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A Rude Awakening

 
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:37 am    Post subject: A Rude Awakening Reply with quote

((this and some of the other posts to follow will give some background on the events leading up to Panther's reunion with S'jira as seen in The Return))


Cold.

His still half-unconscious mind registered the cold and instinctively a hand searches about in the darkness for the quilt he surely threw off himself while he slept.

Wet.

As his hand finds nothing, that's the next thing his mind registers. Cold and wet.

Ok, he's awake.

Eyes open, blinking in the darkness, but their feline nature quickly picking out the shapes of pine boughs almost directly overhead. So close they are, had he sat up in his confusion he would have been struck back down after hitting his head on them.

His eyes closed again as he let out a slow breath. Unfortunately, this was not the first time he woke like this. It wasn't often, but often enough. He had changed... something triggered him in to becoming fully feline. So he spent the night out in the woods, doing whatever a large feline would do when left to his own devices. At least he was in the woods, away from prying eyes... for when he awoke like this, it was usually in his human form. A form that offered no protection from the elements... or protection for his humility. Clothing did not survive the changes such as the one he went through.

He lay there for a few moments, letting himself fully awaken when it dawned on him. He was still cold. And wet. Nude or no... he was cold? It was mid-summer.. why... ? He open his eyes again, and there amongst the green of the evergreen boughs was the rather distinct white of... snow?!

This got him sitting up, at least propped up on elbows as he took a full look about him. There was a lot of white... he was in the recess under the boughs of a tree, with nearly two feet of snow surrounding it. More blinking was had. Despite what the cold and wet were telling him, his brain was not quite registering it. A deep shiver, brought on by both, is what brought him back to the here and now. A deep breath, eyes closed and he focused... willing his body to make the somewhat painful transformation from this ... rather exposed form to that of his were-form. One that at least offered up some protection from the cold in the form of a nice thick, covering of fur.

Scrambling out from under the tree, the snow crunched under his paws. this was not fresh snowfall, it was not powder, it was hard, and barely gave under his weight as he moved about trying to get his bearings. The sun was just starting to break the horizon, casting a dull glow through the lingering clouds. At least he knew what direction was what... but he had no idea where he was.

A hand reaches to his head, rubbing lightly at the temple as he strained to focus on the last thing he could remember.

S'jira's birthday... giving her Trygg.. the horse...  there were a few weeks after that. Glimpses of nights spent together. Him finally admitting his love for her. Her putting her own touches to the loft. "Arghhh!" It was nearly a snarl, the cry of frustration as he paced about near the tree he awoke under. All these things happened in mid-summer, and here it was now... dead of winter. Months... he had not had a lapse like this since... since Mika. Something similar happened after he had spent months searching for her. He found himself lost in his other form for a number of weeks before finding his way back to RhyDin once again.

Emotions were flooding him. Grief relived from that time in his past. Guilt, at how S'jira must be feeling the same after his being gone for nearly two seasons. Anger and frustration over this. Over not even knowing where he awoke from such a nightmare of his own making.

Stop it! He shouted inside his own head. Stop. Breath. Think.

Closing his eyes, he just breathed. Slowly, deeply inhaling. Slowly exhaling. It was minutes before his eyes opened again, the sun was nearly fully over the horizon. 

Ok, first things first. Figure out where I am, then I can get back to RhyDin. To 'jira. He slowly turned about, taking in the full panorama around him, the rising sun shedding enough light to finally start seeing things in the distant. Trees, lots of trees. 

His own tracks, well those of the cat, were just barely visible and the scent was fairly strong. He had come to this spot from the North. The wind was out of the west and carried only woodland scents, nothing more. Some more investigation of the area around where he slept showed no signs of a fresh meal. His stomach confirmed it had likely been nearly a day since he last ate. Of course that didn't tell him much about where he was, just that he was hungry. 

Ok, a choice had to be made.

He would follow his own tracks, back in the direction from which he came. Maybe he would get lucky and they would cross a road, at least that would narrow his choices down from any direction to just two, and at least he was traveling somewhat into the wind, that would be helpful as well.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 11:01 am    Post subject: So Close... Reply with quote

In all the tracking he had done over the years, of beast and of man, he could not recall ever doing as he was doing now... tracking himself. Or back-tracking rather.

It was nearly an hour past dawn, and slightly longer since he had awoken, naked, under the fir tree, with no memory of how he got there. Of course he knew, in vague generalities, how he got there. He had changed, his form became that of the cat. Fully, in both body and mind, as it sometimes did. And in that form he had no recollection of his true self, just as in this form he had no recollection of what happened while he was the cat.

It had stopped being a worry for him years ago, as it was something that rarely happened without his consent, and when it did it was never more than a few days before he was back to his old self, and back to her. To S'jira. But something was different this time. His last memories were of summer, of sharing his bed with her on night too warm for any sort of covering over them. But this morning he awoke surrounded by snow.

So here he was, trying to figure out where he had been the evening before... hoping to figure out just where he was in relation to his home in RhyDin... to her.

It was a wandering and meandering path, one of an animal with no real destination in mind. The snow underfoot was mostly hard, not from any recent snowfall. Even though there were drifts of up to two or three feet, they easily held his weight while on two feet. Traveling on four across this would have been very easy, and it left little of anything to follow. And the cool winds were quickly removing any trace of a scent, so it was slow going, often requiring him to double back a bit to find where a turn in his path had occurred.

The trees here were still too tall and thick to offer any real glimpse as to the depth of the woods he was in, nor were there any unique birds or other animal sounds to provide any clues. The terrain was slightly rolling, like most of what he's travelled... both in RhyDin and well beyond.

He had come to another spot where the tracks seemed to just stop. He knew it not to be the case, it just meant there had been some abrupt turn. He crouched, fingers lightly moving across the snow as he drew in a deep breath and eyes strained... all three senses searching for anything to tell him the the next... or rather previous in case... step had come from.

A twitch of whiskers was the first indication of something found.

Smoke. The smell of a wood burning fire. The winds were coming from the north and west. He drew in a deep breath through his nose, lips slightly parted, as he stood to full height. Yes, faint... but distinct. It was not just a wood fire, but coal. Coal, and iron. 

A forge.

A forge meant people. A town. 

Tracking a scent meant he could move quickly, and that he did. Keeping his nose to the wind he covered nearly as much ground in the next quarter hour as he had the previous full one. More and more scents were also reaching him... as soon, sounds as well. 

So focused he was upon the smells and sounds he nearly passed it without notice. A road, one fairly well travelled as it was nearly clear of snow, instead consisting of packed and frozen earth.

He paused for a moment, there on the side of that road. His gaze darting about for anyone that might be traveling it. Modesty aside, while there was a sense of the familiar about him, he still had no idea where he was. And there were many lands about where this form would be welcome, except maybe on the end of a sword or pitchfork.

He was close, within another quarter-hour of walking. But he couldn't just appear like this. Moving in to the cover of the brush, but keeping the road in sight on his left he followed it. Keeping a wary eye and ear open for other travelers. Until he knew just where he was, caution would be needed.
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Tales of the Cat
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2013 11:02 am    Post subject: ...and Yet So Far. Reply with quote

He rounded a bend in the road, and while it was still somewhat obscured by the trees, he was both relieved and perplexed by what he saw.

It was RhyDin. He wasn't far from home at all. He could even make out the top of the clock tower, but .. it was further away than it ... should have been.

Further away is not entirely correct. There were more buildings between him and the tower than... before. And not just one or two, there were a number of new buildings along the edge of town, and a number of rooftops that suggested new buildings in other parts of town.

His mind wrestled with this for minutes. Buildings such as these do not go up in a matter of months, unless they've all been done through some sort of magics... or... the other possibility couldn't be. Could it?

The last he remembered it was summer. Now it was winter. He assumed it was just one autumn that he had missed. Could it have been more? The mere possibility was a blow to him like a strike to the gut. He physically needed to lean against a nearby tree as the thought came to him. How could that be? How could he have remained changed for so long?

What else besides a few new buildings had changed in that time? 

S'jira? 

He slipped to the ground. His mind trying to deal with this. Emotions ones again threatened to flood him. He knew what it had been like to lose Mika without warning, without word. What mush 'jira have thought? Had she done the unthinkable and gone looking for him as he once did for Mika?

A few months is one thing, while he had left RhyDin on purpose for such periods before. A year was another thing.. a year and a half. He couldn't just go waltzing back in to the Dragon like nothing had occurred, could he? There was a time where maybe he could have. But... if she was there... or if she was not. He wasn't sure which would be worse.

Now, he needed to know more. He needed to know about what else has changed in his absence. He couldn't do so like this though. Even after a year, he would be surly be recognized. And maybe deep down it was for selfish reasons, he couldn't risk word reaching S'jira before he had seen more. He allowed himself a small chuckle. The problem was, he couldn't be seen like this, nor could he be seen without the fur, because there was way too much of him to be seen at the moment. 

Ok, first order of business. Finding some clothes. 

He supposed the passing of more seasons, along with the initial shock of the situation explained his disorientation. But now, he knew where he was, and more importantly he knew there were a number of small farms and cottages just to the north, or at least there had been. He was sure he would find something to pass for clothing, at least enough to get him inside the city limits. 
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Tales of the Cat
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2013 8:11 pm    Post subject: Highs and Lows Reply with quote

As luck would have it, he was not far from a couple of cottages. At the first people were milling about so he avoided that one. The next was empty of occupants and he was able to find a pair of leggings and a shirt that fit. A worn woolen blanket was found in a corner, and after a couple of well-placed rips were made in the center he pulled that over his head as a sort of makeshift cloak. It would at least keep him warm enough until he could find something else.

There were no shoes or boots large enough to fit him to be found... but he did find a pair of woolen socks that would keep his feet a bit warmer. Realizing he had not eaten yet that day, he filched some bread and cheese he found on his way out the door. He did not take much, just enough to settle the subtle rumble in his stomach. He would have to find a way to get some coin to the folks who owned this cabin at some point.

The winter sun was high as he finally made it in to the city proper. There were nearly as many new sights to be had as there were familiar ones. He forced himself to move slower than he wished, trying not to draw any undue attention. His rather wild and dis-shelved look did draw a few looks here and there, but only the type that most would offer any of the local beggars, the kind that meant he was seen only as something to be avoided if it came too close.

Behind one of the cobblers he found a mismatched pair of leather boots. The hard soles were gone on both, and on one.. the inner sole was hanging half loose at the toes. It made a soft slapping noise on the cobblestones as he walked, but they were good enough for his immediate needs.

He made his way for the Dragon next, but not the front porch. Instead he approached from the rear, near the stable. He paused in the year yard, looking over those stables to the loft above. The one he had spent so much time working on to turn it to a living quarters for himself and S'jira. Something that would offer them more space and privacy than the rooms in the Inn itself would, but allow him to be close at hand.

No smoke rose from the chimney. The shutters on the large window he had installed were closed, even against the warmth of the mid-day sun. An emptiness was felt in the pit of his stomach, one that no bread or cheese would take the edge from.

There was only one hand working about the stalls at the moment, and when he went to the far end of the stables to fetch this or that he was able to slip inside, to the stairs that led up to the loft. He did not need his feline senses to tell him that S'jira had not been there in many, many months. The layer of dust over everything made it clear.

He couldn't bring himself to even enter. He quietly closed the door and stood there for a moment.

She was not here.

But what did that mean? Has she left the Inn entirely? Has she left RhyDin? Was she... was she with another? He found himself pacing the open area of the loft, the portion not used for his living space, but rather storage of various things from Inn and stable.

He needed to know more before deciding what to do. He passed a few open crates in his pacing, items from the Inn, including one of things left unclaimed by patrons over the years. Things of little value really, but for some reason kept in case an errant owner should return. Atop this one though was something he could make use of for now. A cloak, not in great shape, but warmer than the blanket he currently wore, and with a large hood.

Not that he was overly concerned with being recognized, not with over three years growth of hair and beard making a tangled mess of his features, but again... stepping in to the Inn wearing a cloak would get less attention than wearing a blanket for a covering.

He was able to slip from the loft unseen, then worked his way back around to the front of the Inn. It was oddly comforting to be moving up the front steps and across the porch, and as he lifted a hand to push open the front door he paused... fingertips resting against the wooden slab. There was nothing.

It wasn't terribly unusual, he tried to reassure himself as he opened the door and moved slowly inside. It was not as if the Inn would constantly feed him impressions. And did he really expect the Inn would instantly realize it was him? Did it know he had been gone? He couldn't imagine that time passed the same from the perspective of the Inn as it did for others. Maybe just as for him it seemed as if he had never been gone, so too did it seem so to the Inn.

He moved more or less towards the bar as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of being inside. Instinctively his gaze was towards the hearth, where she spent so much of her time while here. There was a figure on the couch, under a blanket... smallish, and there was black hair splayed against one of the cushions. Could it..?

No. As the figure shifted a bit, he knew it was simply his own hopes. It was not her.

There were a couple of people at the bar, one behind it as he sat upon one of the vacant stools. Arms rested on the bar top, the hood of the cloak was kept pulled up, shadowing his face as he turned just enough to take a look towards the others.

And then it happened. She appeared at the stairs leading down from the upper level. Bare of foot, dress of muted browns, looking just as ... well.. as he remembered. Reflexively he drew in a sharp breath. Maybe the loft was just too.. big? for just her and she took to his room in the Inn? Or maybe her old room, the one he had first set her up in those years ago.

He forced himself to breath again, and even though the thought he had prepared himself for this moment he found his hands were tightly gripping the bar to keep himself from leaping up and rushing to her then and there. He had no idea how she would react. He had no clue ... well, if he was going to be honest with himself, if she would even want to see him. After having been deserted by him in such a way, she could very well be happy in the arms of another. And while such a thought both angered and pained him all at once, the thought of causing her pain by just ... appearing... was not something he wanted to do either.

He tried hard not to stare at her as she moved behind the bar to wash and refill her mug. Instead he turned his attention on the other one there, speaking to ask if she was a server. As soon as he tried to speak, his voice cracked noticeably, causing him to cough and hack a bit.

He cleared his throat, and the words that followed were soft and raspy. He had not used his voice in... well, awhile. It was complaining like the hinge on the root-cellar door that had sat idle, exposed to the elements, un-oiled and now screeching under the strain.

The one behind the bar asked if he he would like. As he started to respond he reached for a coin pouch he immediately realized was not there. He had not even thought to search the loft for some money. His frets and worries were clouding his judgement. He had to stop that. He asked for water.

The women helping him mistook the cough as a sign of illness and offered him tea, he declined, but took a mug of the warmed water she poured for him, even as he tried not to open follow S'jira with his gaze when she moved from behind the bar and to the hearth.

He drew the mug of hot water close, drawing in a deep breath as if to inhale the steam from it... in reality he was searching her out, her scent.

It was an odd feeling. In his own mind, he felt as if he had not been gone. It was struggling against his other senses and the things it told him of the time that had passed. He had no reason to miss her, yet his heart ached in a way that would only be explained by such an extended absence.

"Honey will help with the cough."

Words were spoken by the woman behind the bar.. his attention shifted to her with a nod, and before he could help himself the gaze slid to the hearth. He turned his gaze back to his mug, making use of the offered honey. His gaze remained on the mug between the occasional sip, but his ears strained to hear past the conversations next to him to hear what he could of the one taking place near the hearth, one between S'jira and the one he had heard introduce herself as 'Tink' a few moments ago.

While his hearing was sharp, in this form it was not as sharp as he was used to, making out the full conversation over the rest of the noise about him was tough, and her voice was soft.

".. too long or the hour is late, ... travel so far to a small home had. ... the north.."

A home? She had a home ... elsewhere.

That feeling returned to the pit of his stomach.

It was difficult to keep his focus after that, though he tried. The two spoke of farming and other things. The woman behind the bar asked if he needed anything, he politely declined. The minutes ticked by slowly as his mind played over things known and unknown.

She had a home, away from the Inn. Was it with another? She mentioned a gift of a horse, did she still have Trygg? Probably the last thing he gave her, a birthday gift given shortly before his disappearance. She was still sewing for others, she offered to help this Tink on her farm, she was still as caring of others as ever.

She seemed... happy.

He raised the mug for a drink only to find it empty. As he placed it back on the bar he suddenly found a need for air. Fresh air.

Rising from the stool he made for the front door. A tug to open the door, another to pull it closed behind him. He paused there on the landing, pulling the cloak a bit tighter about his shoulders before turning to the left. As he walked along the length of the porch he reached out with one hand, letting his fingers trace a line along the front of the Inn as he walked.

He was searching for something. He had started to notice it while at the bar, but now he knew it was there. The Inn reached out and set him awash in sensations. Familiar sensations that gave him a reason to almost smile. The pain of the unknown was still there, but it was lightened somewhat. Both in knowing that the long familiar connection was still there and in the message it brought with it.

Whispered words were soon lost in the chill wind, "You have looked after her... thank you..."

And with that, he ducked under the railing at the end of the porch, turning down between buildings. He needed to find out more. But he also couldn't bear to be so close to her right now. He would be back, maybe find another familiar face that may be able to shed further light.
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Panther - Overseer of the madhouse that is the Red Dragon Inn.
Tales of the Cat
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2013 2:09 am    Post subject: And Finally... Reply with quote

He made his way back in to the loft. It was an odd feeling. All of his things where there, nicely tucked away. Just covered in that layer of dust. There was nothing of hers.

In the chest on the side of the sleeping area he found a coin pouch, the coin still in it. That was all he took for the moment. Making his way back out of the loft he headed towards the Market, a meal was needed. In one of the smaller pubs he settled at a table with a bowl of whatever soup they had that day.

The tangle of hair and beard seemed determined to keep from such a task, as with every spoonful as much of the soup seemed to send up there as in his mouth. A fair amount of time was spent attempting to wash up after that. After a bit of walking around, letting the chill air clear his mind a bit, he returned to the Dragon.

As he moved inside, he looked to the area near the hearth but she was no longer there. He wasn't sure if that should make his sad, or relieved.

There was nobody tending to the bar so he made his way behind it to fetch himself a mug of water. It felt odd, but comforting to be moving about behind the large wooden bar. So many of the things he was feeling today made little sense to him. Despite what the calendar would say, by his own memories it was as if he had never left. How could things be missed as much as they seem to be?

It was something to be puzzled on later as he spotted the woman who had served him earlier move to join him behind the bar.

"Evening... Anya was it?"

His voice still rough, though not quite as raspy as it had been earlier.

"Yes, Anya.. but I did not hear your name sir. Did you give it earlier? If you did, I missed it." she replied as he moved to the other side of the bar, mug of water in hand, taking a seat there.

"I have been called many things, though none for quite some time. I suppose..." He gave this a quick thought, while this form was as much a stranger about here now as he was, he was not quite ready to give his full name up so freely. "'dar. 'dar will work for now."

She inquired if he was feeling better, he assured her he was, though he was not ill.

"No.. I'm fit and fine. My voice was just... well, anything that goes unused for too long will suffer a bit, no? I am sure the honey helped."

She proceeded to mix up another warmed drink telling him it would further soothe his throat. He took the opportunity to make ask a question of her.

"I.." He paused, not really sure how to proceed, ""There was a women here earlier. She seemed... familiar. Maybe you know her? She was sitting at the hearth doing some sewing."

"I do not know her by name, but I have seen her face several times." She pointed to the dark haired woman he had seen sleeping on the couch earlier. "She was talking to her, she may be able to tell you her name."

He glanced in the direction indicated and then back again.

"I can ask though next time I see her or you should introduce yourself." Anya continued.

"I may do so. It is not of any urgency." He lowered the mug as he spoke. "Just a ... familiarity."

"You are without your memory?" She asked.

"After a fashion." And noting her confused look he continue... "Let me put it this way, the last thing I remember before waking this morning occurred four summers ago."

They both noted the entrance of the dwarven woman, Amber, moving behind the bar to start serving the patrons before she spoke to him again.

"Well, this is not very good. Have you found a room to stay in? You shouldn't be wandering around in the night, it's cold outside."

After that she offered him the key to a vacant room upstairs, the name of a cobbler who would fix his boot as a favor owed to her, and even aid in finding a job should it be needed. All this done in the few moments it took her to take her drink across the room and settle in to a chair.

He watched her for a moment and simply said...

"Thank you. I have done nothing to warrant such aid, and it is appreciated. Your kindness will be repaid."

While he truely had no need for any of the things offered, the offer itself had been genuine and he would see to it such kindness was repaid.

After a moment or two of watching the dwarven woman tend to patrons, he posed a similar question to her. Her answer was another one of non-recognition, but he felt the presence of another, one looking to him.

Chryrie, he knew her, knew of her talents, but there was something different about her as she stared intently at him. And then she spoke, softly, gently. "Was she drinking cider and not saying much to anyone?"

And hearing that, Amber spoke again.

"Perhaps you mean Sjira? She sits at the hearth many times and I have seen her sewing at times. I usually get her hot cider in cold weather, with spices in it."

Ah... progress, finally.

"I believe she was drinking cider, but was talking with a local farmer about a cloak."

"Amber is correct. It's likely S'jira." Chryrie paused, shifted her weight on the stoop and then pointed to him with a finger, "Be careful with that one. She's protected by many. Would hate to see a nice boy get mob-maimed for a misunderstanding."

A moment of thought was given before speaking.

"I wish her no harm. As I was telling the server," he motions towards Amber, "there is something... familiar... there." He shifted his attention back to the mug before him, his voice trailing off slightly. "As if from another life. It is good to hear she has ... friends."

And it was, good to hear. But an unspoken meaning to those words nagged at him as well. Protected by many, but maybe by one in particular? To think she would not be after so long...

He pushed the still half-full mug across the bar and started to move towards the front door. He was part-way across the room when Chryrie spoke again.

"Oh, before you go. She wears two pendants. Perhaps one of them will jingle something loose in your head?"

That gave him pause, an odd thing to mention it was, but it set his mind to thinking. Pendant... no... pendants. Wait!?

Looking back to the woman he asked "Two...? One a star, the other of green stone perhaps?"

There were no more words, the woman merely tapped her nose, pointed to him and winked before her attention was elsewhere.

Two pendants, a star, the gift from Eless and the green stone, given to her as a sign, well, of her freedom but also a symbol of her being his. Not as something to be owned, but as a symbol of love.

If she still wore that? Could it be? It had to be.

He moved out the front door, only to wend his way around the back of the building, working his way to the upper floors and to the room he had kept there for longer than he cared to think about at the moment.

He would return. Fully. Go to her, and. And. Well, the and part he was unsure of, but there was enough to tell him she likely would not just turn him away. But he couldn't do so looking like this. The bath in his room would be most welcome.

As he entered the room he was greeted with with something surprising. Her scent. It smelled of many of the same oils he had smelled when she seen earlier. She has been in here. He looked about and realized the room had been well kept. This only served to solidify his resolve, and the borrowed clothing he'd been wearing all day were soon on the floor in a pile as he moved to the tub in the adjoining room.

As he was soaking in the warm water, a knife and razor were used to rid him of the beard. He was starting on the hair when he felt it, the Inn was letting him know. She was here, well in the Inn. Down in the common room likely. He quickly rose from the tub, the knife was set aside before he towelled off, and by the time he was in the other room the familiar form of the two-legged feline was present again. A few moments of deep breathing were needed to rid him of the pain such an abrupt change brought with it, then a clean pair of leggings and shirt were pulled from the dresser along the wall.

He was actually feeling, nervous. He was assuming much in this, based on very little really. But damned if he was going to wait any longer. He exited his room and moved down the hall, pausing at the upper landing, looking about for her and spotting her there... near the end of the bar.

((for the rest... see The Return
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"Even the maggot can serve a purpose in the right circumstance... "
Panther - Overseer of the madhouse that is the Red Dragon Inn.
Tales of the Cat
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