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Pasion Pasiva

Winter Lullaby

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“When the winter snow meets the world below, painting fields of white in the evening light, I will sing my song and it won’t be long -- till you’re sleeping through the night.”


Philippe, a quiet but alert infant of four months now, was bundled up snugly in multiple layers of blankets. Within his mother’s arms, he nuzzled his rounded face toward her cool chest, and brought his small, but perfectly formed fingers, to his equally perfectly formed mouth. His little mouth was probably her favorite feature, apart from his eyes -- which were a stunning shade of crystalline green with what seemed like floating flakes of polished gold leaf floating about and swirling around his pupils. Lovingly, he was staring at his mother as she sang and was rocked gently by the motion of the heavy wooden rocking chair, upon which they both sat.


It was a strange thing, this snow. Utterly out of place beyond the mountain ranges to the north, wherever it could only ever be found during the winter months and even then, only in small pockets at the highest peaks. It was strange indeed, but still his mother did not seem overly worried.


Things had changed significantly, and Gabriela knew it somehow by an intrinsic nature. At long last, there was a peace that had settled between herself and the strange magic of these islands. For years now, since the night that Roen bled her nearly dry, and her blood spilled to the earth and roused the slumbering magic -- it had been a struggle. Like all things in her life, and all people involved, this relationship had been a struggle. But she had not lost in this situation, at least not as definitely as she had lost in all other aspects of her current existence. This surrender had been a willing affair, and by virtue of her submission, she saw that the land changed its approach.


It was gentle now, what she felt -- and it was comforting. And perhaps, more importantly, rather than feeling foreign, it felt like an extension. So the snow, so very strange and out of place, did not surprise Gabriela in the least. Somehow, she knew that the sad but beautiful snowflakes that fell, with an individual grace that no human could ever hope to see and let alone understand, was an offering -- perhaps even a thing brought about by her own melancholy. The cold and beautiful world beyond the warm and cozy nursery, where she held her little infant son so dearly, was everything that she felt she had become on the inside.


Dead, frozen, but pretty to look at.


Not dead -- not yet, she thought as her golden gaze shifted from the wonderland beyond the frosted glass of the window down to the small child who cooed up at her and reached with recently-sucked upon fingers for her face. She complied, with a genuinely happy smile, and leaned down closer to him so that he could catch her by the cheeks and run his fingers over her nose and across her lips -- she nipped at him and he squealed in delight.


“In my arms you’ll be safe from the cold and the warmth of my love will surround you.”


So went on the song, a beloved and fitting winter lullaby, sung with the utmost of care for her audience of one. The silently deposed Black Queen continued rocking, one leg crossed over the other, one booted foot flexing and relaxing to set them into a smooth motion. She was still quite cold from being outside, but the little one did not seem to mind. In this regard, he was like his father -- hot blooded. It was a short ride on horseback from the DuGrace Castle down to the devil’s villa, but she weathered the demands that were placed upon her for a chance to spend, at least a few hours ,with Philippe. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than not having him at all which had been her greatest fear. And when her mind wandered to think of Roen, she refused it and pushed it away as far as was possible from her thoughts.


Roen was gone, both physically and emotionally. His absence, she imagined, was the only reason she was permitted this deep into his residence to visit with her child. When she arrived, she had been told that the little prince was to have his bath and would then be put down to sleep for the night. Some part of her was deeply wounded at the realization that Philippe was being encouraged to be more human than vampyre by keeping a human’s hours, but she said nothing on the matter. Instead, she asked if she could give the child his bath and put him to sleep. It had all been allowed, while she felt herself knotting up and aching from the mere fact that she had to ask for permission to do any of these things. Roen was a cruel man, but she was just now learning the extent of it.


But now that it was all said and done, now that she was sitting here in this wondrous nursery -- not at all designed in her taste but nonetheless still rather charming -- she forced herself to forget all of the hurt and all of the anger. She was happy here -- Philippe was happy here -- and nothing else mattered.


The baby yawned and rubbed at his sleepy eyes with balled up fists.


“Not yet, little love,” she whispered -- her heart suddenly hurting at the prospect that he would sleep and that she would have to leave. “Please, just a little while longer.”


He murmured at her but his eyelids were heavy and began to close. Gabriela sighed and went back to looking out the window and singing her lullaby.

Edited by Pasion Pasiva

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“You’ve always had a pleasant singing voice,” Rafael commented from the doorway, casting his long shadow over his wife and her little prince. His presence at the devil’s villa had disturbed the natural order of things, and the tension beyond the prince’s chamber was thick enough to cut with a knife. But Rafael shirked the curious glances he received, the murmurs that trailed behind his passing, and did not fault the servants for their suspicion or loyalty to their master. He was here for Gabriela and Philippe, and cared little else for the rest. “It’s quite a shame that you’ve not found more frequent uses for it.”

In spite of his imposing figure, the elder vampyre moved without sound. There was nothing to herald his stealthy approach, and when caressed the side of her neck with his knuckles, and then placed that heavy palm on her shoulder, it was as if he’d simply appeared beside her. “You should use the native tongue,” he commented a moment later. “Your blood courses through that boy’s veins, thus, so does the motherland. He should know his roots, Gabriela.” His lips curved into a smirk as he thought of more unrefined blood Philippe had somehow inherited from his father. “Besides, it’s far more elegant than this crude common tongue the mortals use,” he continued. “His father may insist he behave like them, but he needn’t grow up idolizing them and all of their flaws.

While he still carried a great deal of love for the young prince, the devil’s continued presence—and Gabriela’s pregnancy—had, in some ways, resigned the elder vampyre to the reality he’d been so determined to cast aside. Philippe was not his child, not truly, and while he’d always seek the boy’s best interests, he’d not look to overstep and disturb the tumultuous peace they’d managed to establish. If it was Roen’s desire to dress and raise his child as a mundane child, then that was his prerogative. Rafael had his own child to look after, now.

Letting his words hang in the air, his eyes were drawn to the window, gazing out at the swirls of snow as they swept across the roofs of the villa’s longer wings, layered across the ground in thick blankets that stretched on for as far as the eye could see, and the clouds that blackened the sky to a thick, impenetrable pitch. Reports from the mainland spoke of a highstorm brewing in the east, its winds terrible and its rain thick. Tendrils of it had spiraled across the pass, reaching Orisia’s borders, but seemed to compound with La’Ruta’s influence—which he knew had become entangled with that of his darling wife’s emotional state of being.

A perfect mirror then, the elder vampyre thought. Unfortunately, these were not the capricious or sunken thoughts of a young woman. These were winds that could carve boulders into rubbles, or bury cities in ice and snow. It wouldn’t take much for the situation to become dangerous, and so, Rafael decided that he would monitor its development closely.

Much like his cousin’s relationship with the island’s strange lifeforce, Rafael and La’Ruta’s affair was becoming more intimate by the day. The hole left in its chest by the Warlord’s departure was grand, but the elder vampyre had done well to tend to the wound. Already enamored with him for the connection he shared with Gabriela, it had been a relatively easy process, and the slow, steady growth of the ebony tree in the garden of Cantorra was a testament to that fact. While he might not yet have commanded the sheer force to break La’Ruta to his whims, he felt confident in the thought that he might be able to seduce her to his reasoning. All in due time, he supposed.

“This is because of you,” Rafael said evenly, gesturing toward the window with his unburdened hand. The palm upon her shoulder remained, fingers caressing the skin it touched. “You know that La’Ruta is sensitive to your feelings. But, I fear that this might be something different.” His eyes darkened at the possibilities; none seemed pleasing. “There’s a highstorm in the East and it’s slowly been spilling its way here,” he said grimly. “They’re known to have a… mm, notable effect on the latent magic presence of the land. Combine that with what’s going on with you, and you can see my reason for concern.”

He let her ruminate on the words for a moment, casting his gaze from the window to the babe in her arms. Surely, she realized the threat such instability could pose to the prince, as well as the child growing steadily inside her womb. “I understand that this may not have been the outcome you desired, Gabriela, but it is your reality. You need come to terms with it, and quickly.” While there was an unmistakable urgency in his tone, it was not so much disappointed, or off-put, as it was fatherly. While she’d lived several lifetimes as at a wholesome three hundred, Rafael was still her senior by a great deal. Speaking to her in such a way came naturally, though she proved herself determined to be seen as his equal for no other reason than her entitlement to it.

Rafael looked at her keenly. “I’ve done my part to make you comfortable, have I not?”

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Benedetto, the villa’s major-domo and the Outsider’s manservant, was a tall, dark-skinned man with a shaved head and an immaculate goatee, only just recently touched by the salt of age in its course, dark black trim. He had gone once already this evening to the Outsider, and informed him that her Grace, Queen Irene Gabriela Du’Grace, had come to the villa under the pretext of seeing their son. Roen had nodded, seemingly unperturbed - and, uninterested - as his dark eyes smoldered where he sat, watching the snows outside come down to coat his courtyard in a blanket of white. Benedetto was a savvy man, and discrete. When the Outsider made no gesture to get up and tend to his duties as host, or even pay homage to the long-endured romance between he and the Summer Island’s monarch, Benedetto did not question or provoke. 

Instead, he left it at simple announcement, and made it clear to the staff, after leaving the Outsider’s study, that their lord was indisposed, but that her Grace had leave of the villa, such as it was. This was her home, as the Outsider made it abundantly clear once upon a time. So long as it was his to own and raise their children in, she was always welcome. It was in this way that Benedetto hoped to straddle the duality of his loyalties, both to the Outsider as his man, and to Queen Irene, as her subject. Benedetto considered this and other, more mundane things as he took to the villa, making sure it was well-lit, heated, and suitably comfortable for the Queen, who even now spent time with her son. 

That was, until word of her cousin’s arrival reached his ears. Not entirely unexpected, but still, Benedetto had his responsibilities, but when he went back to the Outsider’s study and announced the man, he endured a chilling surprise: Roen looked at him, and there was nothing there. No distaste, such as might be expected, nor anger, for the Lord of the Black City was known for his startling bouts of it. They were just eyes, two dark-red eyes beneath a broad brow, small and intense but otherwise lacking. Then the Outsider looked away to seek out the snow outside his window, a flurry out of a vision, or a dream long since passed, and spoke. “Tell her I’m waiting for her,” he said to the manservant, calmly and with gentle kindness. “Alone, if it pleases her.” 

Benedetto bowed, turned on his heel, and walked away. Descending the stairs and holding onto the wooden rail, his approach to the nursery was marked by light footfalls made with soft-soled shoes and the vague aroma of the scrupulously clean and slightly scented, his cologne a subtle fragrance of warm spice and aftershave. Standing at the door, Benedetto knocked on the frame and cleared his throat, announcing himself. “Excuse me, your Grace.” His voice was a warm, mellow baritone, like distant thunder. “But his Excellency would like to know if you would join him in his study. I will take you there, if it pleases you.” His eyes, a deep coffee brown, flitted towards Raphael, both steady and alert. “Can I bring you anything, my Lord?” He asked, then stepped aside, waiting for Queen and cousin’s reply both. 

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The snow had been falling peacefully, but then it all shifted and for a brief moment the world was like a snow globe within the grasp of a child -- shaken violently. It lasted for a second or two, and only until she could get a handle of herself. Raphael, regardless of his kindness since the onset of her new life, was still a force capable of striking fear into her nearly solid-frozen heart. It would take many lifetimes to learn to control the terror he could conjure in her from his sudden and uninvited presence. But with Father Darkness to strengthen her, she overcame the panic and horror that pricked across her scalp like a hundred-thousand tiny needles. With ice and shadow in her veins, she hardened herself against the powerful persuasion he wielded in her blood and in her mind, but not yet in her heart.


“Besides, it’s far more elegant than this crude common tongue the mortals use. His father may insist he behave like them, but he needn’t grow up idolizing them and all of their flaws.”


He saw fit to scold her for not singing to Philippe in Spanish, a thing she had never considered doing. Faintly, she wondered why she had never spoken to the child in her native tongue but the answer to that stood by her side with a heavy hand set firm upon her shoulder.


She did not want Philippe to grow to be like him -- proud, boastful, and cruel.


“He is half human,” she replied while her eyes kept to the winter wonderland beyond, “it is his better half, so I will nurture it as his father sees fit. That was the deal after all, wasn't it?” she asked, a wisp of cool, white breath passing her pale lips and swirling into the darkness of her hair. Cold -- she was dreadfully cold. Her eyes, golden and rich, looked up at him from behind a curtain of dark hair, pushed along a sideways part over her forehead. It was a defiant light in her eyes, but a stoic expression upon her face. “You both get to choose how to raise your children, and I adhere to what is decided. I honestly don’t know why you believe I would have any say over what is or isn’t taught to this child.”


A heavy silence settled over them -- she could feel the density of his thoughts in regards to Phelippe as his hand clenched over her small shoulder. It didn’t hurt, and she didn’t believe he was trying to hurt her, but there was an edge to it -- as if he were pained, as if he were thinking of unpleasant and unhappy things. How was she supposed to know it was the agony felt by a man who had to give up his son? She simply sat there with a sleeping child in her arms and an unpredictable beast at her flanks, with his claws a mere inch or two from her jugular.


Raphael had become a mystery to her ever since this all started. Gone was the obsession and hatred he harbored for her, but with it, the passion and love. She imagined that he kept her for political convenience and perhaps even just a touch of boredom. He walked and balanced on a fine line -- on one side kindness and on the other unabashed cruelty. There were still marks left on her body, there were still trenches across her skin where his name had been carefully written out. But everything was lackluster now, more chore than desire. It made her wonder, as nearly everything did these days, what point he had in keeping her in the public eye, especially after only protector sold his claim to her for a villa on the lake and a few visits for his son from his mother.


She didn’t understand the reason why Raphael did the things he did. He was not as simple an animal as Roen, whom had done everything for love.


“This is because of you.”


Unwillingly, she grew tense and revealed her concerns to her dear, dear cousin. His fingers remained fixed on her shoulder, although they did lighten and even opened to stroke at her under her jacket and shirt. Her eyes dropped from his face down to the sleeping babe in her arms.


“You know that La’Ruta is sensitive to your feelings. But, I fear that this might be something different.”


A frown touched her noble brow.


“There’s a highstorm in the East and it’s slowly been spilling its way here. They’re known to have a… mm, notable effect on the latent magic presence of the land. Combine that with what’s going on with you, and you can see my reason for concern.”


“The magestorms never reach Orisia,” she answered, glancing out the window -- the snow falling thicker and faster. “La’Ruta will prevail as it always does and the storms will blow over us -- as they always do. You’re concern is unnecessary.”


But was it? She sensed for La’Ruta and found it present and pleasant, as always, but fainter. It was barely noticeable. But the pieces all fit into place. As pretty as a winter storm was, and as amaused as her people might be to wake to a land blanketed in freshly fallen snow, she could put two and two together. If she continued to indulge her feelings and La’Ruta faltered in its protection of the islands, then they could all be stuck in a snowstorm the likes of which the warm-blooded Orisian’s were simply not sure to.


“I understand that this may not have been the outcome you desired, Gabriela, but it is your reality. You need to come to terms with it, and quickly. I’ve done my part to make you comfortable, have I not?”


Comfortable upon a throne of tears. He’d been so happy to see her, so happy to hear of their child growing in her womb, and so happy to have been given full ownership of her existence that he had all but dragged her back into the throne room back in Veelos, where he eagerly showed her just what her reality was to be.


“You have, my lord...I will see to ending this storm as soon as I can.”


She meant to stand, to put Philippe in his crib, and to take her leave but Benedetto’s sudden appearance stopped her. With her cousin’s arm still resting heavy on her shoulder, she turned to regard the major-domo.  


“Excuse me, your Grace, but his Excellency would like to know if you would join him in his study. I will take you there, if it pleases you.”


Does anything please me anymore? Will anything please me ever again…


There was that same old throb and she hated herself for indulging. The quick, sharp, and terrible pain came as a shock to her nearly frozen system. It made her feel just as much as if her hand had been held over an open flame. But it had to be defeated, this ache in her chest, and so she looked to Raphael, who seemed curious to see how she might respond to the request. He’d been there when the devil gave her up -- he’d been the man who he gave her to. And for a moment, she felt herself flounder without direction.


“I thought your master was away,” she said, after a moment -- clearly she was wrong, and Benedetto had nothing to say to the remark, save wait patiently. When he realized that no response was forthcoming from the queen he turned to Raphael and asked if he could bring him something -- anything.


“No,” she spoke up before Raphael could. She had climbed out of the rocking chair and was cradling the sleeping prince close to her heart. A few gentle pats to the bottom and soft swaying and bouncing against her chest put the baby back to sleep after he began to fuss at the sense of his mother stirring back to life. He complained, but not much, when she set him down inside his crib. “Please tell your master I can’t, and that I am very sorry. I am afraid that I must take my leave before I get snowed in. I don’t want to make a nuisance of myself, besides I have business in the castle. Kindly extend my sincerest apologies to the lord of the house, and if I could trouble you to house my horse until I can send for him. It’s bad weather out there, and I’d rather not risk a broken leg due to a little ice.”


Gabriela didn’t have to bundle up, but she played the part and wanted to keep up appearances. She was wrapping her coat tighter around her small form, doing up the buttons and zippers before pulling her black scarf from where the other coats and sweaters were hanging.


“I’ll go alone,” she said, now to Raphael, “and I’ll take care of the snow before it gets any worse. You’re right, this is because of me -- I’ll fix the problem.”

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“You’ll do not such thing,” Rafael said curtly, intercepting Gabriela’s hand with his own just as she reached for her scarf. His touch was not so much harsh as it was commanding, a gesture that served to underscore his authority over her welfare. “My apologies, master-servant, for Her Majesty’s hasty response. She is known to be somewhat impetuous.” While the weigh seemed to vanished from his thickly accented voice, there was neither smile nor smirk to confirm any suspicion of amusement. But his eyes, oh, how they scorched and admonished her. You forget your place far too often, those thunderous blue eyes said to her. You know better than to speak for me, Gabriela.

Yet, his touch remained soft, as it had since their rendezvous in Veelos. With careful pushes and prods from his fingers, Rafael saw her work undone—button by button, strap by strap, until her coat hung loosely against her figure. He eased it from her arms and then off her shoulders, draping it over his right forearm once it had been removed. “We are guests in this man’s home, Gabriela,” he said, taking her by the chin with his left hand. Lifting her head, Rafael met her darkened eyes unfettered, studying her expression as he was known to do. “He has done well to make our lives simple, and for that, I am grateful. You will go to him,” he decided, punctuating his orders with loving strokes of the thumb across the swell of her bottom lip. “And you will not provoke him.”

Frowning, he reached up and collected a single strand of her dark hair on his fingertip that had rebelliously fallen from its place and dusted her forehead. Tucking it back into place, he smiled, and dipped his chin to kiss her. She thought it boring to him, these shows of affection, or little more than a chore he’d long-since found himself enslaved to. But no, it was little more than an illusion cast by the ice that now clouded her vision. The passion, it burned hot in his veins; the sheer need and desire of it threatened to consume him at all hours of the day. That she carried his child only stoked the flames, and just as when she’d labored with Philippe, Rafael had never in his life craved her more.

Her mind, her heart, they may have been ignorant of these things—but her body had always known its one true lover, its one master. Rafael kissed her with ravenous hunger, though for the sake of propriety kept the embrace brief.

“Once you’ve concluded your meeting with him, we will return to the capital together. I will wait for you. We will tend to those other matters together, as is proper.” It was much too dangerous to let her saunter off into the wilderness, or wherever she believed she might find solace, to quell the storm raging inside her. While she seemed determined to focus her efforts on Philippe (which he could never fault her for), Rafael would not let her simply dismiss the safety of the child growing inside her. More than a child, more than an heir to the throne, it was the future of their species.

Rafael lifted his chin in direction, dismissing her. “Now, go.”

The matter settled, the elder vampyre looked at the dark-skinned man. “As for refreshments, I will have to decline. But, if it’s no issue to your Lord, I would prefer to stay here with the little prince. It’s been quite some time since last I saw him.” Rafael’s gaze slid to the child’s bed, his soft, rhythmic breathing telling of his sleep. A smile curved his thin lips. “They grow so quickly, and I fear I’ve already missed so much.” Of course, were the master-servant to protest, Rafael would make no fuss about it. Things had, indeed, gone swimmingly since that night in Veelos. There was no need to disturb the peace, least of all over a visit.

After all, he had an eternity.

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He sought to admonish her with a stare -- to stab at the rebellious core of her soul and fill her with dread with a knowing glance. It wouldn’t work if she didn’t regard him, and so she kept her golden eyes cast out the window, beyond the confines of her son’s nursery, and the devil’s estate, and the awful, terrible weight of her cousin’s domineering force. The storm was only growing worse even though she was trying to put all of these occurrences behind her. Somehow, being called impetuous for wanting to go and find a resolution to the very problem that Raphael had come to tell her was her fault. The helplessness and hopelessness of the situation wore on her, and so, she refused to meet his eyes, even as he went about the humiliating display of unbuttoning and unstrapping her coat, of pulling it off her shoulders and of folding it over his arm. He had taken swimmingly to his new role as lord and master, as father figure and husband.


She was his beloved.


She was his child.


“We are guests in this man’s home, Gabriela.”


"You both seemed to have forgotten hat you are guests in my country."


The grip on her chin forced her head up, but her eyes did not waver from the storm beyond the windowpane. She could tell it vexed him, but he couldn’t very well force her to look at him. There had been many changes since the conception of her new child, most notable of which was how muted Raphael’s powers had become when applied to her blood. He could no longer control her, or rather, not to the degree he did not so very long ago. So even though she felt the call of it and the weight of his control in her veins, with some focus, she could keep her will.


He stared at her, and somewhere, the Master-Servant watched from his peripheral, while trying to avoid staring blatantly at the gross display of power being executed with subtle words, touches, and deadly stares.


“He has done well to make our lives simple, and for that, I am grateful.”


“Then you should be the one who goes to him -- I am sure he would be so very pleased to hear how grateful you are.”


Those eyes, those glorious, golden, darkened eyes shifted and at long last landed upon his. The sapphire glare that met her would have frightened anyone else -- but not her. Her lips pressed into a firm, puckered line and her brows pressed softly into a hateful glare.


“You will go to him.”


He caressed the pout on her lips. She resisted the urge to turn and bite his finger and tear the digit off his hand.


“And you will not provoke him.”


A loving touch descended upon the side of her head as he brushed back her hair and tucked it behind her ear. The overwhelming sense of love nearly cost her her resolve, but she managed to cling to her hate. Just because he believed that he loved her did not mean this was love. And still, she saw the flicker of hurt across his face when he retreated after leaning forward to kiss her and having her turn away. For days now, she had refused him this little kindness, and she took great pleasure in his pain. How he longed for her willingness, for her love as it had been given -- freely and unabashedly upon the night they conceived their child. The satisfaction she gained from his hurt, she could not readily describe it, but it tasted better than blood and it sustained far more. He was stronger than she would ever be, because he was older, because those are the laws that govern their species. But she had some power over him, and they both knew it.


Gabriela clung to her ounce of control over him, and denied him something that he surely deserved.


“Once you’ve concluded your meeting with him, we will return to the castle together. I will wait for you. We will tend to those other matters together, as is proper. Now go.”


Dismissed so carelessly, perhaps a token repaid from her cruelty, Gabriela turned and left without a word -- not so much as a parting glance to the man she had been so heartlessly given to. But she was a child, that’s what they said. A spoiled and willful child. And what child did not test her loving parent? What spirited daughter did not cause her father heartache and troubles?


Raphael commented on how quickly Philippe was growing, she heard it -- but she wondered if the words were not meant for her. She could feel herself growing. She could feel herself changing. Like never before, she clung to the ice in her veins -- she relied on the cold that had begun to grown in her heart.


“Won’t you please hurry?” she called into the nursery, urging the Master-Servant back out. “Please, take me to your Lord. I’d like to get this over with as soon as possible.”


She forced it away. She chased it back, as far into her heart as possible, to the very back of her mind -- she didn’t want to think about the love that she had lost. She didn’t want to think about Roen in that way. For this meeting, she would have to harden herself and rely on the chilled embrace of the abyss. There was no thawing her heart, there was no room for remorse or longing.


Roen had thrown her away.

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