A Marriage of Inconvenience

 

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A Brief Explanatory Note

Fable, the game for which the following story was based upon, is an action-adventure/fantasy RPG in which the player’s actions impact the world, Albion, around them. There is no singular way to play Fable, nor one definitive version of Albion; this is merely one interpretation out of many. You do not need experience within Fable to read the following chapters, though it may help. The choice, as the game states, is yours. But, for now…

…the adventure awaits.

 

 

(This is Book I of the Shattered Albion series.)

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Chapter One: The Contract

It was of common opinion that the royal gardens, which usually surrounded Bowerstone Castle in a peaceful sea of green, were truly eerie at night. Fog cloaked everything; turning the plants into lurking creatures and making even the most normal of statues appear suspicious. The city of Bowerstone, and its many ports, lay hidden behind a shimmering veil of murky white that seemed to have bathed the castle in silence.

Silence.

Several of the castle's guards shifted uncomfortably. This sudden, strange quiet didn't sit well with them; they couldn't fathom what exactly it meant. Add in the broken window of the Princess's chambers, and the lack of guards by her door, and "uncomfortable" didn't even begin to cover how they felt. After all…what if something had happened? What if the Princess was dead?

She wasn't.

High above the streets of Bowerstone, a lone tower's windows shone with a dull golden light. The tower itself was an oddity, rising up impossibly high and only accessible through the fragile-looking ivory-stoned bridge connecting it to the castle proper. Though it was older than even the most aged of those living in Bowerstone, dating back to before even the Fairfax family owned the property, and it still looked nigh impenetrable. And, yet, it was here that a young woman, barely the age of twenty, could be found. The Princess was worse for wear; her pale, calloused fingers traced a symbol carved into the stone floor with cracked nails. Her brown hair, scraggly from a lack of proper care, cascaded over her shoulders to brush her waist. Despite her youth, her eyes were haunted with memories of things better not seen.

She hated it here. The time she had spent imprisoned felt unending. The empty, torturous days, the bleak eternity of night—both were laid bare before her and Victoria was convinced that soon she would lose her mind.

If she hadn't lost it already.

Hence the window incident (as she was sure it would later be referred to). Truth be told, she hadn't actually intended to throw herself out a window. All she'd wanted to do was escape, and so, when all other means had failed, she'd used one of the tools beside her fireplace to break the window, climbed out onto the ledge…and then her foot had slipped on the rain-slick stone and she'd fallen right onto the glass-littered bushes and wisteria vines below. Well, she'd never said it was a foolproof plan. It was a couple hours later that a gardener had discovered her, fractured bones and all, and she honestly felt for the poor man—if that hadn't been mind-scarring, she didn't know what was.

The Princess sighed, her fingers momentarily stopping in the midst of their tracing. She glanced around the room almost suspiciously, as though she expected something to be lying in wait to take advantage of her situation. Victoria wasn't certain, but she thought the round-walled room had once been a study. Bookcases lined the walls, crafted to fit the curve of the walls, and a stained-glass window rose up gloriously beside her. However, the comfortable-looking leather armchair and solid oak desk, like the small iron-framed bed, were bolted down, and the dust-cloaked bookcases were empty, ruining the illusion of peaceful seclusion.

Victoria shot the heavy, re-enforced doors a dark look. Those helped ruin it, too, seeing as she had yet to find a way to open them. Bloody doors.

Her expression shifted to somewhere between thoughtful and disinterested as she turned back to the window. Her fingers resumed their tracing. The Princess attempted to see through some of the lighter panes of glass, but failed since the fog and the darkness obstructed her view of both the sea and of Bowerstone. A memory came to mind and, instantly, guilt clawed at her gut. It was all her fault. She remembered it all with the clarity of a much-feared nightmare. Major Swift standing before Logan and the crowd, another soldier's gun to his head. Ben's expression a mix of horror and fury. He'd restrained himself, and she…well, she couldn't just let the Major die. She'd tried to stop the execution. And then there was no way for them to escape; or, at least, not without a lot of people getting hurt.

Poor Ben…it wasn't fair of her to get him caught with her. She wasn't sure she believed her brother that Ben was fine and merely incarcerated. She wanted proof. Better yet, she wanted him free. She wanted to know what happened to Page and Walter. Had they come after them? Were they free or were they as captive as she was? Did they know Swift was dead? Was the revolution continuing? Was all her worry for nothing?

Frustrated, Victoria rested her forehead against the cool glass, clutching her arms about herself. What a vicious cycle this was. And, thinking only of her tattered alliance, all she wanted was a way out.

~*~

Logan paced the war room, the flickering light of the fireplace across the room his only companion. He'd been doing that a lot lately, using the pacing to coax his mind into a higher gear if only so he could think faster for a brief second. He felt like he was missing something; a rubbish notion, he knew, for Kings did not simply miss things. But still…something was off.

Two issues dominating the forefront of his mind, he turned, walking past his map table, out of the war room, and into the study.

Answers, Logan knew, could sometimes be found in his father's journals when he could not find them himself. Granted, the likelihood of him finding both a way to get his sister safely away from the mess that currently was Bowerstone (and the remnants of the rebels that still hid there) and to save Albion from a creature that none of its other inhabitants even knew was coming was slim to none. Going through his desk in search of the aforementioned volumes, he knew he would need nothing short of a miracle. But he was a King, for Avo's sake, and he'd be damned if he let his worry show.

Finding a journal he'd not yet gone through, he flipped it open and began reading. Sparrow's writings were very…odd. There was neither rhyme nor reason to the way the entries were made; one entry would be business-like, the next comical, as if Sparrow had simply opened the journal to a random page and wrote down the first thing on his mind. Even when Logan employed all of his concentration, this made for difficult study as Logan tried to match dates with those of conflicts he'd learned of. Despite the fact that the journal appeared to be from his father's early years as a King, when there had been the most and only violent conflict under Sparrow's reign, there was very little mention of war or battles. It was strange to say the least.

Then, just as Logan was beginning to consider switching journals or hunting down old militial schematics, a strange phrase caught his eye. "A deal with Heroes"?

He brought the book closer and looked to the beginning of a section of carefully written text that filled most of the small page with black ink. Words cannot describe how frustrated I now am at being right, Logan read. While I, thankfully, didn't underestimate the other's choices, I'm finding I'm nearly out of ways to repay them for the bloody Spire 'incident'. Two of the contracts have been resolved, but the third is being…obstinate. I wonder now if this was really that good of an idea. Who ever knew making deals with Heroes could be so difficult?

A few numbers followed the paragraph and Logan recognized them as reference numbers. The rest of the entry was entirely unrelated, and, after realizing such, Logan laid the journal down on his desk and closed it. Logan traced the edge of the journal thoughtfully. He wondered what his father had meant.

Of course nearly everyone had heard of what had transpired between Sparrow and Lucien in the Spire (despite the fact that so very little was known about the other Heroes involved), but the rest…what was all this talk of contracts and choices? How could a contract be obstinate? Though his mind encouraged him to return to the truly pressing matters at hand, curiosity, it seemed, was indeed his family's curse. Rising from his chair, Logan made his way over to a cabinet full of his father's old papers.

The folder in question was astoundingly thin and sandwiched between an incredibly thick folder on Faraday/Reaver Industries and an only slightly smaller one on Oakfield trade. It was almost painfully obvious which saw the most use. Carefully, so as not to disturb the order of the other files, Logan removed the one he'd come for and began flipping through them with a mixture of intrigue and blatant curiosity.

There were a surprisingly small number of documents within the folder, he noted, removing the various papers and spreading them across the desktop. The contracts in question were the first three documents. The first two bore red wax seals, denoting their completion; the third, however, did not. Logan supposed that that had been the troublesome one. Logan read it over with great interest, finding that it was between "Sparrow of Bowerstone and Reaver of Bloodstone".

Reaver's name caught him up for a second as he wondered if it was the same man with whom he'd been recently conducting business. Then he decided that had been a rather ridiculous question. After all, how many people out there had Reaver's name? It wasn't something most mummies and daddies would call their sweet, innocent little ones. Granted…the fact that it was the same man was odd; the industrialist didn't exactly look old enough….

But, alas, he digressed.

Logan's eyes narrowed the further along he read. His mind whirled into thought. An idea was creeping up on him with all the subtlety of a flaming hobbe; it was something bold and, most likely, would be exceedingly controversial. The King placed the contract down before him, pondering it as though it were some great work of literature. To follow through would cause (even more) scandal, but it would probably be a large enough shock to distract a good percentage of Albion while he prepared. And it would keep his sister occupied, as well as a good deal safer than any other plan he'd thought of previously.

Well…that settled it, then.

Drawing out some heavy parchment and a fountain pen, Logan began to think of how to word everything. Somehow…he had the satisfactory feeling that his request would be well embraced. No one would ever dare refuse the King of Albion. All he needed was a simple "yes" and things could move forward in no time at all.

One down; one to go. Things were looking up.

Of course, that was usually when the floor fell out from beneath someone.

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Chapter Two: The Ball

Even as a child, Victoria had never been one for parties. It was not some random dislike that had simply popped into her head, but one that had slowly built up after years and years of seeing ladies in pretty dresses and gentlemen in fancy suits (and both with too much makeup) as a young girl. Her displeasure had continued to grow over the years, strengthening into a mild abhorrence when, at the age of sixteen, a young man named Percy had, upon hearing rumours about the Princess running away from the castle earlier in the year, attempted to bed her. (In her opinion, Percy had gotten away lucky; though Elliot had given him a black eye and Victoria had broken his jaw, if either of them had told Logan…Percy probably wouldn't still be alive.) However, her absolute final straw when it came to parties was most definitely the last she'd been to. What had started off as an attempted rescue mission had, quite suddenly, become a massacre as well as an attempt on the lives of both her and the Bowerstone Resistance's leader, Page. As such, the Princess had completely sworn them off. But it wasn't exactly like she had a choice this time.

Three days previous, though it felt like a lifetime ago, Logan had come to see her in her tower room. Once the faux-pleasantries, awkward one-sided small talk, and Victoria's furious pleas for her and Ben's release were over and done with, he'd calmly, almost emotionlessly, informed her that he was having a "minor" party and she most certainly would be attending. Curious, she'd attempted to press Logan for more information but was shot down with oddly avoidant talk about it being a "political matter" and that she ought to "keep in mind what might happen to Captain Finn" in the event of Victoria turning on him. Eventually, Victoria yielded and stopped asking questions. However, despite relenting and agreeing that she would be somewhat agreeable, Victoria refused to give her brother the final word and began to nonverbally voice her...displeasure with current events. She refused to eat more than a couple bites of her meals, refused to sleep for very long, and refused to speak to the guards who came to check on her. She was well aware that it was an extremely childish tactic, but, at that moment, she really could care less. At least she was getting her point across.

Granted, the lack of doing anything meant she had extra time to dwell on Logan's little party. The fact that it "happened" to fall on the anniversary of Lucien's defeat in the Spire was not lost on her. It was…surprisingly egotistical of Logan. Their mother, cold-hearted as she had been, would have approved.

And so Victoria condemned herself to pacing her circular prison and plotting. Her hands knotted as she worried her lip, trying to think of a way, any way, that she could rescue Ben and escape with him. Her mind whirled round and round, much like her pacing, but every idea she came up with had too great of a chance that it would end in tragedy. Too much risk and too large of a chance that something would happen to work against her plan. The Princess couldn't help but feel very, very trapped at that moment. And painfully alone.

So she decided she would play along.

For now.

The day of the ball had gone oddly smoothly in her opinion; as though it were some routine they had practiced hundreds of times before. That afternoon, a pair of Logan's Honour Guard escorted her into a spare bedroom within the castle proper and she had allowed them to without a fuss. A part of her mind—a part she usually kept suppressed—had longed to gather her Will and strike down the men before making another bid for freedom. Before she could properly talk herself into trying it, however, Ben's face came to mind and she continued along with the guards compliantly. Not that she could have actually accomplished any spells, had she tried. She wasn't completely certain if she could even use Will without her gauntlets—she'd never before had a reason to try.

Once they'd reached their destination and she had been left alone with a nervous maid, she had then allowed herself to be subjected to the most extensive bit of grooming in her young life. Her hair had been washed, brushed, and styled, her skin had been scrubbed until it felt tender—she almost felt like a doll playing dress up at the overzealousness of it all. Not that Jasper, her valet and butler, hadn't kept her looking like a Princess was expected to, even for a battle, but Victoria's tendency to get into everything meant she didn't stay that way for long.

Victoria frowned to herself as she remembered the way the maid who'd helped her dress had flinched every time she looked at her. The Princess knew it was possible it was simply nerves, but she had the feeling it was...something else. She moved as if to touch her face then stopped herself, irately balling her fists in the violet satin of her dress for feeling so petty. What did it matter what the maid thought of her? Her irritation turned to surprise as the door opened and a cheerful bark reached her ears.

"Nero!" she gasped, whirling around and dropping to the floor to meet him in a hug as a surge of happiness coursed through her.

The black and white collie gave her a look of adoration no human could ever hope to emulate as she scratched his ears. She'd worried horribly for her poor dog since her royal screw up (no pun intended), thinking he had ran off and was now starving on the streets, or far worse, if that were possible, that he had ended up dead. Seeing Nero alive and well made Victoria feel more grounded; she could face anything with her dog at her side.

And then she looked up and realised that her brother had entered the room as well and any bit of good cheer she'd found evaporated on the spot.

"Logan," she said tersely, her fingers weaving through her dog's fur in a comforting motion, though whether it was intended to comfort her or Nero was entirely up to debate.

"Sister, we need to speak," he replied with equal coolness, finally closing the door and seating himself in an armchair.

Victoria frowned, not moving from her spot on the floor. She eyed her elder brother critically. Despite the formal violet, gold, and silver of his attire and his brown hair in its usual slicked-back style, something seemed wrong with him. His dark eyes were pinched and held heavy bags. He was too pale. Too thoughtful looking. He's up to something, she thought. Be on your guard. "I didn't realise we had anything more to say to each other."

Nor is there anything I want to talk to you about. The unspoken words hung in the air between them, so clear they were nearly visible.

Logan's annoyance was well hidden and he simply pretended his sister had not spoken at all. "I trust I needn't remind you of how you will be expected to behave; nor of the consequences of your actions should you choose to act-out."

Ire burned in Victoria's gut and pulsed through her veins. She clenched her teeth to keep from launching into a full-blown rage. "You're right. You don't."

"Good. Then I've no need to be concerned about punishing you for acting like an errant child."

"Don't you threaten me, Logan. I am not a child, despite your lack of notice."

"Really? Then what was your attempted revolution if not a child's rebellion?"

"Avo save you, Logan, you really think this entire ordeal is about some idiotic revenge?!" Victoria all but yelled.

Nero whimpered in the silence that followed his mistress's outburst. He shifted his weight on his front paws, muscles trembling with anxiety. Though the humans in the room had, for the most part, forgotten about him, he was still falling prey to their rising emotions.

"I realise," Victoria began again, working to control her voice, "that what I've done has labelled me a threat, but I'm not a fool, brother. You've taken everything I've ever cared for from me. Ben's life depends on my compliance. Do you really think I'll give him up, too? I'll do what you want, Logan. I'll play your games and pretend my brother isn't a bully that must hide behind threats and harsh judgments. And, if I continue to do so, what more can you possibly do to me?"

She searched her brother's face, hoping for even the smallest sign that her words had had any effect on him, only to feel a crushing wave of disappointment as his expression failed to change. Her words, it seemed, had all the effect of water rolling off a duck's feathers. Well, that was depressing. So much for appealing to his better nature.

"We are understood then, sister?"

The Princess looked down at the rug, stroking Nero to calm herself. "Completely."

She heard Logan get to his feet; his soft, measured footsteps made their way to the door. The click of the latch echoed through the uncomfortably silent room. The door opened but Logan didn't leave.

"All I ask, Victoria," he murmured, "is that you keep playing along."

Victoria stared, wondering why he felt the need to say so. Did he want the last word? Or was there more to the night than he was letting on?

She never got to ask. Before she could begin to form a retort, the door had closed behind him. Logan was gone.

The chatter of nobles was overly loud and echoed through the room in a manner that reminded Victoria of a group of over-excited chickens. She would know; the Princess had saved a flock of chickens from a grisly death-by-pie-maker before, and she knew how loud they were. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes or slouch in her chair. The seat was the very same one her mother had sat upon when both the King and Queen of Albion had been required at court—a smaller, slightly less ornate version of her father's, and now Logan's, throne. Feelings about Albion's current state aside, and though she had never gotten along with her mother, she wanted to do well by her memory in front of all these...um, two-faced, backstabbing fools was a little harsh, wasn't it? Plus, what was left of her bruised and battered pride wouldn't allow her to sit in any manner other than was proper. And so she sat. And waited.

Nero lay asleep at her feet and Victoria would have loved to join him. Sleep sounded lovely.

Everyone was waiting for Logan. He was expected to make a speech before the "festivities" could begin. The Princess tried to mentally hurry him along (not that it helped any). She felt like some of the nobles who had been eyeing her since her arrival were vultures or wolves stalking about, waiting for the kill. The mental image of nobles turning into wolves brought a chill to her skin. The sooner this ball was over the better; and the sooner she might have a chance to talk her brother into letting her have a chat with Ben.

Fat chance of that happening, though, so she wasn't getting her hopes up.

The throne room's grand, ornate doors opened and Logan entered to a round of polite applause from the nobility. Straight-backed and proud, the King approached his throne. Logan's eyes fell on his sister and she stared emotionlessly back. Once, she had been one of his biggest supporters, and now, for all the reaction she had towards him, she could have been dead.

"People of Albion," Logan began when he'd reached the thrones and turned to face the assembled crowd, "lend me your ears. We live in dire times and the threat from within Albion itself could not be greater."

Victoria abruptly turned her gaze from him and attempted to tune him out. What rubbish. She refused to sit there and listen to him spout nonsense. The only thing keeping her from leaving being Ben, the Princess simply tried to ignore her brother as she pretended to be the good, supportive sister she used to be. When her brother hadn't acted a tyrant, that is.

Still, she wasn't as good at ignoring people as she would have liked (rather like her father had been, actually), and she was without distraction, and so she ended up hearing the entire speech, anyway.

"I have heard your concerns and I urge you not to listen to those who would defame me: I am working to ease them. You have sent many pleas for aid against the beasts that roam our land—as we speak, my soldiers are scouring the land, doing everything in their power to eradicate the growing numbers of all the fiends that would seek harm against you."

Victoria mentally frowned and struggled to keep the expression off her face. You're listening to the concerns of your people, are you, Logan? she thought with a hint of cynicism. While she could not deny that the number of creatures (dark or otherwise) in Albion had escalated a rather lot lately—as had the number of bandits—the fact that Logan thought listening to the nobility counted as listening to all of his subjects stung. You've forgotten about the ones that actually matter.

"As to your concerns about the so-called 'Bowerstone Resistance'," Logan continued, unaware of his sister's mental tirade, "I ask you to pay them no heed. I have received word this very morning that my guard is close to disbanding this group of anarchists and delivering them unto their deserved fate."

Victoria grit her teeth to keep from screaming at him as she glared at his profile. How dare you, brother?! she fumed. They've done more for Bowerstone in the past few months than you've done in the last four years! You've abandoned them! What else can they do but fight to survive?

And yet, in a way, she understood why he said it. It was all designed to keep the ignorant nobles calm and to keep himself on the throne long enough to get the situation of the rebels under control. But the kind of bootlicking being displayed by the aforementioned nobles in response was making her nauseous. Victoria didn't have a doubt that Logan could have told them anything—that the sky was purple and the world being a triangle, for instance—and they would have just eaten it up and chorused their agreement.

As though he could hear her thoughts, Logan glanced toward her and Victoria had the sickening sensation that he was speaking directly to her as he said: "I swear to you, traitors and lunatics like this Page will no longer pose a threat to either you or your livelihood. Let this be a lesson to all those that would oppose us: we will stand firm against them and we will not let their attempts to terrorize Albion continue."

Their eyes met and Victoria could feel her heart pounding in her ears. For a moment, the world melted away and it felt like it was just the two of them, standing on opposite ends of a battleground, both prepared to fight to the death. And then the sound of applause rose up from the nobility, rousing them both, and Victoria tried to calm herself as Logan turned back towards his audience. It's already over? That was fast.

"On a lighter note," her brother added.

You just had to think it, she thought to herself, noting something was suspiciously off with Logan's tone. It was a bit hesitant and a little too forcibly lofty for her liking and Victoria felt her gut twist nervously.

Not being privy to his sister's thoughts, Logan continued on, "I wish to announce the engagement of my sister and our head of Industry here in Bowerstone. Though Reaver, unfortunately, was detained on business, I trust you will give them both your warmest regards."

What the...?

It took a moment before applause rose up once more, awkward and false as it rang through the stunned crowd, seemingly struck by the same sense of disbelief that was crashing through Victoria. Though it took a while for her mind to stop whirling, it took even longer for Logan to meet his sister's eyes. Victoria simply stared, horrified, at him. What the hell had he just gotten her into?

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Chapter Three: Throwing Stones

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Chapter Four: Highway to Hell

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Chapter Five: The Gates of Dis

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Chapter Six: Play Dead

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Chapter Seven: Walking With Strangers

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Chapter Eight: Secrets

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Chapter Nine: Half-breed

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Chapter Ten: On Night's Tides

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Chapter Eleven: Unfamiliar

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Chapter Twelve: The Fourth Circle

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Chapter Thirteen: Vices and Virtues

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Chapter Fourteen: The Battle of One

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Chapter Fifteen: Fight And Flight

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Chapter Sixteen: Darkness Incarnate

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Chapter Seventeen: Sancta Sanctorum

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Chapter Eighteen: The Snark and The Boojum

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Chapter Nineteen: Kalin and The City of Nightmares

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Chapter Twenty: To Arms

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Chapter Twenty One: The One With the Truth

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Chapter Twenty Two: Sparrow's Secret Plan

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Chapter Twenty Three: White Wedding

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Chapter Twenty Four: A New Alliance

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Chapter Twenty Five: Last Daze

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Chapter Twenty Six: The Battle for Albion

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Epilogue: The End?

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~

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