Warcraft Fanfiction: World of Whatcraft - 11. Preparation
Immediately after Infernus had been felled was the rest of Angor Fortress quick to fall as well. The Shadowforged dwarves that remained in the facility felt the connection with their elemental keeper snap like a twig and they fell to their knees in surrender soon after, regardless of their greater numbers. Mercy was little on the invading crew’s mind however, and though the hands of their enemies were raised in passivity, they had been killed regardless. Blood and guts and revenge lined the fortress as it became property of the Explorer’s League.
An accounting was tallied soon enough after this event. Of the assaulting warband, three were dead and five injured. The injured were brought to a makeshift medical facility, where Annora played sole keeper once again due to Kowler unwillingness to aid them with his now near empty reserves of water. The dead were sadly not wholly accounted for, however. Fjorgud’s body had been turned to ash, unrecognizable from some of the Dark Iron’s the crew had killed. The other two were apart of the quintet that took the upper levels; gunners the pair of them: Donnel and Kurley their names were. Burial rights were started and tears were shed, but beyond that their sacrifices were venerated. Erik apparently was an amateur bard and he had taken it upon himself to shoulder the task of weaving their names into legend.
As dawn began to break, where most would wake, the crew slumbered. All but two. Kowler made to take the Ring of Anathemus to the great elemental that owned it, intent on completing the sacred task bestowed upon him in his capacity as a shaman. Emilia made to slow him.
“You don’t need to leave,” Emilia said, shaking her head, clumps of soot falling from her hair. “Not yet at least. Sun might be about to rise but it’s still dark out. We could all use a feather bed. You more than anyone.”
Kowler grunted at her, lifting the ring over his head, draping it over his shoulder and torso like a sash. His muscles buckled at the weight, though they did not falter further. The boon of strength Anathemus had gifted Kowler still encompassed his being, though he could feel it waning slowly. “We came here to get this ring back to Anathemus. I’m going to do what I said I would do.”
“I ain’t saying you shouldn’t,” scoffed the forewoman, her arms crossed over her thinly covered chest. “Hells, I’d be a fool to not let it happen. We want him happy and gone. All I’m saying is that we’re all tired. It’d do us some good to rest up a bit. The rest of the crew’s already snagged their cots.”
Kowler wanted to join them. Dearly, he wanted to just curl into a ball and sleep for a week. He’d damn well earned it. But his magically altered strength was a temporary affair, and the gnoll did not know by what degree that was. It could be that should he sleep he’d lose the boon come the morning. It could be that he was already on borrowed time. Unlikely though those scenario’s may have been, it was a risk he felt he could not take.
The faster this was settled, the smarter. The safer.
“I’ll be back soon enough.” Kowler told her, jogging out the front gate.
“Feh, stubborn fool; I can see why Bruegal liked you. Well, fine. You do you. But me? I’ll be sleeping!” Emilia crowed, the mechanism of the heavy metal doors closing. When they locked shut, when he felt himself far enough away, Kowler unattached his amulet and assumed his proper gnoll form. On all fours, he raced north, towards his goal.
It took the warband two days to reach Angor Fortress from the Uldaman dig site at a slow marching pace, not including their various breaks due to harsh conditions and worriedness over enemy scouts on the constant. With the blessings of Anathemus and Astreamor, Kowler cut that time down significantly; through cavernous cliffsides, past hungry coyotes and vultures and cheetah’s, ignoring the bite of the now roaring sun. Earth elementals of the sand and dirt and pebbles followed him along with a gleeful sort of reverence, instinctually knowing that the ring was sourced from Therazane the Stonemother. Though his muscles protested his willpower to keep going with a keen vigor by this point, the water that Astreamor had available was nearing gone, and night had fallen once more, Kowler had done it. Some seventeen hours it took, but finally, it was done.
He had arrived.
Anathemus had moved to a different location from his canyon. The gargantuan elemental was now sat along the divoted face of a cliff, shaped almost like a throne though not entirely. Had Kowler not known what the elemental looked like and had he not been born with an enhanced night vision, he would have simply presumed Anathemus to be a carving along the stone. There were plenty of ancient depictions of some such throughout this world. It would not be surprising.
“ANATHEMUS!” Kowler yelled out, loud enough to hurt his throat. “I HAVE COME AGAIN! I HAVE THE RING!”
The ground shook as the elemental moved from his seat. Quaking steps denominated the terrain, Anathemus’ body groaning loud and echoing far. He fell forward onto his knees and his right hand slowly reached towards Kowler, intent on that great ring. Kowler, understanding this, quickly divested the possession from his body, holding it over his shoulders. Anathemus snaked his smallest finger of the four of his hand through the hoop, bits of gravel and rock falling onto Kowler’s head.
A glow enshrouded the colossus for but a moment, green like a strand of well-watered grass. He rumbled what Kowler could only presume to be a laugh and bellowed his delight. “IT IS RETURNED!”
Kowler was gladdened for Anathemus’ own good tidings. Truly, he was. To see such a being of power and might, cousin to his greatest friend in this world, depressed and filled with wroth, did the gnoll no joy.
Kowler was not gladdened to be lifted so suddenly by Anathemus, however. The great elemental stood, bringing Kowler towards his face, high enough to see the curve of the Badlands to the south and the waters of Loch Modan to the north.
“YOU HAVE DONE WELL, SHAMAN.” Anathemus rumbled. “ANATHEMUS IS PLEASED. HE FELT INFERNUS THE THIEF SNUFFED FROM THIS PLANE. ANATHEMUS IS VERY PLEASED.”
“If you are so pleased, Anathemus, then I have wants to ask in return!” Kowler proclaimed.
“A BOON?” The colossus queried. “NAME THEM.”
“I came to you on behalf of others in the beginning, Anathemus.” Kowler said. “I did not know of your rage until you spoke it. The Dark Irons that stole your ring also terrorized those I work with, perhaps long before they troubled you. My people are injured and sickly and running out of food and water. They are trapped, unless you move. I beseech you; allow mortals to pass through your canyon once more. So they might better themselves once again.”
Anathemus hummed, a screeching sound as if glass against metal. Kowler’s ears hurt being so close the sound. “ANATHEMUS WILL DO THIS.” He decided, already moving locations. He headed west with Kowler still in hand, towards the great mountain that housed the titan facility of Uldaman that Kowler came here for in the first place.
“I thank you, Anathemus.” Kowler said sincerely. “But that is not all I ask of you. That was merely what my people needed. I have a boon that I, personally, would hope to ask of you.”
Anathemus rumbled a laugh out. “THIS, ANATHEMUS KNEW. NONE ARE SO SELFLESS TO RISK LIFE SO EASILY AS YOU DID WITHOUT REWARD. SPEAK YOUR PEACE, LITTLE SHAMAN.”
The moment Kowler saw Anathemus three days prior, the great elemental of earth whose being was the canyon surrounding Uldaman, who had control over the surrounding stones and mastery over the other earth elementals that would call this place home, he felt a craving stir in in belly. When he was given that boon of strength, magically altered or not, that craving grew exponentially.
To be a shaman was to commune with the elements. To mediate the struggles of the world and have the world guide you as a result. But some struggles need be settled with the threat of violence before guidance could be offered; to speak softly but carry a big stick.
Astreamor was wonderful; Kowler’s dearest friend in this world. With healing waters aplenty and the ability to control ice as if a second set of limbs, Astreamor offered Kowler power enough to be safe and ready for most of his troubles. But Astreamor was, at best, of middling power within the world of water elementals. Should Kowler bite off more than he could chew in that plane, Astreamor might be usurped, and Kowler would return to nothingness and monotony.
Anathemus was clearly of a more powerful capability and earth elementals were far more unlikely to combat one another when compared to water or air or fire. He was the literal manifestation of a canyon enhanced with the strength of the surrounding mountains. Coupled with the boon of Therazane the Stonemother in the capacity of autonomy, granted the right to move however he so chose meant that Anathemus…
Anathemus was a big fucking stick.
“Form a contract with me.” Kowler said.
Dwarves and humans and gnomes of all sorts banded around the dig, careful eyes and archeological tools all around. Adventurer guilds and knightly orders too prowled the area, guarding those that needed guards and keeping an eye on whatever they could, little though there was to see in this waste. Medics and healers bustled through to get to the fallen, and the Uldaman excavation site was filled with an energy beyond anything Kowler had seen thus far.
The Explorer’s League had come at long last.
“It’s somethin’, ain’t it?” Bruegal grinned, nudging Kowler with an elbow. The healers the league brought out had done good work on him, and though his skin was still pink and raw, it was of a much more salvageable standing. His face had a great burn scar lining over its left side from chin to brow, his eye unable to open all the way, and his leg was still missing, but Bruegal was crutching around and speaking with strength, a far cry from how he’d been just days ago. “Ye don’t know what yer workin’ with ’till ye see them all there. Th’League’s good people, Kowler.”
“That much I don’t doubt.” Kowler said, casting an amused eye towards his friend. They were sat atop a stone bench rested beneath a tarp covering, the sun out of their way.
Ten days it had been since Angor Fortress had been taken and much and more had changed with the arrival of the Explorer’s League. None could proclaim that these changes were not for the better, save for the Shadowforge clan.
After the sacking of Angor Fortress, it was not unexpected that the Shadowforge clan had not been wholly decimated. Indeed, even though their numbers had waned significantly, they were a hearty people. Those few that remained were spread out and relatively out of the loop, but they still existed; primarily in the dig they stole, with only a few wandering hunters scouring for game left over.
And as they had found such a home in their work, the warband that committed the sacking of Angor Fortress had decided to help lighten the load of these remaining Shadowforge dwarves and ease their minds in a… neighborly, sort of way. After Kowler had left to make merry with Anathemus, the tunnels leading from Angor to Uldaman had been sealed upon Emilia’s order, great blasts of explosive powder caving them in with heavy boulders matted with thick steel finishes.
Now, what was stolen had been traded. Honest work, she had apparently said. The story had been told in so many different ways at this point in time that it was hard to tell if those were her actual words. Regardless, the tunnels were sealed, the fortress was hers, and her enemies were, to put it lightly, in an unideal position.
When it became clear that Shadowforge remnants were not going to be able to feed or water themselves from their usual route, they made to storm through towards the outer dig, intent on fighting their way back to Angor Fortress; a far more feasible fete than just mining through the cave-in. Led by Galgann Firehammer, a fire magic user of genuine skill and the chieftain of this Dark Iron offshoot clan, their darkcasters and sharpshooters and other combatants were at the ready. A band of more than three score, they hoped to overwhelm Emelia’s crew with numbers and superior firepower.
This did not go as they’d hoped.
Truthfully, it probably would have; their plan wasn’t bad. They knew the layout of their fortress better than anybody and hate had a way of focusing the mind. But then, they had forgotten that they’d trampled on the very land itself, stealing from the manifestation of the canyon and siding with its enemy at the same time.
Anathemus had not allowed them to go far. The colossus had sensed their escape from the dig, sensed them leave the mountain and enter his domain, and his wroth was quick and brutal. He set upon those dwarves with a vicious efficiency, sitting on them and throwing boulders at them and killing them to the last, only satisfied when none remained. Galgann Firehammer was the last to die, ripped apart limb from limb, his skull hanging by the length of his hair by Anathemus’ waist.
Kowler had the pleasure to regale that story after returning from Loch Modan, filling his flask back to the brim and telling the citizens of Thelsamar of the struggles of this operation. The citizens of the lake-side town were filled with shock at his tale, quick to offer him ale and a feather bed to crash on for almost four days. Whilst he rested away his fatigue, those kind dwarves began penning letters to whomever they knew within the walls of Ironforge that might be able to send word to the Explorer’s League proper.
From there, after being escorted back to camp by some wonderfully generous mountaineers, Kowler had been surprised to find the League already setting up shop. The first wave of relief to come came by way of healers atop flying carpets, rushing towards the cave of injured. A gryphon then came, bearing a pair of mages from its back, who summoned a portal that led the rest of the people here.
Which, within the span of a few days, brought Kowler to the here and now.
“Portals’re gonna be open to us soon.” Bruegal said. “To take us back to Ironforge. It’s an option, we ain’t got ter take it, but…”
“You’re going to take it.” Kowler stated.
“Aye, I am.” His friend said, shamefaced. He sounded weak in that instant, like admitting his desire to quit was something to be ashamed of.
“Good.” Kowler harrumphed, crossing his arms.
“Wha-?” Bruegal blinked, confused. Confusion soon turned to anger, and were he in possession of both his legs he would have surely tackled Kowler. Instead, he grabbed at one of his crutches and began poking it at the disguised gnolls side. “What d’ye mean good?! It ain’t good! It ain’t nothin’ close tae good!”
Kowler grunted, shoving the crutch away. It was starting to hurt. “Bruegal, you were only a hairs breath away from dying when I found you. That you’re no longer there doesn’t mean you’re wholly healed. I doubt you’ll ever be back to that point. It is good that you’re going. You need to spend time with Gerder and Brinn; they almost lost you and wouldn’t know for who knows how long.”
He grimaced, mumbling something under his breath.
“What was that?” Kowler asked, catching only some of the words. They were jumbled and in Dwarven though, so what he did catch was patently nonsensical.
“Wife won’t like it.” Bruegal grumbled, a pout on his face. “She always be tellin’ me ta finish what I start. Sets a good example fer Brinn. Comin’ back this soon… Ain’t gonna be pretty.”
Gods but Bruegal was stubborn. “I’ve a feeling she’ll make an exception to that rule when she see’s you.”
He shook his head. “Ye’ve only met her the once. Trust me, she ain’t the reasonable type.”
“The fact that she’s married to you told me that.” Kowler teased, offering Bruegal a sly smile.
Bruegal’s face went pink as he sputtered.
Before he could make a retort, however, a plain looking man clad in yellow dyed chainmail approached the pair. “Richard of the House Kowlen, you have been summoned to attend a meeting to take place in ten minutes hence in the foreman’s tent.”
Kowler blinked down at the man slowly, then snorted out a laugh. “House Kowlen? Since when am I a titled?”
The messenger somehow was able to look both affronted and embarrassed. “Those were the exact words I was tasked to give you. I do not know if title or nobility is being awarded to you or if it is simply a matter of politeness. Will you be attending, though? I need to bring word back to my superiors.”
“Yeah, I’ll come.” Kowler said, waving the man away. He did so with a quickened pace.
A high-pitched whistle sounded from Bruegal’s lips. “Nobility, huh? A gnoll turned prisoner, fugitive, then noble? That’s a story to spread.”
“Yeah? Well, don’t.” Kowler frowned. “I doubt they’ll be making me anything of the sort. I think they were just being polite.”
“Bah, noble folk don’t give them fancy titles out of politeness.” Bruegal denied, shaking his head, what remained of his beard whipping around with the motion. “I’ll make a bet with ye. A night with me wife if I’m wrong.”
Kowler scoffed. “You’d make yourself a cuckold for the sake of a bet?”
“Ain’t gonna lose, so ain’t gonna get cucked.”
The gnoll sighed, shaking his head. “I’m going to have to say no to that, Bruegal. Fair as Gerder is, dwarves don’t really do anything for me.”
Bruegal clicked his tongue. “Can’t account fer taste then.”
Rolling his eyes, Kowler stood. “I’m going to head for that meeting now. Might as well be early. Will I see you again today?”
Bruegal shakily got up, liberally relying on his crutches for stability. “No, not likely. I’m gonna be takin’ that portal in a bit. Jus’ wanted to see ye ‘fore I left.”
“I’m glad you did,” Kowler said, bringing the dwarf into a short hug. Bruegal returned it fiercely, patting him on the back the once when he wanted to separate. No words of goodbye were said. Instead, as is customary to dwarves, they settled with a simple “See you soon.”
There was little else to say from there.
Separating, Bruegal headed inside the cave where the mages had set up shop and Kowler trekked towards the small city of tents that had been formed surrounding the dig. A veritable sea of white cloth had been built atop the red-stained sand, crisp and clean and alien in this environment. What tents were open showed archeologists and scholars going over their works, warriors and knights polishing their armors and sharpening their swords, magic users plying their crafts, and of those tents that were closed, quiet though they were, Kowler’s nose allowed him to smell what was going on.
What is it with this place that makes people want to fuck? Kowler sighed, understanding that he probably should have expected such a thing. Sex was fun, and dig sites were boring. The math was sound.
This did not mean he wanted the scent to linger around, however.
In the center of it all was the largest of the tents. It was not the same tent that Emilia started with, but it was hers all the same. Two stories high, it towered over the excavation like a man to a gnome.
Kowler approached it and, without so much as a by-your-leave, entered. The interior was well decorated, a bed and a desk and various knickknacks scattered about. More predominant was the fine long table situated as the centerpiece with two long rows of benches on either of its sides, sat upon by various peoples. At the head of the table was Emilia, speaking lowly with a well-dressed gnome sporting an oiled cut of hair and a superb pink beard. They were perhaps the most normal looking folk there.
The Stoutskin Triplets took half of a bench all their own, cheerily eating from a haunch of beef. Across from them was Emilia’s human lover, quietly chewing on a hearty looking fruit. Next to him was Annora, paying nobody any mind, her nose likely blackened with ink the way her face was pressed into the pages of her book.
Four more faces were added to the mix, faces Kowler had yet to see. At their lead was a great burly human, over seven feet tall and made of thick bulging muscles; his face covered in a grey beard that any dwarf worth their salt would call impressive. A Night Elf female sat by his side, slowly chewing on a loaf of bread, her silver eyes sharp and her blue hair short, fingers twitching towards the heavy mace strapped to her waist. Opposite of her was another dwarf, a female with a long braid of yellow-white hair that scraped against the floor, a powerful bear snoozing from behind her. And by her side was another human, a man, sharp green eyes and a smarmy smile poorly hidden behind a goatee of black coloring, playing a dangerous knife game with his own fingers.
What little conversation there was came to a halt when Kowler entered. Emilia and the Stoutskins looked happy and relieved to see him, and the rest sent him glances of speculation and interest. Annora paid him no mind.
“Good, you’re here.” Emilia said. She motioned towards the other end of the table, opposite to her own placement. “Go ahead and take your seat, Richard. Fill your plate while you’re at it.”
Kowler did so, snagging a handful of bacon and a pitcher of water. “Why’d you call for me?” He asked, taking a bite from his bacon.
The gnome Emilia had been speaking to cleared his throat. “With the Dark Iron dwarves gone for the most part, the Explorer’s League has decided that it is time to make a decisive push into Uldaman; to clear out what remains of them as well as route away any other creatures that might be found within. We want to control the whole of the ruins as soon as possible. All of it.”
“To that end,” Emilia cut in. “We’re gonna need some hands that know how to fight. We know there’s like to be some giant bats and scorpids inside, and then when you add in the troggs and remaining Dark Iron’s and the rumors of automatons… It’ll be a battle.”
“That’s where we come in.” The massive human said, his throat heavy with a Kul’Tiran accent. “Name’s Culver Coolridge, leader of the guild Ebontide. Me and my team, we’re going to lead the expedition into the mine.”
“Ebontide is a semi-famous guild as of late,” Emilia explained. “Apparently, there was a massive riot in the Stockades a few weeks ago, as well as a flood. They were the ones to aid the Stormwind Guards with cleaning it up and clearing out the dissenters.”
“All but two,” said the knife toting man, his cheek twitching. “Three really, but the prison guards weren’t worried about the dwarf. But the others? A Blackrock executioner and a gnoll raider. Somehow, they escaped. A shame, really. They would have been fine trophies, wouldn’t you agree?”
Kowler eyed him warily, his gaze drifting darkly onto the foursome. Had he stayed behind, would he have been subjected to their assault?
…It mattered not. He grunted and rolled his shoulders. That had not occurred, and so he had nothing to fear for.
So long as he remained in his human form, that is. “Most don’t view orcs or gnolls as worth anything but contempt this side of the world. Are you sure they escaped? What if they were made food instead?”
The female dwarf barked out a laugh at that, purple eyes tearing with mirth. “Har! He’s got ye there, Mary. I told ye it coulda happened.”
The man named Mary scowled her way. “Silent, Daenys. Prisoners or not, they couldn’t be that uncivilized. And it’s not Mary, it’s Marick. How many more times must I say that?”
“Won’t know till ye keep trying now will I, Ma-Ry.” Daenys taunted.
Marick hissed at her.
“It would be appreciated if the pair of you would be silent.” The Night Elf said, her voice posh and refined. “Prisoners lose reason the longer they remain captive, and hunger will always beat morals when feed is little. It is a perfectly reasonable explanation, Marick.”
Marick growled. “Neydra. Bite me.”
Her face contorted and for a moment it looked as if she would turn into a great cat. “Be careful what you wish for.”
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Culver Coolridge shouted, banging his meaty hand on the table. It shook with the blow, plates and cutlery echoing sharply. “Marick, shut up about those prisoners already. We were paid and we did the job. It’s done. Daenys, keep your words to yourself if all you’ll do is egg him on. Neydra, keep your head; you are our elder by hundreds of years. Act like it.”
As if children, they all grumbled at the scolding heaped onto their heads.
Emilia coughed an awkward sound. “Right. Well. Er… Richard. Ebontide is good at what they do, the Stockades is proof of that. But your magic is something else, real precise and deadly, and that’s what we need. You’ll be joining them as a long range combatant and support healer. A full party of five.”
“This is both a free for all assault and an escort mission.” The well-to-do gnome by her side said. “The Ebontide, plus Richard of the House Kowlen, will be escorting the remaining five at this table into the ruins.”
“We’ll be digging and surveying,” Olaf Stoutskin said, speaking for his brothers. “Clearing out new paths and pulling up more fragile items. Ye won’t even know we’re there.”
“I’ll be collecting reagents from surrounding roots and whatever animals are inside for alchemical purposes.” Annora shrugged, nose still buried into her book.
“My duty will be to document.” Emilia’s lover said. “Those four have their own tasks that will see them occupied, but I will be your primary escort. I will be tagging along with the five of you the whole way through.”
“Stevron can take care of himself, luckily enough.” Emilia said. Kowler almost crowed at finally learning the paladin’s name. “But his writings are more important than he is. If he is to die for some reason, and you can’t save him, gather his things and try your best to return to the entrance.”
Grunts and choruses of affirmation were laid out. When no other words looked to be said, Kowler raised his hand.
“We aren’t school children, Richard.” Emilia sighed. “You don’t need to raise your hand. What is it?”
“Two things. First, what is my compensation for this? Second, for the gnome. Apologies, I did not get your name. You called me Richard of the House Kowlen. I don’t claim any title of nobility. What is that about?”
“I can answer both of these questions.” The gnome said. “To start with, good to meet you, Richard! I am Jeril Fizzlespring, an ambassador and officer of the Explorer’s League. Regarding compensation, that will be determined upon your return. As for your other question; for your deeds against the Dark Iron’s that nearly ruined this excavation, in recognition for your role in not only destroying a dangerous fire elemental but also calming a raging earth elemental and healing and rallying this sector of the League, the Kingdom of Ironforge has decided to award you land and title.”
Kowler blinked, honestly stunned. Marick whistled in appreciation, offering a slow and sarcastic clap. “What sort of title have I been given and where is my land situated?”
“Dwarves do not follow the same sort of nobility that humans do.” Jeril admitted. “They do not have lords or barons or any sort of peerage. Honestly, it’s not really a nobility at all. It’s more a matter of recognition. You have been named a thane, a title showcasing your personal deeds. Should you have children, that title will not be passed down. But the land is to be held in the name of House Kowlen until either your name dies out or a crime worthy of repossession takes place.”
“As for the land…” Emilia began, smiling a sly thing. “You helped us take it. Hells, if it weren’t for you, we likely wouldn’t be able to do anything. Angor Fortress is yours, Kowlen.”
Kowler gave up any pretense of meekness and reached for a pitcher of ale sat on the table. Without even grabbing a horn he tipped it over and began to drink. The Stoutskins and Daenys all began to chant for him to chug and Culver laughed along with them, joining the chant.
Funny though the scene might have looked from an outside perspective, Kowler was drinking away his sanity. Bruegal was right, he was titled now. A thane. A gnoll had the right to speak on dwarven politics.
The world did not make sense.
Apologies for the delay. I’ve been busy with the whole losing my job and my industry legitimately closing down for an unknown amount of time. Now is not the moment to get into film, nor is it the time to move to an expensive city like LA that is currently in the shitter.
Moved back home. Decided to go back to school to get a teacher’s license. Might even get a second degree or a Masters while I’m at it. I am undecided.
Regardless, it’s been a while, and for that I say my bad. That’s about all you’ll get outa me though, so take it while you can.
The next chapter will be a doozy. Kowler, the Ebontide guild, and crew, will finally delve into Uldaman proper, ready to partake in the secrets available. And yes, I purposefully did not speak on what happened with Anathemus. Will Kowler have a new elemental? Did something else happen? Was he laughed at and told to fuck off!?
Well, y’all’ll find out soon enough.
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