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“I know you’re tired, that’s why we need to make another stop,” Principia said, grinning back at them. “It’ll just take a few minutes, but believe me, you’ll thank me tomorrow. I know a place that’ll be open this late—just gotta pick up the ground beans and a handpump press.”
“What the bloody hell are you on about now, you daffy knife-ear?” Merry groaned, trudging along behind her.
“Excuse you, that’s Sergeant Daffy Knife-Ear, private,” Principia said gaily. “It’s called coffee. We’ll be having it in the morning. Wonderful stuff! You’re gonna hate it.”
“Why do I have the feeling that’ll describe a great deal of my life in the near future?” Merry grumbled. Eyes on her boots, she barely came to a stop in time to avoid plowing into Principia from behind.
“This looks good,” Principia murmured, peering around. They had staggered to a halt on an arched footbridge crossing one of the city’s canals. Fairy lamps atop posts at either end kept it from being too dim, but it was still after midnight. The sounds of traffic from the bigger street half a block ahead were muted; it was completely dead in this neighborhood.
“Why are we stopping?” Casey asked blearily.
“Because I want to have a word with you ladies away from prying ears,” Principia replied, turning to face them. “Not suitable for the inn; the patrons there know how to mind their own business, but some things we can’t take the risk of being overheard. There are barely any people within the range of my hearing, here, and they’re all behind stone walls and asleep.”
“What’s so important?” Farah asked, looking more alert.
Princpia looked at each of them in turn, holding eye contact for a moment. “The truth is… This may seem rather cheap, since I was only just promoted, and that out of what we can all agree was a weird and twisty sequence of events. But in the days and weeks to come, girls, I expect you all to get thoroughly sick of me. We are going to work hard, and train hard.”
Merry raised a hand. “What if we were already sick of you?”
The elf ignored her. “The Legion’s normal course of training is one thing—we won’t be skimping on that, not because I am hugely a fan of it but because we can’t afford to. However, that will not be our focus. As was mentioned several times recently, this squad represents an intriguing balance of backgrounds and skill sets, and we are going to share them, ladies. Thieves’ Guild con artistry and street fighting, Shaathist wilderness skills, adventuring party tactics, Nemitite research methods and lore, Black Wreath spycraft… Anything and everything. Whatever you know that even might be useful to us, you are going to train your squadmates in. Much of this is religious in origin and directly applicable to our official mandate, but there’s more to it than that. We need skills—diverse, dangerous skills. We need to be the best, because we have a job to do over and above what Commander Rouvad wants from us.”
“What are you talking about?” Ephanie asked quietly.
Principia glanced around fleetingly, but was apparently satisfied with the lack of prying ears. She stared at her squad, her jaw set, and stated flatly, “We are going to destroy Basra Syrinx.”
There was a beat of silence.
“I’ve pointed out already that she will be coming for us,” Principia went on, “so it’s not as if we even have a choice. But that isn’t enough, ladies. I refuse to remain in the trap of defensive thinking. More than the need to fend her off, more even than the fact that that need alone will force us, eventually, to take an aggressive tack… She has to go. That woman is a monster. She’s broken in the head, has no feeling heart, and is in a position of considerable power. It cannot stand. For us, for Jenell Covrin, for everyone else that we damn well know she’s mauled even if we don’t know who they are. This needs to be done. Circumstances have decreed that we’ll be the ones to do it, so damn it, we’re going to do it well.”
“Hell yes,” Casey whispered, eyes sharp and alert now.
“We’ve got four months,” Principia stated. “After that point… Best behavior or not, Syrinx will be wanting a rematch, and she will get it. Whipping ourselves into shape will be good enough for our careers and standing generally that I expect us to be in a stronger position by then, but even if not… It doesn’t matter. What it comes down to is this: Either she is going down, or we are.”
All four of them stared right back at her, and one by one, nodded their agreement.
“Regardless,” Ravana said, leading the way as usual on the path back from class, “I do regret dragging you all into this. Needless to say, I fully intend to make it up to you. We are unfortunately stranded in the environs of Last Rock for the duration of the semester, but I would be delighted to host a vacation when class lets out this winter. Someplace pleasant, and relaxing! I’ve several ideas. In the meantime, perhaps the dorm can be made more comfortable by—”
“Ravana,” Maureen interrupted, her tone quiet but firm, “quit it.”
The group came to a stop, Ravana turning to regard the gnome with confusion. “I’m sorry?”
“Quit taking responsibility,” Maureen said, gazing up at her. “We don’t none of us answer to you; we make our own choices, as we did last night, an’ it’s frankly insulting the way you assume you’re the decider around here. And fer the luvva courage, quit tryin’ to buy us.”
The Duchess stared at her, mouth slightly open.
“Look,” Maureen said with a sigh. “I like you, don’t think otherwise. But you’re goin’ about this all wrong. You wanna make friends, be part o’ the group? Then be part of it. You might find that easier than bein’ in charge all the time, I bet. At the very least, it’s gotta be more relaxing. But that’s how you get people ta like you, not by showering them in shinies.”
Ravana finally shut her mouth, then shook her head ruefully. “Well, I am…appropriately chastened. It seems we’ve had this conversation once before, haven’t we?”
“An’ likely will again,” Maureen said in a more cheerful tone. “C’mon, the habits of a lifetime don’t just up an’ change. I expect you all t’let me know when I’m bein’ a dink, an’ I’ll do the same fer you. Without makin’ it personal.”
“That is, after all, what friends do,” Szith added with one of her private little smiles.
“And yay! We get to bond over cleaning rooms full of evil sludge!” Iris said with a forced, manic smile.
Ravana sighed softly. “I really do feel bad about that, though. Not that I intend to denigrate your own agency, girls, but… Well, it was my idea, wasn’t it?”
“Water under the bridge,” Iris said dismissively, waving her hand. “What I want to know is what we’re going to do if Addiwyn starts up again.”
“She never came back to the room last night,” Szith observed. “Whatever Professor Tellwyrn said or did, let us hope for the time being that it finally made an impression.”
Iris pursed her lips skeptically. “And if it didn’t? Because between you, me and the trees, I can’t see that unbalanced twit getting the point no matter what’s done to her.”
“Don’t underestimate Tellwyrn,” Ravana cautioned. “But in any case… If she resumes her campaign, we will consider at that time how to deal with it.” She paused, then smiled wryly. “With, ah…a bit more restraint, perhaps.”
“This is so you,” Mary mused, pacing in a circle around the frozen form of Aspen. “One cannot contest that it does the job. And all it cost was a staggering expense of power and the complete reordering of a small patch of reality.”
“It’s such a shame we don’t get the chance to catch up more often, Mary,” Tellwyrn said, deadpan. “How did you enjoy the Rail trip?”
“All right, enough!” Sheyann exclaimed. “We are going to have to work closely together to accomplish this, if indeed it can be accomplished. Let us establish up front that if we are to be successful, the personal barbs will need to be kept to an absolute minimum.”
“Quite right,” the Crow said pleasantly. “Oh, but Arachne! On the subject of personal history, I understand the young Aldarasi prince is currently enrolled in your institution.”
A ball of blue fire burst alight in Tellwyrn’s hand. “Now see here—”
Before she could get any further, Sheyann streaked across the room and slapped Mary hard across the face.
The fireball fizzled out; Tellwyrn and the Crow both stared at her in shock.
“We are not doing this,” Sheyann declared furiously. “I will not have it! Kuriwa, if you cannot manage to act your age I will treat you accordingly. Is that understood?”
The Crow blinked twice, then took a step back and bowed, first to her, and then to Tellwyrn. “You are, of course, entirely correct. Forgive me, Arachne, that was a jest in very poor taste. I assure you, I have no intention of interfering with any of your students in any way.”
“’Interfere’ is an interesting choice of word,” Tellwyrn said, twisting her lips sourly. “Elilial pulled that one on me recently. Leaves you room to be aggravatingly helpful.”
“Well,” Mary said with a placid smile, “I do have an interest by blood. And as we just established, blood, however dilute, is a connection to be respected.”
The Professor snorted. “Oh, I am not worried about Trissiny. If you want to go toe-to-toe with Avei, be my guest. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, because I do need to head off to class pretty soon. What do you think?”
Mary turned back to study Aspen, her expression growing pensive. “Tricky, as I am sure you know. I can prepare the rituals that will allow us to touch her mind. Sheyann, if you could contribute toward the general emotional contact with which our magic is good, to encourage calm and healing, that will grant me space and some flexibility to set up the far more advanced mental workings.”
“Of course,” Sheyann said, nodding.
“The hard part is going to be bridging the difference between her time frame and ours,” said Tellwyrn. “Eventually, I hope to establish a passive effect in the room that will enable us to do the work without me constantly having to ride herd on that. For the first few sessions, though, it will require a personal touch. I never automate anything until I am absolutely confident of its function.”
“Wise,” Mary said approvingly.
“And of course, the real kicker will be integrating that into your fae spells.”
“Indeed,” the Crow said, slowly rubbing her chin with a finger as she studied the immobilized dryad. “All right, I will take some time to prepare and confer with Sheyann while you attend to your students, Arachne. Before you go, however, I have some thoughts on the methodology we will need to use. To begin…”
Finally escaping the tense, empty conversation with her mother, Jenell practically leaped up the stairs and strode down the hall double time. Beholding the door of her room standing open, she picked up her pace even further, the long coattails of her dress uniform flying behind her, and whipped around the corner.
Her satchel was on the bed, open. Her father stood beside it, and in his hands was one of her books.
“Can I help you find something?” Jenell grated.
Colonel Covrin slowly raised his eyes, giving her a very flat stare, then hefted the old volume. He handled it gently, of course, despite his obvious displeasure with it; the Colonel was an established bibliophile who collected rare volumes himself. He often said that he would have been a Nemitite had he not gone into the Army.
“Athwart the Gods,” he said, glancing down at the book’s title. “Treatises on diverting and manipulating the attention of deities. Isn’t this volume banned, Jenell?”
“Depends on who you ask,” she shot back. His brows lowered menacingly, and she hastened to add, “It’s suppressed, not banned. The Universal Church doesn’t have the authority to outlaw books in the Empire.”
“And how did you manage to obtain a copy of a volume suppressed by the Church?”
She folded her arms, meeting his stare challengingly. “I can’t think of any reason you would need to know that.”
“Jenell,” he said quietly, “you would tell me if you were in some kind of trouble, wouldn’t you?”
She startled them both by laughing. “Are you serious, Dad? Since when do we have that kind of relationship?”
His mouth thinned to a line of pure disapproval. “What have you gotten involved in?”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” she said curtly. “I am handling it.”
“As someone keeps reminding me,” she stated, “despite how generally disappointing you may find me, Dad, I’m still a Covrin. We don’t whine about problems. We end them.” Imperiously, she held out a hand, wordlessly demanding the book’s return.
The Colonel ignored that for the moment, lowering his eyes to study its battered old cover. “What problem?”
“One,” she replied quietly, “that I am going to look in the eyes when it realizes that I’m the thing that destroyed it.”
She could see him processing, and silently willed him not to come to the correct conclusion. Colonel Covrin was anything but stupid. If he figured out what was going on, no power in the Empire would prevent him from trying to rescue her. And his trying would ruin everything.
“This problem,” he said at last, lifting his eyes to stare piercingly into hers, “isn’t Avei, is it?”
It was all she could do not to sigh in relief. “No. Gods, give me a little credit. No, Avei will be the solution. It’ll just take some work on my part, that’s all.”
He stared at her for a long, silent moment, then nodded slowly and finally handed the book back. She immediately stepped past him, gently placing it back in her satchel, and slung that over her shoulder. “I’m heading out. I need to get to the Rail station and embark for Viridill. My sponsor is keeping me on as an attendant while on a mission.”
“Jenell,” he said as she started for the door. She turned to look back at him, and found herself unsure what to make of his expression. “I’m proud of you.”
Despite herself, despite everything, Jenell couldn’t hold back a smile. “That’s… I don’t think you’ve ever said that to me before.”
“Yes, well,” he replied with an awkward shrug. “I guess it wasn’t the case before.”
And just like that, the smile evaporated from her features. “Thanks for lunch, Dad,” she said with a sigh, then turned and strode from the room before he could respond.
She practically flew down the stairs, through the hall and out of the house, fearing her mother would catch and ensnare her in another of her empty conversations. She didn’t stop until she was at the corner, two full blocks down from the Covrin residence. There, she stood, waiting until a black carriage with the red and yellow stripes of the municipal taxi service approached, and flagged it down.
“Western Rail terminal south,” she said curtly to the cabbie as she climbed into the back.
“Right away, ma’am,” he said, tipping his hat deferentially, then immediately faced forward again, palming the control runes and bringing the carriage back into motion.
She still wasn’t used to that. Jenell was long accustomed to being pretty and well-dressed, which commanded a certain kind of attention. Part of her regretted that men never flirted with her anymore, since she’d started wearing Legionnaire armor, but another part was finding the new treatment somehow sweeter. It was still an unfamiliar experience, being addressed with respect.
After glancing up to double-check that the cabbie’s eyes were on the road where they belonged, she carefully opened her satchel and studied its contents. Her father didn’t seem to have disturbed any of the books apart from the one… Even her personal reading was untouched, which she’d have more than half expected him to remark on. Ashner Foxpaw’s Exploits was so far outside both her previously established sphere of interest and the preferences of Avei’s Legions that it practically demanded comment. Perhaps he’d caught sight of the old copy of Athwart the Gods and hadn’t noticed. Luckily he’d not seen some of the other volumes she had in there.
That had been risky, and sloppy, and she could not afford to be either. Obviously her old room at home was not a secure fortress, and it was pure sentimentality that had made her assume so. She had to tighten up her game. If anybody else found the kinds of things she was studying… Gods, if Syrinx found them. She would invest in a bag of holding at the first opportunity, and never have these materials away from her person again.
Finally relaxing back into the seat, Jenell carefully pulled out the Exploits and opened it at her bookmark. There was time to get through maybe another chapter; traffic was dense at this hour.
Rather than the spot where she had left off, her eyes cut automatically to an increasingly familiar phrase, one Foxpaw was fond of using—it was the closest thing he had to a personal motto, it seemed. Jenell always found herself pausing a moment to let it sit in the forefront of her mind whenever she came across it. Due to her recent experiences, the idea resonated with her powerfully.
Not for the first time, she found herself silently mouthing the words.
“All systems are corrupt.”
27 thoughts on “8 – 26”
Off to work! Full comment later!
This was very interesting. Thank you, especially for Covrin’s POV. ‘All systems are corrupt’ indeed. Really, Rouvad rather disturbed me a couple chapters back. “Oh yes, I’m technically the head of a religion that’s all about justice, and yes, I have a sadistic psychopath occupying a position of great power under me in this organization, and yes, she’s been horribly abusing her power to bully you misfits, but I’m going to give her a slap on the wrist because she’s useful to me and throw some scary threats at you victims because you annoy me and don’t fit in nicely in my organization’s normal structure.” Ugh. The only positive explanation I could think of was that she really desperately needs Syrinx’s help with some important political stuff that could maybe enable some ends justify the means explanation fro that, but even that’s pretty thin ice, not to mention a terrifying prospect itself.
I interpreted it differently. She can’t get rid of Basra easily because that would involve the Church and the archpope isn’t exactly an ally. She herself can’t be seen acting against the Church and it’s likely that there are eyes on her.
Keeping Basra out of circulation for 120 days is more than a slap on the wrist, it could be very well the undoing for the bishop. Especially if her replacement is liked better by everyone (fair assumption). It’s entirely possible that she’ll come back and be out of a job.
Rouvad indirectly gave Squad One the assignment to take care of Basra. She set both sides against each other and no matter the outcome, she wins. From her perspective this isn’t unjust, S1 still hasn’t proven themselves and they only got as far as they did by bending and breaking several rules. She owes them nothing and in fact they can be happy that no one followed up on their transgressions.
Basra on the other hand might not be a people person and generally disliked, but she got things done and helped the Sisters of Avei for years. Her worst transgressions aren’t known, they are barely rumors. She hasn’t been found guilty of any crime so far, so Rouvad can’t just kick her out. It’s also possible that Basra will improve her behaviour (hide her true personality) and then Rouvad keeps her as a very efficient bishop for years to come.
It’s another case of lofty ideals being crushed by the unforgiving reality of life.
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Oh, wow. Basra has created two monsters out for her blood…
I’m kind of interested in the symmetry. Prin joins up with Avei’s Legions while still remaining an Eserion follower in good standing, could we see a follower of Avei joining up with the Thieves Guild? Although it sounds like Athwart the Gods might be a wreath book so there’s always that possibility I suppose although her line about Avei being the solution seems to partially contradict that possible direction.
On another note, for some reason I always got the impression (even with the bonus chapter) that Tellwyrn and Mary avoided avoided each other just because they were rather prickly towards one another rather than actively disliking one another. Kind of on opposite sides but as frenemies. This chapter seemed to show much more animosity between them. I guess I’ll have to go back and re-read to see where that difference between my interpretation and this chapter’s interaction occurred.
This is shaping up to be lots of fun. I think everyone has underestimated Jenell… although I mentioned that Basra definitely did in a previous comment.
I’ve still haven’t warmed up to the freshman girls, especially Ravana is kind of annoying. I can see the potential there though.
I hope Mary will speak with Trissiny soon, that’s a conversation I’d love to read. 😀
“I’ve[sic] still haven’t warmed up to the freshman girls”
I tend to agree with you on Ravana and Iris, but Szith seems solid and sensible and Maureen is already quite impressive. Telling off the Duchess like she was a wayward sister is pretty good, especially considering her (possibly) insular background.
Four months is enough time to become familiar with what the other squad members can do and maybe to learn a few tricks, but it’s probably not enough time to learn the actual skills. Some of those would take years IMO.
And that’s assuming they even get the full four months. If Basra’s willing to employ catspaws (and she has been before) they could have less.
IMO, four months isn’t enough time to learn proactive techniques for a lot of their crafts, but it is long enough to learn some basic defenses against cons (Prin), some education to avoid blunders when dealing with Shaathists (Ephanie), and some basic skills at avoiding notice (Casey). They should let the Nemetite (Farah) dig up dirt on Basra that has been filed instead of trying to teach the others how to do it. And I think Prin was being nice to the former adventurer (Merry) by saying she had something to contribute. Still, Prin is trying.
I remember reading about that “Exploits” book before, but I don’t remember the context. Can someone help me remember?
“Exploits” is the closest thing to a holy text that the Eserites have. Darling also donated his personal well-used copy as part of his mourning… uh… gift…? Mourning thingy, for the librarian that F&F killed.
I wish I had more time to write, earlier I had an idea for a story based on TGaB.
Imagine a spaceship. 90% Star Trek, 10% Firefly. Ruda as the captain, Trissiny as weapons officer, Teal/Vadrieny as pilot, Shaeine on communication (or sciene officer with pointy ears!), Toby as medical officer, Juniper as nurse/therapist, Gabriel and Fross as engineers and Ariel as the ship’s AI. Maybe add some other students to fill out the crew.
Space exploration! First contacts! Romance! Battles! Daring rescues and adventures!
I would read the /crap/ out of that story. OH! Darling, F&F, and Price could be a band of space pirates that they encounter at random, sometimes as allies, sometimes as opposition, but always with a good deal of friendly bantering.
Yes! They are also working for the Tellwyrn Consortium, which is giving them insane jobs, scathing performance reviews and in some rare cases hilariously overpowered backup. ^^
I would love to see this as a thing
So, is Prin going to start enchanting some stuff for her squad? And possibly training them as arcanists, if she has the necessary free time?
Home from work. I have comments, but sweet jiminy I am tired. Catch up with you guys tomorrow, kay?
As I mentioned in my last set of comments, I am extremely impressed that you have even these details thought through and I am wondering just how meticulous your notes must be. Certainly worth the wait as far as things go. (I refer to the Corvin chapter, naturally). Getting into her head, as well, afforded us an interesting look at her thought process. The hints offered as well… I’m still chewing on their implications in the back of my mind. The title of the books alone puts the vast majority of my questions at ease. I think it’s clever that Corvin is looking in that direction too.
I admit when it was initially revealed that you were going to be focusing on yet another group, an entirely new class, I was a little skeptical of how it would go. That more speaks to my personal taste then an overall all critique of your writing. You have shown yourself more then capable of handling it, I just have an interest in fewer and more about said fewer. I should note that my interest for the new groups is right there with the old ones, that I am invested, and that it is rare that my attention can be split so much in a single story and still have my interest so keen upon that world. As a reader, I am impressed. As a writer, I am curious about the process that goes into thinking all this out. And also impressed.
This chapter answers a lot of questions but it does raise even more. In a very good way, I assure you. Was Rouvand’s indifference feigned? Was this what she hoped for? She has expressed that she does not care about Prin but is that part of a larger game to utilize someone of her experience and skill? If she knows the kind of monster she has on hand, it would be an interesting way to steer another monster toward it, maybe even purposefully piss off that second monster and give it the first’s scent. A veritable win/win for Rouvand really if she really does dislike Prin. No outcome is completely bad for her after they clash since it’ll mean at least one of them will be out of her life.
Meanwhile, Prin probably knows that’s a possibility… That she doesn’t care, or that it’s more important to her that a monster like Basra is taken care of, is telling of the person we’ve been following. I admit to feeling a bit warm and fuzzy reading that part. A certain sense of ‘hell yeah’ threatening to be verbalized as she voiced her intent upon the sociopath. I find it interesting, however, that she is doing much as Darling did, if in a different way. Forming a group meant to handle odd tasks and utilizing the skills of many faiths. This is the much more inclusive kind though, simply by way of intention. Prin intends for each of them to share their skills, rather then horde what makes them special. The fact that it’s happening within the church of Avei though… hidden beneath the guise of a ‘politically minded group’… Avei/Rouvand’s intention? Or was she being honest about Basra’s forming of it and her distaste of the methods used? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.
Sociopath or psychopath? I am actually curious about that. Is it that I am misinterpreting it or that the world’s psychological medicine isn’t yet subtle enough upon the differences to know they are not one in the same? I remember reading psychopath at least once, but all the heartless stuff from the elves sounds more like a sociopath to my mind. Perhaps I am simply colored by perception or maybe I need to read more into the latter to discern if it could be applicable.
All in all, a brilliant read. I have the weekend largely to myself so I may end up taking this story from the top again just to see if there is more I may have missed. Also for the enjoyment of reading it again naturally. Thank you for all the effort gone into this serial.
It’s Farzida Rouvad, not Rouvand. Similiarly, it’s Jenell Covrin, not Corvin. 🙂
So they are. For some reason whenever I read those names I switched things up a bit. Did that with Harry Potter a lot too, actually. I guess it’s the larger cast.
Overall, mostly stuff well within character. I look forward to the Basra/S1 rematch.
Kuriwa and Arachne really do snipe at each other, don’t they? This is actually a bit worse than the historical incident, but perhaps they were being more careful then because they were on the brink of fighting and neither wanted to push the point too far. Go, Sheyann! Nice to see Aspen in good hands.
And the more I hear griping about Arachne’s techniques, the less impressed I am about the griping. Her magic is far from subtle and balanced but it works. The reactions of the current and former students, her enemies, and the various political factions are evidence that her other techniques work fairly well too. Her former students mostly feel well towards her, her enemies fear her, and the various political factions would rather have a fight with a headhunter than be caught interfering with her. To me, that is exactly the reactions that Arachne would like them to have. How is this not effective?
Jenell has come so far from the sniping socialite she was before. This is almost an amazing transformation. So this is why Jenell stuck with Basra – keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
I have long had issue with the “all systems are corrupt” phrase, but as a (mostly former) gamer, I do agree that all systems are gameable.
Other commenters have said this was a win/win for Rouvad. I don’t really agree. For one thing, the fallout has already pissed off the Eserites and Shaathists at a very high level and upset other groups. And those were the opening volleys. For another, this has created lots of extra paperwork and headaches for her already. Avei’s cause has already been hurt and is likely to take further blows as Basra and S1 trade knives in back. Rouvad is actually in the position of choosing between the lesser of two evils. She’s just setting it up so that they fight each other instead of her.
I think in the long wrong pissing off the other cults still works in her favor when Basra’s doing it. Her position is with the universal church and reliant upon that churches leader, not the cult leader. If enough of the cults call for her to be removed, say because she stepped over a few lines, then Rouvad can have her replaced with someone less insane. It’s not a perfect situation but she set it up for herself to have fall back options, in case her new squad doesn’t take down her old sociopath.
Just a small head up, this chapter doesn’t show up in the Table of Contents. It would be a shame to miss this chapter accidentally.
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