Thursday, November 10, 2016

Blue Nexus #56 - Flare

Previously in "Blue Nexus": Kyle and Andreus, co-captains of the lacrosse team, have gotten into misunderstandings about magic. Tania, a misguided Reality mage, has been trying to lapse Andreus and others to her side, to protect them, as she sees it, in the wake of a great magical "awakening." 

            Kip and Luke stood outside Kyle’s locker hallway. Students were in-between classes and the two of them had time to kill, since their class was just inside that hallway. Kyle was in just a bit of a rush, but was relieved to see them anyway. He didn’t have much time to stop and chat at all the previous two days of school, since he was constantly flying in and out of school between classes to deal with a Zanderia problem, or some new mage was appearing, and he needed to convince Magus Forest was healthy for them.
            He approached them and sucked in a deep breath, letting all his exhaustion catch up with him, and then smiled as he breathed out.
            “You know, if you wanted, I could wear the bracelet and dance around as Blue Nexus for a while,” Kip said. He smiled.
            “I think the rest of the world will be with me when I say: pass,” Kyle said. “You can’t, anyway, the bracelet is bonded to me so that only I can use it. You’d probably, like, explode or something.”
            “Seems violent,” Luke said.
            Kip nodded. “Have you seen Andreus today, at all?”
            “No, why?” Kyle asked.
            “He wasn’t in my first period,” Kip said. “What about at practice?”
            Kyle rolled his eyes. “Do you think he ran off already?”
            “Dude, he’s been acting pretty weird,” Kip said. “Like, completely off on his own, not talking to anyone. Weird.”
            “That’s probably because he’s had some evil witch lady whispering in his ear,” Luke said. “Kyle, you haven’t tried talking to him?”
            “Well he was at practice yesterday,” Kyle said, rather pointedly at Kip. “And I did try talking to him about it, but he wouldn’t say anything to me. Like, at all. I don’t know if it’s because he thinks I’m not a mage so I wouldn’t get it, or what.”
            “So just show him the mark,” Kip said. He gestured at it. Kyle had his jacket rolled up just enough for the grown mark to not be visible. “Not like you can hide it all the time.”
            “Yeah, if you tell him, and show him, that you’re a mage, he’ll probably listen to you,” Luke said. “Or maybe Demon mages just have a bad rap among the mage community, who knows.”
            “Yeah, I’m sure being a ‘demon’ mage is inviting,” Kyle said. “Invite one over for Thanksgiving, they’ll be a great time.”
            “Well it’s a better idea than talking to a brick wall,” Kip said. “Why not give it a shot?”
            “Because I don’t know of he’ll blow my cover to spite me,” Kyle said. “If Tania is the one pulling at him, then she’s also telling him that Magus Forest are full of the bad guys and she’ll want Andreus working against anyone who associates with them.”
            “Oh, true that,” Kip said.
            “You can’t let him go on like this, though,” Luke said. “Someone’s going to confront him, and Tania might not be as merciful to regular people.”
            Kyle grimaced and nodded. The minute bell rang out over them. Everyone in the outside hallway flinched and picked up the pace just a little bit. Kyle said goodbye to his friends and walked speedily toward the next hallway, turning in quickly and then sliding through the open doorway, just past his teacher.
            He eased into his seat, looking over to where Sandy once sat. He bowed his head removed his textbook, sliding it onto the desk before placing his head lightly atop it as a poor pillow.
            “Now, Mr. Raiden, is that anything to do in a classroom?”
            Kyle’s head reared back up. That voice, no, it couldn’t…
            Standing where his teacher was supposed to be, wearing a dress vest and slacks like a teacher might with her hair done up, was Tania. She strode across the classroom, mocking his teacher’s stride.
            No, wait, this isn’t real.
            Kyle turned to the student behind him. “Hey, is he looking any different today? Something seems a bit…off.”
            “Nah, man he’s the same,” the student said.
            Kyle smiled back at Tania. Gotcha.
            She smiled back at him. “I don’t care if you noticed, what matters is that I’m here and you have to listen to me. Speak out of line and people will think you’re crazy. They’re all just listening to your instructor right now, completely unawares of what’s really happening.”
            Kyle bit the inside of his lip. He wanted to scream at Tania, wanted to tell her to let go of Andreus and let him go back to normal. But she had him in a bind. Damn this woman.
            “I overheard you earlier talking with your friends,” Tania said. A chill shot down Kyle’s back. “I won’t harm them if you don’t harm me. And you have no reason to harm me. Andreus is mine now, Demon mage. Under my tutelage, in fact. We’ve had quite a few lessons, and he’s keeping up as well as some of the others. Perhaps he will awaken like the others have as well.”
            Kyle cocked his eyebrow.
            “Oh, yes, Andreus is very close to his own personal awakening,” Tania said. “He’s quite the learner. Able to pick up on my lessons, though he is still blind to proper technique. When he awakens he will learn. I’m surprised he didn’t, what with the great explosion of magic around the world. I’m sure you felt that. That golden power surging through all the mages and would-be mages just a few days ago? It was terrifying, truly terrifying. Luckily, I’ve already made my moves, unlike your Magus Forest. They are just sitting on their hands, waiting for something to happen. In times like this, the only thing that does is open up for any enemy attack.”
            Tania was talking like they were at war, but with who? That mummy mage? He was just one man, and yeah, he blocked one of Kyle’s attacks pretty easily but if he could gang up on that guy with Brenda and Brian like they did with Alucard, it would be a pretty easy fight. Especially with the leaps and bounds they’d made fighting together.
            “Don’t even consider combatting him on your own,” Tania said. “Even with your otherworldly powers, you couldn’t even comprehend his. I suppose Magus Forest really is a poor excuse for teachers, they haven’t even taught you about who projected that power. And how effortless it was for them. It’s for that precise reason that I have to keep Andreus with me. He’ll learn more than ever with me, and be better prepared for his awakening. Magus Forest wouldn’t teach him to control it, they would just baby him and praise him for how good it all is.”
            Tania followed the same path that Kyle’s teacher did every class period. He wondered if she did this often with Andreus, to brainwash him in some way. Kyle’s attention was on her—it had to be if he were going to keep up the guise that he were paying attention. It was the most he’d paid attention in school in forever. So, silver-lining there, right?
            “Magus Forest will fall of its own power and in the end who is going to be there to stop the more sinister mages from consuming our way of life?” asked Tania. “I only want to help the world of magic, but Magus Forest is too stubborn to lend me a hand, so I can’t work with them. If you would only open your eyes you could see the good I’m doing. I won’t keep trying with you if you won’t work for me, I’m not going to jam my beliefs down your throat. But speak with Andreus, and I can send others to you to understand. My way is the better way of learning.”
            So far, from her learning, Kyle had seen Andreus devolve into little more than a sack of meat wandering around and playing lacrosse. There wasn’t much to convince him that this was the best choice for all mages.
            “You’ll find Andreus at your practice later today,” Tania said. The reality fabric she placed over Kyle was beginning to fade, and his teacher was glitching back into his vision. “Do talk with him, it can only be for your benefit.”
            Tania vanished in a blink as she was wont to do. Kyle clenched a fist and laid his head back down on his textbook. He didn’t want to hate magic, but Tania was making it so easy for him to do so.

            The Sun bled through slits in the thick canopy of Magus Forest. Brenda stepped out of her small hut and let the magic pour of her core and into her hands, where she weaved a small cube in seconds. It glowed red, the same color of her hair and her eyes. It was warm against the colder air of the morning. Her toes tingled in the cold wetness of the morning dew. She wore only a shift and some athletic shorts that she’d borrowed from Kyle before. It was some of her more comfortable clothing, and nobody in the forest cared how she dressed.
            She was up along with some of the Combat mages, as well as the ones in training. No doubt the Grand Elder was awake—Brenda wondered if the woman ever even slept—as were her closest advisors. More mages were coming into the forest thanks to her and Kyle’s efforts. One of the Elder’s advisors tasked Brenda with taking the day off and relaxing her magic so that she could bear the brunt of journeying around the world again. Brenda had to admit: it was exhaustive work. The Zanderia tasked her similarly sometimes, but this was about getting to so many different locations in a much short span.
            Her communicator was left in her small, makeshift hut. The hut was something of Sandy’s creation, though it was clearly made hurriedly and was not built to last. Brenda stayed with the peoples of Magus Forest as long as the Grand Elder needed her help. She supposed that meant until there was another Shield mage to carry the load of mentorship, or at least until Brenda could find more Shield mages to discover how best to use their magic.
            Brenda’s mentor, an alien named Furc from a planet in the Gargantua sector, had only taught her how to use her powers for about a week before one of Ytu, the War God, discovered he was involved in a plot to make a move against her life and had him executed. Brenda was then imprisoned on Veleron and had to learn her magic there. She wasn’t sure how to teach because of this, since she taught herself through years of meditation and letting the magic come to her naturally.
            So when the Grand Elder tasked her with training another of the Shield mages, Brenda was at a complete loss for words at how to handle it all. In the end she taught the mage how to construct a barrier and told the mage that meditation was the best solution in terms of increasing one’s magical abilities. She wasn’t wrong, she just wasn’t help much…at all.
            One the Grand Elder’s advisors strode from his hut and met Brenda halfway in the middle circle, where a bonfire was erected for later in the evening. They held great fires—invisible to the wandering, human eye—once a week to celebrate all that they’d done in the past week and as a way of coming together.
            “Good morning,” Brenda said.
            The advisor nodded, slightly bowing to her. Brenda tried to hide a blush. As one of the “mentors” she was taken with more respect than most of the others. She was just a guest in reality, but the Grand Elder liked to make Brenda feel a little better. After all, she did claim that Brenda was one of the strongest mages the forest had seen in centuries. Brenda found that hard to believe.
            “Indeed,” the advisor said. “The Grand Elder would like you to head up a new arrival that is on their way.”
            “Isn’t there a meeting party out there already?” Brenda asked.
            “This one may require a better attention,” the advisor said. “She didn’t explain it, but it sounds as if this one is quite the mage. If they become hostile, you’ll have backup. If not, you have an escort.”
            “How regal,” Brenda muttered.
            “Once he arrives in the village bring him to the Grand Elder,” the advisor said. “We await you there, Shindari.”
            Brenda smiled at him. All the mages in the forest called her by her real name, except for Sandy. It didn’t bother her as much as it may if regular humans knew her name, but it was strange to hear it so often and so casual. Normally, it was the prison guards on Veleron that called her Shindari in a mocking way.
            They nodded to each other and headed off. Brenda moved quickly through the village and was in the forest overgrowth in moments. She stepped over some thick roots to be on the main path, jogging lightly through the forest. Her feet stamped into the wet ground, making small indents on the dirt. It squished beneath her, and tickled.
            She would’ve had a smile on her face were it not for the impending mage that was clearly headed her way. Whoever this was, they were a Demon mage by the feel of it, and one that either couldn’t fully control their power, or was well aware that they were making some sort of entrance.
            Brenda headed up the front guard of the forest, who stood with a man about Phoenix’s age. He had pitch black eyes, long black hair, but colorful shirts and shorts. He wore a jacket from the University of California, with the hood pulled back halfway on his head. His hands were stuffed in his pocket.
            “Good morning,” Brenda said. She gestured at the front guard. “Thank you for bringing him, I can guide him to the forest on my own now.”
            “That’s fine,” the guard said. “But if he tries anything foolish.”
            “Yeah, I know,” Brenda said. “I’ll holler.”
            The guard spurred his horse and thundered down the main path. The Demon mage turned and watched them go, and when he returned his attention to Brenda, he still had a bored expression planted on his face.
            “So much for a guard,” he said. “I could’ve walked right through them.”
            “You think you’re that strong to just break into Magus Forest?” Brenda asked.
            “Probably,” he said. “Who’re you? You look familiar.”
            “You might’ve seen me once or twice flying by overhead,” she said. She stepped closer to the Demon mage and held out her hand. “My name’s Shindari, I’m with the Zanderia.”
            The Demon Mage nodded slowly. “Oh, right, with the Phoenix and the Blue Nexus. Yeah, cool. My name’s John, I’m a senior at Cal-Berkley.”
            Brenda had no idea what that meant. “Neat. Want to come check out the village before meeting our Grand Elder?”
            John smiled. “It’s not even that weird to get new people?”
            “No, not really,” Brenda said. “It happens all the time now. There’s been a great wave of magic, I was actually just with…someone else…trying to find a Demon mage like you.”
            “What gave it away?” John asked. “You can’t see my mark.”
            “Black eyes are a pretty good indicator,” Brenda said. “Like how my eyes, and I guess my hair, tell you what kind of mage I am.”
            “Shield, yeah, I’m not stupid,” John said. “I studied magecraft at Cal for a semester.”
            “They have a study on magic in California?”
            John smirked. “Not on record. Could probably teach you a thing or two about some magic.”
            Brenda nodded. “I’d be happy to learn. Perhaps you can tell the Grand Elder some of these techniques. Come on, I’ll show you the way.”
            John gestured for her to go and Brenda did. She lagged a step, waiting to be even with him. John, the entire walk, looked dead ahead and with an equally dead expression on his face. Most of the mages that came marveled at the immense magical presence the forest gave off, as well as the spectacle of seeing the village and its mages.
            “Huts and a bonfire, amazing,” John said. “You’d think that mages have been so integrated in society that they’d build off of it. Tell me that someone here thinks the Earth is flat.”
            “Out here we’re one with our magic,” Brenda said. “It’s what gives us more of our strength and unifies us as a community.”
            “Twigs and leaves can make you stronger, that’s phenomenal,” John said.
            They walked past the bonfire. John flicked his wrist at it, and part of the wood splintered away with ease. Brenda ignored the smarmy move.
            “The radiance of the power here makes us stronger,” Brenda said. “As someone that studied magi you should understand its properties and how it interacts with the environments.”
            “Yeah, sure, getting back to our roots and whatever,” John said. “Except I lived in a city and I became a stronger mage than you, so what’s that tell you about being natural?”
            “Excuse me?” Brenda asked.
            An advisor appeared, miraculously, from the tent. He approached the two of them. John’s expression hadn’t changed in the slightest, and Brenda could hardly understand what she was even hearing. Stronger than her? Stronger than someone that could defeat Blue Nexus in combat? No way. Not this punk!
            “The Grand Elder would like to see you,” the advisor said, but his inflection gave Brenda the impression he was speaking to her as well. She gestured for John to go first and he did.
            He whistled when he entered the Grand Elder’s tent. She sat, cross-legged, in the back atop a cushion, smiling at her new arrivals. The tent smelled of power incense and was lit with multi-colored candles. The advisor brushed past Brenda and stood next to the Grand Elder.     “Welcome, John,” the Grand Elder said. “And welcome back, Shindari. Thank you for escorting our new arrival.”
            “I could’ve figured out the path on my own, I’m not an idiot,” John said.
            “You’re right,” the Grand Elder sad. “An idiot would assume they can defeat an opponent they’ve only just met. Certainly you are not that.”
            John’s face twisted for half a second, but it was all that Brenda nodded. She bit down on her inside lip to stop her smile. The Grand Elder’s smile did not waver.
            “You must have journeyed far to get here,” the Grand Elder said.
            “Not really. I took a nonstop flight,” John said.
            “Regardless,” the Grand Elder said. “We’re happy you’re here. What do you make of the village?”
            “Oh, you mean the Stone Age?” asked John. “Yeah, it’d be great in a museum. How can you get anything done without a training facility?”
            “We are our own facility,” the Grand Elder said. “There are many private spots in the forest where one can go to train.”
            “That’s great,” John said. “So I can, what, knock over some trees? I sensed the mages that are here, how am I supposed to learn anything from mages that are weaker than me? They’re all just a bunch of noobs.”
            “Says the guy speaking to the Grand Elder,” Brenda said.
            “Shindari, please,” the Grand Elder said. “Treat our guest with more respect. He makes a point, many of our mages are young and inexperienced. They require mentorship.”
            “That I’m not gonna provide for you,” John said. “I thought this place had more to offer. Instead it’s just people living off the dirt pretending like this is some sort of sanctuary.”
            “Perhaps,” the Grand Elder said. “But I sense chaos brewing in the outside world.”
            “There’s always case there,” John said.         
            “Of a kind that cannot be stopped unless we unite the mages of the world together to stop it,” the Grand Elder said. “Like it or not, John, but we will need your help.”
            John finally cracked a smile. “Yeah, sure. Whatever. Just let me know when I have a proper sparring partner. I’m a bit rusty with some of my magic.”
            The Grand Elder nodded, signaling John to leave. Brenda watched him go, and the Grand Elder chuckled.
            “He is quite spirited,” the Grand Elder said.
            “He’s arrogant and bigoted,” Brenda said. “Master, what does he provide us?”
            “A good laugh, apparently,” the Grand Elder said. “Stay close to him, Shindari. Perhaps your kind heart will rub off on his. Or perhaps he’ll ask to fight you, and you can show him the ferocity of a Shield mage master.”
            Brenda bowed and the Grand Elder bowed back. Brenda disliked when she did that, as if the Grand Elder had any reason to show a lesser mage that level of respect. “Thank you, Grand Elder.”
            She exited the tent and was met by a little more sunlight. She sensed John heading further into the forest, to go off and train. She clenched a fist, then released it, letting more of her magic pour into her hand. Best to let him be off on his own, perhaps feel the forest out a little more.
            She looked back over to the bonfire, and replaced the piece of wood he’d broken off if it.

            Mira stood outside the locker room spraying one of the carts down with a hose, letting clouds of small water bits go everywhere. She wiped away a rogue splash from her face, then turned the water off and began scrubbing the middle section of the cart with a cloth. Kyle stepped over to her, and clip-clop of his cleats on the ground informed her of his arrival.
            “Spill something?” he asked, squatting down next to her.
            “No, apparently someone from the track team thought it would be clever to put a towel with their blood on it back on the cart,” Mira said. “It started to stain so I was charged with cleaning it instead of getting things ready for practice.” She put her elbow into the next scrub, then backed off. Kyle swiped his hand over the water, and there was just a red splotch left.
            “Well hey at least they left a mark,” Kyle said. “That’s cool.”
            “It’s gross,” Mira said. She stood up and helped Kyle get to his feet. He groaned as his muscles called out for him to stay down. “Jeez, worn out already?”
            “Practice isn’t very kind when you’re the only one doing anything,” Kyle said. “Or, at least, the only one trying to keep up with Andreus.”
            “Yeah, he’s wild out there,” Mira said. “What’s up with him, did someone piss him off or something? I never see him around anymore, doesn’t that mean he can get kicked off the team if he doesn’t go to class?”
            “I don’t think Coach would let him go so easily,” Kyle said. “Not while he’s our best player.”
            Mira nudged his shoulder. “Second best?”
            “No, definitely our best. He’s a lot, uh, stronger than I am,” Kyle said.
            “Fine, whatever,” Mira said. She gestured at the cart. “Help me bring the cooler to the field?”
            He did as she asked and the two of them walked to the practice field together, where Andreus was actually standing amongst some people but was making nothing of it. The other boys were laughing and talking like normal.
            Practice also proceeded like normal. Or, at least, as normal as it had been. Kyle pushed himself to his physical limits to keep up with how easily Andreus moved through the drills. Kyle could swear the guy was just walking when they were jogging. As they moved through some plays, simple walkthroughs to get ready for their first bit of live action, Andreus’s size was easily noticeable. He walked around some of the team’s biggest players as if they were little kids.
            Coach surprised them all, though at the end of practice, as he divided the teams up—pretty evenly, for a scrimmage. Panic swelled in Kyle. Thankfully he was against Andreus, but had no guarantee that he could contain him should he decide to go all out.
            They moved their gear to the stadium, where some of the other athletic teams were gathered to watch them play. There were high hopes for lacrosse this year, with so many seniors on the team with years of experience—and since the J/V team last year was pretty damn impressive—so it made sense for them to come out. Not to mention that the lacrosse boys had many friends in other sports.
            Kyle lined up across from Andreus. Instead of eyeing the face-off, Kyle kept a steady eye on Andreus.
            “Don’t do anything stupid,” Kyle said. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mira setting up, and she looked concerned for Kyle. “Andreus, keep it under control. Don’t run too hard. Don’t do anything to set off your powers.”
            Andreus said nothing back.
            Coach blew the whistle and they were off. Andreus sprinted downfield. Kyle charged after him, losing steps to him with each passing second. The Demon mark itched inside his body, begging him to dig into that power.
            Kyle positioned himself between the midfielder and Andreus, knowing that if Andreus moved, Kyle couldn’t keep up. He blocked a lane for the midfielder to take for the pass and an oncoming defender forced the midfielder to run. Kyle swatted the ball away and his defender scooped it up, lobbing it to Kyle.
            Andreus thundered after him, running at his top speed. Kyle became less concerned for the ball and more for his own life. He turned his body, and used all the torque he could muster to launch the ball across the field to another wide open striker. Coach almost had a heart attack until the ball landed safely in the pouch, and then Coach sang Kyle’s praises. Andreus moved past Kyle with ease before returning to his position.
            Kyle’s team scored, making Andreus’s team hungry for a point. Andreus took off past Kyle, who anticipated it this time, and was already running before Andreus moved. He was able to move with him step-for-step until Andreus planted his feet, creating a rut in the ground, and caught a pass. He launched the ball to the goal, slamming it into the net and forcing the goalie to duck. It was a shot from the sideline not even a pro could make.
            “Calm down,” Kyle said. “You’re using the Power magic in your stick.”
            “It’s called infusion,” Andreus said. “Tania taught it to me. I’m using it.”
            Kyle groaned and jogged after Andreus.
            Kyle’s team tried to get offense going but it failed and Andreus had the ball. Kyle headed him up, trying to force him out of his lane. He threw his shoulder into Andreus, who angrily swung to pass the ball away.
            It bounced off Kyle’s stick and soared in the other direction, bouncing off the table and almost cleaving off Mira’s head. She hit the deck, trembling.
            Kyle spun away and gripped Andreus’s jersey. Andreus grabbed Kyle’s, and Kyle could feel that he was on his toes not because of himself, but because Andreus was lifting him.
            “You need to stop before I make you stop,” Kyle said.
            “How you gonna do…” Andreus trailed off, looking down Kyle’s sleeve. The Demon mark glowed in the shadow. “A Demon mage? You’re…you’re one of them?”
            Kyle pushed Andreus away. “Go home.”
            Coach blew his whistle a few more times as an assistant coach came between Kyle and Andreus, barking orders at them to stay separated. Kyle walked away from Andreus, who remained dazed. He stole a glance up at Mira, who was back on her feet, examining the wound in the table. Kyle shook his head, and heard a familiar laugh coming from the stands.
            Tania was watching. Of course.
            Kyle slammed his gym locker shut the next day, resting his head against it. It’d been a rough morning, with his muscles aching all over the place and getting an earful from one of the assistant coaches about almost fighting with his other captain. The coach didn’t get what was going on, so Kyle just put up an act of apology.
            Andreus shared the same gym class as Kyle, and glared over at Kyle with every chance he got. Kyle tried to avoid Andreus. He wondered if the guy was beyond the point of Tania’s brainwashing; if he could even be convinced that Tania was ruining his life.
            Kyle slid his backpack over his shoulder and was about to move when a muscular arm shot in front of him, blocking his path.
            “I can’t believe you’re a Demon mage,” he said, rather loudly. “One of them. Tania told me all about Demon mages. You were probably working with Alucard to blow up ACC or East City, weren’t you?”
            “You don’t know what you’re talking about, you idiot,” Kyle said. “I fought against Alucard. Tania’s lying to you, man, she’s been lying this entire time.”
            “No, she hasn’t lied to me about a single damn thing,” Andreus said. “You said you weren’t a mage, and you probably me wouldn’t have told me you’re a dark mage.”
            “I’m not a dark mage,” Kyle said. He realized they were making a scene. Some of the boys were moving over to intervene.
            Kyle swatted down Andreus’s arm with all of his power and walked out of the locker room. Andreus followed him, grabbed Kyle’s backpack. Kyle spun around, clenching a fist but keeping it at his side.
            “You’re not gonna walk away from me,” Andreus said. “Dark mage.”
            “Shut your damn mouth,” Kyle said. “You’re being brainwashed by Tania, you’re just saying the same stupid stuff she is. Open your eyes! Stop being so stupid, you’re a smart guy.”
            Andreus nodded and took a step toward Kyle. He saw the Power mage mark glowing on his arm. “You’re right. I am. So I’m gonna deal with this.”

            Before Kyle could move, Andreus blasted him back with a shove. Kyle plowed through the gym doors and crashed onto the basketball court, his head ringing. He stood up, dazed, and rolled away from Andreus’s next punch into the ground. 

Next time: Andreus's secret is out and there's no stopping him now! That is, unless Kyle were to reveal he's a Demon mage to the whole school. Maybe there's another mage who can stop Andreus...but will they be friendly? Find out in "Blue Nexus #57- Classroom Blitz"!

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