Go With Virtue

Junior Archivist Diana Evelynn placed her bare hand on the rung of a ladder for the two hundred and seventy fifth time that night. She turned her head, and looked down, realizing she'd come so far up that she couldn't make out the shadowy floor below. There was, as they say, no turning back.

"Seven, come in. I'm approaching the Landing Zone." She moves her climbing gear carabiner a few rungs up, and tapped the earpiece of her visor, which crawled imperceptibly across her face even now. "Seven?"

"I am sorry, Archivist. We were just passed by a patrol. Get yourself into position, and quickly. The changing of the guard is happening soon." She sighed, and kept pushing her way up the ladder. In the monotony, her mind wanders.


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"Even before I was born, I was brought to this place… with all my siblings. Each and everyone of us. The speculation is that it was an accident. Perhaps it was the first breach into an unknown world? It's irrelevant. What is relevant is who, and why. The first is unknown, and they'd keep it that way, God willing. The Black Knights, SEHNSUCHT, the Technicians… one man in his time plays many roles. And the why…"

"Do you believe in fate? The inescapable pull that brings people together? Or that there might be some underlying channel, some facet of reality we all share? Even after everything that's happened… it could still be something you're skeptical about. That's what they wanted to know. If two people… with no connection… if two people could act the same, learn the same thing, intuitively, all on their own… maybe there was something to human nature after all. And they sure found it. A small test trial, just two kids. Then, four. Then… well, you've seen how many of us there are. My siblings and I… the mere potential of us was enough to… push through. On that day, we were born…"

"On the other side."


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"Eyes up, Archivist. The armor is trying to take control."

Diana wiped her brow as she mounted the top of the ladder. "Whose thoughts am I hearing? Is that…"

"No, Archivist. It's likely that it's the Knight who inhabited the suit before you."

There was a slight shudder at the thought. 'Phew, phew, phew. Alright Diana, let's kick it up a notch. Remember the plan. Remember the plan.' "Sure, sure. And, Seven? I have a name. It's Diana."

"I do not. Yet you have provided me one. As I allow your customs imposed on me, should you not endure mine thrust on thee?"

"Did you just say 'thee'?" she laughed. "Sometimes, with all the fancy tech, I forget you guys are actually, you know, Knights." Her gear was checked, her tactical equipment was adjusted, and she lightly sprinted down the hallway to her destination.


"There. Look. A Recovery Platform." It pointed down the corridor at a small basestation located deep within Level 369. The level, as far as Diana knew, was inaccessible by any typical clip method. There was no traditional in or out to the whole… facility. That was what it looked like, anyways. The Knight put its finger to its face plate, and beckoned to watch. As she turned her head, Diana saw the end of a particularly nasty clip. The Knight who came up through the floor of the platform screamed in agony, a missing leg clearly the cause of its anguish. At once, several more Knights approached, carrying the wounded entity away.

"That's the target. Do you remember the code I taught you?" J nods, readying his gauntlet. "Good. We must be swift, as the effect lasts only a short time. On three." The Knight counts down on his fingers, and at 3, begins to input the code 13341153 together with the others. A shimmering blue glow envelops the three of them, and then, surprisingly, no light at all. It gathers around them, and disperses in opposite directions, rendering the group effectively invisible. Quickly but quietly moving towards the target, she remembers Seven's words from before.

"They'll be expecting us to enter the main area with a platoon. It's too risky, and we'd stand out against a crowd. But on our own… we look like the remains of a unit. Missing armor, wounds, battle scars. If we performed an emergency clip, we'd be escorted into the camp to meet a Technician right away. The only problem is, both of you are wearing armor that already performed an emergency clip. It doesn't do this more than once, under threat of recursion, tripping the system over and over and clipping several times a second. We cannot clip in using that system… but we can certainly make it appear as if we did."

The shimmering fades, leaving Diana hanging off the shoulders of Seven and J, in a pretense of limpness. They drag her slowly down off the platform, as they're intercepted by other Knights.

"What unit do you belong to, Knight?" The senior officer walks in stride with the insurrectionists.

"Unit 7. We were hit by a roving band of Hounds. Confirmation code, ARCANED G-4."

"What of this one? These materials covering them. Cloth. Where did this come from?" This Knight, the senior officer, wears emblems worn into his armor, glowing with the now-standard blue light, but their meaning is not translated. They must be symbolic, rather than language, Diana decides, still feigning injury.

"Provided by the Natives. I believe it is a result of a cargo-cult like behavior, in which they attempt to re-arm us."

"The Natives saw you? And then were terminated promptly?"

"Naturally. That is the perogative in such circumstance."

"Good. Your actions may well earn you commendations from the Monarch." From the angle, Diana finally makes out the assigned number of the officer as it pats Seven on the shoulder pad: 013.

"This is to be desired. However, seeing these individuals to a Technician is preferred."

013 turns his head slightly to the side, as if in sorrow. "Unfortunately, that is not preferred. These Knights are beyond repair. This, in addition to the taint of the Natives, schedules them for Decommisioning." There's a brief pause in the room, as each being in the room thinks to themselves. In Diana's mind, thoughts are whirring. 'Decommissioning? As in, execution? They outright kill Knights who are too far gone? How did Seven miss this? Or did they miss it at all? Was it a setup from the beginning?' she wonders, as Knight 013 opens and shuts a bulkhead door, leaving them alone together.

There's a short pause as they wait for the officer to leave.

"Based on this new information-"

"We're going to be fucking executed? You knew this was a possibility and you just-"

"-we should adjust accordingly to it as follows-"

"-WALKED US RIGHT IN HERE, WHERE THEY COULD-"

Both of them stop abruptly. J stands silently, with his hands on each of their shoulders. Diana looks at Seven, and they look back. Nodding, they both get up, and she shakes herself back into composure.

"Alright. This is your territory. Where to?"

"The plan is only slightly altered. Instead of being escorted to the Plinth, we use the prior method. We become imperceptible, and walk to the target without being seen. Then we will be sent to the Technicians as normal."

"Good. Let's be quick about it."


The trio left the side-room under the cover of an invisible sheen. Swiftly, they moved past, alongside, and around several other Knights, engaging in casual conversation, attending to their duties, and otherwise resting. It was strange to see such rigid and aggressive entities just… hanging out. But then, had anything she'd seen in the last few… (had it only been days?) been less than bat-shit crazy?

All three of them had been so pre-occupied with leaving that they weren't watching their step. Diana looked to her right, and saw blue energy construct around Seven's foot, some analogy for a bear-trap. "Shit…"

"Go. I will make it out of this."

She looks him in the eyes for a moment. A brief thought occurs to deny his request, to say 'No, we're not leaving you behind,' but she's learned to trust Seven. If she can't, there's very little else she can. She grabs J by the hand and walks him quickly away from the trap, but the delay had taken its toll. The invisibility command had worn off, and as Seven had warned earlier, it cannot be re-commanded for several minutes during the glove recharge.

"Halt." They'd already been spotted.

Diana turned to J on a dime. "You go right, I go left. We take out as many as we can, and wait for Seven to get out of that trap. Go!" They nod, and take off in a dead sprint down the wide, almost chamber sized hallway serving as the common area of the Knights towards the plinth. He ducks around some pillars, and Diana loses track of him. But she was no longer focused on him. She was only interested in getting around or through these Knights, whichever it took.

She summoned her buckler. The command was ingrained in her head by now: 31132324.

"You will-," the first knight begins, but is stopped by a bash to the face by the front half of her shield. She recovers its armament, some futuristic looking rifle, and shoots it dead in the chest. The Knight falls, and Diana lingers for a moment, watching the smoke clear. Knights closing in on her, she keeps her eyes fixed to the chest-plate, and the moment it clears, she turns and opens fire on the rest of them. What she saw in that moment was a hole, dead through the Knight, leaking more black blood than she'd ever seen. Which was unfortunate for the ones she was about to shoot, because it meant to her that she only needed one for each of them.

"That's right you LARPing club rejects! Not so invulnerable now, are ya!" She had terrible aim, but that didn't matter now, not when a single hit knocks a two inch radius hole in each Knight she catches in the crossfire. The response, however, was considerably quicker than she imagined. The same blue bolts coming out of the rifle she held whizzed… no, sizzled past her head, knocking into and burning a lock of her hair. 'That's more than enough flagrant showboating for now,' she thought, as she ducked behind one of the pillars.

Her new vantage point allowed her to see that her partner J had more or less shared her ambitions, carrying a rifle of his own and sporting several Knight corpses (could you even truly call them corpses?) resulting from it. He turned around the pylon and fired, a three round burst that was followed by a few clicks. J was out, and he threw his rifle to the ground.

She placed her rifle's strap around her chestplate, and swiftly ducked out from behind the pillar to cover more ground. Sometime during the fight, an alarm began to blare, and the result of it was now apparent. The Plinth was no longer unoccupied, and while she beat in the faceplate of a Knight in her way hard enough dent it 3 inches inward, she saw what was there for a moment, and began to panic.

The shimmering image forming in front of her was becoming more real by the second. Understanding that it would be functional enough to attack soon, she hurriedly took cover behind a pylon and drew her rifle from its sling. Diana checked her 3, then her 9. That's when she saw J running, unfocused, tapping away at his newly acquired knuckle plates, one at a time: 31132324, 31132324. Then, one final combination, right gauntlet, a value not included in the pre-programmed set: 3125354. For the first time, the color of the runes shined not blue but a yellowed gold, and his pace picked up a significant amount. She readied her rifle before preparing to sweep right and join J in whatever nonsense he was preparing to do, when she felt a tap at her left shoulder.

There was a brief moment of panic as she stared into the eyes of a Knight, before the body language tipped her off. "Seven, Jesus. Don't sneak up on me like that without identifying yourself." She peers around the corner, half listening to Seven while watching J arrive at the foot of the forming ARCHETYPE.

"My sincerest apologies. I should warn you, you'll not want be so hasty." It pointed at the shimmering beast, less knight and more kraken, its three towering legs thicker than a person each. As it finally came into being it roared, and the bass of its voice shook the Backrooms violently as it did so. "The Sentinel has been fully summoned, and it looks to be a late Stage 3. I believe our friend J has entertained the aforementioned pyrrhic victory strategy." Several of the Knights that had escaped the earlier conflict had now come out of the woodwork to watch, and one of them began a slow, steady, syllabic chant:

"SENTINEL. SENTINEL. SENTINEL."

J, or Jared Evereds, citizen of the backrooms for 2 years, was thinking very little as he ran down the chambers halls. Instead, he was remembering, all the way back to the day he met Junior Archivist Evelynn. It was long before he was introduced to her as J, but, lacking context, how could she have been expected to understand?


Jared walked down a relatively empty hallway of Level 0, and found a door with "J.A. EVELYNN" engraved in its surface. Clutching a journal in his hands, he pushed open the door, and tested the boundary with his hand before entering. Feeling nothing, he opened it further and walked in. He wasn't too trusting of doors after… the last time. He looked down at a smiling young woman in a lab coat that was just now beginning to show its age.

"A new report?" She holds out her hand, expectantly. "I'll draft it up and submit it right away."

"Th-thanks…" he says, handing the book to her and turning away quickly.

"Hey, slow down! You're new here?"

"Uh, yeah, new to the… uh… the M.E.G., yeah."

There's a pause, and Diana rushes to fill it. "Great to meet you! I'm Diana, I draft a good portion of the submissions from field workers. We'll probably be seeing each-other a lot more soon! What's your name, stranger?"

He catches himself on the door, anxious to get out of this social interaction as fast as he can. "It's, uh, Jared. I probably won't be back though…"

Diana frowns. "Huh? Why's that? Aren't you just starting out with the field workers?"

"I uh… I don't think I'm cut out for it? I'm… not exactly… field worker material, I guess."

Diana gets up from her seat and adjusts her glasses. She takes a couple steps towards him, placing a finger on his shirt, the kind of motion a bully might pull before sliding it up to poke you in the face. After the initial innate instinct to defy looking down, Jared follows her point. "What's this then?" Her finger is on the logo on his dirty tee, the symbol of Green Lantern, which as pathetic as it was, still probably held the position of the coolest t-shirt Jared had owned pre-Backrooms.

"It's… um…" He gulps. "It's from Green Lantern?"

"You like Green Lantern?" Diana asks. After a nod from him, she follows up with "Well, guess what? You're the closest thing to Green Lantern that we have out here. Those of us here in the M.E.G… we depend on you guys. Going out there an risking your lives… you guys are more or less heroes. You want to be a hero, right?" Jared nods again. She drops the point and steps back to her desk, leaning over the journal, reading while talking: "Good. You're doing… well so far, from what I can tell. This kind of room you wrote about here, that's a deathtrap. Glad you made it out, but I'm even more glad that you brought this back. The info will save dozens." She returns to her work. Jared starts to sneak out, but right as he leaves, she calls one more time.

"Hey, Jared? Aren't you a little young to be going out there?" She squints at him.

"I'm… I pass the minimum age. I'm 19."

"Gosh, you look like a high schooler. No offense."

"I… Yeah. Technically I am. I got held back once for… for having a bad English grade in reading comprehension." He averts his eyes slightly, embarassed.

Diana smiles reassuringly. "Well I think your writing is wonderful. I'll probably release this verbatim. Come back soon, and alive?"

Jared nods, as he does often, and takes the last step out of the room with butterflies in his stomach.


On the other hand, J charges down the hall with new resolve.

Coming within range of the Sentinel, it roars as it swipes a leg across the floor, but he hops it easily, grasping a jutting armor plate with one hand and plunging a buckler into some exposed flesh, exasperating the cry of the monster. Using it as leverage, he alternates this move several times, pushing the buckler into the sinew of the creature over and over as he ascends the beast. Each puncture leaves golden energy leaking from it, and the wounds gape with a black core ominously. It writhes, but cannot shake the little one clambering up its length.

He moves with the motion of the shaking, letting the buckler wriggle in the flesh of the beast as he does, and each time it steadies, he ends up one more hold higher, until he reaches the gaping maw of the Sentinel. Without thinking, he plunges his arm deep into the mouth, an uppercut that places the buckler firmly within the brain of the beast from below. Black blood spews from the wound, and the death throes of the Sentinel take their toll on J. The first spasm clamps the jaw of the creature down, catching J's arm at the shoulder and wrenching it clean from his torso. The mix of his red splatter, the Ichor of the gauntlets, and the black blood of the beast runs distinct like oil and water on the ground. As he falls from the creature, he's knocked by a second death spasm, this time from the leg, which sends him hurtling away from the creature, the impact resulting from which cracks the concrete of a pillar with only his soft, one armed form. He crumples nearly instantly as the whiplash smacks his head against the same pillar, sundering his helmet and letting it spin away across the ground. The glowing golden energy begins to fade from his armor as his body sinks to the floor.

Diana watches all of this, more or less helplessly, pinned down by the bolts of energy from other Knights. "J!" she screams, but there's no answer. She moves to intercept, but is stopped by Seven. The Knight holds firm the collar of her armor, and places a finger to his face-plate, before motioning to the Plinth. The Sentinel dead and fading, it's place is slowly being overwritten by a second, smaller form. The Knights firing at her position have stopped, and they each turn and kneel before the new entity.

Seven takes Diana's hand, and forces something into it. A short sword, made of metal and not energy. It's curved on both sides, and Seven closes her fingers around it. "Take this. Challenge the Monarch. They are noble folk, and are burdened to accept. Go now!" The Knight lets go of her hand, but she remains there, staring.

"Why me? Why do I go?"

"Because you are a better fighter than I will ever be."

Diana steeled her resolve, depending on this statement like her life depended on it. She suspected that it truly did. With this, she stepped out from behind the pillar, and walked towards the new figure.


The Monarch didn't look much different from the rest of the Knights. The only significant difference was a change in the face-plate, a ridge along the top resembling a crown. But the energy the figure commanded was incredible, even by the organizations standards. It stood royally, hand on the hilt of a sword sheathed in a hip scabbard, and held a high chin to Diana.

"ARCHIVIST. YOUR PRESENCE IS UNWELCOME, BUT THIS WILL BE RECTIFIED SHORTLY."

She recognized instantly the kind of demeanor she was seeing. A pompous asshole like this was easy to push around, by anyone, if you challenge their ego correctly. "Rectified by who? Your pissant army? How about you come over here and do something about it yourself, mano a mano?"

Nailed on the first try, too easy.

"THE DATA ON YOU SUGGESTS YOU TO BE AN INTELLIGENT ONE. THAT STATEMENT DETIRMINES OUR DATA TO BE FALSE." They draw their sword, pointing it vaguely in Diana's direction.

"Prove it, dickweed!" she jeered, showing off Seven's sword before placing sheathing it above her shoulder in the back of her armor, opting to start with the buckler she's more familiar with.

"THEN LET US BEGIN."

The Black Monarch leaned into a backward lunge, sinking into an erratic looking crouch. Raising its estoc, it rocked on its heels and sprang forward, leaving Diana barely enough time to prevent the tip of the ebony blade from piercing her right lung and deferring the blow across her chest-plate. A small gash, glowing with blue light formed as the tip of the blade carved itself into the matte surface, and remained as she fell backwards into a back spring and hopped back to her feet.

"THE FIRST OF MANY." It slowly circled, adapting perfectly to her movements in almost robotic motions. The soles of the greaves of her enemy never left the floor, always gently sliding across it, never placing itself off balance. "THIS IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU AND I, ARCHIVIST. THESE WORDS THAT KILL WILL BE CARVED INTO YOUR SOUL FOR YOUR HUBRIS." It lunges once more, and she catches the edge with her glowing buckler, smirking for a moment, before faltering when her opponent twists the blade, placing the flat against the edge of her small shield and using it to force it out of the way with inhuman strength. Her arm knocked aside, she stumbles backwards, but not fast enough to avoid a second blow upwards that catches briefly against her breastplate and then the tip of her chin, leaving an inch long gash across the point of her jaw. "THREE MORE STROKES OF THIS SABER, AND YOU'LL CEASE YOUR TUMULTUOUS WAYS INDEFINITELY."

"Well then, it's very good that I'm planning on killing you within two!" she yells, throwing her left arm out and showing her palm to the enemy. Releasing her balled fist is the gauntlets signal to release the buckler, and it flies toward her enemy, clanking against the Monarch's helmet and knocking it off balance. Her center of balance is shifted slightly forward, and when she pushes off from the ground, she clenches her fist once more to catch the buckler from the air once more. In the same moment, her front foot meets the clavicle of the fencer, and her right hand draws Unit 783's gladius from its sheathe before she lands, sword up and tip forward.

The two of them pace now, Diana leading the Monarch in an everchanging dance, her feet barely moving from the floor at all, the scrape of rubber soles against concrete the loudest thing in the room now that everything has gone silent. A little left, a little right. Back, forward. Neither makes a move with weapons, until the Monarch spots another gap. It plunges the thin sword once more towards Diana, and although it's fast enough to leave one more mark on her chest, there are no new nicks on her face, due to a quick parry from Seven's sword, the weight of which helps knock the thing out of the way.

"REGRET IS AN EMOTION SHARED BY ALL BEINGS, ARCHIVIST. ARE YOU FEELING IT NOW? THE NEXT STROKE MARKS YOUR DEATH."

Theoretically it was true. One more stroke would leave the glowing runes on her chest reading 'DIE', and she had a solid guess on the outcome of such a spell.

"Well then, Monarch," she says, taking an erratic set of steps back, dodging a few more attempts to slash, "Come and get me!"

The Monarch matches her pace, double-timing as it goes through what must be calculated battle rhythms it's performed hundreds of times before. It chases her quick movements not but a fraction of a second behind, several near misses that are only foiled due to the clearly choreographed swipes one would have to take to be as precise as to close the last sigil on her chest. This is the only thing keeping her from death, and as she comes close to a pillar and sees that she's backed against a wall, she yelps in fear. "Stop, please! I yield, I yield!"

The Monarch pauses, it's blade tip but centimeter away from her armor. "CURIOUS. ARE YOU DONE RUNNING FROM YOUR FATE?"

"No, I think I'll be walking from now. But you won't be coming with me, will you?" She ducks to the side, his swing narrowly missing her.

"IMPOTENT WORM, YOU DARE SPITE THE-" The Monarch falters. "WHAT… HOW IS… NO!"

Glowing beneath the feet of the Black Monarch is a huge swath of glowing runes, laid out in a winding, circling path, following the trail the two of them fought while the Monarch pressed its advantage.

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The Monarch began to chuckle slightly, before catching itself. "HOW AMUSING. YOU HAVE MANAGED TO TRICK ME. IF ONLY YOUR COMBAT SKILLS WERE AS IMPRESSIVE AS YOUR SPELLS."

"Now you're gonna let us go, right? I could put a bullet… thingy… through your head if I wanted to, but I won fair and square. Aren't you supposed to be chivalrous?"

"CERTAINLY. I'LL LET YOU LEAVE. BUT MY ATTENDANTS," the Monarch gestures, it's army slowly falling in behind it, "ARE HELD TO NO SUCH TERMS."

Diana spits in his direction, catching him in the eyehole of his face-plate. "You haven't an ounce of chivalry in that tin can."

"ARCHIVIST… DEAR ARCHIVIST… YOU NEVER KNEW WHAT YOU WERE DEALING WITH. I AM SIMPLY A VESSEL, FOR THE SPIRIT OF A MAN MUCH MORE INTELLIGENT AND POWERFUL THAN EVEN I. IN HIS ABSENCE, I'M THE MOST CUNNING AND CALCULATING INDIVIDUAL IN THIS PLANE, NAY, ANY LIMINAL SPACE. SUPPOSING YOUR PLAN COULD COMPARE TO MY INNATE ABILITIES WAS FOOLISH, ARCHIVIST. YOU FEIGN THE KNOWLEDGE YOU LACK, AND FOR THIS YOUR DOWNFALL WILL BE EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL. DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU DARED TO CHALLENGE? I AM A GOD, USURPER."

Diana tries and fails to get a word in edgewise, but stops when she hears a faint rumbling.

"YOU ARE UNFIT TO TOUCH THE DIVINE, MORTAL. I AM NOT JUST HEAVENLY, I AM THE ONE AND ONLY GOD OF LIMINAL SPACE! I HAVE SOLE DIVINE RIGHT TO YOUR SO CALLED 'BACKR'-", it begins. Unfortunately for it, the rumbling eventually gave way to a large crash, as from beyond the walls emerged a colossal marbled fist, breaking through the ceiling and crushing the Black Monarch on impact. After a few moments, it slowly withdrew from the crater it had left, before slamming down once more for good measure and retreating back within the opening it had made.

But the rumbling doesn't stop. In fact, it only gets worse. Chunks of the ceiling fall, and as Diana looks up to avoid the falls, she gazes upon the face of an enormous being, an ancient roman statue of a deity, surrounded by what she can only assume are glitches in reality itself. She begins to run the same direction as the Knights, but is stopped by a sound from behind her of clanging metal. As she turned to look, it was clear the Black Monarch had tossed her its estoc, and it glowed with potential.

The Monarch sputtered, wheezing as it crawled with one arm. "LEAVE… THIS PLACE. GO. BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. THIS INSTANCE… IT COLLAPSES WITH ME."

"Why… why are you doing this? If I hadn't-"

"LEAVE, BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND AND SMITE YOU WHERE YOU STAND." It coughs, black liquid leaking onto the pavement. "YOU WERE THE FIRST… THE FIRST TO BEST ME. YOU'VE EARNED MY RESPECT. NOW LET ME DIE WITH DIGNITY."

Diana steadied herself. She prepared to stand, but was stopped by a grasp at her heel and the exclamation of "WAIT."

Before her, whirling colors swirled, forming patterns in her mind she could barely make out. It flashed brightly, a searing, bright flash that singed into her neural network. "THERE IS A PLACE BEYOND TIME AND DIMENSIONS. A hill. GO THERE AND LEARN." At the same time, chains snap, and her mind opens it's arms wide, released from the coffin of the Knight armor.

"REMEMBER… SEHNSUCHT IS THE KEY. THE KEY TO ALL OF THIS. GO WITH VIRTUE."

The Monarchs hand fell limp. She slammed his estoc deep into a nearby column, piercing the barrier between Levels. After wrenching it out, she leapt into the fray, stumbling and finally falling on the ground outside of Safehouse 783. The clipping point rumbled, gurgled, caved in, and finally came to a calm.

Diana stands, exhausted with fatigue from the fight, attempting and failing to brush the dirt from her clothing. She shuffles, trips, and falls, her head colliding with the pavement, bringing her once more into the fold of a dream.

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