were supposed to do. He strode to the side of the throne and looked behind it.

                “Sire?”

The body stirred. Legerdemain winced as he saw a gash running down his lord’s cheek, fresh with blue elf-blood that trickled out just a little like on all elven cuts, giving the effect that elves had very little life fluid and greatly frustrating all members of elven blood banks.

                Legerdemain turned away and called for a guard.

                None came. The curtains covering the doorway did not part.

                “Guards!”

                The curtains parted and one tall elf entered. He looked much like the Lord, perhaps a decade or more younger and with a smaller nose.

                “What is it, Steward?”

                “It’s Lord Alfhilm. He’s out cold, Derhilm.”

                “What happened?” Derhilm crossed the floor and stuck his head behind the throne. “Ouch. That’s a nasty boo-boo.”

                Legerdemain rolled his eyes. Derhilm wasn’t the brightest of elves, Legerdemain knew, but he was strong and always had extra energy to give, partly from his elven metabolism and partly because he ate venison by the cartload. His strongest muscles were his jaw muscles.

                “Will you get him out?” Legerdemain stepped from one foot to the other, his nervous tic jumping out again. “He was just standing at the window, watching the battle one moment and then whoomph, and he flew behind the throne. He hit the griffin’s beak up there, I think.”

                Derhilm looked up at the stone griffin. Making a clucking sound with his tongue, he reached behind the throne, scooped his brother out and set him on the seat.

                “Sire?” Legerdemain asked, leaning down and placing his hands on his lord’s shoulders.

                Alfhilm’s eyes opened; his mouth smiled. He laughed, and Legerdemain and Derhilm stepped back. His chest convulsed almost as he continued to laugh, and then he suddenly stopped.

                Derhilm looked at Legerdemain. “Are you sure he didn’t hit his head as well as his cheek?”

                Legerdemain shrugged. The laugh had unnerved him; even though elves were resistant to concussion and pain, none of them laughed after slamming into a marble wall.

                “Are you alright?” Legerdemain shook the elf lord.

                “I assure you both, my friends, that I am quite fine.” Alfhilm stood and smiled at Derhilm and Legerdemain. He raised a hand to his cheek and brought it away, and the cut was gone.

                Derhilm blinked. “Quick boo-boo go away? Why didn’t you tell us you could do that before?”

                Alfhilm sneered at his brother. “Don’t you see, you two? The world has changed!”

                Legerdemain held a hand over his eyebrow where the tic was manifesting itself. As far as he knew, the world had always been changing; but it was slow, comfortable change, the change you could get used to after a while. The feeling came over him that in that split second of white-out that he had experienced several moments ago, a huge change had taken place.

                “Would Your Lordship care to let us know how the world has changed?”

                Alfhilm pushed Legerdemain out of the way and strode to his window. Below him lay the city of Frühstück, laid out in straight-streeted shining glory, with three folds of walls and towers that eventually led out to the battle plain below.

“Friends, there has been a gigantic power-shift! The power of Hurst and the Dark Lord Hemming is gone, and the power of Alfhilm and the Fruhling elves has come! The Great God Al must be shining on us! He hath delivered our enemies into our hands�"and do you know what we will do with them?”

                Legerdemain looked at Derhilm. Derhilm bit his lip.

“Well…um…let’s see, here…”

                “We will crush them like wasps.” Alfhilm raised his hand. A tremendous thack slammed the air as fifty catapults along the walls outside let their loads loose without a single hand to fire them. Screams of orcs reached their ears.

                Legerdemain’s mouth dropped and he blinked. “How…”

                “Now, Derhilm, Legerdemain�"go out there and destroy the enemies of El. Destroy them forever!”

###

                “Medic!” Lutch called.

                Bagrat tapped the captain on the back and, when he turned, saluted. Bagrat had now changed into a white smock and tied what looked like a white rag around his head.

                “Right here, sir. I’ve got the man all bandaged up, sir.”

                Lutch groaned as he saw the man before him and Bagrat’s bandaging job. “I think you may have overdone it a little, medic.”

                “What? You think I shouldn’t have covered him in salt?”

                “Along with a few other things, yes. Can he even breath?

                Bagrat shrugged. “He hasn’t complained yet, sir.”

                Lutch stepped forward and ripped the canvas off the man’s mouth.

The mouth began gasping. “No, I’m fine, thank you, I’d rather not have my brain smashed and pulled out my nose.”

                Lutch looked back at the orc medic. “Bagrat, we have seven more wounded and ten dead.”

                Bagrat rolled up a piece of canvas. “Can’t do much about the dead ones, sir, unless you want them embalmed.”

                The man tried to move his arms. “Um, not to be ungrateful, but this bandage is a little constricting.”

                Lutch shook his head. “No, no time for that, just try and save the live ones.”

                Bagrat saluted and shuffled off.

                Try and save the live ones? When had he ever wanted to do that? Lutch sighed. He was confused and worried, but he clung to a string of thought that told him to just stand his ground and wait for directions from Higher Up. They would come. They always did.

                “You know,” the man said, his mouth the only thing showing, “if I shuffle with my legs I can actually move about a centimeter forward.”

                Lutch took out his knife and cut a line down the front of the canvas cocoon. The man stepped out and pulled the bandages off his head. His hair was a mess, but he smiled at the orc, his dimples showing.

                “Many thanks. Your medic might have gone overboard, but he did a bloody good job, and I only mean that metaphorically. All the blood is gone.”

                “Really?”

                “Oh yes. No pain. I can’t feel a thing anywhere, actually,” the man said, collapsing to the ground. “But I’ll be fine in a little while.”

Lutch stepped to help him, but the man shook his head. “No, no, just let me lie here. You go and fight my friends. It’s their last stand, you know, they’re terribly excited.”

                Lutch looked up at the walls of Frühstück. Yes, that was right, it had been the elves and the men of Stane’s last stand, but something told Lutch that things had gone very wrong. Or perhaps very right, but at the moment it was terribly hard to distinguish between the two.

                A tap on the shoulder knocked Lutch to the ground. The orc looked up and realized that he had been lucky that he had only been knocked down. He rolled over and looked up at the mountain troll.

                “Trebucket, what do you want?”

                The troll cleared his throat and answered in a rumbling, gravelly voice, “You said to be the lookout, correct, Sarge?”

                “Yes, I told you to be the lookout.” Lutch stood up. He knew that trolls never referred to themselves in a sentence.

                Trebucket nodded. “Then as lookout, this is the report; look out!”

Thundering filled Lutch’s ears. To the east of the captain’s artillery battalion the battle plain spread out, filled with scores of regiments of orcs and trolls that had been ready to make war on Frühstück, but they were scattering. A cloud of horsemen, not even large enough to be called an army, was scything through. Swords gleamed and whizzed, but no orcs fell because they were already out of the way. The horsemen were waving their weaponry with such abandon that some of them were knocked down by an ally’s weaponry, or even their own.

                “Say,” Lutch managed to splutter to Trebucket’s retreating back, “who the peaches are those guys?”

###

                Derhilm and Legerdemain gazed out on the battlefield from one of Frühstück’s high towers. The group of horsemen was halfway across the field like a blot of coffee on the table.

                “Who the Al are those people?” Derhilm asked.

                “I don’t know.” Legerdemain put his hands on his sides. His eyebrow twitched. “Oh, say! Could they really be?”

                “Who?”

                “Well, the Tosheroonians were promising us aid. They said they might be a little late.”

                “Never heard of them.”

                “The Tosheroonians of Tosheroon? Tiny little country across the sea, in the North. Mostly mud I hear because of the incessant rain.”

                “Um…yes, that’s quite interesting. …What are they doing?”

                Legerdemain shaded his eyes with a hand. “I’m not sure, really. Are your elves ready to attack?”

                “Yes, but…oh, I don’t know, Legerdemain. I’m not sure about this. I think something happened to us a couple minutes ago, when that…that came.” Derhilm looked Legerdemain in the face.

                Legerdemain touched his chin. “Yes, I know what you mean. Alfhilm certainly isn’t the same.”

                “Ready to go, friends?”

                The two elves started as a hand touched each of them on the shoulder. Alfhilm stood behind them, smiling.

                “Look, I realize,” the Lord said, “that you may have misgivings about me or this offense. But I tell you that things are going to be different. Before the change happened we were at our last stand, don’t you realize?”

                “Well, yes,” said Derhilm, “but…I don’t know, Alf, it wasn’t going to be our last last stand. No matter what happened, we were going to be okay in the end. I mean, it always ends up alright…a Chosen One comes or the Dark Lord gets destroyed. We even had a Chosen One, I think. I wonder what happened to him.”

                “That is leaving it down to chance, my brother,” Alfhilm chuckled. “Don’t you want to be sure of our victory? The side of light will finally be on top! Elves will no longer cling to their mountain cities or their forest hideaways; we can show the world what we are. And I assure you that this power is not mine; it is all of elfdom’s.”

                He turned Legerdemain and Derhilm around to face him. “Will you be behind me?”

                Derhilm chewed on his tongue. Then a grin spread across his face. “Al, why not?”

                Legerdemain nodded.

                Alfhilm smiled. “Good. Now, we shall all laugh together. Ready? Ha.”

                “Haw haw,” said Derhilm.

                “Ha ha ha,” said Alfhilm.

                “Har har har,” said Legerdemain.

                “Haw haw!” said Derhilm.

                “Ha,” said Alfhilm.

                “Har har.” Legerdemain said.

###

Lutch sat up. Somehow every sword in that cavalcade of waving blades had missed him, and so had every hoof�"or nearly. His tailbone was smarting.

The orc captain got up and rubbed his rump, watching the mad charge disappear into a copse. There were two men at the head; one wore a crown and the other carried a standard. The one carrying the standard�"probably the war leader�"was madly screaming “For Tosherooooooon!” Then the King accidentally cut his head off, and he wasn’t screaming anymore.

“Something tells me,” Lutch said, trudging up to Trebucket, “that those men need to be trained in weapon safety.”

“You seem to be alright.” The troll itched a hairy arm.

“Then again, perhaps it’s better that they haven’t.”

Lutch sighed and turned back to his battalion. What a day they’d seen. It wasn’t even worth thinking about. Evening was coming, and hopefully with the morning would come better things.

“Ahem.” Trebucket coughed.

“Yes?”

“The lookout must again give a report.”

Lutch bit his thumbnail. “Shoot. What is it this time?”

“The gates of that big city over there are opening.”

Lutch turned to Frühstück. There was a bridge spanning the river, and behind that the gates were indeed opening. Lutch couldn’t make out the faces of those who came out, but he was certain that they, unlike the Tosheroonians, knew how to use their weapons.

                Bagrat came running, his claw-like feet loping over the stiff flat ground. He stopped with a skid, avoiding a fatal collision with a wall�"which was actually Trebucket, but there wasn’t a big enough difference to speak of.

                “So, sir…should we, um, wrap up, then?” Bagrat asked, grinning like only a mummifier’s prentice could.

                Lutch frowned. This wasn’t good; they hadn’t got any orders from Higher Up to retreat. He hadn’t even seen anyone from Higher Up in the last four hours, and he was at a loss as to what to do. Lutch gasped as he turned on a lamp in an unexamined corner of his mind and realized that he was thinking�"Al forbid!�"of his troop. The thought came over him that he was responsible for his troop, that they were counting on him. He tried to shun it, but it latched onto him like an orc-woman and refused to let go.

                “Um um um�"“ Lutch grunted. “Alright. Here. Bagrat, get ten orcs to carry the wounded on stretchers. The rest of us will surround them as we retreat. Trebucket, you will hold up the rear.”

                The troll blanched. “Ain’t holding up no heinie, sarge, beg pardon.”

                “That is a military figure of speech, Private! You will go behind us. Form up, orcs!”

                Form up they did. Not like professionals, Lutch admitted, but not badly for a lot of waste-dwellers. Short scimitars and other weapons were clutched in the grasp of the unwounded ones.

                “And now, ready, men?” Lutch shouted. “One, two! One, two! One, two!”

                The troop moved, and all along he kept up the cry.

                “One, two! One, two!”

                Bagrat tapped him on the shoulder. “Three, sir.”

                “What, Private?”

                “Three comes after two, sir.”

                “Yes, I know that, thank you, Private. It’s a thing to keep your feet in step. I saw the men doing it once.”

                Bagrat shook his head, his legs still marching. “Well! I always knew men were stupid but I didn’t suspect they couldn’t even count to three.”

                “Forget it, Private.”

                Lutch kept glancing back. Behind them some of the other orc-regiments had formed up like them and were coming; others simply flooded towards them, but some stayed. They rushed forward to meet the elves, pikes out, shields raised. Lutch felt a swell of pride and a sting of guilt that he had not stayed behind to help, but he knew he had many wounded and he had to get them out. It was his duty to them.

                The elves came across the bridge, not swarming, but in a way that was much more intimidating. They didn’t charge; they kept walking at a level pace as if they were striding to go take care of something. Their brows were lowered and they glowered ahead; their weapons were not up and ready, but held tight at their sides, like they could bring them up in a split second any time they wished. It was mesmerizing, the way they advanced.

                Then the two sides met. It wasn’t a clash inasmuch as the two sides weren’t hurtling together; the elves took care of that singlehandedly. The ones in the front leapt up in the air, higher than Lutch had thought anyone could leap, and planted their boots in the faces of orcs. The ones behind brought up bows with arrows already notched and fired them, never hitting an elf and always hitting an orc.

                It wasn’t even skillful, the way the elves cut the orcs down; it was systematic. It gave Lutch the terrible notion that everything had been planned out and, even worse, that nothing could go wrong.

                Then he stopped and was almost knocked over by Bagrat.

                “Wait a second!” Lutch shouted as others streamed past him. “Why are we running?”

                The orcs stopped looked at each other. This wasn’t a question orcs asked much. They saved their breath for the running itself.

                “Um…” said a corporal, “’cause the elves’ll get us if we don’t?”

                “Really? Come on,” Lutch replied, turning around. “Just an hour ago they were at their last stand. We outnumbered them ten to one. We were winning.”

                The corporal�"Lutch remembered his name as Strake�"itched his neck. “Well, that was before…that thing happened.”

                Everyone seemed to know that something had happened, but no one knew what, Lutch reflected.

                “Besides,” Bagrat grunted, removing a slightly green claw from a slightly greener nostril, “we don’t have no orders from Higher Up. We need orders from Higher Up.”

                All the orcs nodded at that, and so did Trebucket, with a yawn-like descent of his mammoth jaw. Lutch sighed. It was a magic word, Higher Up. It was more powerful than a spell, with orcs; what Higher Up says, we do�"what Higher Up doesn’t say, we don’t do, even if it was something more common than breathing. Orcs enjoyed being thought for, because that meant it was more wear and tear on someone else’s mind and not theirs. This was Lutch’s epiphany of that moment.

                With that epiphany, Lutch turned and led his troop away, the clamor of battle�"the screams of orcs and the singing of steel�"still ringing through the hills behind him. But he turned his back on it and tried to pay it no mind.

                After a while the singing of steel died down and there were only screams, so that was better.

                Everyone seems to know that something’s happened, but no one knows what. Lutch shook his head, and then it hit him. Another epiphany.

                What if something had happened to Higher Up?

                Damn epiphanies, Lutch concluded.

###

                “Hey, you.”

                Barrow looked up from Marshall’s cold flesh. He had been sobbing for more than an hour.

                “What do you want? Can’t you see I’ve lost a good friend?”

                The captain sneered. “Oh, sure. We’re real sensitive to monsters like you.”

                He swung his sword and stunned Barrow on the head. The Lieutenant of Hurst fell back, and the captain put his foot on the armored chest and his sword in Barrow’s nonexistent face.

                “You’re the lieutenant of the Dark Lord Hemming, are you not?”

                “Yes, I think I am,” Barrow said. “Why?”

                “Oh,” he said, mocking with curled lip, “only our Lord wants us to bring you back undead or alive.” The others about him laughed.

                Barrow considered this for a moment. “Oh. You’re elves, aren’t you?”

                The captain looked at his elves. “This one’s bright, he is.”

                “Only I thought elves were a lot nicer. They seemed like it. I mean, when I was chopping off their heads they always seemed pretty nice, singing Tra-la-la-lally and all. Of course, they weren’t singing while I was chopping off heads, but when I ambushed them once they were singing that. Weren’t singing for long, though, if you know what I mean, ha…” Barrow looked at the livid elves. “…ha…”

                Barrow realized, a bit late, that he shouldn’t have said that. The elf brought his sword down and sent it right through where Barrow’s head should have been. He pulled it out, grimacing, and stepped off Barrow’s chest.

                “Elves, take this vanquished warrior to Lord Alfhilm!”

                Two of them grasped Barrow in thin but strong arms and bore him off with his heels dragging. Barrow decided against struggling. He hadn’t checked but something told him that his superior strength had diminished, and he thought it decidedly rude to struggle against anyone when they were giving you a free ride.

                Even if it was to your apparent doom.

As the gates of Frühstück loomed above him, Barrow wondered if anything had happened to his Dark Lord.



© 2009 Scott Free


Author's Note

Scott Free
Forget constructive criticism--ANY kind of criticism I would absolutely love. I will never stop loving you if you trash my writing. Please please please! Tell me what's wrong!

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Well, you asked for it. I like the idea behind the story, but I feel like it needs more of a background to it. It confused me in the beginning. It's not quite up to par with some of your previous work. Somehow I get the feeling that you wrote this in a hurry. The ending was good though and I definitely wouldn't give up on the story, I just think you need to slow down the pace a little bit. Give us some time to get to know each character before you move on to the next one.

Posted 12 Years Ago


This was interesting...
Well, this is just a suggestion...I think it would make it more clear to read if you spaced out the paragraphs a bit more.
It was a good start, but I do think this would need a bit more descriptions on the scenery and maybe the characters.

Other than that, this was a pretty good chapter. The ending was suspenseful and a good way to keep the readers wanting more of your tale.

Posted 12 Years Ago



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Added on December 31, 2009
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Scott Free
Scott Free

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