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|More from BlackMonkey||Adventure||PG (Parental Guidance)||Good||Here|
Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|"It was a little awkward living with everyone, friends and mentors from his journey. They had been together for three days now, and the Summer Solstice was in less than a week. No matter how conversations started, they always ended up talking about the upcoming battle, and things were getting tense."|
|— From The Death Toll|
|""Something was up with him," Shirou said. "He kept talking about needing the eleven hundred coins in five days." |
"Wait," Akio said. "Isn't the Summer Solstice in five days?"
|— From The Death Toll|
|""We're going to need to rethink our whole plan of action in Omashu. The Chancellor ambushed Markale a few days ago and used almost all of his energy to transform The Procession into and army for his own purposes. From what I could make out, the tax collectors now resemble The Quadrination Bandits."|
|— From The Death Toll|
|""When The Chancellor ambushed Hotaru and I in Ba Sing Se, he let out a way for a mortal to enter The Spirit World. It's only possible on a solstice." |
"So technically," Isamu said, "While we battle in Omashu on the Summer Solstice, you could be up in The Spirit World with Koh and trying to get him to lift Shinji's bounty." "
|— From The Death Toll|
|""Shirou will leave for The Spirit World, Asaki and Takumi will stay here to watch Markale, and the rest of us are heading to Omashu," Kotone summarized. "Well, we have bags to pack, folks."|
|— From The Death Toll|
|Apocalyptic Rhythm: Part 1|
December 21, 2012
This is Chapter 47 in
It was a bright, cloudless morning in Omashu. The sun was high in the perfectly blue sky. The beautiful horizon wasn't fitting for the amount of death and destruction that would be wreaked this day. It was the Summer Solstice.
Shinji was looking at the view from the window in their new home high up in the city. King Isamu had brought them here about four days ago, but it still seemed like they hadn't settled in. Everyone was worried. It was no longer a matter of when and where and how. Things were about to start.
"Hey, wake up," a voice said from behind. He turned to see Kotone poking her head in his door. "Oh, you're already awake."
"I was never asleep."
"You stayed up all night again?" she asked him, fully stepping into the room.
Shinji nodded. "I'm stressed out."
"If you don't get sleep now you'll be too tired to fight in the battle."
"That's why I'm stressed out."
They looked at each other.
"So what do we do now?" Shinji asked. "What's left to do?"
Kotone sighed. "Just relax. Isamu is organizing the Omashu military and we're going to be having a meeting this afternoon. Right now though, just rest. This is the calm before the storm. Make good use of it."
"Alright, I will. Is breakfast provided with the calm before the storm?"
"I'll bring you some toast. Want tea?"
Shinji nodded. "Sure."
She left the room, leaving him in there for his worries and stress to come back and take over his mind.
Miles and miles away in The Town of Ethos, Shirou was putting the final pieces of equipment for his journey to The Spirit World into his backpack. He had been living with Takumi and Asaki the past four days in Kotone's house, and in the truth, he was glad to leave. They did begin to talk to each other again, but conversations were short and awkward. They preferred not to see each other, mostly out of embarrassment from that night the week before. Finished packing, he stood up and put his finished backpack on the table with his sword and jacket. "I'm going to be going soon!" he called.
Asaki walked in from the adjacent room and looked at him.
"Hey," he muttered, putting on his jacket.
They stared at each other for an uncomfortable moment.
"You know Shirou," she whispered. "I'm sorry things didn't work out."
"Me too," he said, fighting a blush.
"You're still my friend."
"We don't have to talk about this."
"Even if I don't love you, I still want to be able to talk with you. I want us to be able to get over this."
"We can. I mean, I'm still angry at you," he said, "But I still care for you too. And I want you to do what's best for you. I won't lie, I wanted us to be together, but you have to follow your heart, you need to believe in who you truly love. If you want to be with Takumi, go with your instinct. I want you to be happy. So just do-"
They stopped talking when Takumi walked into the room, smiling. "You heading out, Shirou?" he asked.
He nodded, putting on his backpack and then slinging his sword over it.
"We should be heading out as well, to the police station. Markale's trial is today and they wanted us to help out getting him ready."
"I'll walk over there with you," Shirou said. "Then I can go."
They walked out the front door of Kotone's house and into the streets of The Town of Ethos. By now, they knew very well where the police station was, and it didn't take too long to get there. When they arrived, the three stood still on the sidewalk and looked at one another.
"Good luck in The Spirit World," Takumi said. "Do you know where you're going from here?"
Shirou shrugged. "Not really. Kotone said the statue that I'm using to enter is in the woods to the north, but that's it. She said if I pass by a town I should ask if people know where it is."
Asaki kept quiet, but she and Shirou were making eye contact, and they both knew that inside they were thinking about each other, and what he had said to her.
"Well, we can't sit here all day, can we?" Takumi asked. "This solstice is only going to last 24 hours, so lets do all we can to fix things up. Today's the day things come to a close. We should get moving." He put out his hand and Shirou reluctantly shook it, and did the same for Asaki, looking at her with longing. He began to walk away, glancing back.
"Don't do anything dumb," Asaki called out as he walked down the street towards the forested edge of town. She looked at Takumi. "You think he's gonna be okay?"
"Yeah," he said. "And we have each other, right?"
"Right," Asaki said, a huge wave of thoughts going through her mind. "Well, we should get the Markale situation handled."
They nodded towards each other and headed to the front door of the police station, where they were welcomed in and brought to the main room of the building. Sitting around a table were two of the police officers from the other day, one man and a woman, and in between them sat Markale, with messy hair, tired eyes and no expression whatsoever besides exhaustion. His mental and physical stability seemed to have crumbled even more since he was arrested.
"Glad you were able to come," the female police officer said. "The trial begins in less than an hour."
"What do you need us to do?" Asaki asked.
"We have work out in town," the male officer replied. "We're supposed to be on duty but we've had to stay back for all this."
"Oh, sorry for having you wait all that time."
The two officers stood up, nodding at them. "Officials from the court should arrive in the next hour. We just need you to look over this man to make sure things stay... under control."
"Sounds easy enough," Takumi said.
No one saw Markale crack a hint of a smile at the table.
The male police officer handed Asaki a metal ring of keys. "Just in case," he said. She took it and put it into her pocket.
"If anything goes wrong, our secretary Masa is always in the front office." The two officers grabbed a pile of equipment on the table and walked out the door, leaving Takumi and Asaki with the psychotic commissioner of The Procession. They sat down across from him, and gently began to tap the table in boredom.
Markale, who had been sitting there for a long time now, had fully thought out and analyzed every angle of the room. The handcuffs which bound his arms behind the back the chair he sat on were the biggest disadvantage, but he hadn't given up yet.
"Do you want to play a game?" the commissioner asked in a playful voice.
They both shook their heads.
"I love games," he cooed. "The mean police officers won't let me play any."
"All you're doing is sitting there and being quiet," Takumi stated.
"You must let me play a game. There hasn't been a minute in the past five days were I haven't been bound by chains or behind bars. I have been restrained for too long, and I want to play a game. The police officers are mean and strict, but you, you are nice."
"Why aren't you just behind bars now?" Asaki asked.
"There are rules and regulations to this madness. Remember, your old lady Kotone helps run this place so some laws are a little lenient and kind compared to other towns. Not kind enough to let criminals play games, though."
"Would you be quiet about games?" Takumi snapped.
"There's a game we used to play in The Procession," Markale said. "You needed to be earthbenders to play though."
"I know a game from my time in The Polar Revolution," Asaki said. "It's called Frostbite."
"How do you play?"
"It's a card game," she explained, pulling out a small white case from her pocket and showing six cards, giving three to him and keeping the other three. "On the other side of each card is a snowflake, one red, one blue, one yellow. You point to a card of yours and state its color, and the opponent has to try to tell if you're lying or not. If they choose wrong, you win. If they choose correctly, it becomes their turn."
"This game sounds stupid," Markale said.
"It's a game, isn't it?"
"I guess so. Lets play."
"Oh, and you have to bet something for each game," Asaki said. "Here, I'll bet this knife." She dropped a small black pocketknife on the table.
"We have to, bet something?" Markale asked, smiling. This was exactly what he had wanted. He took a small rock from his pocket. "This is all I have. I found it in the jail cell."
"Okay, you bet your rock, I bet my knife. Lets play. I'll go first." She pointed to one of her three cards. "This is a blue card," she said.
"I think that you're lying," the commissioner said.
Asaki flipped the card over, and revealed a yellow snowflake. "Good work, now it's your turn."
Markale pointed to the leftmost of his cards. "This is a red one."
"You'e telling the truth, aren't you?"
"Okay, this card is yellow," she said, pointing to another card.
"I think you are," Markale thought for a second, "Telling the truth!"
Asaki frowned. "Sorry," she said, flipping it over to reveal a red snowflake. "You'll have to give me that rock of yours."
"Want to play again? I have a rag to bet," he responded quickly.
They agreed, and began another game. This was playing out exactly as Markale wanted it too. Everyone was starting to see him as a freak now. Instead of fighting the growing sense of insanity over his brain, he decided to go with it. Asaki had softened up at the sight of his mental state, she let her guard down, she underestimated his awareness of the situation, and played right into his trap. Little did Asaki realize, she just took the rock that she won in the game of Frostbite, just playing around, and stuck it in her pocket. The same pocket with the keys to his handcuffs.
As the two had fun with more and more rounds of Frostbite, Takumi occasionally stepping in for a game, Markale wasn't really paying attention, just picking random colors each time they asked him and because of his current unstable sanity, they thought nothing of it. While they acted like fools with cards, the commissioner was straining the muscles of his chained hands underneath the table, reaching out with his earthbending awareness, trying to grasp control over his rock in Asaki's pocket. He kept feeling it, and then it went away, his bending not strong enough when in handcuffs to manipulate stone through a piece of clothing. But he had to try. He reached out again, his fingers trembling, there, he felt it, he could sense the rock in her pocket. His arms began to rattle as he kept his awareness out that far, gently bending the rock to bend and fold around the keys to the handcuffs. Finishing the first step of his plan, he let go, relaxing and taking a deep breath. The rock and the keys had now merged, one piece.
"This is blue," Asaki said, holding up a card.
Markale scratched his head. "I think that you're lying."
"Good job," she said playfully. "Now its your turn."
While he continued guessing random colors and cards, his fingers flexed under the table, widening his earthbending sense out and once again gaining control over his rock in Asaki's pocket. Slowly and softly, he twisted his fingers upward, and even though his eyes were focused on the Frostbite game, he could feel the rock slide out of her pocket, carrying the keys to his handcuffs with it. Gently, he moved it from the from the cloth of her jacket, into the air, and curled his fingers back, shooting the rock underneath the table to his locked hands.
"This card is red," Asaki said above the table.
"I think you're lying," he replied with no eye contact. Right now, Markale was concentrated on the twiddling of his fingers, breaking apart the rock in his hands with little flashes of earthbending, leaving the key inside in perfect shape. He took the key in between two fingers and maneuvered it into the keyhole of his handcuffs. Suddenly, the tight grip on his wrists loosened with a breath of air, and the bulky handcuffs fell to the floor with a loud metallic clunk.
"What was that?" Takumi asked, standing up frantically.
Markale smiled. "Do you have any money?"
"Why would you need it?"
"I don't know," he snickered, "I just want a little something for the road."
Before they could ask anything else, Markale stood up and with his now free hands, pushed the table forward with all his might, throwing it into Takumi and Asaki. In a sudden frenzy of yelling and banging, he smashed his foot to the ground, sending a huge crack up the wall behind them and then punched both hands out, shattering an open hole in it that led outside with an explosion of rock and dust. As the two who were supposed to be watching him stared in disbelief, Markale flashed the key that Asaki thought was in her pocket up in front of their faces and then hopped out the new hole in the wall, running away with deranged laughter.
Bursting a jet of air upwards, Takumi flipped over the table that was lying on top of them and he ran outside, chasing after the commissioner, with Asaki right behind him.
Isamu, Kotone, Akio, Taro, Sora, Shinji, Hotaru and the generals of Omashu sat around a large meeting table in the royal palace of the great stone city. Dark tension brewed in the room.
"We have bad news," King Isamu announced. "There have been multiple sightings, from both civilians and military officials, of a shape in the horizon that seems to be coming closer to our city. Its been viewed and analyzed over and over again and we've confirmed it to be an army. By the speed of their current movement, its been estimated they will arrive in the next hour."
"Is there any way to launch any long range weapons at them from here?" Shinji asked, obviously worried.
"We have new cannon technology can shoot boulders up to five miles out of the city," one general explained. "However, the army is still too far away from our firing range."
"An army of five hundred people, walking in the desert and mountains, over five miles away, is going to be here in less than an hour?"
Isamu nodded. "We're afraid to say that The Chancellor's armies are moving at an unreal speed for their current conditions. This could be seen as confirmation that they have supernatural enhancements, or rather, really are an army of Quadrination Bandits."
They looked around in grim silence.
"So what's your plan of action when they arrive?" Taro asked.
"We have a little more than one thousand people enlisted in the Omashu military," a general stated. "These will be divided up between the three sectors of the city; Lower, Central, and Royal Omashu. Five hundred soldiers will be stationed in Lower Omashu, where all civilians have evacuated. This is will be the largest battleground, where we hope to create a buffer against the Quadrinaton forces and fight off the majority of the attacking soldiers. The Avatar has volunteered to lead this operation." He looked at Hotaru, who gave him a nod, and he continued. "The enemies that survive will be slowly filtered into Central Omashu. This is where civilians are staying, so it is a crucial fighting area. Three hundred soldiers and any others willing to enter the fray, like the Fire Lord, Glacier Cove Chieftain, Mother Superior who have offered their help today."
Isamu cut in. "In Royal Omashu, the uppermost part of the city, one hundred soldiers will be surrounding the Royal Palace, where I will be personally guarding Shinji."
"The rest of the military will be operating machines such as the boulder launcher that we mentioned before," another general added. "We have strategized for the strongest barrier into the royal palace as possible, and every soldier has been properly selected and placed in the city for the absolute hardest way for The Chancellor to reach Shinji."
"Sounds good," Kotone said.
"There's no time to waste, folks," Shinji said. "Lets get moving. Everyone in position."
Kotone looked at him. "They aren't going to make it here for another hour. Anyway, you're always worried about getting into these things. Relax while you still can."
"There's no time to relax either!" he shouted. "No one takes this seriously, do they? There's no more time to relax, no more time to prepare, no more time for strategies, its happening now!"
Everyone stared incredulously.
"I want you to call the military now, Isamu," Shinji commanded. "I don't care if you're a king, I am telling you now to order every soldier to get into position in the next ten minutes. We are not screwing this up."
"Hey, calm down!"
"That's your leader, you realize that?"
"Who do you think you are?"
King Isamu stood up and looked at them. "Everyone - get to your assigned locations. The boy is right."
"But..." they mumbled in embarrassment.
"Shinji," he said, "Follow me. We'll ring the bells to sound for the start of battle and then head to the palace."
They rushed out the door, and the group they left in the meeting room silently realized exactly how urgent the situation was.
Isamu and Shinji, even though the battle hadn't begun, sprinted up a winding spiral staircase together and entered a room at the very top of Omashu. It was a tall, circular room, with a big golden bell hanging from the ceiling and many windows in the walls. They stared out into the distance, the marching green rectangle of hypnotized Procession members visible in the horizon, and getting bigger.
"It won't be long until they get here," Shinji stammered.
"I know. And you're one of the only people here that knows too. We need to alert the armies."
"What do we use, the bell?"
The king nodded. "Three long tolls of the bell is the emergency call for all soldiers to report for battle." He paused. "Want to do the honors?"
Shinji walked to the giant bell in the center of the room, grasped the rope underneath, and took a deep breath. He looked at Isamu, who didn't say anything. "Is there something wrong?"
"No, no," the king muttered, "Nothing wrong. It's just..." he trailed off, not sure what to say. "The last time this call was rung with our bell, it was during The Great Battle of Omashu. I can only hope this battle isn't a replay of that one."
"They aren't separate battles, king," Shinji explained. "This has been one long conflict that has been going on for almost twenty years now - and we haven't even known. The Chancellor has been corrupting our world in a great war all this time, a deadly war that began with The Great Battle of Omashu and is going to end one way or another with this second Great Battle of Omashu." Shinji pulled down on the rope in front of him, and the long, loud toll of the bell above them reverberated back and forth through the city. "This is the zero hour." He pulled down on the rope again, sending out another loud ring. "This is the end." He pulled down the rope one more time, shooting out a final toll over the land, and if The Quadrination Bandits heard it, it would have told them one thing - they were ready.
Shinji silently walked towards the bell tower stairs and began to walk down towards the royal palace, the king right behind him.
Takumi and Asaki ran down the street of the Town of Ethos as fast as they could, Markale about twenty feet in front of them aimlessly flinging rocks from the street behind him in hopes to take them out. They skidded around a corner, barely missing a light post on the sidewalk and then picking up speed again. Takumi shot forward a heavy stream of wind, which didn't manage to trip the savage commissioner, but he did stumble back a few feet. In response, he sent a rocky crack through the road behind him which went right between them and then hit a nearby house, crumpling the porch outside.
"We can't have him out here any longer!" Takumi shouted. "Not only should he be in court, but he's destroying the town!"
Asaki nodded, put on a quick burst of speed, and then whipped out her knife, and smiled when she saw it fly through the air and through Markale's tattered sleeve, knowing her precision that had built up during her time in The Polar Revolution hadn't went away. The commissioner, with a sharp blade now bouncing up against his arm with each step, began to slow down, clutching his growing wound. Finally, he pulled the knife from his shirt and tossed it over his shoulder, narrowly missing Asaki's head.
"Stop right there!" a voice called out.
They all looked behind at a police officer on an ostrich horse speeding down the street faster than any of them could on foot, quickly catching up to him.
"If you want to have a small chance of making it out of your trial alive," the officer shouted, everyone still running down the street, "You're going to get on here with me."
Without a single word, Markale turned and shot out a punch, releasing a long blast of stone from the sidewalk that hit the officer straight in the stomach, knocking him off the ostrich horse and throwing him into the street with a loud crunch. Without a second thought, he jumped on the ostrich horse's empty saddle and struck the bird in the side with the back of his fist, making it sprint forward with a squeal of pain.
"We won't catch up unless that ostrich horse stops running," Asaki said, and then gave Takumi a wink.
His face was blank for a second, then turned to her. "You wouldn't."
"I grew up killing grown men. Some bird can't be too hard." She took out a pack of darts and flicked them outwards. The flurry of sharp metal shot forward into the backside of the ostrich horse, and the large animal reeled backwards in pain, suddenly turning to the side. It smashed into a brick building and Markale flew off, landing on the sidewalk relatively well, still shaky from everything.
Takumi sprinted up, flinging the commissioner into an alley with a blast of air.
"It's over," he stated boldly. "There are no more tricks left for you to pull. Stop now before we end you."
"Not over!" Markale shrieked. "Never over! Never will I let it be over!"
Asaki caught up with them, readying another knife. "You aren't getting away with this," she panted.
"I am!" he yelled with ferocity. "I am!" He brought his fists down, sending an explosive crack up the building to their left, toppling over hundreds of pounds of stone over Asaki. Takumi quickly jumped over, shooting a cloud of swirling air upwards that kept the pile of bricks above their heads. They ran out of the way, the air shield disappearing behind them, letting the rocks fall down in a dusty mound in the alley. With the heat of fighting that she missed still swelling in her veins, Asaki shot out another knife which pinned Markale to the wooden fence behind them.
"It's time to go," Takumi said. "You'll never be free!"
Markale's head shook, tears welling up in his eyes. "But if I'm never free, what's more to live for? Why shouldn't I die now, what does it matter, I have a goal, and you have a goal too, but mine will be ended if you end me and put me in that court. I have a dream, but that's over now. Don't take me to them! Please, let me go!"
"Why can't you just face the truth?" Asaki asked. "You've done too much bad to be let go."
"I need to see Shirou," he said. "I know he can help me."
"Shirou doesn't have any money, you know that, right? He can't help you anymore."
Markale shook his head. "Shirou is my only hope. He is wiser and smarter and stronger than anyone here, you know that."
Even in the heat of the fight, those words triggered emotions in Asaki's mind.
"The other day, when I talked with Shirou in the interrogation room, he told me something, something I'll remember for a long time," Markale continued. "He said that I had no more hands out, so I'd have to get up myself. After that, I finally faced the fact that The Procession was gone and I had no more rank in society. But I also realized that it wasn't over. And for the first time, I decided to pursue my only dream by myself and for myself! I just want to be free!"
They would have said something, but before their mouths could open, a squad of police officers sped into the alley, yelling. "Hey, you!" they shouted, marching towards Markale, who was pinned to the fence. Takumi and Asaki stared at the sad state of the commissioner, writhing in madness as a dozen officers took over the situation. For the first time, they truly felt bad for the man. Two officers pulled him from the wall and then took him into their arms. The officers gave them a small nod of thanks, and then proceeded in throwing Markale in the back of the police cart and driving away.
Far north, Shirou was hiking down a worn dirt path, thick walls of forest on either side of him. He had been on the trail for hours now, never once stopping except for directions to this path. He knew where it lead. The hike had been tiring, but he didn't give up. When lacking motivation, thoughts about Asaki, sympathy for Shinji and pure determination drove him. It was a journey he needed to make. The path was getting wider, the trees more scarce. Something was near. Something big.
He began to run, trees whizzing past him, and he saw a tall black object start to appear on the top of the hill he was on. He kept running, the object - a statue - got bigger and bigger, until it was only a few feet away. It was a large, dark wooden totem of a bear, its age clearly shown from a weathered surface and the plant life that had began to grow in its crevices. This had to be the statue of Hei Bai that Kotone had told him about. It was the Summer Solstice. He had to try this for Shinji.
Shirou put his hand out on the surface of the statue, and almost magically, his fingers went right through the wood, like it was breaking through the solid shape. He bent forward, sliding his whole arm into the statue. His skin felt strange, warmed up a seemingly supernatural energy. He took a deep breath, and then completely stepped into Hei Bai's totem, magically disappearing to the physical world outside and thrown into a swirling silver vortex of spiritual fire. As he was pulled into the Spirit World in the small crack that was left open when their worlds were so close on the solstice, intense pain filled his body, as if he was being squeezed through a tight space that was too narrow for his own body. All the while, the crazy energy that enveloped him in the portal felt like it was burning his own skin. Shirou screamed out in agony, knowing there was no one to hear him. Suddenly, this confusing swirl of pain around him suddenly disappeared, and he was dropped, seemingly out of nowhere, and a world of deep warm color began to materialize around him. He hit a soft patch of golden yellow grass, one of few in the desert wasteland that surrounded him, for miles and miles. There were cliffs every now and then, leading out into expanses of cloudy horizon dotted with pillars of stone. Screaming wind blew over the silent horizon. This was the Spirit World. In the center of the musty wilderness, a giant, leafless tree stood, a gaping black hole at its base. It called to him, on some inaudible pitch. But he heard it.
Having made it to the Spirit World, Shirou began his hike towards the giant tree in the horizon, its call growing louder as he moved closer. Walking over deserts, cliffs and stony hills, he made his way to the winding roots of the tree, a maze of dry, cold plant life. As he was consumed by the darkness of the tree's center, a faint clicking sound began to echo throughout the cave.
As the quick beating of Shirou's heart began to settle, a deep heartless voice suddenly appeared from the shadows.
"It's been a long time since I've added a child's face to my collection..."
In Omashu, Isamu and Shinji stared out in fear on the balcony of the royal palace, overlooking all the city. The Chancellor's army, a colossal line of bewitched Procession tax collectors, began marching onto the great bridge that led up to the city's front gate. Moving forward, the whole force walked into a thick line and moved so they entirely fit on the long stone bridge.
"The gates are are shut, locked, and guarded by a division of soldiers. It should take an estimated five to ten minutes for them to break through, and in that time we can begin firing boulders from our cannons."
"Not happening," Shinji stated quietly. "Look."
The two gazed out, watching every single tax collector on the bridge raise their fists in one terrifying, synchronized motion. Before any general in the city could make a command, with the same exact posture, speed and ferocity, every tax collector punched forwards, and in a sudden explosion of earthbending, the entire stone gateway and surrounding wall of Omashu began to shake, crumble and shatter, shooting plumes of dust outwards, giant bricks toppling over, and entire houses built into the wall of the city down into the giant pit that encircled the fortress.
Before the waves of rock in the air could even settle, the fearless, emotionless, tireless army of tax collectors with The Chancellor and the three remaining Quadrination Bandits at their lead stormed into Omashu. Like water spilling into a cup, the green of The Procession flowed into the lower sector of the city, quickly spreading around and turning the entire stone complex of streets, houses and plazas into a sea of green; a screaming, moving, writhing bloodbath.
The Summer Solstice had begun.
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