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Andy

Part I - Dawn of Legends

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The rising sun glowed orange as the light skittered across the land and met Midholme Castle; casting a long shadow across the fields beyond. Nearby, a cockerel crowed on a farm, signifying the start of a new day.

Taylor Vaughan was already up, collecting eggs for the castle kitchen. He stopped to stretch, and let out a yawn as red-gold leaves fluttered to the ground. Autumn had well and truly set in.

"Tay, get your arse back here right now!" The cook's screeching voice carried across the field, cutting the air like a hot knife through butter.

Taylor rolled his eyes, and started making his way back to the kitchen. The cook could be a bit of a slave-driver; but Tay knew he could be in a lot worse a position than a lowly assistant. Working at the castle even offered him a welcome bit of status; even if it was barely nothing it was still a step up from the life he had left years ago in Everholde.

* * *

Irvine Jamison looked out across the small square from the window of his bed chamber. His was one of the more impressive houses in the town, being made of stone and in the wealthy quarter, but all the nobility, trophies and winnings from all the tournaments he had won could never satisfy his thirst for adventure; and he feared he was getting too old for that sort of thing now.

He idly wondered, as he did every morning, whether to accept the Earl's open invitation to join him at the table for breakfast. He thought he might actually accept for a change, and surprise his old friend.

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Tanalyn Sairabrindal waved her hand in front of her face as Zada, her shaggy, brown-haired, attempt at a horse snorted at her and lipped at her hair. "I'm up, I'm up, Zada! Stop! I'm sorry I slept in!"

Zada just leveled one brown eye on her to make sure she understood the message - there was no excuse for sleeping in when she wanted to run.

Tana rolled her eyes and sat up, and ran her fingers through her hair. As silky as it was, the leaves, grass, and knots just fell out of her hair as if they had never existed in the first place. She grabbed her quiver of arrows off of the ground beside her as she stood up, and sleepily made her way over to the small horse to tighten the saddle. "Alright, alright Zada. We'll keep moving." She moved to check her knives, and groaned as she woke up enough to realize that they were still missing. She then checked that her bow was already drawn for use, and she slung herself over the saddle and began the day heading towards Midholme, not far away but not close enough to have safely arrived the night before.

------

Beka Chase woke up with a start, then grinned as she saw the sun from her room's window rising above the horizon. "Lovely!" She jumped up and threw on some brightly colored clothing that was loose enough to stash some goods in the hidden pockets within. Grabbing a few knives, a sack of various items, and so forth, bounds down the stairs from her room to the outside, making many that were asleep curse her at her early-morning happiness.

Completely ignoring them, Beka heads on down the street with a bounce in her step to her normal street-corner spot. Getting there before the rush of morning chores, Beka begins the day with some juggling acts, having as much fun entertaining herself as anyone that may pass by.

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Her footsteps were silent as she traversed down into what used to be a stone well. The rope was tight, and firm in her gloved hands, and the slight wind passed by overhead. The sun had only risen recently and she was battling cobwebs in a hole in the ground to the northwest of Midholme. The clues she'd uncovered and the leads she'd tracked over the past week had led her across half of Lyrea, from a small town near Winteroak to these hills. The hills themselves were pleasant enough, if not annoying to cross. She had noticed a small camp of Orcs camped to the south though, so she had treaded softly.

She always treaded softly.

Her booted feet touched stone, and she unhooked herself from her self-made rope harness, leaving the rope there. Her green eyes had trouble adjusting to the darkness, but that was easily solved by a torch lying just within sight. A moment later it was lit, and she was dropping it into the oil basins that lined the chamber. This created a flare that moved the length of the room before continuing out of it, and down a stairwell. She looked around at the stone walls, crudely constructed and wondered if a Dwarf had really built this chamber. He must have been desperate indeed.

Her footsteps could barely be heard even in the acoustic chamber.

The tale she had been pursuing had been one of greed, as they usually were. An old Dwarf noble, dying of old age had felt the need to hide the most precious of his possessions in a place easily overlooked. He had grown paranoid during the Satyr War, and paranoia in a Dwarf was never a good thing

Except for maybe a Treasure Hunter.

Morgan couldn't keep the slow grin from coming to her face as the gilded chest came within sight.

* * *

"Tyanti Items and Magics", the sign over the door read.

She was supposed to be running the shop, but as always, her dark eyes were elsewhere, deep within the pages of a book. Her mother prayed that for once it was a novel, something of fancy and wonder. Something of romance. Anything but one of the tomes that had been collecting dust in the back of the shop.

"Alexis, did you sweep?"

"Mm hm." Her daughter turned a page.

"And you tidied up the shelves?"

"Yes mother." She didn't look up. It was dreadfully annoying when she did that.

"And you're giving up magic?"

"Yes--" She blinked, then looked up. "wait, what did you say?"

The older woman went over, picking up the book and looking at the title. "I knew it! Alexis, how many times do I have to tell you, you're wasting your life away with this."

Alexis frowned, taking the book back. "I doubt that's how father would feel."

"Perhaps, but that's the thing. He can't feel, Lexie. Nothing but the stale air and the worms in his flesh!" She sighed, shaking her head. "You need to go after more practical pursuits. Besides, magic is an intimidating quality in a woman! How am I ever going to get grandchildren if you're wandering around playing magician?"

"Aren't you supposed to be heading to Aunt Heather's farm to help with the crops?"

Her mother gave her a stern look. "I expect this place to be in one piece when I get back!" She warned before leaving. Alexis followed her to the door to make sure she was gone before opening the store and returning to her tome.

Edited by Rogue
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Axe yawned and stretched as he stepped out of his ranch house and into the brisk fall morning air. His home resided near the edge of a small woods. It had once been a farm but that had changed some time during the Satyr War almost six years prior. The previous owners had either been drafted, fled, or killed. Since then, Axe had taken occupancy and ownership and converted the lands from toiled fields to grassy pasture and forest. Now cows and sheep roamed those fields. He even kept a coop of chickens for fresh eggs.

He heard boots scuffing across the dirt of the path leading around the side of the house and paused as a gangly teenage boy with a mop of reddish-brown hair came around the corner. He was hauling a stack of firewood. "Mornin', Mr. Axe sir," he said, cheerfully.

"Good morning, Lars," replied Axe. "Have you seen your sister around? She wasn't in the house when I woke up."

"Ah yah. Penny's be back wit' them chick'ns, sir," Lars managed through his accent and lack of schooling although Axe understood him just fine. "She be needin' eggs fer brekkast."

Five years ago, Lars, who was sixteen, and his sister Penny, eighteen, had hidden away in one of the outlying farm buildings. Axe had found them there, filthy, hungry and frightened. Instead of sending them away, to no doubt starve, he hired them on as ranch-hands. Lars, although young then, helped Axe with the cattle and chores outside. Penny did the chores inside the house and, after some teaching from Axe, quickly learned to become a most excellent cook. She also looked after the chickens and tended to a small vegetable patch.

Axe nodded. "Tell her I'll have to skip on her lands-renowned omelette this morning. I have matters to attend to before opening the shop."

"Ah yah. No problum," said the boy. "Haff a good day, sir."

He nodded back before taking the path into the woods. He could feel Lars' grin at his back. The boy knew full well what he was up to. As Axe wended his way down the path, he looked at his surroundings. The young trees had been transplanted, as saplings, shortly after he had first arrived here. A little sprinkle of growth potion, bought from a sorceress in nearby Midholme, had allowed the trees to grow well enough to conceal Axe's secrets.

Axe came upon it now, the farm's old barn. He unlocked the single door, next to the larger ones, and stepped inside. The interior of the barn was warm and slightly damp. The smell was strong, also, but Axe was quite used to it. In fact, he almost enjoyed it. Almost.

He let out a puff of breath and said to the darkness beyond, "Boy, I need to find you a freshener charm or something."

A low, rumbling groan issued from the back of the barn followed by a loud yawn and a high-pitched whine, almost like the sound a dog makes when begging for a treat.

"Yeah, yeah. We're gonna go out today. Don't worry," Axe said to whatever was with him in the barn. He walked over to the big barn doors and unchained them. "Perhaps for dinner, I'll wrangle up one of those heifers for you. I know how the sheep get stuck in your teeth." He slid open one of the large doors, followed by the other. As light spilled in from outside, he turned and breathed in the fresh air.

Before him sat a red-scaled beast of immense size. It was nearly fifty feet in length, twenty feet of that in its huge whip of a tail, and about twelve feet tall on all four legs. Its mouth gaped with cruel-looking teeth and its head was adorned with dual horns and neck spikes. Each toe sprouted long talons and there were talons along the leading edges of the beast's wings. Axe smiled in the knowledge that, despite the ferocity and terrifying look of the beast before him, his dragon would do nothing to harm him.

"To the skies, Storm. Let's stretch those wings."

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Tana let her mare run at the easy canter that was the horse's best speed. And, as she had gathered, Zada's favorite speed. Tanalyn kept her cloak's hood down as the horse beneath her ran at a steady but intense speed. Her long, thick tresses flowed behind her as the created breeze pushed them back.

Tanalyn had a look of pure bliss on her features. She adored being out in the wilderness, although on long travels would have preferred to have a partner to talk to. Zada was sweet, but it was hard to talk to someone who could not have a full conversation in return. Tana ducked from time to time to avoid branches cutting her cheek, but for the most part enjoyed the thrill of the run. There was nothing quite like the freedom of riding a horse through the woods without much of a care. Her cloak billowed out behind them. Though thick and heavy to keep her warm in even the coldest of times, it looked as light as a feather the way it moved.

With Zada more than eager to get to their destination, Tanalyn let them take one of the more frequented of backwater trails, allowing them to run a bit faster without fear of the mare twisting her ankle. Finally, though quicker than Tanalyn had expected, Midholme was in view.

---------

Beka took up some daggers after some practice with less dangerous juggling material, and began tossing them around in deadly but beautiful patterns. The joy and wonder at something so deadly and so beautiful at the same time was obvious on her face, and although she was most obviously a proficient juggler, she seemed in awe of what she was able to do. On the other hand, it suited her. She looked like someone who had fun with everything, and always enjoyed a good laugh or two.

She started twirling them higher and higher, but as she was doing so, a child trying to escape an angry mother ran into her, knocking Beka off balance, and her juggling act to go flying. As she fell, she winced at the sound of breaking glass. Beka fell hard onto the hard dirt ground, and noticed she had a very large clearing around her at the moment, and a handful of daggers were sticking out of the ground around her. She raised an eyebrow at that, but got up and cleared the daggers out of the street - but thankfully no people - before guiltily turning around to find her last dagger.

Beka looked up at a storefront that said "Tyanti Items and Magics" above the door and grimaced before heading into the store. Although, unlike her dagger, by taking the door to get inside.

Edited by Marking Twain
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A startled looking brunette girl in plain clothing had bent down to pick up the dagger from amidst the shattered glass that now littered the floor. She was a pretty girl, not gorgeous, but cute in demeanor and manerisms. And she had long dark hair that was braided and tied and looped over her shoulder. The hair was long enough that normally it probably extended down the entire length of her back.

When she registered the door opening, genuine brown eyes looked over to meet Beka's.

"I'm guessing that this belongs to you?"

***

Morgan carried the loot on her back as she pulled herself up the harness she had created before. She had sealed the chamber once more to stop the fire from spreading from within. She was glad to see that the Orc camp hadn't moved in the hour she had been down there. Battling orcs by herself before noon wasn't exactly the most exciting of prospects.

Satisfied with how this day was turning out, she headed over the hills that separated her from the nearest town, Midholme.

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"Erm... yeah. Sorry about that." Beka had her fiery red locks bound back in a braid, which was then covered by some sort of fabric at the moment to keep it from going astray. She walked in a few steps, only to trip on some unobtrusive object and almost fall right on top of the girl. Catching herself on a different object, she felt something small touch her hand, and as she straightened after she regained her balance, pocketed it as she wiped her hands on her outfit. Beka scratched the back of her head, smiling sheepishly. "Sorry about falling, too." She looked the girl over with grey eyes, and smiled.

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Axe saddled Storm and climbed onto the big dragon's back with practiced ease and grace. Moments later, the beast and rider were outside, in a stretch of clearing that served as Storm's take-off and landing strip. Axe flicked the reins, barely needing to, before the animal lumbered ahead, his wings flapping furiously as he sought to rise.

When they were up, Axe took Storm high before letting him glide down in a lazy, shallow spiral. From up here, he could see much of the surrounding country. To the north was a string of dark gray mountains and, nestled along its edge, the fortress of Northfort. To the east was the town of Winteroak. A sea of green lay to the south. The northernmost tip of Titan's Forest. The aptly named town of Forest's Edge sprawled between the mass of trees and some rolling foothills. Far to the west, Axe could just make out the tall spires of Everholde, capital city of the Kingdom of Lyrea. And, of course, just a couple kilometers to the north sat the town of Midholme.

He worked there as the town blacksmith, having taken over the shop when the previous employer passed from a case of Wanderer's Blight. It was a good job that kept him occupied and fit. The best part was that he got to keep his own hours. With that in mind, he glanced at the position of the sun in the sky. It was just about time for him to open.

Axe took Storm lower, just a couple hundred feet above the foothills bordering the town, when he spotted a horse and rider. He could make out the colours of the rider's cloak and smirked. Tanalyn was returning from some Ranger duty, no doubt. She would most likely stop into the shop to talk about it. He dove Storm lower to the ground and made a pass only a couple dozen feet above her head, laughing all the while. She would give him an earful for that too.

As he turned the big red dragon back toward the ranch, Storm croaked his reluctance. Axe slapped his neck scales in affection. "I know, old friend. I wish we had more time for this too. Be good until dinner and I'll see about the heifer." Storm grunted reluctantly.

Once the dragon was back in the barn, Axe went to the small stables nearby. Two horses were in their stalls and both looked up from their breakfast hay when he entered. He saddled and mounted the grey mare, named Cloud and rode her out, away from the ranch and towards Midholme.

Edited by Drake
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Tanalyn was not bothering to look up at the skies until she felt and heard Storm come swooping down over her head, making her duck in reflex. She raised her fist to the figure as it left. "I hate you, Kane! You too, you stinkin' dragon!" However, a smile was on her features, and she knew they couldn't hear her.

She patted Zada's shoulder as she ran, even though the horse was unflustered. "Shame something so beautiful has to be hidden, isn't it, Zada?" The horse merely snorted in response, but Tanalyn knew she agreed. As two creatures that relied on each other for survival, they both innately understood each other. Tana seemed to find Zada more intelligent than most humans, come to think of it.

She slowed the mare down some as they approached the city, and turned the canter into a gentle trot to cool the horse down. She pulled back her hair with a tie and covered her head with the hood of the cape, hiding any identifiable features of an elf. She got strange enough looks from the townsfolk as it was - she did not need them wondering about her heritage as well - or worse, fearing her because of it. The typical scrutiny was bad enough.

To the townsfolk, she was an enigma. Rangers tended to be a tightly-knit group, and if not that, they were past mysterious to say the least. They lived on their own - often just by living in the saddle. They were expert archers and knife throwers, expert spies, and expert scouts. Things that made people wary of her. They had superstitions about Rangers, and that led to fear.

It was one reason she was very happy that Storm and Kane had settled here. Besides the fact they were good friends, and had been since the war, she could be herself around him. It was a mutually beneficial relationship on top of being a solid friendship. He accepted the fact she was part elf, and didn't fear her because of it. She was able to talk freely about various things that would make most run from her or get her in trouble. In return, though, Kane was able to have someone else to talk to about Storm, and not hide that all the time either. They could both speak about the war without reserve, and talk about how things had changed - especially in regards to the dragons. Tanalyn was sure he had gotten the worst thanks possible for having played such a part in the war.

She ignored the stares and whispers as she rode through the city. With a straight back, she rode with her chin up. People got out of her way, not caring to disturb her or halt her. If the fear and uncertainty of Rangers wasn't enough, the strung bow and a quiver of arrows on her back helped convince them of that.

Tanalyn headed straight to the blacksmiths. Besides now having a bone to pick with Kane - or Axe as she always called him in public - and some stories to tell, she needed him to craft her a new pair of daggers to replace her missing ones. True, she could go to the Royal Armourer and have them simply give her a new pair for free, but Axe always crafted her better blades than any royal blacksmith.

Edited by Marking Twain
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She just knew that this was going to be a fun thing to explain to her mother when she returned. "It's alright, I understand...I can be quite clumsy myself." Alexis said, offering her a small smile of amusement, handing the metal object back over to her. "Of course I don't juggle daggers.."

The twenty year old knelt down, picking the glass up carefully and catching it in the white apron of her dress. She held it suspended until she could get the glass to the garbage. She was going to have to sweep as well.

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"Doan help that a lil' slip of a kid ran right into me as I was doing so." Beka pocketed the dagger with ease, and with a quick glance around the store - and some quick thinking - "Want some help cleaning up?"

Edited by Marking Twain
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Alexis shook her head. How was this girl so cheerful after that? "Actually, I'm going to need you to pay for a new window..."

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Beka shrugged and flipped a few gold nobles her way. "Very well. I did break it."

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Alexis caught one, but dropped the rest of the coins, having to pick them up. Her hair whipped down into her face and she threw it back over her shoulder. That was a relief. She wouldn't have to inform the town guards of the occasion, and her mother would be satisfied. She put the coins in a small box behind the counter, and turned back to her. "Thank you. Was there anything you needed?"

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Beka shrugged as she looked around, "No, not really. But I would like to look around for a time, if you don't mind..."

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"Go right ahead." Alexis said with a warm smile, gesturing for her to help herself. Of course, she didn't know just how much this woman might help herself. She grabbed a broom and begun to sweep up the broken glass.

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"Lovely. Thank you, miss." With that, Beka began nosying her way around the shop, looking at various trinkets, idly doing some slight-of-hand pocketing of various items small enough to conceal without being noticed.

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Cross Geneva nearly impaled himself. The teenager had been using his double-edged sword as an armrest, the point of which seemed to be stuck firmly into the ground, and started to doze off. The sword must not have been as secure as he'd thought though, as when he'd leaned forward and added just a slight amount of pressure to the sword, he and it both fell over. The Claymore's edges were fortunately parallel to him, rather than at a verticle angle, or else he would have been bisected for sure.

The seventeen year old cursed as he pushed himself off of the dusty ground near one of the town entrances. He was supposed to be keeping watch of who entered and exited, and of the area just outside of the entrance. Even though he'd been a town guard for less than a year, Cross was guarding this entire entrance completely alone. No one truly believed that Lyrea even needed much protection anymore. If they did, the teenager doubted that the Dragon Riders would have been forced to abandon their steeds, and the Knights and Warriors forced to obtain other occupations.

Outside of the town gates, he noticed an exchange occuring. Two figures were yelling and shaking fists at eachother, and Cross could tell that if he didn't interfere, it would get ugly. Picking his sword up off of the ground, and not bothering to brush off the dirt, he sprinted past the city limits over to where the men had broken out into a full-fledged first fight, or so it appeared from the distance he was at. There was some sort of blurry, dark liquid being spilled around them, which he assumed to be blood. He ran faster, his eyes widening at the sight of the substance.

Of course, it was a false alarm. The two figures hadn't been brawling men, but two women arguing over a bucket of water. Cross skidded to a halt when he noticed that, and positive he didn't want to have anything to do with whatever that was, turned and walked back to his post. With more force than he had before, the teenager pushed the double-edged weapon into the ground and leaned onto it. This time, it stayed put when he started to doze off. Almost immediately, something snapped him out of the reverie he'd been having, and he fell forward once again. When his eyes opened, he noticed that by this point, he was going to have to do more than brush his pants off to get them clean again.

Another thing his keen eyes managed to observe was that the reason he'd been woken up was that there was a townswoman hollering at him. The veins were practically popping out of her red, sweaty forehead, and her dress was a wrinkled mess. Cross didn't manage to catch all of what the angry woman was screaming about, but from what he managed to pick up on, someone had tried to stab her child near some street corner by a store that sold something or other, and that the stores window had been broken. He tried to get the woman to calm down and repeat everything slowly, but the look she shot him told him that he should set off to apprehend and/or confront her immediately.

Cross set off down the street. There was nothing going on by the entrance anyway, so he was sure it was fine if he left to go check on a real emergency. Feeling the townswomans sharp, aggrivated gaze on the back of his head, he picked up his already brisk (but clearly not brisk enough for the angry mother) pace. The seventeen-year old stopped infront of a store with a shattered window. Seeing no other broken-windowed stores around, the young town guard stepped inside to find out what had happened.

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Alexis couldn't of course just pick up the glass. She had to try to clean it away in what she thought was a clever, magical fashion. However what she had intended to do, hadn't exactly happened as planned, and now, well...needless to say, she now needed a mop too.

"One of these days, I'll stop getting these spells messed up..." She sighed, shaking her head at herself.

She looked up when she saw footsteps. "Hello sir, can I help you with something?"

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Beka glanced over her shoulder at the newcomer and, seeing it to be a guard, busied herself even more within the shop.

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Cross raised a quizzical eyebrow at the mess, before replying, "Uhhhh, yes. Can you tell me what, um, happened outside before? There was a complaint about someone stabbing a kid with a dagger and breaking your window."

Back at the orphanage he'd been raised at, chores had been shared by everyone. If someone made a mess, everyone had to help clean up, so the teenager felt weird just standing there while the woman cleaned.

He had his priorities straight though. Confronting children-stabbing psychos came before housework, and not only because it was more interesting and less tedious a task.

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Alexis frowned deeply at the guard, who was only a few years younger than her. "Who said that? Probably Mrs Finnigan. She's always making tall tales out of nothing." She finished mopping, setting the cleaning supplies asside behind the counter. "There was a juggler, and someone bumped into her causing the daggers to drop. Nobody was injured, sir, because if they had been they would have run in here for a potion."

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That would explain why there had been no blood on the ground outside, Cross realized. Maybe he should have taken that into consideration earlier.

"Oh, right. Thank you for telling me, miss..."

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"Alexis Tyanti." She introduced herself with a smile. "And you're very welcome."

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Beka glanced over her shoulder at the young footsoldier, and the younger girl as well. While they were busy chatting, she slipped a few larger-sized items into the large folds of her outfit. She decided she'd taken all that she could that was of value yet obscure enough within the store not to be noticed to be missing for a time. Over the years, she'd become very practiced at finding things like that, and to keep herself out of trouble. However, she didn't feel like bring attention to herself to the footguard, no matter his age. She just didn't feel like dealing with the law today.

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