The Sword of Paracelsus: Breakthrough, Part 2

Dungeon 001

Reaching for the handle and drawing the violin case to herself, Eny flipped up the brass clasps. Gently she raised the beloved instrument from its red velvet nest. Cradling it in the crook of her left arm, she held its sleek, polished body to her cheek. She closed her eyes and savored the fragrance of wood and glue emanating from the f-holes.

Who needs an invisibility cloak when you’ve got music? she thought with a smile. Music is the only real magic in the world after all!

Then again, maybe that wasn’t strictly true. There was, after all, the magic of the miraculous bolg. And what incredible magic it was! Without the bolg she wouldn’t have the fiddle! How had the Bag People ever managed to contrive such a marvel? A small leather pouch capable of containing the whole world!

Inner space has no boundaries! she mused, recalling a line from one of Rev. Alcuin’s sermons. That’s the real miracle. The true marvel is that this bag is just like me—like a person’s soul! Lumpy, dumpy, and squashed on the outside. Unlimited on the inside! Who would have thought that somebody could put so much stuff in one little bag? Who can understand what it means to have a kingdom inside of you? Not the Morrigu!

As these ideas ricocheted from one side of her brain to the other, Eny felt her heart begin to stir. Within a few moments it was leaping and soaring. She picked up her bow, tightened the horsehair, and applied the rosin.

She put me in this hole. She thought she could lock me away from the beauty of the world. But she doesn’t know that the world is inside me—even here, in this dank pit where the sun never shines! And she can’t do anything to change it!

With that, she touched the bow to the strings.

What was that?

Letting the bow fall to her side, she cocked her head to listen.

Tap, tap, tap.  

A sound! A sound was coming from the other side of the wall!

(To be continued …)


The Sword of Paracelsus: Breakthrough, Part 1

Sword & Stone 2 001

Eny opened her eyes and peered into the murk. So foggy and muddled was her brain that she no longer had any clear idea of what she’d been expecting her prison to be like. She only knew that what she saw before her now was far worse than anything she could have imagined.

Everything was dark and dismal. There was no window in the cell. The only light—a sickly, meager gray trickle—came from a small air hole high in the wall at the other end of the chamber. The air was dank and fetid, the floor wet and slimy. Every so often she heard tiny feet scrabbling over the stones. From somewhere in the corner came the sound of a slow drip, drip, drip.

Raising herself on one elbow, she sat up and leaned back against the wall. The dress! she thought, staring down into her own lap with a vague sense of repulsion and disgust. They didn’t even bother to take off the stupid dress!

Struggling to her feet, she slipped the linen gown off over her head. Immediately the cell began to spin. She had a dim memory of having been beaten. Perhaps that was why her brain was reeling. Slumping back into a sitting position, she leaned forward, closed her eyes, opened them again, and squealed with delight.

Her bolg was still attached to her belt!

The fools! she said to herself. The dear, sweet, wonderful idiots! Simon and Eochy were right! Fomorians are ‘none too smart!’  

A wild hope bounding within her, she opened the bag and rummaged around inside. No luck—the Feth Fiada was gone.

Then she remembered. The Morrigu has it. She took it on the isle of Ara. And I could have used that cloak to sneak out of here!

Fortunately—and this was no small consolation—the rest of her gear was still present and accounted for. The sling and the pouch of stones. The candles, the tinderbox, and the rope. The last of the oatcakes and raisins. Some spare clothing. Even the knife. Best of all, her fiddle remained safe and intact.

One by one Eny removed each of these items from the bag and spread them out on the floor in front of her. One by one she studied them, wondering if any of them might be used to engineer an escape.

The rope wasn’t likely to be of much help, she thought. Not without a window. If the door had a handle, she might have tried to force it open with some sort of a make-shift pulley or winch. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

She looked at the candles and the tinderbox. Well, at least she’d have light for a while. Until the candles burned out. Fire might be useful, too. If there were any fuel. Then again, fire could be dangerous.

Clothes. Eny shook her head. Good for keeping warm in a cold, damp place. Not much good for getting out.

The knife. Yes. Definitely. She remembered what Simon Brach had told them about his acquaintance with John Dee. She recalled how the two of them had tried to dig their way out of this very same dungeon with a couple of improvised chisels. It would take time, of course. Lots of time. Years, probably. She put the knife aside, resolved to revisit the idea.

Next she picked up the sling. Taking a smooth, round stone from the sack, she hefted it in the palm of her hand. Not much chance of knocking down walls with sling-stones. But suppose a guard were to come in? Hadn’t Simon escaped by overcoming his guard? Setting the stone firmly in the cradle-pouch, she got up on her knees, whirled the sling three times over her head, and let go. Whack! The stone struck the opposite wall and rebounded with a clatter.

Eny sighed. Weak, tired, sore, and sad, she fell back against the cold, stone wall. She reached into her bolg and ate a handful of raisins. Maybe the guard won’t come anyway. Maybe I’ll never get out of this place. Better stretch my food as far as I can.

That’s when her eye fell on the fiddle.

(To be continued …)



The Sword of Paracelsus: Thirteenth Journal Entry

Dungeon 001

Day 394


I must be brief.

A bright shadow of hope hangs over our dungeon.

We dare to believe that release may be at hand.     

As I write, barely a moment has passed since the last block of stone broke free beneath the stroke of my chisel. I was tapping away at Dee’s side when the brick suddenly shifted, slipped, and grated in the slot. Clumps of mortar crumbled and fell. A tiny hole opened. A breath of cold air reached us from the other side of the wall. And then—most wonderful of all—we heard music!

“The angels!” cried Dee, falling to his knees and pressing his ear to the opening. I saw his face wet with tears. I saw his crinkly old eyes wide with child-like wonder. “The blessed angels have come back to speak with me again! Who else could raise such a glorious strain?”           

I dropped my tool. I rushed to record his words. I have committed them to paper. But I dare not linger here while the job at the wall remains unfinished.

Even as I write, my companion calls …


* * * * *

The Hidden One

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… So God became man.  He took on the weakness and ordinariness of man, and He hid Himself, becoming an anonymous and unimportant man in a very unimportant place.  And he refused at any time to Lord it over men, or to be a King, or to be a Leader, or to be a Reformer, or to be in any way Superior to His own creatures.  He would be nothing else but their brother, and their counsellor, and their servant, and their friend.  He was in no accepted human sense an important person, though since that time we have made Him The Most Important Person.  That is another matter:  for though it is quite true that he is the King and Lord of all, the conqueror of death, the judge of the living and of the dead, the Pantokrator, yet He is also still the Son of Man, the hidden one, unknown, unremarkable, vulnerable.  He can be killed.  And when the Son of Man was put to death, He rose again from the dead, and was again with us, for he said:  “Kill me, it does not matter.”

                                                — Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation    

The Sword of Paracelsus: Tory Island, Part Three

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“Your dad’s in there?” said Baxter, pointing up at the tower.  His pudgy face was still pale and twitching from the encounter with the snake.

Morgan nodded.  “It’s bigger than I thought.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure!  I told you not to come, didn’t I?”

“You wouldn’t have made it without me.”

Morgan didn’t respond.  For once Baxter was right.

“So how do you expect to get inside?”

“I’m working on it,” said Morgan.  “Maybe I’ll just knock on the door.  The only way to find out is to get up and start walking.”

“Right now?”  Baxter gulped.  “I’m thirsty.”

A gurgling sound led them to a small spring at the base of a heap of flinty rock.  They knelt and drank sparingly, the water being brackish and bitter.  Then they buckled on their gear and set off for the tower.

It was a longer and more strenuous climb than Morgan had been anticipating.  Tur Morraigu was by no means so near to the shore as it appeared from the beach or the sea.  It only looked close because it was so lofty and imposing.  The hill upon which it was built, itself a veritable spike of black rock, rose hundreds of feet above the bay.  Nothing grew there, nor were there any trails or marked pathways winding up its steep sides.  Much of the time Morgan and Baxter found themselves climbing hand over hand up precipitous bluffs and sheer cliffs of crumbling gravel and dirt.

Sometime after noon they reached a flat place where they could stop and rest.  From this spot only the topmost tip of the spire was visible.  In front of them a graded plateau rose gently towards a notched ridge that stood out sharply against the sky.  Morgan sighed and dropped his backpack.

“We’re getting close,” he said as Baxter flopped down and lay panting in the cool autumn sunlight.  “I think we should wait here awhile.  Maybe until it starts getting dark.  We don’t want them to see us coming.”

Them?” asked Baxter, rolling onto his side.

“Yeah.  The Morrigu.  And whoever works for her.”

“She has employees?”

“Giants.  Only they’re not always giants.  They’re called Fomorians, and they can change their shape.  Like Falor son of Balor.”

Baxter scrunched up his nose.  “Any food left?”

Morgan shook his head.

“I was afraid of that.”  Baxter lay on his back.  “Wake me when it’s over.”

“Not out in the open!” said Morgan, yanking Baxter to his feet.

Shouldering his backpack, he led the way a little further up the plateau.  About a hundred feet from the ridge were a couple of tall boulders leaning against one another and forming a small triangular nook.  Slipping into the narrow space between them, Morgan slumped heavily against the lichen-cool stone and blew a sweaty strand of hair out of his eyes.  Baxter, meanwhile, stretched himself on the ground and began to snore.

Morgan glanced at his companion.  He knew exactly how Baxter felt.  His stomach, too, was pinched and growling.  He was beginning to wonder where he would find the strength to do what needed to be done once he reached the top of the hill.  Guess I’ll find out when I get there, he thought as he lay down to rest his weary limbs.


He awoke in the twilight to see Baxter sitting on his haunches and peering out between the two big rocks.

“Who are they?” said Baxter.  “Enemies?”

Morgan poked his head out of the opening and looked.  Several dark figures, mere silhouettes against the sky, were making their way through the gap at the summit of the ridge.  He tried to count them—one, two … three, four, five.  The fifth—the one in the lead—was very tall.

“Hard to tell,” he said, ducking back under cover.  “We should probably figure that everything on this island is an enemy.  Like I said, Fomorians can change shape at will.”

“What should we do?”

“Let’s follow—at a distance.  Better to keep them in sight.  Maybe they’ll even show us the way.  Come on.”

As he said this, Morgan stepped into the open and drew the blade Fragarach from his bolg.  It flickered with a pale light as he held it up into the dusky air, turning the hilt this way and that.  Baxter looked on and said nothing; but it seemed to Morgan that his gray eyes glittered as he clambered out from between the boulders with his own Danaan sword in hand.

Swiftly and silently they climbed the ridge.  At the top, Morgan stopped and caught his breath.  Before them, soaring up into the melting heavens like a burnished spear-point, rose the spire of Tur Morraigu.  So high did it stand, so glossy and mirror-like were the sleek black stones of which it was made, that they could see the first glimmering star of evening reflected in its jet-like surface.  On every side it was surrounded by a high wall and a steaming ditch.  Its single gate was heavily fortified with tall guard towers.

“We’re going in there?” breathed Baxter.

Morgan didn’t answer.  For even as he stood gazing at the tower’s formidable outworks, the five shapes they had seen a few minutes earlier suddenly slipped out from behind a shoulder of the hill and darted across his line of vision.  The sun had gone, but a small orange cloud still glowed above the western horizon.  In its unearthly light Morgan could see them clearly.  More than that, he thought he recognized them.

Apparently Baxter did too.

“The janitor!” he shouted.  “And those munchkins!”

“Sssh!” hissed Morgan, clapping a hand over his companion’s mouth.  He could see that Baxter was right.  The five figures who were at that very moment stealthily making their way towards the gate of Tur Morraigu were familiar to him.  The tall one was Simon Brach.  The four smaller ones were his Fir Bolg companions:  Eochy, Slanga, Sengann, and Crimthann.

“What are you doing, Izaak?” spluttered Baxter.  “They’re our friends, aren’t they?”

“You don’t understand,” Morgan whispered.  “I don’t want Simon to catch me here!  That’ll spell the end of my plans!  Get down and keep quiet!”

“I won’t!” said Baxter.  “That’s crazy!  We need their help!”  Then, pulling away violently, he began waving his sword in the air.  “Hey!  Over here!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.  “It’s us!”

“Shut up!” yelled Morgan, grabbing Baxter by the shoulders and knocking him off balance.

Together they fell.  Together they rolled down the slope like an avalanche, grappling one another, pounding one another, tearing at each other’s hair.  And then—wham!—they slammed up against something massive and solid, something like a tree-trunk wrapped in a tough leathery hide.

For a moment Morgan just lay there moaning, a barrage of painful fireworks exploding inside his skull.  At last he opened his eyes.

To his surprise, his right cheek was jammed up against a sharp iron stud.  The stud was projecting from the toe of a heavy hob-nailed boot.

“On your feet, spies!” bellowed a harsh voice.

Morgan turned his head and glanced up.


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The Sword of Paracelsus: Tory Island, Part Two

Sword of Paracelsus 001

“What was that?” yelled Morgan, driving his oar into the water and fighting to keep the boat’s nose off the foaming reef.

“The current!” Baxter shouted back, digging in deeply on his side.  “A strong one, too.  We could end up a long way from where you want to go if we don’t do something!”

“But how?”

“The wind,” answered Baxter, wetting a finger and sticking it up into the breeze.  “It’s not exactly blowing our way, but it’s a stiff breeze and we can tack against it and the current.  Belay these sheets and hold the luff while I get this canvas up!”

“How do you know all this stuff?” cried Morgan.

Baxter laughed.  To Morgan he seemed more like his old arrogant, over-confident self than at any other time during their sojourn in the Sidhe.

“My dad owns a forty-foot yacht!” he said with a proud smirk.  “He used to make me go sailing with him almost every Sunday.  I hated it!  ‘Ready about—hard alee!’  Ha ha!  I hear him say that in my sleep sometimes!”

Under Baxter’s guidance, the two boys soon got the boat under sail.  With the help of the wind, they turned the prow and reset their course for Tur Morraigu.  A spark of reddish light had now appeared in one of the tower’s loftiest windows, and by keeping this glittering beacon in view they managed to zig-zag their way across the channel until the black shoulder of the island stood over them, high above the water and close at hand.

It was late by the time they dragged their boat up out of the surf and onto the gravelly beach.  The crescent moon had not yet risen, and the stars, though thick as a swarm of bees, gave little light.  Morgan felt grateful that they could come ashore under cover of such heavy darkness.

Now can we stop for the night?” moaned Baxter as they shoved the boat behind an outcropping of rock.  “I’ve never been so tired in my whole life!”

“Me too,” Morgan agreed.

After a brief search, they found a dry space beneath a low overhanging bluff, where a small hollow was hidden behind a screen of prickly thorn.

“This okay?” asked Morgan.

“Any port in a storm,” answered Baxter.  “At least that’s what my dad used to say.”  Unbuckling his belt, he tossed his sword aside and threw himself down on the hard ground.  He was dead to the world within two minutes.

There’s more to Baxter than I thought, smiled Morgan as he too unslung his backpack, tucked his bolg beneath his head, and lay down to sleep.


He was awakened by Baxter’s screams.

“What is it?  What is it?  Get it away from me!”

Morgan sat up and rubbed his eyes.  It was gray daylight, and there was a thick fog clinging to the rocks and dripping from the branches of the thorn.  Baxter was standing with his back against the wall of the cliff.  Not three feet from his face flickered the long forked tongue of a huge black snake.

Without thinking, Morgan leaped to his feet.  Out came the sword.  Back and forth flashed the snickering blue blade.  There was a pop! and a kind of explosion in the air, and when the brightness had faded the serpent’s head was lying on the sand in a pool of sizzling black blood.  Morgan wiped the blade with a clump of beach grass and thrust it back into his bag.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said.  “This is an evil place.”

Together they climbed the bluff at the top of the beach until they came to a level spot above the mist.   Here, amidst nettles, furze, and tall dead grasses, they sat down to share the last of Morgan’s chocolate chip cookies.  Below them the fog stretched in a blanket across the channel and over to the mainland where, far to the west, a sliver of moon was setting behind a range of distant white hills.  Away on the other side of the island the blood-red sun was scattering sparks through the teeth of a serrated ridge.  Above their heads, jutting three hundred feet into the pale morning sky, loomed the terrible object of their quest:  the tower of Tur Morraigu, a sleek obelisk of polished stone, black as ebony in the growing light.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Tory Island, Part One

Sidhe Map 001

At the bottom of the stairway Morgan and Baxter followed the rocky ravine until it led them down into a meadow of purple asters nestled in a vale at the base of the mountains.  Here two round-topped hills of faded green sloped gently upward on either hand framing a hazy view of the long lake and grassy plain beyond.  By now it was well past mid-day, and Baxter, who was tired and hungry, pleaded with Morgan to stop for the night.  But Morgan would not delay the journey any longer than absolutely necessary.  So after a quick meal of chocolate chip cookies and tangerines, they set out across the grassland just as the sun began sliding westward.

“Do you have any idea where you’re going?” said Baxter.

“Tory Island,” answered Morgan.  “To the Morrigu’s tower.  I told you before.  She’s a wicked enchantress.  Do you remember Madame Medea’s?”

“Madame who?”

“Madame Medea’s.  It was a shop in that row of stores your father used to own down on Front Street.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Well, I’m not surprised.  One day it wasn’t there, and the next day it was.  Eny and I went inside a couple of times.  She’s the one who took my dad.  She’s got him locked up in her tower, and I’m going to get him out.”

“How can you possibly know that?”

“If you don’t believe me, you don’t have to come.”

Baxter looked sheepish and said nothing.

They pushed on, heading straight north and keeping the lake on their right hand.  After a while a dark line of shimmering blue rose up before them on the horizon; and during the next half-hour this line expanded and broadened until they could see clearly that it was another body of water.

“Look!” cried Morgan.  “That inlet leads straight out into the ocean towards Tory Island.  Come on!”  And he started to run.

“But we don’t have a boat!” Baxter shouted after him.

But when they crossed the last grassy ridge and came charging down the sandy slope to the water’s edge, what should they see lying before them but an old gray dinghy, complete with a mast, a triangular sail, and a pair of oars.

“What were you saying about a boat?” Morgan grinned triumphantly.  “I think we were meant to find this!  Help me get it into the water!”

“How about we wait until morning?”  Baxter glanced at the reddening sky.

Morgan glared at him and shoved the boat into the shallows.  “Get in!” he commanded.

Taking their places side by side on the bench, they began to row up the inlet with their backs towards the open sea and the glare of the setting sun in their eyes.  Up over the ridges of the choppy waves and down through the dividing troughs they labored while thin mists gathered in swirling eddies on the surface of the water.

Far away to his right, rising above the plain like a hog’s back, Morgan could just make out the bristling canopy of the Hill Forest.  He did not know that it was the Hill Forest, of course.  It would have taken his breath away to be told that Eny had camped there only the night before.  He knew nothing about the geography of the Sidhe or Eny’s current location.  But he was earnestly hoping to find her on Tory Island.  Never once had he doubted that this was exactly where she intended to go.

It was dusk by the time they reached the mouth of the inlet and paddled out into the open sea.  Looking over his shoulder, Morgan saw the bulk of the island brooding dark over the face of the cold and heaving ocean.  They seemed to be right on course.  Directly ahead rose the thin black spike of Tur Morraigu, like the tooth of a dragon challenging the gathering night.

“It’s not far now,” he panted.  “Half an hour more and—”

Without warning, something struck the prow of the boat, driving it straight towards a heap of sharp rocks at the foot of the promontory.

(To be continued …)

Sonnet II

Poet's Corner 001

Sonnet II

It’s pride that bends the mind to self-disdain;

Ambition’s the green well-spring of discontent.

And hearts that love themselves delight in pain

And revel in the fond embellishment

Of every fluke and flaw that makes one less

Than the very god he jealously aspires

To make himself; and yet he’ll not confess

To such naked offense, but like all liars

Dissembles cleverly to make his sin

Appear his crown of thorns, himself the poor

And hapless victim, who, adread within,

Yet feeds the beast that crouches at the door:

And when it springs, he feigns dismay and fear

While casting backward glances at the mirror.    

Inexpressible Comfort

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Let us then as Christians rejoice that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them.  For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect, when in the shivering cold the last faggot has been thrown on the fire and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it’s then that Christ’s hand reaches out sure and firm.  Then Christ’s words bring their inexpressible comfort, then his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever.  So, finding in everything only deception and nothingness, the soul is constrained to have recourse to God himself and to rest content with him.

Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom





The Sword of Paracelsus: The Maiden and the Stone, Part Three

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How can that be possible?

Eny gulped, sucked down a mouthful of air, and looked again.  Yes, it was Morgan’s face all right.  It had his pointy nose and his pale blue eyes.  It had his unruly straw-colored hair.  It even had his freckles and braces.  But it was definitely not Morgan.  There was no life, no breath, no spirit in it.  The eyes were hollow and vacant.  The features were dead and blank.  As she stood there gazing at it, its mouth began to work, but no sound emerged from the papery lips.  She felt she was going to retch.

Fighting to control herself, she spun around and glared at the Morrigu.

“I had hoped your young man might join us in person,” the enchantress sighed.  “When you interfered, I was forced to explore other options.  What do you think of my homunculus?”

Homunculus?”  Eny rubbed her eyes and stared.

“A man-shape.  Of my own manufacture.  Animated with an energy distilled from the essences of the four elements.  Not quite alive, but alive enough for our purposes.”  She turned and addressed the two girls with the silver knives.  “Seal the marriage,” she said.

As if in response, the homunculus bowed its head and stumped up the steps to the marble pedestal.  Gripping Eny by the elbow, Falor compelled her to follow.  She squealed and shut her eyes; and when she opened them again, she was standing on the dais with the palm of her left hand stretched out upon the cold surface of the Stone of Destiny.  Beside it lay the right hand of the homunculus, twitching as if infused with an electrical charge.  As she watched, the creature turned its blank eyes upon her and puckered up its lips.

“No!” she screamed.  But even as she tried to pull away, one of the black-haired maidens stepped forward, grabbed her wrist, and deftly slit the tip of her middle finger with the silver blade.  The dark blood welled up in the wound and three large drops fell upon the Stone.  Then the second maiden approached, seized the hand of the homunculus, and performed the same operation upon it.  Eny was not surprised when its finger did not bleed.

Now the Morrigu herself drew near.  Dropping to her knees between Eny and the homunculus, she joined their hands between her own and pressed them down upon Lia Fail with all her weight.  In a low, plaintive voice she began to chant:


     That which is above is as that which is below,

     And that which is below is as that which is above. 


Soon the maidens were chanting with her.  They started in low, but it was not long before the Great Hall rang from end to end with the sound of their voices.  Then the Fomorians began to grunt in time with the rhythm of their song, pounding the pavement with the staffs of their halberds.

When this chorus had reached its height, the Morrigu rose and lifted her arms above her head.

“The Mystical Marriage is accomplished!” she cried.  “Now behold the power of Lia Fail restored!”

She dropped her hands in a grand dramatic gesture.  A terrible hush fell over the Great Hall.  The candles guttered.  The golden stars twinkled.  The silver harp-strings shimmered.  The Fomorian guards stood at attention and the sixteen maidens bent their heads.  Everyone held their breath.

Nothing happened.

There was a long moment of silence.  Then the Morrigu turned on Eny with green fire in her eyes.

“Something is not right!” she hissed.

Eny trembled before her.  “It’s not my fault.”

“Someone has been keeping the truth from me!  Is it you?”

“No!  I don’t know anything about it,” said Eny.  “But now that it’s all over, will you please keep your promise?  Will you let Morgan’s father go free?”

“No!” screamed the Morrigu, shaking with rage.  “A thousand curses on you, no!  There’s a missing piece!  A hidden key!  And I won’t be finished with you until I find it!  Falor!  Take her away and throw her in the dungeon!”

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