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The Kingmaster – Chapter 5

The iron-gridded portcullis barred Kyen’s way into Castle Veleda. Two guards stood at attention inside the gate tunnel. 

“Kyen of Avanna here to see the king,” Kyen told them.

One guard motioned to the other. The gate clanked and began to ascend; its iron bars rose up past his grave face.

“So glad you’ve come, sir,” said the guard. “I’m supposing you’ve heard?”

“Heard what?” asked Kyen.

“An assassination attempt has been made on the king,” said the guard.

“What? How?” Kyen ducked under the still-rising portcullis.

At a wave from the guard, the iron gate began to lower again.

“Finn, sir,” said the guard. “He attempted to murder the king. There’s a great tumult in the castle about it. Finn’s been—”

Kyen left before the guard finished his sentence. He strode quickly across the bailey and pushed open one of the double doors into the castle keep. Without waiting for a footman, Kyen mounted the nearest staircases. He bound up two flights, taking the steps three at a time and drawing stares from a couple maidservants as he passed. 

Kyen exited onto the third floor, the solar, the royal family’s private sitting room where doors to their bedchambers lined the walls. Finn’s younger sisters sat in high-backed chairs, gazed idly out the windows or wept together in the corner.

At the sound of Kyen’s footsteps, all the redheads turned to him. They stared at him for a moment, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.


“It’s Kyen!”

Tears glimmered in Clarissa’s eyes as she rose from her chair.

“Oh, it’s terrible!” The girl threw herself on Kyen and sobbed into his tunic. One after another, the other sisters gathered around him. A chorus of sobbing and wailing echoed around the solar.

Kyen, looking grieved, patted at the various heights of heads and shoulders. Only Adelaide, the littlest sister, stood at a distance gazing forlornly at the group. Once the chorus of grief spent itself out, Kyen gently pushed them away and looked into their tear-stained, puffy-eyed faces.

“What’s happened?”

“Oh, it’s terrible!” Clarissa said again. “Daddy and Finn got into an argument. Finn—Finn—” She burst out in a fresh wave of sobs.

Taking her by the hand, Kyen helped Clarissa back to her seat.

She took out a handkerchief and buried her face in it.

Elenora and Lionora, the eldest set of twins, looked up at Kyen with identical, red-eyed expressions. The group of sniffling girls clung to one another behind them. 

“How is King Veleda?” Kyen asked.

“Come and see.” Elenora and Lionora led him to one of the side doors and knocked. The castle apothecary admitted them into the bed chamber beyond. He returned to his station at the bedside as Kyen and the girls gathered into the room.

In his bed, King Veleda groaned and shifted with fever. His face looked pale beneath his wiry, red beard. Broad bandages swathed his chest. The apothecary dabbed at his brow with a damp cloth. 

“How bad?” asked Kyen.

“He’s still in danger until the fever breaks,” said the apothecary.

Fresh tears rose to Elenora and Lionora’s eyes. 

Lionora sniffed.

Kyen shook his head, gazing on the wounded king.

“What happened?” said Kyen. “I can’t imagine Finn ever arguing with his father, much less acting out of violence. What happened?” He looked to the twins.

They both shook their heads, too.

“Finn seemed sad when he returned,” said Lionora.

“And moody.”

“But he’s always had his moods.”

Kyen watched King Veleda muttered incoherently under his breath. 

The apothecary laid the cloth over the king’s brow.

“Where is Finn?” Kyen looked to the twins.

“He’s—” Eleanor swallowed hard, tears threatening.

“He’s being held in one of the storerooms.” Lionora finished for her.

“May I see him?”

They both nodded.

* * *

In the basement of the keep, a guard stood posted before a solid oak door. He came to attention as Clarissa, Elenora, and Lionora brought Kyen to him. At a word from Clarissa, the guard unlocked the door.

Kyen stepped inside. The door shut and locked behind him.

A lantern hung from the ceiling and lit the crates and boxes pushed to the back of the room. Under the dim light, Finn paced. He strode to one wall, turned, strode to the other, turned. Fury clouded his features. His fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. A black welt stood out on his forearm. He lifted his head when Kyen entered, cast him a single dark glance, and looked away

“Finn?” Kyen took a cautious step forward.

Finn paced past him.

“What happened Finn?”

Finn strode up to the wall, turned.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked Kyen.

“Nothing.” Finn crossed the room.

“I don’t believe that.”

Finn reached the opposite wall, turned.


“Go away.”

“Not until we talk,” said Kyen.

Finn kept pacing. His fists clenched tight.


 With a yell of rage, Finn lunged at Kyen. He swung out a fist at Kyen’s head.

Kyen sidestepped.

Finn collided with the door.

The slithering zing of metal sounded as Kyen drew his sword.

“Don’t fight me,” said Kyen.

Finn spat on the ground.

Kyen’s frown deepened.

The lock rattled, and the guard put his head inside

“Everything alright?” He eyed Kyen’s drawn blade.

Finn returned to pacing.

“I’m finished.” Kyen sheathed his sword. He stepped out around the guard. 

Clarissa, Elenora and Lionora looked up as Kyen joined them. Clarissa was biting her lip. Elenora and Lionora clutched each other’s arms for support. Behind him, the guard re-locked the door.

“See?” said Elenora.

“He won’t speak to anyone,” said Lionora.

“What do we do?” Clarissa’s voice broke over the question.

Kyen stood for a long time gazing at the door. 

The three young princesses watched him.

“I need to speak with Adelaide,” said Kyen.

Eyebrows rose.


“Yes.” Kyen walked past them and mounted the steps back to the solar.

* * *

Adelaide sat at the bay window apart from the rest of her sisters. When Kyen approached, Clarissa, Elenora, and Lionora crowded behind him. He waved them away. The twins exchanged perplexed looks, but Clarissa walked to the table and took up her sewing. The twins followed, and the three sat together, stealing glances at Kyen over their embroidery.

Kyen seated himself next to Adelaide.

The girl clutched her doll and gazed up with doleful eyes.

“I received your message, Princess Adelaide,” said Kyen.

Adelaide nodded.

“Can you tell me what happened?”

“Something’s wrong with big brother.” Adelaide lowered her eyes. “He won’t play with me anymore. He hurt daddy.”

“When did he stop playing with you?” asked Kyen.

“He promised he’d play dress up with me and my dollies, but he just says go away.” Tears bubbled up in the girl’s eyes. She gave a great big sniff. “I think big brother got stung.”


“He’s got a big, black sting.” Adelaide pushed up her sleeve and rubbed her arm. “Right here.”

“Adelaide, which one is Finn’s room? Can I see it?”

Adelaide nodded. She hopped off the cushions. Taking two of Kyen’s fingers in her whole hand, she pulled him forward. Kyen stooped as he crossed the solar with her. Clarissa, Elenora, and Lionora stared, needles forgotten. 

Adelaide opened the door next to the king’s room. She pulled Kyen inside.

The bed, the desk, the longsword mounted on the wall, the cloak on the door peg: everything stood in high order. Kyen’s gaze swept the bedroom.

“Let me look around.” Kyen slipped his hand free. He checked out the window and surveyed the view of the grounds. He opened the desk drawer—a neat stack of parchment, an ink bottle, quills—and he closed it again. 

Kyen turned to leave but paused. 

A bedside table supported a candleholder. Beside it lay a dart of dark metal.

Kyen picked the dart up. Taking the cloth bundle from his pocket, he unwrapped in. In its folds lay the other dart—the dart from the griffin—a twin of the one from Finn’s bedside table. 

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The Kingmaster – Chapter 4

Kyen lay unconscious on Ewin’s cot. The workbench stood back in place, and Ewin crawled about on his knees, collecting fallen ore and throwing them into a bucket. Each ore hit the bottom with a tinny clank. 

Kyen groaned and opened his eyes. He tried to sit up, but putting a hand to his head, laid back on the pillow with a grimace.

“Ow… What happened?”

“You’re an obtuse blockhead, Kyen of Avanna. That’s what happened,” said Ewin. “By the Arc heights, I don’t know why I didn’t just leave you on that deck.” Ewin threw the last ore into the bucket with a clank that made Kyen wince.

“I’m sorry,” said Kyen.

“Keep your apologies. I’ve smelting to finish, and I’m not sharing my cot tonight. Clear out before you bring down more trouble.”

Kyen began to sit up again. He swung his feet over the bed where his boots waited below him. He pulled them on with sluggish hands. Once booted, Kyen stared at the far wall with a faraway look in his eyes.

Ewin stood, bucket in hand, and glared at Kyen. He slammed his bucket on the table, marched over, and slapped Kyen upside the head.

“I told you to leave!”

Kyen gripped his head in his hands and whimpered. “Ow…”

Ewin’s expression softened. He turned away to his work table. “You said you needed me to look at something? If it’s a fuzzy animal or another cheap trinket, I’m going to finish bashing your head in.”

Kyen, blinking back tears of pain, lifted his face. He dug into his pocket, pulled out a wad of cloth, and unwrapped it.

“Is this what I think it is?” Kyen held up the black dart.

Ewin shot the dart a brief glance only to give it a double take. He pushed aside his bucket to come frown into Kyen’s hand. 

“Where did you get it?”

“It’s a black weapon, isn’t it,” said Kyen.

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Ewin snatched up the dart and eyed it. He wandered to his work table, pushed his cap out of his eyes, and took out a large magnifying glass on a stand. Ewin examined the dart under the lens. 

“This isn’t from the vaults,” he said under his breath as he tweaked the knobs of the glass.

“Really? But—”

“I inventoried the Vaults of Varkest, Kyen. I know every black weapon locked away there,” said Ewin. “This is not one of them.”

“Then someone in Ellunon is making black weapons again,” said Kyen.

Ewin’s face fell grim. Shaking his head, he leaned against the table, propping himself up on his good arm.

“We swore the strictest oaths,” Ewin said to the tabletop. “After the Black War, all the Guilds of Denmont swore it! We burned our books. We dismissed our apprentices. We took what we could not forget to die in exile with us.” Ewin looked over to meet Kyen’s eyes. “You fought in the Black War. You remember, don’t you?”

Kyen held Ewin’s gaze.

“Whoever is making them, stop them,” said Ewin. “What you saw in the Black War, what these weapons can do to their victims, that’s the least of your troubles.” He touched his arm, bandaged uselessly to his side.

“What do you mean?” said Kyen.

“Every black weapon has its own mind, Kyen.” Ewin shook his head again. “A type of sentience. Faint. Unnoticeable. But it seeks entrance and influence over its wielder constantly. It can turn the flow of their thoughts, cultivating, suppressing, until the wielder becomes the wielded. Left under the influence of a black weapon long enough, and a man will become consumed.” Ewin held Kyen’s gaze steadily. “Whether it’s a child toying around or a remnant of Varkest still plotting. Stop them. Stop them before they fall in the black weapon’s grip. Because whoever is wielding it will not be his own master for long.”

Ewin held the black dart out to Kyen, but Kyen hesitated to take it back.

“You can hold onto this,” said Ewin. “But don’t let anyone else touch it much.”

Kyen took the dart, re-wrapped it, and put it back into his pocket. When he looked up, he smiled. “Thank you for your help, Ewin. You are a good friend.”

“And you, a wretched one,” Ewin glowered at him. “Be a good friend and leave before your problems swoop down on us both. I have to move again because of you.”

“I’m sorry,” said Kyen, ruefully. “I’ll go now.” Getting to his feet, Kyen made his way to the door while using a hand on the wall to steady himself. 


Ewin’s voice stopped him on the threshold. 

Kyen looked back.

“If anyone is struck by that black dart, whatever effect it may have, it will be irreversible,” said Ewin. “Have a care with it.”

“I will,” said Kyen. “It’s probably a child playing around without realizing it.”

“That’s not comforting.”

“Goodbye, Ewin.”  

“Good riddance.” A look of concern rose on Ewin’s face as he watched Kyen tread out the open door and down the footpath. As the prairie grasses began to swallow the swordsman up, Ewin turned away, muttering under his breath: “Arc’s mercy on us. All of us.”

* * *

 The Arc blazed down from high noon as Kyen stepped out from footpath and onto the highway. He started down it, paying no heed to the horseman galloping up, until he reined to a hard stop next to him.

“Kyen of Avanna?” asked the horseman, breathless. He bore the Veleda coat of arms on his surcoat.


“A message for you, sir.” The horseman handed Kyen a folded paper sealed with wax. The stamped insignia bore a rearing griffin.

Popping off the seal, Kyen unfolded the letter. He smiled. The unwieldy scrawl of a child filled the page. Kyen skipped to the bottom of the sheet where the letter had been signed: Prinsezz Adelaide of Veleda

He chuckled to himself and narrowed in on the rest of the letter. His smile faded as he read.

Deer Sir Kyen of Avanna,

Plees cum back to Veleda Castle. Sumthing iz wrong with Finn. He iz grumpee all the tiem. Finn and daddy fiet all the tiem. Finn duzzant talk too me. He duzzant play with me aneemor. I’m afrayd. Pleese cum back and help uz.

Thank u. 

Prinsezz Adelaide of Veleda.

(Continue to Chapter 5 here!)

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The Kingmaster – Chapter 3

Kyen stared, brows pinched together, at the sign above the smithy. Built of river rock and reed shingles, the blacksmith’s lean-to shaded forge, anvil, and hammering smith. The clang-clang clank of hammer on steel rang through the rural village.

“Can I help you?” The blacksmith paused his hammering to eye the hot wedge of metal in his tongs. He dunked it into a bucket. A hiss of steam burst up.

“You’ve been standing there nearly half an arcquarter,” said the blacksmith. “Is your head on straight, son?”

Kyen blinked. “Hm…? Oh! I’m sorry. I mean—”

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I—” Kyen stepped under the lean-to. “I’m looking for a friend. Ewin. I could have sworn this was his smithy.”

“Aye. Ewin’s the person as sold it to me before last harvest.”

“He left? Did he say where?”

The blacksmith shrugged. “Word has he’s set up near the river. What customers he meets out there, I’ll not know. Seems as nobody can quite find him.”

“Thank you.” 

The blacksmith stoked his coals in response so Kyen ducked out to the street. He rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand and sighed. A handful of houses, all of river rock and reeds, flanked the road. An inn lifted a second story above the other roofs, but Kyen passed it by. He walked the road out into the grasslands. The clang of the smithy faded into the prairie music of songflies, prattling beetles, and lowleaf warblers. In the distance, the river ran like a glittering ribbon underneath the afternoon Arc.

Kyen heeded none of it. As he walked, he searched the roadside. He ruffled through the grasses, peered under bushy pasture flowers, or checked the dirt on the roadside. A pair of horsemen eyed him and crossed to the opposite side of the road to trot past. Kyen swept apart a thick stand of grass taller than himself.

“Ah! I knew it.” 

A footpath hidden behind the grasses wound away into the prairie. Kyen stepped off the road to follow it. Within moments, the high grasses swallowed him and blocked all sight of the road behind. The path followed the low of the land, skirting the rises and running in the dips. The Arc sank low. The murmur of the river unseen joined the beetles and birds. Stands of river reed, their tops a dark ridge against the setting Arc, rose above the grasses ahead.

A few more steps, and the prairie yielded to a sandy hollow backed by the reeds. A massive, river-rock chimney stood in the center of the hollow. A house and lean-to, cobbled together with reed-sheets, propped up with hay bays and boards, leaned against the chimney’s sides.

Kyen walked to the lean-to, looking around at the disarray of a smithy. Rods, ore chunks, pinchers, chisels, and hammers of a hundred sizes lay strewn over the workbenches and the ground.

Kyen bent to pick up a small hammer at his feet. “Ewin?”

The prattling beetles crackled at each other in the grasses.

A cow lowed in the distance.

Kyen hung the hammer on a nearby peg and walked to the chimney. In its hearth, dusty gray coals lifted a thin strand of smoke. Kyen held his fingers over the hearth for a moment. He withdrew his hand.

“He never lets the forge go out,” said Kyen. “Ewin!”

He hurried around to the house and pushed open the door. Inside a cot lay flipped, a fallen bucket splayed ore chunks across the floor, and a work bench stood knocked askew.

Kyen frowned as his eyes swept the mess. He left the doorway to begin searching the ground. He paced back and forth, sometimes stooping to look at the dirt. He widened his search until, coming to the edge of the river reeds, he stopped.

A reed hung broken. 

Scuff marks marred the sandy soil up to the edge, but then footprints emerged. Three sets, two barefoot. They led towards the murmur of the river. 

Kyen bound into the reeds. The thicket became higher and denser as he pressed into it, until the reeds rose twice his height and thick as trees. He moved like a shadow flitting between them, keeping a hand on his sword hilt. An undergrowth of waterweeds popped up. A trail smashed through them, winding away over the sandy ground. Night fell fast in the thicket. Darkness closed in on the trail, slowing Kyen down. The rush of the unseen river filled the night air.

A light glimmered out of the night, and Kyen’s eye caught it. He snuck through the copse and parted the waterweeds to gain a clear view.

An ancient weeping willow sheltered a cove in the river. Its trailing leaves curtained the mast of a boat. More like a barge with a stubby sale-mast, the boat squatted its broad hull low in the water. Its front half lay beached up in the sand. The glimmer shone from a lantern hung beside a gangplank. Under its light stood a broad, burly man with his arms crossed. His bald head sported a red bandana with tails that dangled down his back. A bronze, leaf-bladed sword hung off his belt. Another like him but with hair guarded the door to the boat’s only cabin. 

Kyen frowned. He ducked into the weeds and snuck away behind the ship. Portholes glowed yellow above Kyen’s head as he reached the hull. He eyed them for a moment. Then, hurrying to the willow’s trunk, he hauled himself up into its branches. He came level with the porthole and looked inside.

In the cabin, three more pirates sat at a table. Their hands lay limp beside their forks, knives, and tankards. They stared with empty eyes and blank faces at their full plates. Across from them, a scraggly  man hunched on the floor by the wall. He wore an oversized leather apron, a crooked cap, and soot dusted every inch of him. A dirty sling wrapped one arm against his side. Rope bound his other arm to his ankles.

Kyen edged towards the end of the branch. It bowed under his weight, but Kyen kept hold of the dangling leaves above for balance. He let go to lean out and grab the rim of the porthole. Taking his dagger from his belt, he slid the blade underneath the edge, shimmied the latch up, and pulled the glass open. He peered at the pirates. None moved.

“Ewin!” Kyen whispered.

Ewin’s head snapped up, and he stared at Kyen for a long moment. His sooty brows drew down.

“You!” His whisper came out as an angry hiss. “This is all your fault! I knew it!”

“What?” Kyen blinked.

“Things like this happen every time you show up, Kyen of Avanna!”

“But I don’t even know what’s going on.”

“They’re trying to threaten me into making black weapons.” Ewin shot the pirates a glance; they hadn’t moved. “Some sort of dart, it looks like and—”

“That’s what I came here to ask you about—”

“You always bring trouble! Always!” Ewin cut in. “It used to follow behind you, Kyen of Avanna, but now it goes before you!”

“Ewin. I need you to look at something. I think it’s a—”

“Get me out of here, ash-for-brains!” Ewin growled through clenched teeth.

“Oh right, right. How many are there?” Kyen eyed the pirates still sitting at the table. “Three?” 

Ewin shot them a glance then scooched closer to the porthole. “Three. One on deck and—”

“The one at the gangplank.”

“There could be more. I don’t know.”

“Five on one. That’s not very good odds.” Kyen’s pensive face vanished from the porthole.

“Wait! Give me your dagger!” hissed Ewin.

Kyen’s face reappeared. “Right. Here.” He dropped his dagger into Ewin’s lap before he vanished again. He let himself drop from the tree to land at a crouch in the sand.

“Kyen! Kyen!” Ewin’s voice floated out the porthole after him. His face followed in a moment.

Kyen looked up.

“Don’t do anything—” Ewin hesitated. “Anything stupid. A dark power is at work here.”

“I won’t.” Kyen smiled a little. Ewin’s face disappeared, and Kyen jogged around to the front of the ship. When he leaned around the curve of the hull, he saw the pirate still on guard at the gangplank. Not a foot had shifted nor an arm twitched out of place. The pirate could have been a human statue but for the steady rise and fall of his chest.

Kyen slipped his sword free. Padding softly through the sand, keeping to the shadow of the hull, he crept up on the pirate.

When Kyen left the shadows, the pirate’s face turned. He drew his sword. Kyen lunged for him as the pirate slash down. 

Two loud clangs rang out as one. Kyen deflected the slash to the side and flicked out a following blow breaking open the pirate’s guard. The two movements happened so fast, they blurred into one.

Before the pirate could regain his guard, Kyen smacked his hilt into the pirate’s face.

The pirate dropped to the sand.

Kyen stepped back, but the pirate lay stunned. As Kyen looked down at him, his eyes narrowed.

A black welt stood out on the pirate’s neck.

Kyen turned and hurried up the gangplank at a crouch. He peered on deck.

The pirate guarded the cabin doorway, unmoved by the sounds of battle or the thunk of Kyen’s boots on deck. A black welt stood out on his forearm in the lamplight.

Lifting his sword, Kyen edged towards the pirate.

The pirate stared into space, his face blank.

Kyen frowned. He moved in and hefted his sword.

The pirate responded by drawing his blade. 

Kyen struck first with a lunge. 

The pirate moved to block, but Kyen feinted; Kyen’s sword slashed wide only to whip back in underneath the pirate’s guard. It caught the pirate’s cross guard and ripped his sword from his hand. The pirate stumbled sideways. Kyen grabbed him and slung him over the side of the ship. His body hit the water with a splash.

Walking up to the door, Kyen slung it open with a bang.

The three pirates at the table all looked up simultaneously. They rose as one. Ewin paled and stared as they approached Kyen. With a start, he fumbled with the dagger and sawed at his bonds.

Kyen backed away from the open door as the pirates drew their swords on him. He stood at the ready, the lantern light glinting off the edge of his blade.

As the first pirate stepped over the threshold, Kyen lashed out low, striking at his ankle. It connected, and the pirate fell forward into the deck. 

Kyen stabbed out at the pirate behind, but he jerked back from the blade point. He stumbled up against the third pirate behind him.

The first pirate on the deck tried to get up between them.

Kyen kicked him, but the pirate caught his foot. He gave it a nasty yank, and Kyen fell over backwards. His head smacked down hard against the deck. Kyen rolled away, scrabbled for a moment to get away but collapsed back, clutching his head. He fell limp to the deck.

The two pirates came out of the cabin to join the first.  Together they approached Kyen’s prone form.

“Kyen!” Ewin, shedding his bounds, ran out of the cabin. He jumped onto the first pirate’s back. He grabbed him around the neck in a headlock, trying to get his dagger to the pirate’s throat.

The pirate shrugged this way and that.

Ewin clung on.

The two pirates from behind seized Ewin and wretched him off, one grabbing his dagger hand. Ewin bit the arm that had seized him, but the pirate didn’t let go, even as Ewin ground his teeth in.

The first pirate hefted his blade as he neared Kyen.

Kyen stirred. Slowly, with head hung, he lifted himself to his feet. When he straightened, he wobbled backwards a few steps and stood there. His sword dangled from his limp arm. 

“Kyen! Look out!” shouted Ewin.

The first pirate raised his sword to slash.

When Kyen opened his eyes, the sight made Ewin go pale, and all the pirates hesitated. Kyen’s eyes had changed to a brilliant gold. He lifted his gaze to regard the pirate holding the blade over his head.

The pirates holding Ewin dropped him. They moved to surround Kyen.

The first pirate slashed down on Kyen, but Kyen flicked the slash aside with his blade and gutted him. As he shoved the first pirate off his sword, the second and third came at him from the sides.

Kyen swung his bare palm out against the blades.

The ship’s timbers shuddered as a flash of light sent the pirates stumbling backwards. Green corrosion bloomed over their blades. The pirates dropped their swords with a start. The blades hit the deck as dust.

Kyen lunged into the pirates’ midst. In a single fluid movement, he took the head off one and whirled to stab the other up under the ribcage. The bloody sword point appeared out of the pirate’s back.

Kyen let the pirate drop, his blade slipping free as the body collapsed. Kyen’s sword arm dangled back to his side.

Rising to a crouch, Ewin stared at Kyen.

Kyen lifted his face to Ewin. The fierce, golden-eyed gaze pinned him in place.

Without warning, the golden color flickered out. Kyen’s stormy eyes returned only to roll up into his head. Kyen crumpled to the ship’s deck, his sword clattering out of his hand.

(Continue to Chapter 4 here!)

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