What had Captain Jiranee called it? Oh yes, a “cotehardie.” Donovan wasn’t sure what the word meant exactly, but figured “form-fitting” was as good as any. As the name implied, it looked something like a coat, fit the Captain’s well-endowed torso rather snugly, then loosened up once past the thick plates of her sword-belt to finally stop at her knees. The neck had a high collar while the sleeves were somewhat loose, with buttons at the cuff. Thick hose and knee-high boots completed her outfit. Donovan was rather glad Jonathan was with the other party, one look at the way the tall elf’s clothes fit her and the anthropomorphic fox probably would have passed out.
Amal (the Younger) and Lata were dressed in a similar fashion, except they wore quilted arming doublets (also knee-length), instead of the Captain’s more elaborate (and expensive) ‘coat.’ They too bore swords, on belts marked with Jiranee’s badge, and carried what looked like spears with a nasty back hook on one side. Amal had been assigned to be Donovan’s aide-de-camp, while Lata was to assist Cyan.
Brushing her long silvery hair back from her face, Jiranee tried to look composed. “Are you ready?” she asked.
Donovan ran a finger across the inside of the high collar of the tight-fitting doublet he wore. The thick material gave in to the pressure grudgingly and he pondered again the universality of making formal clothes uncomfortable. The sleeveless doublet fit snugly to his torso, with a thinner under-tunic providing padding and covering his arms in flaring sleeves. His legs were dressed in fine leggings tucked into soft leather boots. A tooled leather belt was cinched across his waist, holding a pouch (which held little at the moment) and the ever-present sheathed knife that he'd noticed everyone carried. A fancy plumed hat leaned rakishly on his head. The only unusual adornment was the pilot wings he'd pinned over his left breast.
He tugged the edge of the tunic down and grinned, "Ready as we'll ever be, I guess. Make it so."
"About as ready as I'll ever be I guess..." Cyan echoed dryly, adjusting her somewhat form fitting blouse. "Why is it that all "proper attire" never seems to feel all that comfortable?"
Jiranne arched on eyebrow, “Perhaps you need to see a tailor? Or just get used to the feel.” The tall Captain did, Cyan had to admit, look perfectly at home in her clothes. As did Amal and Lata. Then again, she simply wasn't used to wearing such garb for any occasion. Normally she was the kind who would be right at home wearing simple jeans and a t-shirt; but this wasn't a normal situation. She was on a totally new and alien world where things just seemed to get stranger by the day.
"I don't see how anyone could wear something like this on a consistent basis," Cyan said as she turned her head to Donovan, who looked to be just as uncomfortable in his clothes as her. "If the situation turns sour, I think I'm going to have my work cut out for me in this shirt." She sheathed her small personal knife on her belt, which accented the new formal britches she’d acquired during her shopping in the market place.
Cyan turned her attention over to the warrior elf. "I certainly hope this King of yours has some bit of reason to him Jiranee...."
“I hope as well, but have to doubt it.” Opening the wicket gate, a small door set into the larger double gates that formed the entrance to her estate, Jiranee gestured to the street outside. “King Pallathu seems to be loyal not to Virava, but to himself. In all the times I have spoken to him, his convictions lie only in what is best for him, not his kingdom.” Nodding to Amal and Lata as two passed through the gate and out into the street, she then turned back to Cyan and Donovan.
“But the greatest danger may be in the King’s cabinet. There are a dozen or so, but I think only six are actively harmful, and of them only four truly have the King’s ear. The rest are hangers on, who feast on the scraps the King leaves and try to enrich themselves off what petty graft they can get away with.
“The one who may be the most dangerous is named Birchandra. He’s a tall, green-skinned man, who much like Peraphon, likes to make himself seem more important by degrading others. He’s a bully, and I can personally attest to his mis-treatment of servants, even those not in his employ.” She then waved them through the gate before following herself. Behind them, Basanta closed the door, throwing the bolt with a clank.
Pausing to glance mountain-ward towards where the ribs of the Altus Astrum Rimor projected out of the ground, Jiranee pointed to a collection of towers rising above the mass of city rooftops. “There is the King’s palace and where he spends most of his time. The other royal palaces have been allowed to fall into disrepair, along with much of the royal lands, roads, and bridges.” She turned back to Cyan and Donovan, as Amal and Lata silently took up positions on either side. “I keep such grants as I have in good repair, for the rents allow me to see to both my well-being and that of my estate. Pallathu, on the other hand... well, you saw the actions of the guard the other night.”
Nodding to her men-at-arms, Captain Jiranee strode out into the street, “We’ll walk, I think. I don’t own a carriage and don’t wish to leave any of my horses in royal hands if things do not go well. Besides, it is good for the King’s Justice to go among the people she protects, don’t you think?”
Cyan nodded in agreement. "You truly are a paragon of virtue to your kingdom Jiranee. Knowing that you're with us on this is the only thing really giving me hope for the situation..." She turned to face Donovan with a small wry grin. "No offense Don."
Donovan returned her grin in spades. "None taken, Cy," he replied with a chuckle. "although I still think you'd look better in one of those hoop... hoop... how do you say it, Captain?”
“That. Imagine how much we could smuggle in under one of those things." He winked at Cyan and turned to Jiranee, the smile still on his face but a glint of a different kind on his eyes.
"So it sounds like this Birchandra guy is the one to look out for, assuming this," he waved his arm to encompass the city and its current condition, "is more than just Pallathu's doing."
Pausing to let a line of men pushing carts loaded with goods pass, Jiranee shook her head. “As I said, there are six I worry about, and four who, as you say, we must look out for. Birchandra is only one. There’s also Ranganathan, who I think revels in the plots and intrigues of Pallathu’s court.” Leaning over to where Cyan and Donvan strode, she pitched her voice low. “I think he heads the King’s network of informers.”
Standing, Jiranee resumed her long stride, delft making her way around the knots of people. It was, to Cyan and Donovan’s eyes, a riot of colors, not to mention shapes, sizes, smells, and styles. While most of the inhabitants were Farming People, there were also tall and stately Running People, lithe Hunting People, agile Leaping People, Beast People, and more. There were also new and unusual beasts of burden. Aside from horses, they spotted a number of lizard-like animals, as well as assorted poultry, goat-like creatures, and what looked to be cattle.
“There are others, of course. Muni, who’s a reactionary fool who jumps at his own shadow. He feels I’m an ancient relic and should either be removed from service, or sent far, far away, where I can’t bother the King with my prattle. There’s also Sumukar, who sits and preens and thinks only of himself. He cares not for the kingdom, only his own well-being and how he can improve his station, even at the expense of others.” She sighed and paused again, dickering with a merchant for a platter of pastries before continuing.
“Here, have one.” She held the platter out where everyone, even Amal and Lata, could get at them. “Then there’s Sundar, who, like Sumukar, is vain. He’s also thinks only of himself, and cares only for his own comfort. Beyond that? he thinks not of Virava.
“The one I pity is Kalindi. He’s the youngest of the Cabinet, and the most idealistic. But his idealism has blinded him. He sees only what the others show him, and dismisses evidence otherwise as an aberration. He’s even tried to sway me to see the King’s viewpoint and feels my refusal to do so is a sign that it is time for me to go.”
Donovan sighed. "Plus ca chance..." At Jiranee's puzzled look, he waved his hand in dismissal. "Never mind, I was just pondering how some things are universal."
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "How long have these guys been in office? Did they all come in at once? Did one bring the others on board? Does one of them come across as the front-man, ah, their spokes-leader? I mean, it sounds like these guys all have their own little agenda, so who keeps them all in line?"
Finishing her pastry (and licking her fingers for good measure,) Jiranee shook her head. “One question at a time, Master Donovan! One at a time!” She paused and thought for a moment, ignoring the early-morning foot traffic that swirled around her. “To be honest, Pallathu was never one for affairs of state and spent his younger days concerned more with base pleasures.” Closing her eyes, she shook her head again, then resumed her walk. “I was a fool not to measure what use he made of them and advise his father, Savija, to amend the order of succession. Still, it was thought he’d grow more dutiful once the onus of rulership was placed upon his head, but.... In any case, Pallathu found he preferred the company of those nobles he’d gone a-wilding with, and dismissed many of his father’s ministers, replacing them with his... ‘friends.’ Once established, their bad advice, coupled with his general apathy built on itself. Honest ministers were either forced out or resigned in disgust, and Pallathu has since appointed mere sycophants, who only tell him what he wants to hear, and are desperate to curry the King’s favor, lest they be cast aside themselves.”
Pausing again, Jiranee looked over to Cyan and Donovan. “Listen to me... I sound like a doomsayer, crying the end of the world to the masses. Still... to answer your other questions, Master Donovan, King Pallathu often plays one minster against the next, by favoring one, then the other, with gifts, grants, and gold. However, Birchandra has the most power and is close to Ranganathan, who, as I said, may be the master of a network of spies. I think those two either plot with the King, or plot together to keep the others from becoming a threat and allow the King to do as he will, so long as they can ensure a stead flow of monies into their personal coffers.”
Donovan took in Jiranee's tale and nodded soberly, "We have a saying back home. I guess it would translate best as 'Your sight is always clearer when you look back.' You can't fault yourself for not knowing how things would work out."
He smiled and continued encouragingly, "We'll work something out. Maybe we can convince Pally to abdicate if we assure him he can continue the lifestyle he's accustomed to. He sounds like the kind of guy who doesn't appreciate the burdens of leadership."
Cyan simply sat back quietly munching down on the pastry Jiranee had given her, contemplating everything the elven warrior had just told her. She kept thinking and hoping to herself that they could appeal to some sense of reason, humanity, or justice within the King and avoid any unnecessary conflict.
"Sounds like this King of yours is quite the handful, Jiranee. It's too bad... Looks like the politics of this world are no different then the one we come from..."
“Do kings of your world regularly lead their lands into ruin?”
Donovan looked helplessly at Cyan as he pondered explaining American politics to the stately elf.
* * * * *
The royal palace, Captain Jiranee had explained, was one of the oldest structures in Virava. As such, it had been added on and renovated many times over the seasons and no one was sure where the original structure stood any more. As it was said to date from the founding of the city, there was some talk of trying to find it, since it was generally believed there might be artifacts of the first kings to be found. Cyan and Donovan, having seen the Caves of Steel, wondered if such artifacts (if they existed) might be anything like the equipment used by the lizard-troopers.
As castles went, the palace was rather sprawling. Entrance was through an elaborate barbican and gatehouse, which allowed access to the outer bailey. From then, however, things became a touch convoluted. Multiple list walls subdivided bailey into a maze of courtyards, many of which contained workshops, stables, storage sheds, gardens, fountains, and livestock. One through the inner gatehouse, they came to the inner bailey, which held the keep proper. Surrounded by a low wall, it was the King’s private residence, and normally off-limits to even one as highly-placed such as Jirnaee herself. Their true destination was the great hall to one side, set along the wall.
Inside Cyan and Donovan were reminded of the central hall to Jiranee’s estate. The building was three stories tall, with windows along the sides and at each end. A gallery circled the hall one story up, while banners and large candelabras hung from the high peaked roof. Fire places were set periodically into the walls, with shields, weapons, and tapestries hung anywhere there was room.
From the entrance to the king’s dais ran a wide carpet. It was red, with gold trim, and both Cyan and Donovan had to restrain grins (and possible laughter.) Captain Jiranee, for her part, simply strolled forward, almost as if she owned the place, and seemed utterly unconcerned by the presence of armed guards. Dressed in partial plate and armed with swords and poleaxes, they looked impressive enough, but Donovan wondered of they’d been chosen for skill or their family connections. He also had no problems acting like a tourist and gawking at the scenery, if only because it gave him the chance to memorize where potential exits were.
The king himself sat on a simple throne at the far end of the hall, set on a raised dais a few feet higher than the floor. At the base of the dais and to either side of the carpet were high-backed chairs. There were a dozen total and they were reserved for the use of the king’s ministers. The king himself looked normal enough, albeit with curious grayish-brown skin, almost the color of a tree bark. He wore a dark-colored cotehardie, high-collared, buttoned at the wrist, and fastened down the front. A wide placket-belt sported jewels and an ornate, but still functional-looking dagger. His minsters were more gaudily-dressed, with long-sleeved and skirted tunic-like garments, jeweled belts, gold chains hung about their shoulders, rings on their fingers, and ornamented goblets in their hands.
Donovan spoke sotto-voce from the side of his mouth to Jiranee. "I'm lost in terms of protocol here, m'lady, so any advice would be helpful."
“We wait to be called,” Jiranee replied in a similar tone. “Once we are, follow behind me and then wait to be introduced. If the king speaks directly to you, reply to him. Otherwise, we keep quiet. If...” and here she paused and thought for a moment, “...if things do not go well, do what you think it best.”
Donovan, struck with a sudden perverse bout of whimsy, roughened his voice into a passable Humphrey Bogart growl and stage-whispered, nodding at the ministers arrayed around the king, "So, while we're here cooling our heels, how about you fill me in on who's who in the peanut gallery?"
The tall elf looked puzzled then replied, in all seriousness, “Lord Cobol, I assure you, these are in no way the ‘cheap seats,’ they are reserved for the king’s closest minsters.” Pausing to take a breath, she then indicated the two rows of chairs. “There, to the king’s left is Minster Birchandra, while on his right is Minster Ranganathan. Then, going from left to right we have Minsters Sumkar, Sundar, Kalindi, and Muni.”
Donovan grinned. "That wasn't what I meant, but it's no biggie." He rubbed his chin as he regarded the assembly. "So, if we assume human nature still applies, that confirms Birchy and Rangy as being tightest with King Pally." He said no more as he absently continued his inspection, his mind obviously busy with thoughts best kept silent.
In time court opened. It proved to be as pompous and long-winded as expected, but then VIrava was thousands of seasons old, and ritual had become ingrained. A seemingly endless parade of shire-reeves, captains, and barons came forward, to press the king with questions relating to land, law, taxes, and tithes. Many spoke long flowery speeches, using a great number of words to not say much at all. Others were far more direct and to the point. The former usually wanted something from the crown, the later were giving.
Cyan and Donovan soon noted a pattern to royal decisions. Most, if not all, seemed to be slanted to benefit the crown in some way. Also, unlike Jiranne, who was willing to listen quietly while all sides aired their grievances, Pallathu often cut off supplicants, asking them to hurry it up. He also tended to go to Birchandra and Ranganathan for advice, usually by asking what they thought then basing his decision on whatever they told him. And many of the minster’s decisions seemed to use the specter of war from the plains as the rational for their outcome.
Through it all, Captain Jiranee stood silently, seemingly totally at ease. She kept one hand resting on the hilt of her sword, the other behind her back. Behind her, Amal and Lata stood at attention, their gaze traveling along the guards who lined the walls. It was with a start Cyan and Donovan both realized the royal guards were looking far less bored then one would expect. Jiranee and her entourage looked to be the center of their attention, far more then a pair of foreign dignitaries would attract.
Donovan leaned over slightly to whisper to Cyan in an exaggeratedly calm voice tinged with humor, "I don't want to alarm you, but I think we're being watched."
Finally the court herald called out for Captain Jiranee, Flower of Virava, to come forward and present herself to his royal majesty, King Pallathu. Motioning for Cyan and Donovan to stay where they were, she walked forward, stopping amid the two rows of minsters to take a knee. After a few preliminary greetings she stood and spoke. She started by reporting the threat of banditry among the northern provinces was no more and mentioned the village of Jayanama as being instrumental in assisting her in eliminating the threat. She also stated the bandits had come up from the lower levels, intent on plundering the supposedly weak and soft up-lands, but hadn’t counted on the Flower of Virava, her steel, and the courage of the people of Jayanama.
Cyan and Donovan had to marvel at how Jiranee cleverly said what was basically the truth, but also glossed over specific events. Their involvement was never really mentioned, unless you counted them as part of the ‘courage of Jayanama.’ Jiranee then turned and indicated Cyan and Donovan, stating; “And upon my return to Virava I happened up these two emissaries from the distant land of Disney, who having heard of the might and majesty of Virava, have traveled many hands of days to see it.”
Donovan took the pause at the end of Jiranee's speech as his cue. He couldn't help adding a bit of a jaunty skip as he stepped up next to the tall elf, the absurdity of the situation and his prepared words momentarily overcoming him.
"Your Majesty, King Pallathu of Virava!" he exclaimed in his best parade-ground voice as he made an elaborate bow. "Esteemed ministers!" he added as he bowed again in their direction. "People of Virava!" he finished, spreading his arms to encompass the assembly.
"I bring greetings from the far kingdom of Disney and its wise ruler, King Walter! I am Lord Donovan of Cobol and this is my boon companion, Lady Cyan of Fortran. As Lady Jiranee, truly the Flower of Virava, recounted, we encountered her during our travels and were overjoyed to learn of her destination. For we are explorers, humble seekers of knowledge, and have embarked on a voyage out about in these distant lands to discover its many wonders. Upon hearing of the many marvels to be found in your magnificent domain, we vowed to come and make our plea. If it pleases Your Majesty, can we add what you may see fit to our own meager store of knowledge and share what we have with your scholars and wizards?"
This will hopefully peak his interest and help us get in touch with Nayantha’s dad, he thought. Assuming he's not already dead and Pally decides we're next.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as the rows of ministers and the king simply stared at Donovan. Then Birchandra and Ranganathan leaned over towards Pallathu and the three spoke in low tones for a few moments. “Lord Donovan of Cobol,” Birchandra announced as he rose from his chair, “it does please the court and his majesty to greet you and the Lady Fortran and welcome you to Virava. We hope your stay here so far has been a pleasant and... an informative one. And, I must say, you are truly fortunate to have as a guide the Flower of Virava, for she is one who knows much about our fair kingdom and has seen a great many wondrous things in her time as the King’s Justice.” Here he paused and glanced over at Ranganathan, who gave a slight nod. “And now, if it pleases you, perhaps you could show the court what knowledge you might have that will be of use to us?”
Donovan strove to keep his smile in place, feeling like a minnow who's suddenly found himself swimming in a pool of sharks. In for a penny... he thought sickly.
"I fear that I would bore this august gathering with my meanderings into dry and musty subjects, some of which even I find fit only to cure any insomniac tendencies I might have," he said, with a slight chuckle as if to share the joke. The quip met a solid wall of silence and meekly expired without even a whimper to mark its passing.
Donovan coughed to cover the faux pas and gamely pressed on. "I can say that we have uncovered some insights as to the nature of this, our world, and perhaps even the existence of places beyond. What their exact meaning may be is still a conundrum, thus our quest to find kindred minds to pool our knowledge and reach enlightenment."
Birchandra’s smile made Donovan decide the minster was one monocle and a Persian cat away from being a Bond villain. “And did you find enlightenment within the Caves of Steel?”
Cyan interjected quickly, sounding as philosophical, debonair, and yet as naive as possible. "Well it depends on how one defines such things. What we've come to find could easy be passed off as simple tales from a by-gone era... Folklore if you will. Everything should be taken with a degree of skepticism."
Birchandra sat back, seemingly unfazed by her words. “Oh yes, I assure we take everything we hear with an appropriate degree of skepticism. Is that right, your Majesty?”
King Pallathu seemed surprised to be addressed and gave a quick look to his minister. “Oh yes, quite.” He then turned to Ranganathan. “Perhaps now is the time to ask the Flower if the rumors we have heard are true.”
With a nod to his king, Ranganathan stood. He was blue-skinned and dark-haired, dressed in somber black clothes. “Captain Jiranee, Flower of Virava, and King’s Justice, we, the court of Pallathu, do put this charge to you. Do you know of the whereabouts of one Lady Nayantha? Scurrilous reports have placed her within your estate, and while we know such actions are beneath you, we would ask you confirm your innocence for all to hear.”
Oh crap, thought Donovan, his face betraying his surprise. He glanced quickly at the elf, then opened his mouth to speak. "Ah, I can explain," he said hurriedly. He paused as he realized the entire assembly now stared at him in ominous silence. Oh, boy.
"Err, you see," he extemporized, unable to keep the nervousness from his voice. "As we, that is, Lady Fortran and I, were enjoying the fine services your great city has to offer we, ah, came across the young lady in obvious distress. As a gentleman, I could not deny her my aid. Knowing that the Lady Jiranee, as the Flower of Virava and the King's Justice, would have the wisdom to discern the cause of her misfortune, I escorted the young lady to her estate. When I heard the details of the situation, I entreated with the Lady to allow me to plead the young woman's case to His Majesty. I had hoped to do so in a more... private setting, but your minister's announcement has made that moot."
"So...." Ranganathan dragged the word out with a slight smile that wasn't quite a sneer. "You admit to harboring a traitor to the realm, then. Thus I have no recourse but to-"
Anything further was cut off as another minster, Donovan thought it was the one Jiranee called Muni, leapt to his feet, a falling goblet spilling wine across the floor. "Traitors? Guards! Arrest them!"
"Aw, crap," Donovan muttered as he stepped back to place himself close to Jiranee and the rest without crowding her sword arm. "So much for winning friends and influencing people," he quipped tightly to the elf. "What's the protocol here, m'lady?"
Captain Jirnee’s expression gave him a moment’s pause. “We fight.”
At Minister Muni’s command the suspiciously attentive and well-armed troops along the wall sprang into action. Dropping their poleaxes into a guard position, they looked to heard the embassy into a tight circle though the use of the long spikes set into the top of the weapon’s hafts. Amal and Lata assumed similar stances as Jirnee drew her long sword in a flash. “Go,” she snapped. “You can Cyan get out of here and back to my estate.” Any further words were cut off as she block an axe-head with a clang.
From up near the throne calls of ‘defend his majesty’ could be heard, and for a brief moment Donovan could see minsters and guards huddling around Pallathu. For some strange reason it brought to mind images of when Ronald Reagan was shot. Shaking his head, Donovan stepped back and stumbled over a body. One of the guard, bleeding from a spot his armor didn’t full cover. As he strove to regain his footing, the awl-like point of another poleaxe ripped through his cotehardie, scoring a long line along his ribs.
Donovan grunted as pain lanced across his chest. He ducked and rolled out of the way of the guard's return strike and straightened up next to Cyan. He began to shout a denial at Jiranee's order when he saw the incoming thrust from another poleaxe. Gripping Cyan by the arms, he spun her out of harm's way. The point slammed through his shoulder and he stumbled against Cyan, his face a mask of shock. The front of his cotehardie darkened as blood began to pour out of his wound.
Cyan had no time to respond, everything happened so fast. All she could do was look at Donovan with awe. The man acted so quickly, and so selflessly for her.
Jiranee repeated her command of "Go!" as she sent her sword crashing into a guard’s shoulder. The man dropped like a stone to the ground.
Donovan wrapped his arms around Cyan and they leapt up like a rocket, slipping through one of the high windows out into the sky.
"Man that was quick thinking there Don, I thought my ass was a kabob back there for sure!" Cyan screamed over the tearing wind. She looked to Donovan's face, wrought with pain but also sheer determination while the color rapidly faded from his complexion. Cyan knew what was coming next "DONOVAN! STAY WITH ME MAN! DON'T CASH OUT JUST YET!"
The arc of their flight path quickly took them out of the castle grounds and onto the city proper. It didn't last long, as Donovan began to slip into shock from blood loss. Their descent ended as the pair smashed through the roof of a shed, Donovan's force field preventing them from taking too much damage. Donovan lay on the ground, his face grey. He managed to mutter, "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd rate that landing a C-" before he lost consciousness.
Cyan recovered as quickly as she could. Much like the time when Red had died, time simply seemed to slow down. Seconds felt like hours now. She rolled Donovan onto his back and felt for a pulse. It was weak, but he was still alive. Cyan tore the right sleeve of her shirt off, exposing her scarred arm and hand. With a few quick jerks, she pulled Donovan’s clothes open, to better reach his wounds.
"Gotta pack these quick...." Cyan muttered aloud. The blood was leaving Donovan fast, time was against her now. "God please let this work...." Using the torn fabric from her shirt she packed the wounds. "God please let this work...." She began to search around them for anything else she could use. Taking a moment to asses their situation Cyan reached for her communicator. "The eagle has been poached! Repeat, the eagle has been poached! Donovan is down... I... we... need... back... up....." Cyan was starting to get dizzy. She could feeling herself starting to slip into shock from the situation.
Quickly turning back to Donovan, Cyan laid her hands over his torso. "C'mon you big dumbass... Stay with me... God please let this work." Cyan tried to harness as much of her healing powers that she knew she had to made Donovan stable. A warmth came from Cyan's hands and entered into Donovan's. Looking at his wounds, Cyan could see the bleeding begin to slow and eventually stop.
Cyan fell back from Donovan with a long breath. "That should do it... Now to get your ass back to base...." Fighting against her own fading consciousness Cyan picked Donovan up over her shoulder and began their trek back to Jiranee's estate. "You know, I don't know how you do it Don... Lugging people around is hard work...."
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