Ashcroft wasted no time whatsoever in tracking down Charlotte as soon as he and Moriarty were done speaking. He realized that even in just the one minute of sitting there in his chair, contemplating what sort of disobedient streak was surely living within Charlotte, he was only getting himself worked up. He’d decided that it would be better to face her directly, and Charlotte was always very easy to find in the twelve-story tower. She was noisy.
She was obsessed with stringed instruments, and was always playing them during her free time. All he had to do was follow the music until the noise became louder and louder, leading him to the source of the sound. As usual, she was in her chambers, which served as her music room since she’d been spending her nights with him in his bed.
“Charlotte,” he said, not waiting for her to finish her piece, but beginning to sternly speak to her as soon as he marched through the door. “We need to have a discussion.”
Charlotte stopped playing and removed her violin from underneath her chin with a sigh. “About what?” she asked tersely, sounding frustrated with his presence.
“Do not dare play innocent with me, my girl. You know very well,” he snapped, putting his hands on his hips. “You know someone could have gotten hurt from that fire. How could you pretend not to have something to do with it?” he demanded.
“I wasn’t pretending,” she replied simply, as if she was quite bored with the conversation. She put the violin and bow back into her case. “It was totally obvious it was me. It’s not as if I covered my tracks. Or did you think it was nothing but good luck that all the animals were set loose and that all the trees had moved back about twenty feet? How many people around here could have talked them into that?”
“One of the poor stable lads got his arm quite badly burnt,” he judged.
“Well, it’s good you can fix those little things. Now he knows to keep his elbows in,” she replied without a measure of concern. Of course, she and the majority of the staff never did get along too well. He didn’t get on with them, either. Most of the staff were weary of wizards and would do almost nothing but complain about working for them. Naomi and Moriarty were the only two on staff who would look either of them in the eye. “And I’m still waiting for Moriarty to come and thank me. Can you tell him that I’m up here when he’s ready?” she said as pompously as possible.
“Charlotte, damn it!” He couldn’t believe how remorseless she was. “What has gotten into you? Do you want me to be the monster?”
“What are you going to do, Ash?” she asked him, rolling her eyes dramatically. “Punish me for saving Alice from a year of sleep and pain? Not to mention the fact that Moriarty will now be freer to be at your personal beck and call.”
He pursed his lips. “So,” he seethed, “after all your deliberate disobedience, you still can possibly believe that I won’t punish you for any of it? You haven’t acknowledged any of my expressed orders!”
“I don’t deserve to be punished for being nice,” she replied. “Besides, why are you still dictating orders to me? Who put you in charge?” she demanded, putting her hands on her hips.
He glared darkly at her, trying to choose his words carefully so that he didn’t say something he would later regret. “We will be married soon, Charlotte. I have always been in charge. And I will always continue to be in charge after we’ve properly wed. Learn that right now. When I make rules, it is for your own damn good. And Alice’s. You know full well that something could have happened that you didn’t mean to. Could you imagine how distraught Moriarty would have been if you’d accidentally killed her? He might have never forgiven you for it.”
“Fine attitude to take toward progress—to fear stepping on some toes!” she snipped. “Besides, could have. I didn’t. Alice is fine, no thanks to you.”
Ashcroft took a deep breath. He felt his hands ball into fists, but consciously released them, remembering she was a teenager who was testing her boundaries… testing the hell out of them. “You have not seen even the smallest fraction of what I have seen. Honey nymphs are stronger and faster than they look, and if she had enough strength, she would have done anything to get back to her queen. It’s what they do. I have seen a honey nymph crawl on her belly across burning sand for three days with both legs broken to get back to her hive. If she was putting on some sort of show, she could have used you as a hostage to return as soon as the opportunity presented itself.”
“She was in pain, Ashcroft. She couldn’t have possibly! I grew up in California, alright? I can spot a two-faced bitch from a mile away!”
He ground his teeth. “Remove your skirts, Charlotte. You have been foolish, disobedient, and—”
“And better than you at magic!” she snapped. “Admit it! That’s really why you’re upset!”
Ashcroft blinked, amazed at her gall. “You’re not better than me at magic,” he assured.
“I am, too! You couldn’t think up a cure for Alice, could you? You’re just jealous.”
No, he wasn’t jealous at all. It was his greatest hope that she would eventually work Byndian magic better than himself. But even if she knew everything there was to know about Byndian magic, she could still not stand up to him. No member of one faction could. Only archivists could use magic from every magic faction! “I’m not jealous, I am concerned.”
“Concerned,” she echoed skeptically. “Why?”
“Why you seem to have learned so much overnight,” he growled.
There was a major part of him that thought he was just being paranoid. But there was now something in her expression that made him repel all paranoia. There was something wrong. She had done something. Nobody’s eyes lit up with fear with a statement like that. Nobody’s countenance would immediately wilt with guilt.
No. Charlotte had done something, indeed. Something that she certainly didn’t want to tell him about and something that she had been trying to hide from him.
“Is it that impossible to you that I might just be intelligent?” she asked, seeming to try to hide her nervousness by squaring her shoulders with a queenly air.
He walked closer to her, looming in. “I know you are extremely intelligent, Charlotte. But I also know that, except for your novels, I have not seen you read one goddamned book since you got here unless I stood watching over you like a hawk. You are the laziest student imaginable. How can somebody so undisciplined have obtained so much knowledge? You have done something. I’ve yet know what, but we both know that something has happened.” He reached out and grabbed her arm. “What’s happened, Charlotte? What have you done?”
She jumped back, trying to struggle away from him, slapping his hand. “Let go of me!”
“You are getting a spanking already for your blatant, dangerous disobedience,” he assured firmly. “And if you do not start talking, you are going to get another for lying to me.”
“I’m not lying, you asshole! I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she hissed, but it was quite apparent that she was nervous.
“Not telling me is as good as lying, young lady. Tell me what happened to you. What made you—?”
Suddenly he was thrown violently against the wall. It was so sudden, and so jarring, that they both just stared at each other afterwards, tense and silent.
There’s no way she would dare to use a protective spell on him, was there? One he’d never even taught her. It seemed like the air in the room struck against his body like a fist, taking him completely off his guard. It knocked the wind out of him, so even when he was processing what had happened, he still had to gasp for air.
He looked up at her, and saw that she was still standing, perfectly still, with her eyes round as disks. He thought that she had thrown him against the wall by mistake—something done in the heat of the moment, but when he stood up straight again and took a step toward her, she put up her hand defensively with her palm out. “Don’t,” she told him, her stillness now breaking as her own shock seemed to be wearing off. “You can’t spank me. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Are you making ultimatums to me, little girl?” he asked with a snarl, incredulous that she’d dare threaten him.
“I’m better than you are,” she reminded warningly. “I’m not making ultimatums, I’m just stating fact. I don’t want to hurt you, Ashcroft.” She was trembling now, as well she should. He was sure that he did not look very happy, because he wasn’t. He was doing his best not to lash out at her.
This wasn’t the first apprentice with whom he had had a power struggle. He was so careful about his use of magic that more than one wizard had thought Ashcroft simply wasn’t powerful, that only hype surrounded him. But she was the first apprentice who had challenged him with whom he didn’t want to wipe the floor.
But damn it, did he want to dominate the living hell out of her! She was in for one rude awakening. He began to roll up his sleeves. “You are going to wish you never played this game with me,” he promised.
She swallowed hard. “Ditto.” If she was trying to look confident, then she was failing miserably. She was appearing skittish, seeming to already second-guess herself, as if she was already wishing she’d never started this game but now had to save face.
“Do I need to give you a demonstration as to who’s the head of this relationship?” he asked, trying to clarify. “Because if you’re just willing to concede that it’s me, all you’ll get is a spanking, and then we’ll just move on.”
“I don’t want a spanking, Ash. I was just making friends with Alice,” she complained, not putting her hand down.
“I understand that, darling. But I don’t want you to get overconfident in defying me and doing whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it. It’s a dangerous attitude, and I won’t tolerate it. And as for what happened to you—Charlotte, what have I done not to earn your confidence?”
“Nothing happened,” Charlotte replied stubbornly. “I’m just smart.”
“Charlotte, put down your hand,” he finally ordered, pointing at the floor. “Stop threatening me. This is quickly getting out of hand.”
“No! If I put down my hand, you’ll just come and spank me,” she rationalized.
“I assure you that I am about to do it anyway,” he told her firmly, exhausted with her theatrical level of defiance.
“Try me,” she dared with a look of resolve on her face.
He sighed. “So be it.” He lifted up his hand, shining a glittery light into her eyes. This seemed to startle her into throwing another wind spell at him, which he easily blocked now that he was expecting it, and stepped forward to her and merely touched her lightly on the hand.
Her eyes widened and her hands dropped to her sides and then stayed there, unable to move except to clench her skirt in frustration.
He frowned. “That was a little too easy,” he admitted. “You know what you did there? You made a poor spell choice. Now—maybe if you sent an electricity spell at me, which would have held me up long enough for you to cast a second. You and I could have fenced for a while with spells like that, especially since you’re willing to use far more harmful spells at me than I would with you. Hopefully you learned something from this little encounter, because you’re not going to forget it.”
“Ashcroft,” she hissed as he pulled her into the air, levitating her inches off of the floor. “Ashcroft, don’t!” She kicked her feet back and forth helplessly. Ashcroft opened the door, letting the spell hold her in place. He knew she couldn’t be too uncomfortable, but she was certainly realizing her situation as one she didn’t care to be in. “What are you going to do?” she asked, her voice cracking with dread.
“Illustrate the importance of not fighting your future husband with magic,” he replied crisply. “Supposedly my mother had to be taught the same lesson by my father, and she learned it extremely well. You should learn it just as thoroughly—since you’re just so smart.” He hated shoving the words back into her face, but he wanted to make it clear that he didn’t buy it at all. He spun his fingers around and levitated her into the corner. “Take this corner time to think about how you can avoid this in the future,” he instructed, and then shut the door to make his way down to the kitchen.
He was beginning to think that somehow she’d learned a dark magic spell of some sort that brought her unnatural learning abilities, or something similar. He didn’t know where, or how, but her knowledge did have ‘supernatural’ written all over it. Ashcroft had the knowledge of millions of spells, and he couldn’t think of a single one that could do what had been done with her. It had to have been dark—dark spells were the only ones he’d steered clear from.
With dark spells, there was always a price to pay for using them. Sometimes a substantial personal sacrifice, or sometimes a sacrifice of someone or something in one’s power. They were never pretty, never fair, and they were some of the greatest disturbers of the natural balance of things. He despised everything to do with them.
He walked into the kitchens and went straight to Naomi. “Do you know where I might find some ginger, madam?”
Naomi rolled her eyes even as all the other servants were scattering away from Ashcroft, as afraid of him as they ever were. “This is for a punishment, isn’t it?” she sighed. “You men are becoming more perverted by the day.”
“It helps drive a more severe lesson home,” Ashcroft assured, unembarrassed. “Though, I applaud your knowledge on the matter.”
He was hoping that Naomi would blush at that, since Ashcroft had never seen her embarrassed, but instead all he got was an even tighter-lipped look. “She’s only nineteen,” Naomi reminded reproachfully. “She’s a little too young for that, don’t you think?”
“Charlotte is the one who set the barn on fire. On purpose,” Ashcroft informed, not disclosing the rest. “Not maliciously, but definitely consciously.”
Now it was Naomi’s face that puckered. She had surely lost at least a whole morning of work because of that affair. She was very tight-knit with all the workers who were at risk while putting it out, as well. “In the middle of the pantry, third shelf from the bottom, you’ll find a whole mess of it,” Naomi instructed. “And over there is a good solid birch. Teaches a good lesson, that does; never had to use it on the same girl more than twice.”
Ashcroft grinned wryly and bowed. “Thank you. I believe I will give it a try myself, see if I can get the same effect.”
* * *
Ashcroft tested the birch on the side of his thigh and realized that he was excited about spanking Charlotte. He still couldn’t believe that she had thrown him against the wall, that she had sucker-punched him. That had never happened before; he had never been off his guard around the wrong person before, and he didn’t think the wrong person would be Charlotte—the bouncy, young, playful, excitable girl he’d come to love.
He was still so angry he could barely see straight. He stood outside of her chambers and breathed for a good long while, trying to calm himself down. He didn’t want to spank her while angry; not with his hand or the birch, although she did need him to be thorough. He had to be stern with her, but not vengeful. Right now she was just too immature for the magic she was wielding, and it was his duty to mold her into someone responsible. She certainly wasn’t going to mold herself.
He was going to have to make his point thoroughly, theatrically. Although he hated being theatrical, it always seemed to work with the younger folk in making a lasting impression.
Finally, he allowed himself to step into the room, noting that Charlotte was exactly where he’d left her, still levitating in the corner. “Have you had time to realize why you’re about to be punished?” he asked her, thinking that what she was done was egregious enough, even for her, that he didn’t need to scold her as well.
“You’re punishing me for being good!” she cried miserably. “For being nice.”
He sighed. No, she still needed to be scolded.
He pulled out a chair and put the birch and the ginger to the side of it. “No, I’m not,” he assured. “I am extremely glad things worked out for Alice. But you went about it in the wrong way. I would have vastly preferred it if you’d told me your idea—in detail—and asked for an escort in there, as well as Moriarty’s permission, before feeling you had to burn the barn down so you could go behind our backs just to prove something. I am sorry that I made you feel you had to do that, but if you can just believe it, I am actually more understanding when someone gives me more of an argument than, ‘Ash—like, don’t be a total jerk. Let me totally try stuff.’ Next time, when you are arguing with me about a rule or an order, try to use your words.”
“I’m sorry, okay?” she told him stuffily, as if he was scolding her to hurt her feelings, or maybe his impression of her had done so.
“I am very sorry, too, my darling,” he told her sincerely. “Because if that was all I was going to punish you for, I would have given you maybe a couple of licks with my belt and some swats with my hand. Now, I am really going to have to make a point with y—”
“Ash, I—” she began, and he heard the fear in her voice.
He ignored her tone. Of course she didn’t want to be punished. “Enough, Charlotte,” he snapped, and she silenced instantly.
He swallowed and continued with resolve. He spun her around to look at him, and with a motion he forced her to hold her arms over her head. The forced animation made her grunt as she tried to fight back, but she made no headway. Her hands entwined behind her hair, and she stared at him with glassy eyes.
“I thought you should look at me while I am speaking to you about this, because it is something you need to know. I am in charge. I am stronger and faster than you are, and I am the more experienced, more powerful wizard. I am so looking forward to marrying you, my sweet one, but I am not under any delusions that we will never have a disagreement, and I refuse to be spell-slapped every time that we do.
“So I will go out of my way here to make you feel uncomfortable now because I want you to never even consider using magic on me again. This is not a can of worms you want to open. I will promise to protect you from all others, that I love you through anything and forever, but I need you to obey and respect me in return.”
“P-please, Ashcroft,” she whimpered. “Do you have to take it so seriously?”
“I am afraid that there is nothing about our situation not to be taken seriously,” he replied crisply. He pinched his fingers at the air and found her eyes widened. He was undoing her dress. He hated doing it—these spells were so menial that the race of wizard he learned it from would commonly misuse it as children.
One hook at a time, he unhooked the laces of her dress until it slid onto the floor. He saw her try to struggle again, if just to save herself from the humiliation of being undressed this way. But it did her no good. He unsnapped and unlaced everything piece by piece; her shoes, her camisole, her garters, her panties, her stockings, her shoes, until the only scrap of clothing she had left was the ribbon that had been entwined into her braid that morning.
“How can you use parlor tricks on me?” she sulked.
“To assure you that respect for an archivist does not go amiss,” he explained and floated her to him. “Especially one well over a thousand years old. If you feel embarrassed at any point, remember how embarrassed you tried to make me feel when you tried to make me submit to you.”
“Hypocrite!” she decreed with a poisonous tone as he was taking her over his knee. Her body was wrapped snugly through magic. Her hands remained at her sides and even her thighs remained as still as stone, though her bottom still squirmed about as she was upended and settled over his knee.
And then he began to smack her bottom with just his hand. The birch and the ginger still sat at his side, surely unbeknownst to her, but she was already screeching within a moment. He had it in mind that he would well-redden her before he introduced her to the sting of ginger.
Although with every Swap! Swap! Swap! and the screams that followed, he couldn’t help thinking that the bottom heating underneath his palm hadn’t even had his finger in it yet. She was a virgin there—it was easy for him to assume that she had never had anything foreign up her bottom at all. He had been of mind to keep her introduction to such pleasures at bay until after they were married. There was something especially enticing about the idea of taking his young wife’s bottom, the blush in her cheeks, the whine in the back of her throat as she was dominated entirely by the intrusion.
He still would keep anal intercourse for later, but he was sure this would be quite the mental awakening for her.
Swap! Swap! “Ash! Please! Stop it!” she whined, helpless to do anything but cry and beg.
He didn’t consider pausing until her bottom had a dark red hue from his hand and her cries had become sobs. And then he picked up the ginger and rolled it around in his fingers. “I wish that was all that you were getting, darling,” he sighed to her, and she sobbed harder.
“No! Please, please, just be done! I’m sorry! I can’t take any more of this! I’ll die!” she cried dramatically through her choked-out sobs.
He frowned unhappily and had the spell pick her back up into standing. When she found movement in her arms, she made the mistake of trying to put her hands back in an attempt to clutch her bottom protectively, but then was not able to bring her hands forward again. “You will not die,” he assured as she unhappily found herself in a submissive stance, her breasts and nakedness on display, her hands behind her back. “I am in control, you understand?” He reached up and pinched one of her nipples with his fingers. She squeaked. “Always. I will always protect you. I will do anything for you; I will teach you, direct you, and spoil you, and you know that I will. You have attempted the feat of challenging not only my position in this relationship, but also challenging my powers as a wizard. I don’t know which is more offensive.” He pinched her other nipple and she tried her best to flinch away from him.
“Please, I can’t take this,” she begged pathetically. “I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.”
“You did, Charlotte. You just don’t like when I do a better job of it.” He showed her the ginger in his fingers and held it up. “Do you know what this is?”
Her lip trembled. “G… G… Ginger?” she said unsurely.
“And do you know what it’s for?” he asked her, but he could already tell, by her lack of a gasp, that she had no idea.
She shook her head meekly.
“This will be going up your bottom, little miss, and—”
“No!” she begged, giving him his gasp. “Ashcroft, I—”
“—will hopefully sting enough to make your naughty little backside feel well-punished inside and out. If you disrespect me, this is what you’ll get every time, do you understand me?”
She gave a sob in affirmation and hung her head. He waved in the direction of the bed and her body levitated there, bringing her hands further up to fold at the small of her back, out of his way.
He had actually seen other wizards punish young ladies or even their lovers. And there was one position that had aroused him so much that he had wondered if he would ever be able to emulate it. But now he was able to; he drew up her knees in the air and bent her bottom out toward him, exposing her bottom hole and her pussy to his full sight.
He adjusted his pants, fully realizing how arousing this was. And now he’d be able to play with her and still teach her the lesson she’d asked for. He’d already carved the ginger so that it looked more like a bottom plug, with a larger mushroom head and a thinner neck. He traced it around her little pink, virgin bottom, and with his hands, he spread her bottom cheeks wide to look at her secret entrance—it was one of the sexier things he’d seen, really, and he delighted in the scandalized sob Charlotte emitted. Just like it was his own cock, he readied the unused entrance, pressing the carved head in and out of her just a bit until he stretched her bottom wider and wider.
“Arrghh!” she bellowed, her toes curling. As soon as the ginger was inside of her, he twisted it around, his other hand clenching her hot, tender flesh. He turned and he waited.
Suddenly, he heard squeaking. “A-A-Ash!” she chirped. “P-p-please! It hurts! It’s burning! Please! Take it out! I’m begging you! I said I was sorry!” She sniffled and moaned, then shrilly implored, “What do I have to say to get it to stop?”
“Nothing, sweetheart. There’s nothing you can say. Just be a good girl and take your punishment and learn your lesson,” he told her, although his tone wasn’t completely void of sympathy. He had to set his chin in firm resolve.
Finally, watching her bottom squirm and hearing her whimper, he picked up the birch and gave a practice swing in the air.
She screamed in wails that could certainly be heard throughout the house. Her words became incomprehensible. Swish-Swack!
He was quite understanding why Naomi had never had to birch the same girl more than twice—because the markings left behind were angry, well-distinguished red welts. But he kept on, crisscrossing the marks until there were lines all over her bottom and thighs and over the delicate lips of her pussy, letting Charlotte cry out helplessly.
Finally he put the birch down and stepped back, looking at his handiwork and listening to Charlotte’s quiet, dry-throated sobs. Charlotte owned possibly the most well-punished bottom he had seen for a century, although he had seen many witches punished firmly at the hands of their madams before that time.
And she was crying, and had cried, extremely loudly—his ears were still ringing. The whole tower had to have heard her punishment, which was just as well. It was good for everybody to know what happened to even the lady of the house when she crossed the wizard.
He made shushing noises as he put his fingers around the ginger root and she squealed in protest at the pain. Once he’d pulled it out of her bottom, she gave another sob, sounding both relieved and tortured as he threw it away and let her drop back down to her toes, giving her control of her body once again.
She stood awkwardly, her shoulders sloped, crossing her arms across her naked breasts. He came to her and helped her stand up straighter, pulling his arms tightly around her and kissing the top of her forehead as she continued to cry.
She wouldn’t tilt her head up to even look at him. She merely huddled into him as she continued to shake and tremble. Finally, after long, quiet minutes, he turned to pull down the bedcovers, picked her up, and laid her belly-down on the mattress. She hugged a pillow under her body and rolled away from him, still refusing to look at him.
“Come, now. Your lesson is over; now come back to being my sweet one.”
When she didn’t respond, he tugged his boots off his calves and then lay down next to her and brought her body to his chest. As the minutes passed on, his heart began to sink, miserable on her behalf.
Maybe he had punished her too hard. Maybe she was too delicate for the birch? He stroked her hair behind her ear so that he could murmur to her, “Tell me if there’s something else wrong?” he asked.
“I’m just…” She gave a shuddering cry. “I’m just…” She swallowed. “I’m not ready to tell you yet.”
“Tell me what?” And then he remembered—what she hadn’t been telling him. “You’re not ready? How so?” he asked her with a cooing tone.
“I’m just not. I will, but… but not yet,” she assured. “I want to wait until you love me again. Because you’ll need to love me a lot before I tell you.”
“Love you again?” he asked. “When did you think I stopped?”
“You don’t even like me. I don’t do anything but piss you off,” she murmured. “You don’t have to marry me, Ashcroft, just because you had a moment of weakness. It was cute of you to demand it at first, but I won’t hold you to it. I know you were just trying to be romantic.”
She sounded so pathetic, and so ridiculous, he just had to laugh. “My dear, why in the universe would you think such a thing? I wouldn’t have taught you such a firm lesson if I didn’t plan to marry you and spend many happy years at your side. I do not find marrying you to be an obligation. It’s really my dream to look down at you and call you wife.” He brought his hand over to wipe the tears off her cheek. “I forgive you everything. This was just a lesson. When I fell in love with a girl a small fraction of my age, I had a feeling I’d be teaching a few.” He kissed the back of her neck. “No, I love you more than ever, if anything.”
She crunched her body into a ball. “I’ve never had anybody touch me there before. It was…” She closed her eyes. “Horrible.”
“That’s only because I put ginger in there, I assure you. It was meant to make an impression. Believe it or not, there are more uncomfortable things that I can use there if you don’t start behaving like a good girl. But if you are a good girl, next time I put something into that orifice, you’ll enjoy it.”
She rolled her face into the pillow, looking like she wanted to smother herself with it. He laughed; he couldn’t help it. She was being so dramatic. He pulled her back and rolled her around to face him. “Future Lady Medwin, you might as well know this well and now—I plan to use this naughty bottom of yours far more to make you moan than to make you cry.”
She blushed and averted her eyes until he raised her chin up with his finger and kissed her lips. “You know how sexy you are when you’re blushing?” he asked, and then stroked her cheek with his thumb.
She glared at him.
“I should probably marry you before you change your mind, shouldn’t I?” he teased, pressing his nose onto hers.
“Why? I’m able to change my mind?”
He would have been worried by her question if he hadn’t detected her smirk.
“Absolutely not,” he assured simply. “No, I plan to make you my good little wife come hell or high water.”
“And why would I want to be a good little wife?” she sniffed, teasing back more freely.
He brushed his fingers down to her cunny, which was just as wet for him as he knew she’d be. He pressed his thumb to her clit and delighted as she chewed her lip with delight and closed her eyes, as if to savor the touch. “Because good girls get one very long life of this,” he promised.
She moaned and ground against him. “I don’t know if I’m convinced. I think I need a bigger sample,” she purred.
He chuckled. God, she was naughty. But did he love her!
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