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|Book 4: The Avatar - Chapter 2|
October 26, 2013
Aang was woken the next morning by a knock on his door. Normally a morning person, Aang gave out an uncharacteristic groan and threw his pillow at his door. "Too early," he moaned, "sleep now." Regardless the door opened and Katara peeked in, laughing out loud at Aang sleeping on his face.
"You're normally so bright in the morning," she giggled. "It's almost ten."
Aang slowly turned his face to look at her, then waved her away with his hand. "Nope."
Katara stuck out her tongue and came to sit on his head. Momo leaped in after her and bounded into her arms. Aang yawned then rolled over and sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Is it really ten? I must have been more tired than I thought."
Katara smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss him. Aang suddenly became aware that he was just in his underwear. This was something that really hadn't bothered him in the past, but now it was a very real issue. As if sensing how uncomfortable Aang had become Momo chirruped, leapt onto Aang's head, ran circles, then settled down and closed his eyes. Katara laughed.
"Well, at least Momo can appreciate the baldness."
"Hey, my baldness is a fine feature, and don't act like you don't love it." Katara giggled, and there it was again, that look in her eyes. She sidled closer, and leaned in again. Aang felt his heart race and couldn't stop himself leaning in too. Then, without warning, Momo chattered and dropped his tail down in front of Aang's face, breaking the path between them.
"Sokka sent you, didn't he?" Aang said darkly to the lemur on his head. Katara giggled again, something that she had been doing a lot lately, and sat back.
"Come on, Aang, I've got to get ready. We're leaving in an hour."
"What?!" Aang yelped. "Why didn't you wake me up sooner?"
Katara got up and walked towards the door. "Because I wasn't wearing anything then," she said matter-of-factly, though he couldn't not see dark smile on her face as she left the room.
Aang's jaw fell to his chest, and he sat there dumbfounded and dazed until Momo jumped off his head and landed next to him, looking up at him with his huge eyes.
"Oh what do you know," Aang snapped, throwing the blanket over his lemur's head.
Fifteen minutes later, Aang joined the others in the throne room, where there was breakfast waiting for him. It was more than obvious to the casual viewer that Zuko wanted this room to be a relaxed and happy place, rather than the hall of dark secrets and plots that it had become whilst Ozai was Firelord. Zuko wasn't present as of yet, but everyone else was busy filling their faces. Niyok looked excited and she chatted away to her sister, who actually had a slight smile on her face. Suki was busy talking to Katara whilst Sokka stuffed his face, and Aang came and sat next to them, shoveling rice onto his plate. He could understand that they were all excited to go home, but Aang felt a pang of sadness that no one seemed to be remembering he was being left behind. He didn't really join in with conversation and after a further fifteen minutes of eating and chatting everyone began to get up to make their way to the dockyards.
Aang followed behind them, until Katara broke off from Suki and came back to walk next to him. She took his hand, "Aang, are you okay?"
"Yeh I'm fine," he sighed, "just gonna miss you. And I'm gonna be stuck in Yu Dao with the most boring people in the world. Don't tell Zuko I said that," he added hastily. Katara squeezed his hand as they continued to follow the others.
It was a short walk towards the docks, though they were aided by the tram system that had been installed between the Palace and the city surrounds. The idea had been Sokka's, and Zuko had welcomed it, having to travel by ship most of the time. When they finally reached the dockyard a beautiful sea breeze wafted over them. It was a beautiful place in the sunshine, and ahead of them stood the ship that would carry the Water Tribe members and Suki to the South, a journey that would take them a couple of weeks. The ship itself wasn't a pretty thing to behold, cold, metal and imposing. It reminded them all of the first time they had met, where Zuko had captured Aang, and he had gone into the Avatar State in front of them for the first time. Aang shuddered slightly, and felt Katara do the same beside him.
Once they were on the docks, Aang set to work air bending the cargo onto the ship, for which the workers were very glad for. They heard a voice hail them from behind and looked back to see Zuko finally coming to join them. Once the cargo was boarded, Aang dusted his hands together and looked back at his friends. He couldn't ignore the huge pit in his stomach, and tried hard not to let his sadness show in his face, but he could see Sokka's grin fading.
"Okay, buddy," he said, coming up to Aang. "It's been a hoot. We'll be back before you know it." He gave Aang a one armed hug and rubbed his bald head for good measure.
"See ya, Sokka," Aang replied, pushing him away with a laugh.
Suki came up next and pulled Aang into a hug. "See ya, Suki." He hugged her back.
"BYE AVATAR!" Niyok squealed, waving at him as she followed her sister, who was already boarding the ship clearly without intention of saying goodbye.
Aang put his fist to his hand and bowed. "It was nice to meet you, Niyok."
Sokka and Suki went to say their goodbyes to Zuko, whilst Aang turned to Katara. He saw a tear slide down her cheek and rushed over to pull her into a hug.
"I am going to miss you so much," he whispered into her ear, trying hard not to cry himself. "Please take care of yourself, and keep in touch by hawk if you can."
"I will," she whispered back. They shared a deep kiss, neither wanting to let go until they heard Sokka calling Katara. "I love you."
"I love you more, Katara. Come back to me soon, okay?"
She nodded, not bothering to hide the tears on her face, and held her hand to his cheek. They both smiled at each other. Katara then turned and headed to the ship. Aang watched her go, feeling sadder than he'd felt in a long time. He wanted to rush after her and beg her not to go, pull her into another kiss and carry her off to one of their favourite places, but he knew he couldn't. He had no idea that anything could be quite as difficult as watching her leave.
Aang stood on the docks long after Katara had waved her last wave to him, and the ship was but a speck on the horizon. Zuko had excused himself to tend to Mai, but Aang had hardly noticed. Eventually he stirred, and headed back to the Palace with his head held low.
The sun had reached it's highest point in the sky, and Aang was hiding in the shade of the Palace Gardens, with Momo sleeping on his chest and Appa lying next to them. It really was a beautiful day, but Aang couldn't appreciate any of it. He signed for what had to be the hundredth time that day, and scratched Momo's ear.
"At least you guys won't leave me," he muttered.
He was resting against a large and wizened tree, that leaned over the pond he and Katara had sat in front of so many times. For all the horrors the Fire Nation had inflicted, this really was a peaceful place, and he had good memories here. He heard footsteps and saw Zuko heading towards him.
"Are we ready to go?" He asked. He had a tired look on his face, and Aang imagined that Mai hadn't been too happy about Zuko leaving for Yu Dao again.
Aang sat him, picking up Momo and putting him on his shoulder. "As ready as ever. Do you have everything you need?"
Zuko held up a small bag he was carrying. "Enough food to last us until we get to Yu Dao."
Appa took his cue, yawned his loud wide yawn, and stood up. He was already saddled, and Momo took his position at the front. Aang jumped onto Appa's head, and Zuko leapt deftly into the saddle.
"Come on then, buddy. Yip yip!"
Appa propelled himself into the air, and without guidance from Aang turned to fly towards the colonial city of Yu Dao, a journey he and his master had taken many times before. The two benders watched the Fire Nation Capital grow smaller behind them, both with heavy hearts and troubled minds.
It was some time until they spoke, and it was Aang who felt the need to break the silence. "I take is Mai wasn't too happy with you leaving?"
Zuko grunted and shook his head. Aang nodded and took that as a cue not to ask any further about Mai. "We need to work out what it is we're going to discuss. The committee needs to know about the rebellion, but we need to be sure that they don't let on to anyone else about it." He rubbed his face tiredly. "To be honest, I'm mostly worried about Yuddha. Elected or not he's causing problems."
The Yu Dao government currently comprised of but four members, not including Mayor Morishita and themselves. The Mayor's earth bending wife, Ela, had been a logical choice to join the council. Alongside her were two fire benders, Chou and Houka, and fellow earth bender, Yuddha. Over time Yuddha had become more argumentative in meetings, particularly towards Aang's suggestions, and it was becoming a problem. Though Zuko had argued that they should replace him with someone else, Aang refused to allow for anyone in the council to be removed unless by vote of the city. As Yu Dao was not aware of the issue within their council, that vote had yet to take place.
Zuko grunted again.
"We can discuss this later, Zuko, if you would like?"
Zuko started and looked up, as if he hadn't actually heard what Aang had been saying. "Err, no. No that's okay. Our main points should be the issue of the rebellion, but I also think we need to discuss a change in the council ... not to out Yuddha directly, but to bring in representatives from the other two Nations. His vote wouldn't hold as much weight if there were four more council members to vote against him."
"Zuko ... I know this may sound crazy, but I think we need Sokka on the council."
"I thought we wanted Hakoda on the council?"
"Kanna is ill, I don't know quite how ill, but I can only imagine that when she goes Hakoda won't have much interest in leaving the Southern Tribe. The only other person I know capable of this is Sokka. He's a good leader, I know he's goofy at times, but he's a smart guy and he cares about his friends. He wants to see the world healed as much as we do."
Zuko considered it for a moment, and nodded in agreement. In truth, he knew that Sokka would join the council eventually, though he had imagined it would be much further in the future than now. "Who else?"
"I'm not sure on that, just yet. Katara has a right to be at the council meetings, as far as I'm concerned, but she has her own plans. I'm not sure council member is something she'd want. But when Sokka comes back, he'll know someone."
"That just leaves the Air Nomads," Zuko reminded gently. "I know you're on the council, but as the Avatar. Shouldn't we have someone representing your people too?"
Aang felt the colour drain from his face and he turned on Zuko sharply. "What people? The Air Acolytes are a long way from becoming true members of the Air nation, and further still from representing them on a council. For now, I'm only representing myself." His shoulder slumped and he turned away. "Unless we find more air benders there's no point. I'm doing what I can to keep my culture alive, but for now I'm the only one who can represent it."
"You know Yuddha is going to have something to say about that."
"Let him. There's not much he can do about it."
For the next hour the pair of them discussed the points and cases they would bring up in the council meeting. Zuko had already sent word to Yu Dao, in the hope that their fellow council members would be doing the same. They were both proud of the city Yu Dao was becoming, and how easily the fire and earth benders lived together under their new coalition government, but the truth was the politics of it all were tiring and time consuming.
By nightfall, they had reached Makapu Village, and decided set down for the night. Neither of them felt like venturing into the village itself, and they set up camp on a grassy outcrop set off from the lower levels of one of the mountains that looked over it. Though Makapu in itself wasn't unpleasant, it was attention from the locals they wanted to avoid. Zuko set up his sleeping bag whilst Aang started the fire. Once it was set he lay back against Appa with a grunt.
"We are quite the happy pair here, aren't we?" Zuko mumbled distantly.
Aang sat up and flashed Zuko a huge grin, but it faded from his face all but the moment it appeared, and slumped back against Appa. "Yup," he mumbled back.
They lay in silence for some time, with naught but the chirruping cicadas for company. The outcrop itself stood down a beautiful sight, with the quaint village below them, mountains surrounding, and rivers passing through the land around like threads of silver silk, but neither of them cared enough to notice. Aang had begun to suspect that Zuko had fallen asleep when he suddenly spoke up.
"Mai is mad with me."
Trying to be positive, Aang said, "Mai is always mad with someone!"
"This is different. She thinks I'm running away from her and the baby, but she doesn't seem to understand that I have a duty to the entire world now, not just the Fire Nation. Why can't she just see that?" His voice raised slightly. "I'm torn between my fate and the fate of the world ... at one time I thought the two were one, but now ..." He sat up and looked over at Aang, his hair hanging in his face and his body looking more tired than ever. "I'm going to be a father, Aang. It's not like I have a good reference for that. What if I'm the same? What if I'm just like my father?"
It was now Aang understand the real reason behind Zuko's turmoil. He sat up also, clasping his hands in front of him. He felt sorry for Zuko. He respected him greatly, and considered him his closest friend, but he felt sorry for him. His whole life he had suffered and struggled; to make the right choices, to discover the sort of man he was meant to become, to regain his honour. It seemed no matter how his life progressed, he was always at war within himself. Trying not to become his father.
"You'll never be like him, Zuko. You're better than that, you always were, and I knew that the night you saved me from Zhao. You were banished for speaking against your father, I'm not sure your spirit would ever allow you to become like him." Zuko let his head fall down to his chest. "As for being a father? You're going to be great at it, trust me."
Aang gave Zuko his signature grin, this time sincere. A smile came to Zuko's mouth and slowly lit his face.
"You've been taking a lesson from my uncle," he said.
"Iroh is a wise man, I think the world would be a much better place if more people took his advice."
Zuko nodded, and lay back down. Aang rested back against Appa and closed his eyes, his last thoughts of Katara before he fell into a deep sleep.
Avatar Aang and Firelord Zuko arrived in Yu Dao a little before midday, and alighted in the courtyard outside of the council halls. A stable full of hay was already set up and waiting for Appa and Momo, and after nudging Aang's arm Appa headed off to get some needed rest. Momo chirruped and jumped onto Aang's shoulder, ducking behind his neck.
"I don't think so, buddy, no lemurs allowed, remember? Not after the last time!" Momo screeched at Aang and ran off to join Appa, his tail held high. Aang had to laugh.
A tall, thin gentleman approached them, his glasses set low on his face and a scroll in his hand. "Avatar Aang, Firelord Zuko," he bowed low. "The council is ready for you."
Aang shared a disgruntled look with Zuko. "I can't believe I used to looked forward to these meetings. Can we at least stop for some liché nuts? Some tea?"
"I'm afraid the council have been waiting for some time, sirs," the tall gentleman replied hurriedly, looking apologetically between the two of them. Sighing they followed him through the large wooden doors, painted green and covered in a delicate gold filigree to represent each of the nations.
The pair were led down a tall corridor towards the large hall in the center of the building. Walking in, it was an impressive room. The walls reached the height of the entire building, with the ceiling a magical fête of fire and earth bending engineering, with white marble interlacing the large areas of stained glass. When the light shone through it left a beautiful ring of warm colour across the center of the hall, between the circle of stalls lining the room. At night the moon gave the room an entirely different hue, pale and silvery. Aang had to admire the ambition of the men and women who worked to create such a beautiful room.
Already seated in their usual positions where the other four members of the council, and the Mayor seating at the head of the room. Each of them stood when Aang and Zuko were led into the room, and they bowed to one another before the Avatar and the Firelord took their seats either side of Mayor Morishita.
"Apologies for our lateness, council men and ladies, Mayor Morishita," Zuko said with a slight dip of his head. "We were held up at the Fire Nation."
"That is quite alright, Firelord Zuko," replied the Mayor. "Although I trust now we can begin?"
Aang readied himself to stand and begin discussions, but ahead of him Yuddha stood sharply, his palms rested on the table, and his face held high.
"I would like to start discussions on this occasion, Mayor, if it pleases you?"
The Mayor nodded.
Aang narrowed his eyes slightly, looking over at the dark stoic features of Yuddha's face. His chin length hair was brushed back sharply from his face, and he dressed in a green tunic, so traditional of the Earth Kingdom men. His eyes were of a brown so dark they were almost black.
"It has come to my attention that the exportation of goods from the city to surrounding Colonies is beginning to vastly outnumber the importation of goods into our great city. It seems to be that Yu Dao is supporting the villages that surround it rather than growing into the economic capital that it should be, and I propose a change to this."
Aang stood in turn, his hands held to his side, trying to keep his voice as calm as his face.
"We had agreed from the beginning that Yu Dao would be an example to the surviving colonies, and part of that is supporting them whilst they begin to build their own economies."
"Yes, but we're giving this support for free," Yuddha explained, his dark eyes staring into Aang's cool grey ones. "How is our city supposed to thrive when we've become nothing but a nanny to the less established around it?"
"Without Yu Dao's support we can't hope for these towns and villages to follow suit. This new world is about inclusiveness and, yes, that involves some sacrifices. Have your forgotten that Ba Sing Se supported Yo Dao as soon as our council was established? That the Fire Nation continues to give it's support to the Colonies?"
"Please sit," interrupted the Mayor, raising his hand, sensing the tension between the Avatar and the councilman. "Standing just gives me a headache."
Aang and Yuddha sat back in their seats, both keeping their calm expressions. Aang could see that Yuddha was trying to bait him into losing his temper, but he wasn't going to let it happen.
"The Firelord and yourself have expressed that you would like for Yu Dao to become something more than Ba Sing Se ever was. I appreciate the support we gained, but if we keep handing away our crops and our iron then how can we possibly achieve this?"
To his dismay, Aang saw his fellow council members mumble and nod their heads in agreement.
"I have to say," Chou said meekly, "I'm with Yuddha on this one. With respect, Avatar, you don't live in this city, you don't see how disgruntled our citizens are becoming at giving away so much of their hard earned crop and iron for free."
"I propose that we halt our support to the Colonies, or we charge them a fair fee for our produce," Yuddha said.
The Mayor cleared his throat. "Very well. All those in favour raise your hand."
Aang watched in a quiet dismay as Ela, Chou and Houka all raised their hands.
"Motion passed." The Mayor gestured to the scribe sat behind of him, who delicately scribbled on the scroll placed on the table in front of him.
Aang kept his calm demeanor, despite realising this meeting certainly wasn't going to go as he planned.
"Okay, what's next on the table," asked the Mayor.
Aang swiftly stood, denying Yuddha a second chance to pass a motion that would interfere with his further plans.
"As Yuddha has already explained, it was always our hope -" he gestured towards Zuko, "that Yo Dao would become something much more than just a Colonial city. I have thought a great deal about building a new city that would bring together all four nations in an environment of mutual harmony, though I think Yo Dao has the potential the become that very city." He saw the council members exchange alarmed looks. "It is my proposal that we continue to build up Yo Dao, and welcome members from the Water Tribes into the city to live together as the Earth and Fire Nations have been able."
He sat down, looking over at Zuko, then back at the council members before him.
"Can I ask, Avatar Aang, how you had hoped to achieve this whilst still continuing the exportation of free goods from the city?" Yuddha asked with a smirk.
"That motion has already been passed, Yuddha," the Mayor said with a sigh. "There's no need to bring it up again."
Aang ignored Yuddha. "We would require two members of the Water Tribes to join us on the council, and Yu Dao will become as much theirs as it is Fire and Earth Nations."
There was an awkward silence around the table, until Zuko decided to speak up in Aang's defense.
"The world desperately needs something like this. We have heard word very recently that the Southern Water Tribe is beginning to suffer, and its physical distance from the Fire and Earth capitals makes it difficult for their voices to be heard. If we had Yo Dao as a central hub of activity and communication between all four Nations then we can achieve peace far sooner than if we remained separate."
"But even with profits coming in from our exports how can we afford such a thing," Ela asked indignantly.
"The Fire Nation will continue to support you, despite the decision to opt out of giving aid to surrounding Colonies. As Firelord I wish to see all four nations come together at last."
Aang couldn't help but smile at Zuko's words, but as he looked over to see Yuddha's reaction to this he saw a dark crooked grin across his face. He wasn't done yet.
"Forgive me, Firelord Zuko, but I hear you speak often of uniting all four nations. But there are only three. The Avatar is all that is left of the Air Nomads. They are an ancient race that I feel have no place in this council when there is but one boy to represent."
Aang felt the colour drain from his face. Everyone around the table became instantly uncomfortable, the Mayor included.
"That is for me to deal with, Yuddha," Aang replied quietly.
"And are you dealing with it, Avatar? You are sixteen but have yet to take a wife, and the Air Temples remain in ruin."
"I understand you have your little Air Acolytes, a cute concept, one I would expect from a boy. But it does not restore the Air Nomads as a nation. Personally I feel a suitable non-bending wife should have been chosen for you by now, so that you stand the best chance of conceiving air bender children."
"That's not for you to decide, Yuddha," Aang snapped, feeling the heat rise to his face despite attempts to remain calm. To his side Zuko was growing increasingly concerned at how well the Avatar could hold his temper.
"If you want peace for the world then you must grow up and do your duty as the Avatar and the last remaining Air Nomad, or why should we welcome the Water Tribe into our city? If inclusiveness is truly what you seek, Avatar, then you should stop running around with your little Water Tribe peasant and find a woman more suited to you."
Aang stood up, slamming his fists on the table. "How dare you speak about Katara that way!"
Yuddha sat back in his seat, resting his palms together. "Just as a I thought, you are just a boy. Avatar or no, what right have you to be here, discussing our future, when you have no control over your own?"
Aang remained standing, his nostrils flaring, aware that Yuddha has achieved his goal. The Avatar had lost his temper, and thus the respect of his fellow council members. Deflated, he fell back into his chair, Yuddha had won.
"Regardless of how Aang plans to deal with his nation, I still feel that including the Water Tribes into our discussions is the way forward for this city," Zuko said, trying to push past Aang's embarrassment. "Without including them whilst they suffer as they have been we are setting ourselves up for yet another war."
Aang watched with a vague hope as Houka and Chou nodded approvingly. Ela looked over at Yuddha then sighed.
"I, too, feel that we should start opening up our city and our council to the Water Tribe," she said.
The Mayor looked doubtful, but as just the figure head of the government it had become clear to him that he really had little say over what really went on in his city. "Very well, those in favour raise your hands."
All about the table aside from Yuddha raised their hands, and the scribe began scribbling once more when the Mayor nodded back to him.
At this point, Houka stood. "Does the Avatar and the Firelord have anyone in mind to join the council? Aside from the Avatar's companions -" he cleared his throat slightly, "no one really knows much of the Water Tribe members."
Zuko looked over at Aang, but it was clear to him that Aang no longer intended to participate in the discussion. Aang saw the exasperation flit onto the Firelord's face, but ignored it.
"We had initially considered Chief Hakoda of the Southern Water Tribe as our key representative, however an illness has come over one of the most loved members of their tribe, and we fear that Hakoda may not wish to contribute as a result of this. His place would be with his people."
"Sokka. Chief Hakoda's son and companion to the Avatar."
"So another child," scoffed Yuddha.
"Sokka is nineteen years of age and a man now. He fought in the Hundred Year War and brought down an entire airfleet. He is more than capable of representing his people on the council."
"And what of the second?" asked Houka.
"We are still unsure of who to suggest on that account. However, perhaps we should allow Sokka to present a couple of choices to you as a suggestion. Of course, Sokka will still need to be voted in by the citizens, but fortunately Sokka is in the Southern Water Tribe at present. This would give us time to open the people up to the idea of accepting the Water Tribe as part of their own."
A satisfied silence filled the hall, though Yuddha was clearly stubbornly against the idea of welcoming a new nation to his city, and Aang's ears were still burning from what Yuddha had said to him.
"Is there anything else to address?" Asked the Mayor.
Aang caught Zuko looking over at him, no doubt asking whether he should begin about the vandalism and possible rebellion spreading across the Fire Nation and a couple of the smaller Colonies in the Earth Kingdom, but Aang looked him back dead in the eye and shook his head once. Zuko looked confused, but took his cue.
"No, Mayor Morishita, I have nothing more to discuss."
"Very well, unless anyone can give me a good reason not to, this meeting is now adjourned." He stood, bowed to the council members, and left rubbing the back of his neck. The remaining council members, including Aang and Zuko, stood and bowed at one another, before filing out of the room. Aang deliberately hung back, not wanting to be anywhere near Yuddha.
He walked resolutely towards Appa as they left the relative darkness of the council halls and out onto the bright courtyard out front. Zuko followed being him, and deep frown on his face. When they were inside the stables and away from prying ears Zuko turned on him.
"Aang, what the hell was that?!" He spat. "We came here to tell them about the rebellion, and all that happened is you lost your temper!"
"The rebellion is something I'll have to deal with on my own," Aang hissed in return.
"You know as well as I do that Yuddha would have found a way to stop us from taking any action. So far nothing has hit Yu Dao, there is no reason for the council to get involved."
"Aang, I get your angry, and what Yuddha said took it too far, but you're letting your personal feelings get in the way of your du -"
"Do not tell me about my duties, Zuko." Aang's jovial features had darkened. He looked nothing like the boy that had arrived at his Palace just two days ago. "I'm the Avatar, my entire life revolves around my duties, and it's my job to bring peace. Not the councils. Not yours."
"Aang listen to yourself. As Firelord I have as much of a duty to protect the world as you do."
"No, Zuko, you don't," Aang sighed and looked down at the floor. "Yuddha was right, I can train as many Air Acolytes as I want, but there won't be any more air benders. Without air benders there's no Air Nomads, and four cycles down the line there will be no more Avatar either."
Zuko rubbed a hand across his face and placed the other on Aang's shoulder. "That's not true, Aang, you can father air benders, it doesn't have to end with you."
Aang pulled away from Zuko, looking hurt. "What, and make that a duty too? How do you think that makes me feel, Zuko? How do you think it'd make Katara feel?" He grabbed his head. "Urgh, I can't deal with this right now." He stamped his staff, and the wings opened. "I need to go somewhere quiet for a while."
Zuko tried to protest, but Aang was already gone.
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