The Far Sea: Chapter 73
GOODBYES are always hard to say.
The Golden Queen would not be turning straight homewards from Grand Needle. The prevailing wind was against them, for one thing--to go back towards Hyrule they had first to travel down the length of the Isles and then catch onto the fearsome easterly gale that blew only throughout the southern ocean. The return journey would take two or three more weeks depending on the availability of the wind.
Iáru would not come with them. Zelda had asked, feeling that she might as well attempt it, but she had hardly expected him to agree. His answer went much as she had expected it would: he had things to do, people to see. He would be going north from the Winds to another unknown island settlement, and would spend the summer trading between the strongholds as he always did. She hugged him on the quay despite his loud complaints and the startled throng of onlookers who had gathered to see a real live Zora.
"Thanks for everything," Link said, holding out his own hand. They clasped forearms for a moment, leaning close in the Calatian fashion.
Iáru didn't look back or wave to them as the Stormy Petrel nosed her way out of Grand Needle Harbour. He was following his own advice and keeping his eye on the sea. They stood all together and watched the bright little patchwork ship fade away into the dazzle of the early morning sun.
"I'm actually going to miss him," Sofia said in a wondering voice.
"He was quite a character, wasn't he?" Zelda agreed, looking a little wistful. "I wish he would have reconsidered..."
"Iáru, come back with us? Hardly," the other woman said with a smile. "He'd probably curl up and die if you took him away from his boat."
Link wasn't listening to the girls' chatter; he was frowning as he watched the fishing boats jockeying for position in the harbour, and trying to puzzle out what exactly Iáru had mouthed to him, and why, when they exchanged their parting greeting. It had looked like "Good luck".
The frigate was ready to set sail and awaited only their presence in the cabins. They made one last group rush into the town to buy a few small comforts for the voyage, and then hurried back to the harbour and the Golden Queen. Captain Janiver was waiting for them at the foot of the gangway.
"So," he said warmly, offering his own hand to each of them in turn. "All set and ship-shape?"
"Aye-aye," Zelda answered, laughing.
"Your cabins have been aired and everything's aboard." Janiver followed them up on deck. "You've got a few minutes left if there's anything urgent to be done ashore, but we'd best be off before the tide turns."
Those few minutes passed in a blur of running in and out of each other's rooms, borrowing things, exchanging things, tracking down items that had been packed in the wrong sea-chest. To Zelda it felt as if she had done no more than blink before she was standing on the rear-deck and watching the island of Grand Needle fading into distance. It had looked magnificently imposing when they had stood beneath the shadow of those black cliffs; now shrinking beneath the encircling sky it seemed tiny and fragile.
They had many days of steady sailing ahead of them. Three or four days they were to travel southward, then a fortnight or more going east across the open ocean. After a while Grand Needle vanished in a haze of cloud, and she turned away from the endless sea and went back inside. She would lie down on her bed with one of her books, she thought; she could think of nothing that would be more pleasant right now.
Days passed in peace as the Golden Queen made her steady way southwards along the line of the Isles, and then at last turned east into the trade wind to cross the ocean once more. The wind stayed strong but steady and for the most part there was, if not calm seas, then at least a steady and predictable swell that became barely noticeable over time. There were no storms, no birds, no mystical adventures with which to contend. It would have been boring were it not for the general sense of happiness and contentment that pervaded their living quarters on the frigate. A third Amulet had been regained--though the search for it had taken them to the very edge of the world.
Zelda woke early one morning, on the sixth or perhaps the seventh day since they had left Grand Needle, and lay staring at the ceiling and listening to a bright and jaunty melody that seemed to come floating out of the ship's very timbers. Dazed with sleep, it took her a few moments to guess what it was: Dark was playing the Ocarina again.
She had never heard this particular tune before, but it got into her head and stayed there like an itch--it was a song that wanted to be danced to. The sunlight was bright through the porthole window, inviting her to come join the day. At last she gave in and got up.
Padding barefoot into the long dining room, she saw Link there already at the breakfast table, working his way through a pile of buttered toast.
"You too?" he said, lifting his head.
"Me too?" Zelda was puzzled. She pulled out a chair and sat down opposite.
In answer he jerked his head towards the door, in the direction of that faint pervasive trace of music. "Dark. That tune he keeps playing. I was lying in bed wondering if the ship's timbers were going to start sprouting leaves and flowers, then I decided to get up before I started sprouting."
She started laughing at that thought. "It is a bit... spring-ish, isn't it?"
"It gets right into your head," Link said with a wry smile. "Or at least it's gotten into mine. I know I am going to end up whistling it all day long. If he doesn't stop soon I'm going to have to go in and take the ocarina off him."
"You'll take his ocarina away? I'd like to see you try!" She poured herself a glass of water. "Why don't you butter me some toast before you eat it all yourself?"
"But of course, your Highness, how could I refuse such a politely framed request?" He used the large bread knife to slap a chunk of butter into the center of a slice, then looked at his handiwork with a frown of slight dismay. It was a thin slice and he'd put far too much butter on it. He tried to repair the damage with the blunt side of the knife but only succeeded in poking a hole right through the bread. With a sheepish grin he handed her the plate.
Zelda raised her eyebrows. "I said butter it, not slay it, Mr. Hero."
"I did my best," he said gaily, taking another piece for himself.
The door opened. Sofia yawned hugely and rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand as she came over to the table. "Good morning to you," she said. "Am I interrupting anything exciting?"
"No," said Link, "fortunately. Do you want some toast?"
"Freshly butchered by his own fair hand," Zelda interrupted.
Sofia ignored the banter; she occupied herself in filling her plate. They ate for a while in companionable silence. After some time the ocarina ceased, and Link started to hum the song instead. Zelda kicked him under the table.
"I told you," he said, looking injured.
"Well, don't," Zelda ordered. "Or I'll start singing it too." She smiled then, half amused and half impressed. "I never knew Dark was musically inclined."
"Does it surprise you, then?" There was something odd in Link's tone, and she gave him a curious look.
"Well, yes," she said. "It does. But I take it you're not so surprised?"
"Not after Koholint," he answered very quietly. She would have asked him to explain, but she doubted that she'd get any real sense out of him where Koholint was concerned by now. Instead, she sipped her glass, and then sat back comfortably in her seat.
"So... the gang's all here. Except for our reclusive ocarina maestro!"
"I'll fetch him out if you want," Link suggested, placing his hands on the table as if to rise.
"No, let him be," Sofia said, shrugging. "I think he's enjoying himself." Sure enough, the ocarina's crystal tones sang out again in a few more minutes, playing a different gentler tune.
The sunlight was a misery, an agony, but he did not dare to close the porthole shutter: the alternative frightened him more. In darkness he was too close to him, could not shut out that insistent, whispering call. Every mile the ship carried him now brought him that much closer to it. Koholint, he thought bitterly: that was what had done this. He had let his defences down and now he was paying for it.
He stood with his back to the window, jerking a comb roughly through his hair--not that he cared overmuch for his appearance right now, but Link watched him like a hawk lately, and would not let him stay quietly on his own. The boy had taken to speaking very gently around him nowadays--as if Dark were a skittish horse to be calmed. And he could not bear that. He was tired. Tired of pretending that he was all right. Tired of trying to listen to other people's conversations and smile at other people's jokes. Tired simply of being around them all the time. He was struggling now simply to keep up the appearance of wellbeing--for if he did not, Link would probably try to scold him over it. And he was too tired to take that from the boy. He would lose his temper, and that would be the worst thing of all.
The comb snagged, over and over, and suddenly--enraged beyond all relief--he tore at it until the tangle dragged itself straight. Why was nothing ever simple?
One of the wooden teeth snapped.
He whirled, full of unbearable rage, and threw the comb as hard as he could. It bounced off the far wall and fell with a clatter out of sight behind his sea-chest. A few fine black hairs drifted slowly down by his face; now that they were no longer a part of him, they had no independent existence, and quietly faded away before they reached the floor. Would that his own accursed vitality might fade so fast... He wanted that. He wanted to just stop.
Suddenly he felt caged. The sounds of the ship crowded around him, forcing themselves upon his attention--wood creaking, sails flapping, sailors shouting, his companions chattering stupidly in the dining room. And the smells: tar and wood and salt and old dinners and a faint undertone of the privy... even the clothes and bodies of his friends, lingering ghosts of their presence. He wished that the world would go away and leave him in peace. More than anything, he wished that he could lose himself in sleep. Sleep! After Koholint he craved it.
He moved towards the door--then hesitated and turned back, unsure whether he wanted fresh air or solitude. He could not have both, not here on this wretched ship. Slowly he walked back to the porthole window--then turned again. Four striding steps took him the length of the room. He began to pace, back and forth, faster and faster, turning sharply on his heel each time. His breath quickened.
"No," he said aloud.
The sound of his own voice broke the trance he was falling into; he stopped, shuddering with a nameless nausea, and forced himself to stand still, breathe slow, until his vision was clear again, his head cool.
Do not start that again. You cannot rely on the boy to save you a second time.
His room was full of things begun and left half-done: a book open and face down on the end of the bed, a heap of clothes partly folded draped on top of his sea-chest. Vaguely he considered trying to tidy the chamber, but then sat down at his desk instead, and reached out for the thing that lay there gleaming in the porthole's light.
The Ocarina was comfortingly cool beneath his fingers: water on a hot day. He turned it over a few times to feel the remembered shape against his fingers, the coolness and the curve and the delicate etched carvings, so familiar. There was a little peace in this object from the past. But not enough, never enough. He was so tired now. He felt as if he were struggling in a mire--he could do no more than keep his head above the surface, no matter how hard he fought.
When was it that the Evil King had awoken in the Dark World? And how? He did not know--it must have been while he and Link had been on Koholint. It was wrong, inexplicable. Link had faced Ganon, only two years before; he should have slept on helpless for three centuries until the birth of the next Hero. That was how it worked. This was too soon by far.
Plots, he thought--plots within plots.
He lifted the Ocarina, touched the carved mouthpiece to his lips, and then paused again. For a little while he just sat, staring at nothing.
Then he sighed, very softly, and the whisper of his breath through the mouthpiece drew a thin, unsure, reedy note from the Ocarina of Time. His fingers found the holes again.
Here we go again, Link thought wryly, sprawling idly on his bed. He closed his eyes and listened for a while to the sweet notes drifting through the cabin wall, letting himself drift. It was the same tune Dark had played to Trellia and Cirvo--and before that on Marin's veranda, on Koholint. Zelda's Lullaby. He had no idea how he could know the name of a song he had never heard before, but he was sure it was so called. He was, after all, the descendant of the Hero of Time--perhaps the music was in his blood. Or perhaps it was simply the Ocarina speaking to him as Link First's heir.
It hardly seemed real to him. He had seen it, held it, heard it played--and it still did not seem real. The Hero of Time had played it once; so had the Prophet Princess. Ganon had ransacked Hyrule Castle in search of it. But the fate of that legendary treasure had been stranger than all of these great things together: to be lost for six hundred years, and then to be discovered at last by chance on an island which was no more than a dream...
Koholint! That was a bittersweet memory. So they had regained the Ocarina, but at the cost of a Hero's life. He sighed and flopped over onto his back as he remembered Link Third. Of all his famous ancestors he had always been most fascinated, most troubled by the Hero who had been no Hero, who had--so it was believed--turned his back on the land he was bound to protect. Well, that mystery was solved now. He thought of the gull he had seen with sea-green eyes and gave the ghost of a smile. Frankly there were worse fates.
Like that of the Hero of Time, perhaps.
A Hero is one who does a thing nobody else will do. Dark, of all people, had expressed that brilliant insight into the Hero's role and nature. Link was not so much slow as methodical in his thinking--if it took him a while to arrive at conclusions it was because he was meticulous in collecting and examining the evidence. His mind had been hard at work on this particular problem for a long time now.
From the beginning he had been nervous of the shadow. How could he not be? He knew of Dark's history--knew it from a personal point of view. At Ganon's command Dark had hunted down and murdered many of Link's own ancestors; even his grandfather's family, so that the last Hero had been raised an orphan in the house of an adoptive uncle. No... he was under no illusions there. Link's character was a straightforward one and eminently practical. He had decided early on that he would freely give the shadow his friendship and loyalty, but not his trust. He would bleed for him willingly, but he would not turn his back on him in battle.
But over time his perception of Dark had begun to change. There were things that simply did not add up with what he had been taught. Dark Link was supposed to be the opposite of a Hero, but as far as Link could see he was acting more and more like one as time went on. Anyway, Link thought with a frown, surely a Hero's opposite would be, well, a coward--certainly an incompetent fighter, since his family were known primarily for their abilities as warriors. Whatever Dark was, he was no coward. And his skill with a sword surpassed that of anyone living.
And then there had been Koholint. He opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling as another memory returned to him.
Are you forgetting your history? The Kokiri raised me. They knew trees.
And then later, in Iáru's hold, brittle with rage:
I am not the Hero of Time!
"Well," he said aloud, "you're doing a very good impression of him, if that's the case."
The more he picked at this problem, the more he became convinced that something was very badly broken within the shadow's spirit. Dark had been quite simply a different person on Koholint. In the space of those few days Link had lost all his fear of him--he had thought, permanently. But now... ah, now. He had not needed Zelda's quiet nudges to become concerned for the one he now called his friend. Although there had been no more episodes like that terrible one in the rain, there was something in Dark's look and manner lately that he did not like one bit. He had wondered more than once on this return journey whether the shadow was losing his mind.
He sighed, rolled over and got up. He had had enough; he would go up on deck in search of some sort of distraction. The sad beauty of the ocarina melody was not doing much for his confused state.
The last few days of the voyage were tranquil ones. The wind remained steady and the weather good as the Golden Queen made her way back home. Captain Janiver noted the decreasing distances in the ship's log with an approving smile; the crew went about their business with such practiced ease that the ship seemed almost to sail herself along.
In their territory below the rear deck, the four companions settled into a lazy routine: mornings were spent on deck or in the cabins, evenings in the long dining room. They spoke very rarely of the Quest. Such worries belonged back in Hyrule; this was a kind of holiday, free from care.
Even so, the closer they got to Hyrule, the more Zelda began to feel uneasy, afflicted with a sense of vague foreboding. She wasn't even sure why it should be so--perhaps it was just that she had not been away from home for this long before. Rather than complain to the others and spoil everyone's good mood, she dug the Book of Mudora out from her luggage and spent long hours poring over it, searching for some hint as to the location of the next Amulet. Which to try for next? There were six, according to the lore they already knew: Forest, Fire and Water they had. That left Light, Spirit and Shadow.
Galdenor's map was folded carefully in a page of the Book. She took it out now and spread it open on her desk, then dug out another old book she had brought with her--the First Quest text. There had been plenty of leisure time on their way home, and she had spent a good amount of it cross-referencing the First Quest text with the Book of Mudora, and then with the Gerudo map. She thought she might have discovered the identities of the original Knights, though much of it was guesswork.
Link First, she thought. Founder of the Order, holder of the Amulet of the Forest. That was certain. Then... Most likely Link of the Gorons, the son of Sage Darunia--named in honour of the Hero of Time. He, or at least a Goron hero closely linked to the Hero of Time, had borne the Fire Amulet. Japas, the gifted Zoran bard--that was a name they were sure of. Then Kafei Dotour of the Sheikah, from the mystic land of Termina. Kafei must have been the Shadow Knight--could a Sheikah be anything else? The holder of the Light Amulet she still could not even guess at, nor where it might have been hidden when its bearer died. As for the Spirit Amulet, they were just not sure; all they knew was that the holder had been a woman. Zelda guessed her to have been a Gerudo, simply because of the Gerudo link to the Spirit Temple, but then again it could well have been another Hylian--when she thought about it, it was unlikely in the aftermath of Ganondorf's overthrow that any Gerudo should have been welcomed within Hyrule, in any capacity.
She pushed the book away and sat quietly for a while, then got to thinking about Kafei Dotour. Out of all the Knights aside from Link First, they knew most about Kafei. His name featured many times in the second half of the First Quest text. And they knew at least where his grave lay, although his body had not lain within it.
A sudden thought occurred to her, and she reached for the Book of Mudora and flipped through the ancient pages. She had read something long ago, had shown it to Link when he had first come to Hyrule, summoned by her letter... there!
These six Amulets we have hidden well, for fear that they should once again be used to open the way.
The Forest Amulet, laid in the Forest Temple. The Fire Amulet, secreted deep within Death Mountain. The Water Amulet, broken in two and carried to the bottom of the sea by the ever-cautious Zoras. Perhaps the secret wasn't really to do with tombs at all. Perhaps the tombs were merely the first clues. Were they all like that--hidden in places that held some bond to their element?
Zelda followed that thought to its logical conclusion, then bit her lip. She had no idea where the Amulets of Spirit and Light might have been put, but she could take a good guess at Shadow. There was one place in Hyrule where the element of darkness reigned supreme.
She thought about that for a long time.
Three days later, in the early evening, she was lying on her bed and attempting to re-read the First Quest text in the poor and failing light of her porthole window. Footsteps thudded quickly down the corridor outside; she paid them no mind, assuming that Link was on his usual noisy way to somewhere. But they stopped by her door and she sat up with a start as someone pounded on the wood--with fists, or so it sounded.
"Come up on deck!" Link shouted. "Quick!"
"What's going on?" she yelled back, but he had gone already to bang on Dark's door. She groaned and laid down her book. What now--perhaps a sea monster was attacking the ship? Things had been so quiet lately; she supposed she should not have expected it to last.
Her cloak was laid across the bottom of the rumpled bed. She swung it over her shoulders and stepped out just as Dark came out of his own room. They exchanged a long-suffering look. "Do you know what's happening?" Zelda asked as they walked together towards the staircase.
He shrugged irritably. "Whatever it is, I hope it will not take long."
Link's head appeared suddenly at the top of the hatch as Zelda began to climb. "Come on, you two!" he said. "Quick--come and look! You're missing it!"
"Missing what?" Zelda shouted, but he was gone again. Cursing the Hero particularly and all Calatians in general under her breath, she clambered up the steep steps and hauled herself onto the deck. Link and Sofia were standing below on the foredeck, leaning over the bow rail, and she hurried down to join them. It was near sunset; the sun was flaming through the rigging directly behind them, and the mast's massive shadow fell black on the planks and down across the gleaming water, pointing ever eastwards. The ship chased its own shadow.
"Well?" she said as she came up to her friends.
Link was grinning as he turned to her. "Look," he said.
In answer he simply pointed ahead. Zelda stared into the darkness of approaching night. The sky was mostly clear; the sea was calm.
"Do you see it?" asked Sofia.
Link took her arm and drew her close to him. "Look at the horizon," he instructed, guiding her eyes that way. "Look. Do you see it?"
She squinted and then leaned sideways off the bow rail, trying to make out what it was everyone was looking at. There was a thin black line between sky and sea... she had mistaken it for a cloud, but it could not be so for there was a cluster of tiny golden sparks... And suddenly she realised. "It's Hyrule," she said in dawning joy. "Isn't it? It's Hyrule! We're home!"
"That's Saria," Link said. "And look a little north and there's more lights--they must be Ingo." He grinned hugely. "And I think I can just make out what must be a Calatian port in the south. It's probably Midara--that's the most northerly Calatian town I know. We're home, Zel--we're home!"
She cried out and hugged him. He squeezed her close and swung her around in a circle so that for a moment her feet came right off the ground; then they tottered about together, laughing and whooping with delight. "We did it!" Zelda yelled at the top of her voice. "We did it, we did it!" And then she let go of Link and threw her arms around Dark, who actually smiled and returned the embrace.
"Oh honestly," Sofia said, trying not to laugh at the ridiculous behaviour of her friends.
Captain Janiver joined them for a while to watch the Hyrulian coast grew larger; then, when they could make out individual lights onshore the captain left them to bellow incomprehensible orders at his crew. The Golden Queen echoed with thumps and yells and mysterious sounds below decks. Now they were close enough to see the harbour wall rising out of the sea; fishing boats slid swiftly out of the way in the dusk as the ship's bell boomed out a copper-toned warning. No longer majestic but cumbrous now, weary from her long journey, the frigate crawled through the harbour mouth and was dragged by ten or twenty shallow-bottomed tugs into a vacant berth. Wood groaned as the hull met the edge of the dock... and then, at long last, they were at rest. A crowd was already gathering on the quay as the gangway rattled down.
"We had better send a message to Hyrule City," Link said. "I don't think I'm up to going anywhere tonight, but we ought to at least let them know we've arrived."
Zelda nodded absently, then her eyes opened huge in panic. "Oh Nayru, I haven't packed!" she gasped, and fled in the direction of the cabins. Sofia blinked, looked startled, and then ran off after her.
Link laughed and leaned his elbows on the rail. "Well, that takes care of the women," he said with a wry look at Dark. "What about you? Are you set?"
"It will take but a minute or two to gather my things," the shadow answered, shrugging. "I own little enough."
Link nodded, then his expression became more serious. "Are you all right?" he said quietly.
Dark's eyes narrowed very slightly. "I am well."
"You say that so often, I wonder sometimes how true it is. No, it's all right--I'm not going to go on at you. I just want you to know I'm your friend, if you ever feel in need of one." He stopped suddenly, his train of thought broken: a large black-backed seagull had just landed on the rail a few feet from him. The bird stamped its golden paddle feet and eyed him for a moment, then twisted its head round awkwardly to nibble at the feathers on the underside of its wing. "Dark?" he said very quietly. He backed away a little to stand by the shadow. "There's the gull again, the one that was hanging around the Petrel all that time."
Dark stared at him, not understanding. "What about it?"
"Don't say anything yet. Just look at his eyes." The bloody stain was no longer visible on the bird's breast, but those eyes were unmistakable: the bottomless blue-green of the sea on a sunny day. He sensed his companion stiffen.
"It is, isn't it? I'm not mistaken?"
The seagull had finished preening. It looked at them both, turning its head from side to side with quick jerky movements, then raised its long wings and took off in a flurry of feathers, crying out: aarh-aarh-aarh. They watched open-mouthed as it circled them twice and then soared away into the dusk to join the raucous flocks that swooped about the quay.
"He has come home," Dark said. "It took him six hundred years, but he has found his way home at last."
They walked together through lamplit streets, carrying what little they would need for a single night's stay in the inn--hardly more than a change of clothes and a comb or two. It felt a little odd to be walking on solid ground again, and their steps came slightly unsteady. Nobody talked much--they were tired now, and more than ready for the warm beds of the Phoenix Plume.
Link deposited everyone else at the door of the inn and went off alone to find the post-house. He did not doubt that the King already knew of their arrival--he would have left orders that a rider should head for Hyrule City the moment the Golden Queen docked--but Link thought it would be appreciated were he to send a message of his own. Nothing fancy: "we have arrived safely and are all well" would do.
He still didn't know Saria all that well, and things looked different in the dark. More than once he had to stop and ask directions. When he eventually did find the post-house, there seemed to have been a number of fires in the street since the last time he had been here; he passed three or four burned-out houses and many more with damaged roofs or soot stains on the walls. That was odd. Saria was a modern town, built mainly of brick, and most houses here used proper ranges instead of open fires in their kitchens. He rapped at the post-house gate and waited for a little while. The wall had been repaired; some of the bricks were new.
At length a sleepy boy appeared with a lantern and opened the gate for him. Link introduced himself, paid a few rupees and dictated a quick message to be sent direct to the King. That done, he asked quietly, "Has something happened here recently?"
The boy blinked stupidly, overawed at the presence of the Hero. "Happened, sir?"
He peered through the gate at the stable yard, seeing more evidence of hasty repairs. "Well, yes. The fires... and I've seen piles of broken bricks..." He stopped; the answer had occurred to him. He hardly needed the boy's excited nod to confirm it.
"You haven't heard, sir? Just a few weeks ago it was--the town was attacked! But we beat 'em off all right!"
"Attacked," Link said. His heart felt cold in his chest. "When? When exactly? What happened? Tell me everything."
Saria had been attacked only a few hours after the Golden Queen left port. With the coming of night, a large band of monsters had swept down out of the hill country and laid an amateurish sort of siege to the town. They had done a bit of damage to the defensive walls with an old cannon or two before the local militia, which was then augmented by the presence of the King himself and his Royal Guard, swept out and saw them off. Nobody had been killed, and aside from the injury to some civic property (a cannonball had taken the weathercock off the local church) Saria's people clearly considered the whole thing a bit of a lark.
It was obvious, said the boy, what they'd been after. Somehow or other the monsters had heard that the King was visiting Saria, and had hoped to take advantage of His Majesty's absence from the well protected castle town.
No, Link thought, as he made his way back through the damaged streets of the town. That wasn't it at all. They were after us. He was very glad now that he had thought to send the King a personal message assuring him that everyone was all right.
A Hyrulian town had not been attacked in such a way since the Imprisoning War. Sepultura had raised the stakes.
Here endeth The Far Sea...
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