The Wheel - Book 1: Death of the Phoenix

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Chapter 4

“Always remember, my children, healing is a noble magic, but not without cost.” Jhamy concluded her healing lesson. Ynys, who had been smirking with mirth throughout the lesson, turned to his partner, Eirene.

“Then she must have a great cost, for no great heal has silenced her yet.” He whispered to Eirene fiendishly. She bit her lip, despite trying to ignore his mischievous words. It was no secret that Jhamy, like Eirene, was an unusual High Priestess. She appeared to be the calmest of all of them, yet she harboured an inner dragon that easily terrified the young pupils of the Eistr Mariskh when she took command of her lessons. Even Eirene, who had grown up knowing this attitude since birth, had been wary during her first lessons with Jhamy. But now being fourteen years old, she greatly admired and respected Jhamy for her work and her principles.

“Master Kaldviel, perhaps you fancy yourself better than my instruction.” Jhamy snapped when she saw Ynys’s impish smile. “Come. You will help me tidy my scrolls and such, and maybe that way, you will learn to control yourself.”

Eirene, hiding her own laughter just about, for her eyes betrayed her, whispered to Ynys, “Careful that the dragon does not burn you further. I will see you at dinner.”

With one wink from his grey eye, Ynys did as he was bid and went to assist Jhamy, who had her hands set on her hips. She then barked to the rest of the class, “Away with you all!”

Gathering her quill and her scrolls slowly, Eirene waited for the rest of the class to precede her. She hated being caught amongst the crowded bodies, where they all felt too hot and too noisy for her liking. When the doorway was clear, she strode out of classroom, but not before she spared a wink of her own at Ynys, whose eyes looked up and silently cursed her, but playfully.

Since that day with the unfortunate conjuration, Eirene found Ynys to be a surprisingly loyal and witty friend once he got over his shyness. As they grew older, they spent much of their time together, whether it was for study or for leisure. Every word, every whim, every secret was shared between them. Ynys’s magic abilities favoured transformation magic, while Eirene was tended towards healing, though she was a very firm contender for all magical spells. Despite her much more mellowed approach to her anger, now that she had spent more years and more mistakes honing it until she rarely felt it, Eirene was still a fierce character and greatly competitive. Ynys remained the quieter of the two, yet he was shockingly sly when it came to it. Thus the two were a complementary partnership, and many across the temple were impressed with them daily.

Some of those who did not, however, were Annexa and her two friends Ovelai and Erguelle. They harboured still a resentment for Eirene since the day she set Annexa’s robes on fire. Despite Eirene making her apologies that day, Annexa refused to let it go. She had been humiliated, she felt. In every class, Eirene stood out, and Annexa couldn’t stand it.

“Well, well, well. Mistress Nielaa.” Annexa sneered as Eirene passed down the corridor.

Eirene stopped and looked at Annexa with an expression that was mostly blank, save for her eyes, which were cold. “Mistress Mathara. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“None at all. I am merely surprised that Lady Giolha did not single you out also for punishment. Did you not also find amusement with Ynys?”

“I would not know what you are talking about, for I was paying attention to Lady Giolha’s wise words. Perhaps were you not so focused on Ynys and myself, maybe you would progress better in her lessons.”

Blanched with rage at Eirene’s words, Annexa hissed, “I progress well enough, thank you. I certainly need not rely on being a favourite to do so.”

“I am surprised at that also, given how much time you have put thought into the matter.” Eirene could feel the familiar tendrils of anger tickling at her nerves. But she forced that feeling away by imagining the waves of the ocean, carefree and calm in low tides. Curtseying and sweeping away from the fuming Annexa, she went to see her mother in their quarters.

Not to be ignored, however, Annexa focused her own rage and lifted her hands. As she screeched, she forced her hands forward and sent an invisible force wave at Eirene. It hit her in the back and Eirene let out a cry as she fell to the floor.

Eirene heard Ovelai and Erguelle giggling from behind and her temper came ever so close to reaching the surface. But with great effort, she pulled herself to her feet and continued to walk away.

“What happened to that temper of yours now, Eirene? Are you so scared that you will hurt someone? I would be if I were a tempest like you.”

She continued to walk faster and faster, trying to escape the derisions of the girls behind her, but somehow, the words and the jeers followed her, probing at her most sensitive issue still. She wished she had learned to control herself when she was so much younger, but that could not be helped now. She had to move on, even though her heart trembled a little with hurt that some were unable to forget and forgive her wrongs, despite the fact that she long gotten over Annexa provoking her so.

Walking turned into running and before anyone could stop her to ask what was wrong, Eirene was racing towards the Miha Airea, the only safe haven for her when she was anxious with upset and anger. Before she sat down, she checked her amber coloured robes for any dirt. She did not want to be chastised by her mother for dirtying a clean set of clothes.

As she sat down on the steps of the Miha Airea, Eirene looked to the ocean and found she was already calm. The running to the shrine had given her the time she needed to relax, as though the cool of the autumn wind had helped blow away grief. After maybe an hour of sitting and contemplating what to do for her studies later, she did not notice Jhamy approaching.

“Eirene.” Jhamy announced herself. Eirene, very startled out of her thoughts, rose to her feet and curtseyed.

“Lady Giolha.”

“Sit, Eirene.”

Obeying the instruction instantly, Eirene returned to her seat. She watched Jhamy struggling to sit down and kept hesitating each time she thought she might help the elder woman sit down. Once she was settled, Jhamy turned a stern eye to Eirene.

“I heard that Annexa tormenting you today.” She said.

Heart sinking once more, for she had quite forgotten about the incident until now, Eirene looked at Jhamy solemnly.

“A misunderstanding.”

“Quite, if the girl felt it necessary to use magic when you turn your back.” Jhamy replied icily at the memory of seeing Annexa raise her hands without thought. It made her blood boil to see such cowardice. “At the very least she could have used such magic when you were facing her.”

“Perhaps. But had I not such control of my temper like before, she might have suffered from my own wrong doings.” Eirene tried to smile a little to make light of it, but Jhamy was no fool.

“You must not think that girls like Annexa are better than you, Eirene. Granted, you are a little - peculiar,” Jhamy delivered her words with a pointed look at Eirene, “But that is why I favour you. Where your temper has struck before, this balanced by your humbleness and your kindness. Where those girls will spend their lives being jealous of you, you will progress without them because you focus on what is important.”

“But for what could they possibly be jealous of me?” Eirene answered back, genuinely confused for this was the first time she had heard of such a notion.

“A girl who is talented can be tolerated amongst the ranks of women, but when that girl is talented and pretty, that, my dear, will inspire much jealousy.”

“I would not think myself pretty at all, Lady Giolha. Surely that cannot be the only reason to inspire jealousy?”

“Of course not, but it happens to be the most popular reason. I would know, I have taught many a girl who would compete for the attention to their beauty, especially if one of those girls befriended a particularly handsome boy.”

“You mean boys like Ynys?” Eirene was surprised. “But why would Annexa want attention from Ynys? She teases him so cruelly sometimes.”

“Because his eyes are never for her. That is why she wants his attention.” Jhamy stated bluntly. “She is not blind, I am sure, for anyone with eyes can see Ynys is becoming a fine young man. But if it means outdoing you, she will aim for him.”

“Oh.” Eirene murmured, thinking about all the times she had spent with Ynys, completely unaware that as they were aging, that there might be a chance that conduct between them might change as well. Even she, not ever interested in boys, could not help noticing that he was becoming a man.

“Listen to me well, girl.” Jhamy drew back Eirene’s attention. “Do not let that Annexa vex you. I am not blind, and neither are the other High Priests and Priestesses. Be also wary of that Ynys boy. He may be your friend now, but he will not remain a boy forever.”

Stunned into silence, Eirene knew that Jhamy had probably meant well with her advice, but in actuality, the words had sown some powerful seeds of doubt. Seeing that Eirene looked less than relieved, Jhamy, uncharacteristically, placed a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“This is part of growing up, Eirene. Do not be afraid. Your mother, High Priest Eldwin and I will look after you.”

Reassured a little, Eirene smiled a little at Jhamy. “Thank you, Lady Giolha.”

Nodding, the elder woman attempted to push herself to her feet but found her knees to be more difficult now she was sitting. This time, Eirene found the confidence to take Jhamy by the arm and aid her to standing. Jhamy looked ruefully at the younger girl and said firmly, “Not a word to anyone.”

“Yes, Lady Giolha.” Eirene replied, hiding her smile, though still not quite from her eyes, as she assisted Jhamy with walking back to the Eistr Mariskh.

When Eirene returned to her quarters, she found her mama peacefully asleep in her chair and Ynys watching over her as he scrawled on some parchment. He looked up as Eirene came through the door and smiled instantly.

“And where have you been to?” He asked sternly, though he was teasing her.

“To the Miha Airea.” Eirene replied, wearily taking a seat on the chair across from him. Ynys then stopped his teasing and looked concerned.

“Was it Annexa?”

“Of course.”

Ynys swore under his breath and reached over for Eirene’s hands. “I am so sorry, Eirene. I did not know.”

“You were under the instruction of Lady Giolha, so you were entirely not at fault.” Eirene smiled a little, comforted by the warmth of Ynys’s hands. “How was the old dragon? Did she spare you her fire?”

“She lectured me some, but otherwise, I am unscathed. She did, however, move off quite quickly when she seemed to spot some commotion outside the classroom and waited for it to finish. Was that between you and Annexa?”

“I suppose, if there was not other spates.”

“Hm.” Ynys stroked his face. Eirene saw in the light given by the fireplace that some stubble was presenting itself on his chin, cheeks and above his lips.

“She came after me and spoke to me at the Miha Airea.” Eirene commented airily, taking some spare parchment and her quill in hand.

“Oh? And what did Lady Giolha have to speak to you about?”

“She had some…interesting views about my relationship with Annexa that she wanted to share with me.”

“Relationship is one way to word it.” Ynys grinned a little. Eirene rolled her eyes at his playfulness. He wasn’t one for keeping matters serious for long.

“She claimed that Annexa is jealous of me because not only am I talented and pretty, but because also I am friends with you.”

Raising an eyebrow, Ynys replied, “Jealous that you are friends with me?”

Eirene nodded. “Apparently girls like Annexa who seek attention want it most from males.”

“And what if I feel no desire to give her attention? She is pretty, I will not deny, but I can not say that she would be my sort of company.”

“Then I suppose I must suffer because you were born a man. I am most unfortunate it would seem, having a dreadful temper and my only friend being a male.” Eirene chuckled, beginning to write her scrolls. Ynys also smiled, but it wasn’t his usual impish way. He was looking at her differently, she was sure of it.

“You do not think Annexa would be able to take me away from you?” He asked, looking almost cautious.

“I would hope not, for I would be short of friends in that case.” Eirene laughed again, but Ynys was not convinced. She wasn’t looking at him properly.

“You are a very dear friend to me, Eirene, do not forget that.” He said seriously. Eirene stopped writing and looked at him, her blue eyes bright and for a moment vulnerable, before she hid that expression away.

“Annexa would never compare, if that is what worries you. You are talented, fierce and more pretty than she could ever hope to be.” Ynys continued. Blushing and unsure of how to respond, Eirene looked to her scrolls to avoid the now intense grey stare of the boy sat across from her.

“You thought me bold when we first spoke properly.” She said fondly of the memory that sprang to her mind, smiling at the image of Ynys approaching her with a blush on his own cheeks.

“You have never changed that, and that is why I admire you the most of all the girls here.” Ynys suddenly rose from his seat and went to crouch before Eirene sat in her seat. She had always been tiny, one would not think she had such a forceful nature. But despite the fact that Ynys’s head exceeded the height of her hips as she was sat down, he felt himself wilting a little in awe. She was beautiful to him, sat shrouded in firelight, her face betraying the changes from girlhood to womanhood. He had always thought she was pretty, ever since they were young. But to admit that to her now, it was terrifying to wonder what her response may be.

“Then I am glad to know I will never lose a friend in you.” Eirene finally spoke softly, smiling down at handsome boy before her.

Before he could stop them, Ynys nerves peaked and he, in mad boldness, in a sudden desire to let her know that she was only one he had eyes for, lifted himself from kneeling and kissed Eirene on the lips. It started awkwardly, but once the two settled, they closed their eyes and began to explore this new sensation.

For a couple of moments, Eirene was stunned and pleasantly surprised. She had seen some of the residents from nearby villages on the Isles of Astrum kiss before, and when she did see them, she looked upon the moments with discomfort, for she often found herself uneasy with feelings and actions she did not understand herself yet. As for the Eistr Mariskh, it was an unspoken rule that relations of any sort between male and female were widely discouraged, as though such passions and emotions might disrupt the peace of the temple.

And in this maelstrom of wanting to enjoy the kiss she had just received, and fear that bad consequences would follow for being kissed, Eirene pushed Ynys away once her mind caught up with her. Both young ones put their hands to their lips and stared at each other, not quite believing what happened.

“My apologies.” Ynys stammered out, before rushing out of the quarters in a run.

Breathless, Eirene slumped in her chair and mulled over Jhamy’s warning. Had it really been obvious to anyone but her and Ynys that - this might develop between them? That no matter how much they thought of each other as friends, nature would prevail as they became man and woman, with more complex thoughts and emotions to deal with?

Before Eirene could properly think this through, her mother suddenly awoke. Maridi rubbed her eyes and once the blurriness dissipated to reveal Eirene in her sight, she smiled.

“Good evening, Eirene. How were your lessons today? Have you learnt much?” Maridi asked.

Thinking of everything that had transpired in the last few hours, from the incident with Annexa, to the talk with Jhamy, to the sudden kiss with Ynys, her very first as a budding woman, Eirene kept her back to her mother and resumed her writing on the parchment.

“Yes. There was much, much to learn.” She replied.

The next morning after that strange afternoon, Eirene went to her lessons, aware that her heart beat strangely at the thought of seeing Ynys again. What would she say to him? Should she address the kiss that they shared, or ignore it completely? In truth, she had not gained much sleep the night before for thinking about it, and the tiredness mingled with the anxiousness was bound to not help her when she needed it the most.

Just as she was about to enter Jhamy’s classroom for healing magic, Eldwin appeared from around a corridor.

“Mistress Nielaa, I must speak with you now. I have already asked Lady Giolha to excuse you.” He said, gesturing for her to follow him.

Keeping silent, Eirene obeyed without question and walked with him to his quarters. When they went inside, Eirene asked quietly, “Is everything well, High Priest Eldwin?”

Not answering her at first, Eldwin went to his desk and sat behind it. Understanding that this was now a formal meeting, Eirene took the seat in front that faced him. Her hands began to wring at her robes.

Eldwin wasted no time in getting to the point. “Ynys told me of what occurred last night.”

Eirene felt her blood go cold.

“He did?”

“He ran into me as I was making my way to dinner. I noticed that he was in some distress, and though he was reluctant at first to tell me, he admitted that you both had - experienced a moment a little more intimate than friendship would allow.”

Feeling like she was being judged under Eldwin’s pointed stare, Eirene shifted in her seat to sit a straighter than she was.

“It was a moment only.” She said.

Sensing her distress, Eldwin smiled at her sadly. “Do not take this discussion to be chastising you, Eirene. It is a natural thing, for budding men and women to explore new possibilities.”

He paused.

“Had Ynys however decided to stay -”

“Ynys has gone? Gone where?” Eirene suddenly exclaimed, alarming herself at her outburst, but she couldn’t help it. What did Eldwin mean, he was gone?

“I am sorry Eirene, I know he was a dear friend to you.” Eldwin began, forcing himself to ignore his heart, which was telling him to spare her from what he was about to tell her next. But she had to learn. She was not a little girl anymore. “Ynys felt that staying here at the temple would be too much temptation for him. I would not have looked down upon you two engaging in such relations, but I cannot say the same for the rest of the temple. So he asked to be moved elsewhere, so he could continue practicing.”

If there were ever a time Eirene wished she were numb, it was now. But she wasn’t. She felt rage, hurt and sorrow fuse together into a whirlwind. She needed to get out of the quarters, now, before she let it overcome her.

“I understand.” She stated in a strangled voice, almost not caring if Eldwin could guess the pain she was in.

As Eldwin rose from his seat, ready to take her in his arms, Eirene ran from the quarters, forgetting to curtsey. He rubbed his forehead, completely lost as to what to with the girl. He was appalled with himself for being part of the cause of her upset, but he could not lie to her, otherwise she would never forgive him for doing so. If there was one thing Eirene hated in all the years he had watched her grow from a baby, it was being lied to. No doubt Ynys would discover this to, and Eldwin secretly hoped Eirene would give Ynys hell for not having the courage to tell her himself.

Storming through the corridors, Eirene ignored the almost frightened stares of priests and priestesses she passed not caring how she looked. As the whirlwind in her heart grew stronger, the faster she walked. Eventually she reached Ynys’s quarters. She did not bother knocking and charged through. Ynys, who had been packing in silence and with heavy regret, jumped as the door opened with a bang. He turned and saw Eirene, eyes alight and hair tumbled from their ribbons.

“So you thought you could run from me without a word?” She roared, slamming the door shut again behind her.

“Eirene -” Ynys started.

“Does our friendship mean so little to you that you would take off like a thief in the night?”

“Of course not -”

“You are - were my only friend, Ynys! How could you?”

Nearly collapsing to the floor, clutching her heart, Eirene sucked in a breath and stopped herself from wailing out loud. What a sight she must be right now, she thought, screaming at the one boy who had stood by her four long years.

Ynys felt his own heart break. He had hated the moments when the other children would tease and reduce her to tears, when she would become so enraged with herself that she almost lost hope. But now he had become one of the people to do that to her. He had hurt her so badly that perhaps that all other moments where she had been hurt before could never compare to this.

And he was right, Eirene had never felt anything like this before, to feel so…betrayed.

“So where will you go now?” She asked once she had regained some measure of control, her eyes now unforgiving in the way they looked at Ynys. He looked to the floor in shame.

“I will go to the Eistr Tarana.” He murmured. Eirene laughed mirthlessly.

“Well, I suppose at least I will not bothering you any longer. At least Annexa will be pleased.”

“Do not even suggest that I take pleasure in this.” Ynys suddenly growled, the grey of his eyes darkening.

“I would not suggest what you might think, for I am not even sure I know who you are. I took you for someone who was loyal.” Eirene replied with a sneer, spitting her words as though they were venom.

“So what would you have me do? Stay and risk even more displeasure? That Annexa would be one of few who would not approve of us together.”

“Then why did you kiss me?” Eirene’s voice suddenly changed from being harsh to soft, and almost completely vulnerable, as though she suddenly lost the energy to be angry. Ynys looked at her properly and saw a tear fall from her eye. “Of all the actions you could have made the nigh before, why did you kiss me? Did you not think that would matter?”

She got him on that one. Had he thought properly, for even one moment, perhaps Ynys could have prevented this. He couldn’t claim it was just a kiss, that it meant nothing, because that could not be further from the truth. He loved her as a friend, as a companion, as someone who he knew would do anything for him.

“Do not ask me to regret it, Eirene, because I never will.” Ynys murmured, taking a cautious step forward towards her. When he was sure Eirene wasn’t going to move to strike him, he got bolder and stopped just before her. He then lifted her chin with two fingers and forced her to look into his eyes. He could see himself in hers, as well as the sheer depths of pain in those blue oceans.

“Please stay.” Eirene croaked suddenly, more tears furiously escaping her eyes. She thought of life without him. While she had been ready to possibly destroy him moments ago, she would rather he was here for her to stay at angry at for the rest of her life, then go on without him.

Ynys, nearly ready to break his resolve and give in, felt tears of his own pricking at the corners. He wanted so badly to stay. But they could not be together here at the Eistr Mariskh. Tradition ran deep and he would ever ask her to give up the place he called home. He had chosen to live away from his own family years ago when he was but five in years, though he missed them greatly. At the very least in priesthood was not the way, he could return to his family. Eirene would never be able to. The Eistr Mariskh was everything she had known.

“I will write to you as soon as I am settled in Eistr Tarana.” Ynys whispered. Without much resistance, he pulled Eirene into his embrace and held her tight. Silence came between them, ironically loud and impossibly heavy as they stood together, the storm of heartbreak wreaking havoc in their young hearts.

Unable to bear it any longer, Eirene forced herself away from Ynys and left him. She could vaguely hear him calling after her as she left his quarters. She began running again, hoping that this would help slow down the fast river of emotions coursing through her veins. She knew it was a little too late to try and act like the High Priests and Priestesses in their generally stoic manners, for surely the whole temple would have heard by now that she was running around the corridors like some wild beast. But she had to try, for everything felt like it was spinning out of control.

Then she wanted to run to the one other person in the world who might know what it was like to get their heart broken: her mother.

A cruel laugh broke her trail of thoughts and before Eirene could avoid it, she was confronted with Annexa.

“I knew this performance would not last, Eirene. Everyone knows what a vile tempered creature you are.” The girl pointed her her finger at Eirene, smiling smugly at the other’s distress.

Now Eirene was reaching boiling point. She had to leave. The fog was coming down and as much as Annexa as a vindictive one, she didn’t want to cause any harm. She went to go, but was stopped again by Annexa’s words.

“You see, I knew it would be a matter of time before that boy would get sick of it as well. Why else would he have started packing -”

The fog prevailed and Eirene felt a powerful surge come to her fingers. She struck her hand out towards Annexa and sent a force wave so powerful, that it lifted the girl into the air. Annexa’s mouth opened but no sound was made as she was flung off her feet and into the nearest wall. Her head hit the stone and she dropped to the floor like a rag doll. When she sat up, Annexa looked at Eirene with wide eyes, her mouth slightly agape.

“At least I do not take pleasure in other’s pain. You have what you wanted now, to have me all alone. Rejoice in it, you bitch.” Eirene snarled viciously, running off again as soon as some priestesses approached to see what the commotion was about.

She found her mother still in their quarters, waiting for her. As she burst through the door, Maridi merely looked up from her hands and stared.

“Did it hurt when papa left you all alone?” Eirene demanded to know, so wound up that she forgot who she was addressing and had no idea where the question came from in her mind.

“Yes.” Maridi answered, saddened to see her daughter so upset. This was the last thing she had ever wished to happen to her little girl.

Seeing that her mother was not against her, Eirene finally allowed herself to wail, sinking to her knees. Maridi wasted no time gathering her girl up in her arms and rocking her gently, whispering ‘There, there’ while rubbing her shoulder blades.

“High Priest Eldwin told me about Ynys.” She admitted once Eirene’s cries subsided a little. “I am so sorry, Eirene.”

Eirene coughed a little in the middle of her crying and then replied dejectedly, “I just wanted one friend to stay. That is all. Just one.”

This sentence along nearly had Maridi in tears herself. She had met Ynys and seen him grow also. It had been her hope that he would remain a good friend to Eirene, for he was a sweet natured boy, always very polite to her as a former priestess herself. Perhaps she had foolishly put aside her concerns about Eirene and Ynys relationship as adults. Eirene had always been a stoic girl mostly, not greatly aware of how men would perceive her differently than boys. As for Ynys, Maridi had been almost certain he had been acting differently towards her daughter recently, but she was never too sure. Had he even been aware of his feelings towards Eirene? What suddenly made hims o that he kissed her?

All these questions could only be answered by two people, and one of them was leaving soon. The other, Maridi’s beloved little girl, who was often skilled at blocking people out until she could contain herself no more, would not be quick to tell her either.

“Leaving to raise you alone, without your papa, was the hardest decision I ever had to make.” Maridi began speaking idly, trying to think of anything that would help Eirene out of the chasm of despair she had fallen into. “But as you will learn from today, Eirene, sometimes the hardest decisions are the right ones. Try not to hold this against Ynys. He has made a decision which will hurt for a little while, yet it is the best one for you both in the end. I think you know that no matter how much you would have tried, completing your studies and then doing your duties after would have been more difficult if her had stayed.”

“Is that what you told yourself when you had to leave my papa? That you could not love him and be a High Priestess?” Eirene interjected bitterly, despite the knowing that her mother’s words were wise and true.

Maridi stayed silent for a moment, before softly saying, “To be a Priestess, you cannot have both. That is the way of things, and no matter how mighty you are, my girl, you will not change the traditions of the Eistr Mariskh. I tried, and I lost.”

Finally admitting defeat, Eirene clutched her mother’s robes and continued to cry, but this time silently. Maridi never once let her go, even when Eldwin came to the door and looked pityingly at the sobbing mess that was Eirene. Healer, help her though this, I beg you, please. Let her suffer no more heartbreak so young, Maridi prayed fervently, unable to hold her sorrow any longer and starting to cry with her daughter, teardrops falling into Eirene’s dark, wildflower-scented hair. Maridi then looked to Eldwin, who had since closed the door to give them some privacy, she noticed a single tear glide from his eye and down his cheek.

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