Journey Into Alasre Moutains

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MothballMilkshake
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Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by MothballMilkshake »

Written as part of Kestrad's raffle, and loosely linked to my competition entry from a few years back, Honour Amongst Thieves: viewtopic.php?t=222956

***

Alethin huffed noisily on his hands and rubbed them together to try to get some warmth circulating back through his fingers. Adela curled at his feet around the cardinal phoenix he’d brought for warmth and safety, though he was regretting not bringing its full sized distant relative. He’d wanted to travel as inconspicuously as possible.

For the umpteenth time, he silently cursed Talyn. Ever since the fiasco with those definitely-not-dangerous love potions, his normal contacts had been reluctant to trade with him. Couldn’t risk being seen and associated with somebody who got arrested for smuggling in illicit substances – they had enough to worry about with the eggs they obtained.

He’d received a letter from an old hermit who lived on the far north side of the Alasre Mountains – not somebody who contacted him frequently or had much contact with the outside world, and probably hadn’t heard about his reputation being in shambles. Something about a recently uncovered cave system revealed during a seasonal avalanche. Considering how much difficulty he was having getting eggs from his other contacts, Alethin put the snow chains on the enchanted wagon, purchased a cardinal phoenix and set out on his way.

Dejected, he didn’t even know whether he should bother. With the difficulty of having to change his schedule, and the growing popularity of other specialist shops (Damn that shimmer shop, didn’t those fools know the value of scarcity?), his regular customers had dwindled. By the time his arrival in town had spread by quiet word of mouth, he had to leave again. Escaping from jail had not helped his relationship with Tolstoy, even with Talyn’s letter of confession.

It had just begun to get light outside, so he had a few safe hours of travel before the temperature dropped back below freezing and the footing became too treacherous in the dark to continue. He was lucky this place was riddled with caves – likely the ancient nests of some long extinct mountain dwelling creature. This theory was supported by the occasional fossilized eggshell remnants and deep gouge marks in the walls. He wasn’t a historian or an archaeologist, but he knew creatures far larger than any that currently lived in these mountains used to reside here, likely before the entire place had frozen over. Whatever they were, the changing temperatures had made this place unlivable for them.

Clicking his fingers at his cart, it seemingly reluctantly started to a crawl behind him as they headed out into the day. The sun glared off the snow, but at least there was no snowstorm to contend with right now. The last one had trapped them for 2 days and his food supplies were rapidly decreasing. How the old hermit managed to live out here, Alethin had no idea.
He pulled out the crudely drawn map which led to the cabin the old man called home. If the weather stayed favorable, he might actually reach it before sunset today. Adela curled up on his shoulders, a warm, living scarf, and his little phoenix perched on his head, shedding warmth down the back of his neck and onto the tips of his ears. At least they hadn’t fallen off yet.
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Re: Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by MothballMilkshake »

Alethin shielded his eyes against the snow glare, squinting towards the base of the rocky hill he’d just crested. The sun was starting to drop along with the temperature. If he wasn’t mistaken… there! A wisp of smoke emerged from a hut so covered in moss, lichen and snow that he almost missed it. It seemed to be half built into the cliff rising behind it. He whistled and his cart obediently trundled after him down a bumpy and windy road leading from his hill to the shack.

It took another 30 minutes at least, but he made it to the front door just after the sun disappeared behind a ridge, Adela flicking their tongue at the cardinal phoenix on his hat. The bird chirped merrily in response. He stamped snow off his boots and knocked on the door as best he could, the sound muffled by his thick mittens. He stood with his hands under his armpits as footsteps approached from within. The door opened a crack at first, an eye peering out from the gap, then wider to reveal an astonished and familiar face.

“Alethin! What are you doing all the way up here?”

Alethin blinked in surprise, his mouth agape. Of all the people he’d thought or hoped to see, this man was not at the top of his list. Another voice croaked out from inside, grumpily. “Don’t just stand there with the door open letting the snow and cold in, close it, close it you foolish boy!” An arm shot out and grabbed Alethin by his jacket, practically yanking him off his feet as an old man stared at him from under bushy and unkempt eyebrows, practically nose to nose.

“Send your cart around the back,” the old man ordered. Alethin whistled and the cart rattled off behind the house obediently. Suddenly freed from the old man’s grasp, Alethin was whirled forcibly around round more and engulfed in a great hug. Only to be let go moments later as Adela shot their head out from his jacket and hissed.

Cursing, Talyn gingerly felt his face, dramatically checking to see if he’d been bitten. “I can’t believe you brought that damn reptile all the way up here,” he muttered, glaring at the serpent.

“It seems I surround myself with snakes,” Alethin responded drily. Talyn looked offended.
“I got you out!”
“You put me in!”

“Quiet!” The old man barked. Both men stood sullenly like schoolboys called out by their principal. “I don’t care what argument you two have, but you’re the only ones I know foolhardy enough to see what I’ve uncovered. Sit down.”

Alethin and Talyn begrudgingly sat at the hand carved table, Alethin’s phoenix fluttering off to sit next to the fire now that it was no longer required. The man bustled about near the fireplace, scooping up some bubbling liquid in to three mugs and placing them on the table before taking a seat himself. Alethin was grateful to take off his mittens and instead wrap his hands around the hot beverage. Taking a sip, it tasted like spiced honey and warmed his insides up remarkably well.

“You didn’t bring a phoenix?” Alethin asked his old sometimes friend. Talyn winced and held out his cloak, showing off an array of burn marks as he did so.

“I brought a flaming comet. Thought the little creature in a jar would be easy to manage, but I slipped on the way and it got out. It’s been harassing me ever since.”

“Where is it now?” Alethin looked around a trifle nervously at the suddenly extremely flammable seeming wooden hut.

“It seems to like pretending – maybe it will grow up to be a great performer. Over there,” Talyn gestured at the fireplace. Alethin looked closer – what he had originally thought to be a merrily burning fire was only partly correct – it was indeed merrily burning, but it was a flaming comet dancing on the logs piled up under the pot hanging from the fireplace hook. The cardinal phoenix occasionally pecked at the sparks that came off it and settled on the cobblestones.

“Name’s Alvar,” the old man said shortly. His voice was rough, unused to talking to others. “I’ve heard about both of you on my rare visits into the closest village, but it’s several days travel from here and I haven’t been in a while. There’s not much I can’t get for myself out here. Afraid it’s only vegetables for dinner, lads. Ecosystem is too fragile to be hunting for meat all the way up here.” Alethin and Talyn shrugged. They’ve both mainly been living off jerky and stale bread, some fresh vegetables would be perfect. Alethin wondered again how Alvar had fresh vegetables in this climate, but as the old man scooped up stew from the cauldron hanging above the flaming comet, he figured that question could wait for tomorrow.

Potatoes, carrots, squash, onion – this was a hearty meal indeed, and all was silence as the two travelers wolfed it down.
They sat back in their chairs after the meal, hands on slightly distended bellies, the mood greatly improved between them. Talyn finally told Alethin the details of how he had tricked the guards with his foppish dandy’s act, and Alethin explained what the stint in jail had cost him in reputation and revenue. Alvar interjected.

“If it’s reputation you’re after, this discovery should do you wonders. Just as long as you don’t bring me into it – I don’t want historians and students and all manner of gawkers tramping about on my property,” he said gruffly. Alethin nodded – he wouldn’t mention Alvar’s involvement at all, if that was his wish. “Anyway, I’ll go into more detail in the morning. No point trying to describe it, you’ll have to see it.”

Mysterious. Bursting to ask more details but knowing full well he wasn’t going to get any further answers tonight, Alethin agreed and set up his bedroll near the fireplace. Talyn joined him, and the old man disappeared behind a curtain that separated his living quarters from his sleeping quarters.

“Alethin?” Talyn said quietly from the other side of the hearth, the flaming comet settling down to a dull glow. “I’m sorry I cost you so much. Those potions really weren’t dangerous, you know.”

Alethin sighed. “It wasn’t deliberate. Anyway, I owed you for Alveus, really. Call us even now.”

Talyn grinned in the dim light, his mind racing at the possibilities of what they might find tomorrow.
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Re: Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by MothballMilkshake »

Alethin stared in wonder at the harvest quilin snorting softly amongst the cucumber and zucchini patch. He’d never had a chance to see one up close. “So this is how you manage to get enough food out here.”

Alvar nodded. “Aye, that’s Muddy. Showed up right after I moved out here, right help he has been too.”

Alethin sputtered for a moment. Muddy? He named a creature as rare and majestic as this – Muddy? The quilin looked up at them curiously for a moment before settling down next to a garden bed of potatoes. The garden area was kept sheltered in a cave behind Alvar’s hut, saved from the worst of the snow and other bleak weather up here.

“Come on,” Alvar gestured. “The rockslide the avalanche caused is out through the back of here.”

They walked through the mountainside garden, past the quilin contentedly nosing at some beetroot. As they neared the back of the cave, evidence of a recent disturbance indeed started to show itself. A railing full of corn had been knocked down, and rocks and pebbles littered a pumpkin patch. Surprisingly, a blast of warm air filtered past them the further back they went.

Alethin was about to take his lamp out, but Alvar motioned to him not to bother. Within moments the dim light of the back of the cave gave way to a strange, blue green glow emanating further ahead. The air was becoming warmer still. A smell, similar to the leaf litter of the Razan Jungle, accompanied it. Alethin frowned, trying to figure it out.

They squeezed through a recently formed crevice and their path started to slope downwards. Alethin could see now the glow was coming from mushrooms lining the walls and floor. He tried not to step on them, unable to identify the species at all. Talyn looked at them with interest. The warmth in the air was becoming sticky and unpleasantly hot the further down they went, and soon both men were sweating, shrugging off their warm winter coats.

“Almost there now,” Alvar muttered from ahead of them, and stopped. The other two came up behind him and looked in amazement at a second crevice in the wall ahead, larger than the one they had originally squeezed through. The glow was bright, the mushrooms spilling out of this newly formed entranceway. A dragonfly like creature flitted out and around their heads before ducking back into the hole.

They edged up to the gap, wondering what on earth Alvar had found. The world they saw beyond was unlike anything either had ever imagined. Stretching down into the mountain, flowers and plants clung to the rocky outcroppings. Small platforms jutting out from the walls held ponds filled with strange fish, the runoff of any excess water from the snowmelt tricking in from unseen gaps above forming brilliantly cascading waterfalls to the levels below. Clicks, whistles, squeaks and chirps echoed around the cavern. A flock of brilliantly colored birds flew past them to take perch on a purple foliaged tree on an outcropping opposite.

Alethin couldn’t recognize the species of any of these creatures. Some of them looked like they could be distantly related to ones he did know – the birds looked like miniature puvia, if he had to take a guess. Something paddling in one of the larger pools looked like a maraegian stromeri, but much brighter, and – with feathers?. Not at all suited to camouflage itself in the swamps they would normally live.

“Looks like you’ve found more than enough creatures here to restore your reputation and earn your place back in the niche marketplace around the keep,” Talyn said. He was squatting, examining a tiny blue flower growing underneath the glowing mushrooms. It shed its own phosphorescence, though weaker than the fungi. Carefully, Talyn removed a vial and a pair of tweezers from one of his pockets, plucking the flora from its home. “And I will see what I can figure out about the flora of this place,” he added.

Nodding, Alethin was about to ask Alvar whether they could intrude on his hospitality a little longer while they catalogued and explored this place, when a rumble from below stopped him. Looking down, past the outcroppings of rock, the trees, the spray off the waterfalls, he thought he could almost see down to the bottom. The whole area was like a giant cylinder – a vertical ecosystem. The bottom looked covered in foliage, but it was shifting.

As he stared, he realized that what he thought was a giant boulder or perhaps an extremely dark pool, deep in the mountain…

Blinked at him.
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Re: Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by audrei9 »

This is such a cool story! I've only been on this site for 2 days but it makes me want to read all about the lore of this place even more now. I especially like how you reference the magi giving silly names to rare creatures lol
You managed to capture the vibe that the lore entries on this website do very well!
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Re: Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by MothballMilkshake »

audrei9 wrote: December 9th, 2023, 2:28:51 am This is such a cool story! I've only been on this site for 2 days but it makes me want to read all about the lore of this place even more now. I especially like how you reference the magi giving silly names to rare creatures lol
You managed to capture the vibe that the lore entries on this website do very well!
Thanks so much for your feedback! Posting an update below
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Re: Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by MothballMilkshake »

“Do we have everything?” Alethin asked for the fourth time that morning. Talyn rolled his eyes, not even bothering to take off the backpack to check once again.

“Pitons, mallet, rope, harness, shoe spikes, provisions, your tiny bird, padded bags, vials – yes, we have everything.”

They’d had to wait several days for supplies to be located in the nearby mountain village, and several days more while a storm kept them stuck in the village before they could travel back to Alvar’s hut. Finally, after almost a week of anticipation, they were making the descent into the mountain. Alvar had been hospitable enough, if not overly fond of their presence in his hut, so to give him space they had set up a base camp in the back of the cave, just beyond the entrance to the new world they’d found. At night, swarms of batlike creatures flew over their heads into the cool air, returning just before dawn, and once the rays of sunlight started filtering in from the cracks far above, screeches, chirps, barks and howls woke them.

They had made brief forays through the crevasse, only far enough to observe. Alethin had spent long hours looking down, watching for signs of the surely gigantic creature he swore he’d seen the first day, to no avail. Nothing moved beyond the normal birds, monkeys, reptiles – all manner of beasts that looked as though they could be distantly related to existing creatures, but were certainly nowhere else in the world that he knew of. Were they ancestors of modern creatures, or merely an isolated and subsequently independently developed strain?

They had used a sturdy outcropping to wedge their baseline anchor, spending several hours slowly easing it into the stone, trying not to cause any further rockfalls. They surrounded the base with metal shavings and had the phoenix heat it to melt around the hole, making everything as strong as possible. They each wore a harness with a long rope linked between them, anchored at the base. Alethin was to go first.

He eased himself over the edge of the ledge just beyond their entrance, looking down briefly at an outcropping roughly 10 meters below that seemed to then travel downwards along the wall for a time. A wave of vertigo washed over him and he looked back at his friend.

“Feeling too old for this?” Talyn grinned. Alethin glared at him, some choice words coming to mind. He bit his tongue, feeling that antagonizing his belaying partner would probably not be the best plan right now, he slowly started to lower himself down. The way the harness was tied to the rope should allow him to move smoothly as long as there was not too much pressure applied, and if he slipped or let go the sudden change in angle and weight should pull him to a stop – but he would rather be exceedingly careful than take any unnecessary risks.

The further down he crept, the warmer the air got until once again he was sweating under his winter clothing. His hands were burning from clutching the rope, and Talyn’s face looked tiny above him. He dared not look down for fear he would lose his nerve. He continued to ease himself down, unwilling to trust the harness fully enough to lean back on it and rest. After what felt like an eternity of easing his hands down, one after another, neither one ever fully leaving the rope, he felt a bush brush up against his backside. He finally looked down to find that it was now perfectly safe to lower his legs onto once more solid ground. He sighed in relief.

Shrugging off his heavy coat, he tugged on the rope to let Talyn know that he was secure. They had decided to try to avoid shouting to each other when possible, for fear of rousing any unfriendly creatures or even causing further landslides with the potential for echoing. He held the rope taut and backed along the ledge, moving along the wall and somewhat spiraling further down the hole. When the rope was tightened at an angle that seemed safe, Talyn fastened the backpack to it and sent it sailing down towards him. It hit Alethin’s chest harder than he might have liked, and he let out a sharp huff of air.

Rooting around in the pack he pulled out a piton, hand drill and mallet. The hand drill was to ensure they were able to create a hole ahead of trying to hammer the piton in – less risk of damage and noise that way. As he was working, he felt the heat intensify further and looked up to see his phoenix settle on a rocky ledge above him. Adding some shavings, he whistled the bird over to secure the equipment before looping the rope through the ring at the top. He walked the loose rope around a nearby tree, making sure the length between the piton and the ledge above was tight. He gave two sharp whistles above, and without hesitation Talyn started hopping down the line. Every time he pushed off from the wall, Alethin grunted at the additional pressure on the rope. Finally, he made landfall.

They counted themselves lucky that this platform seemed to hug the wall in a downwards rotating spiral or roughly 30 more meters down. They continued to fasten their pitons and feed the rope through, creating a way all the way along in case of emergency. At one point, passing under a vast canopy of trees rooted in the walls above them, both were drenched with freezing water as the flying creatures within took flight at their passage. The umbrella shaped leaves shed all of their nightly condensation in one go. Initially displeased, Alethin couldn’t hep but crack a smile at Talyn’s bedraggled appearance, and soon both of them were desperately holding in peals of laughter.

They took a break near a small pool at what seemed to be the end of their easy path – the next step would be another descent similar to their entry, to an area 20 or so meters below. They strung their soaking wet outer clothing on branches and set the phoenix down below them, glowing softly. With the combined effort of the bird and the natural heat of the place, soon the clothing was steaming and they were able to continue on their way, making this descent much in the same way as their first. Talyn took samples whenever they encountered a new plant, and Alethin carefully looked around for eggs of the species they passed, but had little success. He was sure he saw the white flashes of Arkenian Minnirrell’s darting about the place, alongside other creatures he didn’t previously believe occurred naturally in the world. It may take several visits before the creatures of this place were comfortable enough to gift him with their offspring – months, even.

After several hours of descent, they found there was nothing further below them than the canopies of a vast, underground forest. It seemed they had reached the bottom at last. Alethin looked around nervously for the massive creature he had seen from above, but saw no sign. They swung down the last few meters and secured their line before glancing cautiously around.
“Very peaceful down here, no?” Talyn asked, the dappled light reflecting off the waterfalls and pools around them. Alethin nodded. “For now. Let’s be careful, though.”

They stopped to eat, realizing that after all that exertion they were famished – luckily, their provisions were unscathed from the unfortunate deluge earlier, wrapped in wax paper. They had a meager meal of bread and cheese, washed down with the icy runoff all around them. They certainly would not be without water, at least.

“Still no sign of that huge creature,” Alethin muttered. “I don’t see how it could be hidden, unless there are further cave systems within the mountains. It’s a large area, certainly, but I can see across to the other side from here.”

Talyn shrugged. He was examining a pink flower which seemed to be shedding glittery particles like pollen. A dragonfly hovered around it excitedly. “Maybe you imagined it, what with the thin air this high up on the mountains.”

Alethin frowned at the dismissal, but refused to be goaded into an argument. “Let’s keep looking around. I’m sure I saw a Spotted Holly Jackalope when we landed, and no sign of black or white ones anywhere. If it’s somehow naturally occurring…” he resisted the urge to rub his hands together in glee, but his eyes shone nonetheless.

“I’m just glad you left that snake with Alvar,” Talyn mumbled, hauling himself back to his feet. “I would have been a lot less comfortable behind you on the ropes if that thing was able to dart out at me from nowhere.”

In truth, Alethin didn’t want to admit that Adela seemed to refuse to come. Rather, they were curled up next to Talyn’s Flaming Comet. The climate up here was certainly not putting his companion in the best of moods.

As they spoke, they walked, pacing first the rim of the hole and gradually working their way in. Alethin saw more evidence of Jackalopes, Minnerell’s and thought he spotted a white Eshmeri. Those alone would be worth the time spent gaining the trust of the creatures in this cavern. Nearing the center of the hole, they had not found any further evidence of caves or caverns deeper in the mountains. The entire thing really was like a giant hollow cone from top to bottom, the sides smoothed from years of water runoff, with the exception of the rocky ledges above. And no signs that you would normally expect for a giant creature in the area. No crushed trees, no giant piles of waste – absolutely nothing. Maybe he really had imagined it – but – no – that was the pool. Or, Alethin thought it was the pool. It looked a little different from this angle. The light made it hard to make out, but it didn’t really look like a pool of water – more like a clearing, glimmering with gold and silver in the shifting, filtered light.

He approached eagerly, but before he reached the edge he felt a rumbling beneath his feet. He looked around frantically, wondering if a giant was going to emerge from nowhere and crush him. The trees swayed, but none were felled. When his gaze fell back to the clearing in front of him, it looked entirely different again. Black, as when he saw it from above. A puff of steam from a pit to his left shot out, rising to contribute to the atmosphere of the place. That’s why it was so warm in here – natural air vents. He theorized that perhaps they were linked to hot springs below the mountain, distracted for a moment.

“Uh, Alethin?” Talyn whispered hoarsely from his side. The man had approached while he was looking around for the source of the rumbling. “I think that IS your creature.”

“What?”

Talyn pointed at the black clearing in front of them. Alethin looked closer and realized with horror that he hadn’t imagined things earlier – it had blinked. And now it was looking at them, the black pupil of the beast at least several meters across. Alethin held his breath, his mind racing. The vents – nostrils. The entire ecosystem of this place lived on the breath of this massive creature. But what was it?

It didn’t seem aggressive, so Alethin approached it cautiously. “Hello, beastie,” he said to it in a calm voice. “We’re not here to do you any harm, I assure you.” It blinked it’s massive eye at him, but no further rumbles came from below. Were they standing on it? Was this entire floor just one massive creature? A peaceful keening sounded around them.

“That’s it,” Alethin smiled, sitting down a respectful distance from the eye, on a boulder. “We can be friends, see?” The vents – nostrils – puffed more warm air out. Alethin reached out a hand and, although feeling very silly, patted the ground next to his feet. The eye closed slightly, seeming content as he petted it.

“Alethin,” Talyn hissed, a good distance further away than Alethin was. “Look behind you.”

Not stopping the petting, Alethin craned his neck to look over the boulder he was sitting on. At first he thought that all Talyn was pointing at were veins of ore – valuable, yes, but hardly the most impressive discovery they’d found. With a sharp intake of breath he realized what he was actually looking at. Not gold, iron, not even diamond.

Emerging from the rock, still half submerged and looking all the world like veins of ore.

Eggs.

Alethin looked in astonishment at the giant eye, which was staring straight at him again. “These are yours, aren’t they?” he asked the beast. Melded with the minerals and rocks of the mountain, what he now knew to be a giant wyrm had at last revealed what became of them once they vanished. The ancient legends had been correct.

“Nobody will believe this,” Talyn said weakly. Alethin chuckled.

“Nobody believes you anyway, Talyn.”
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Re: Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by audrei9 »

Another amazing and suspenseful entry! I love your style of writing

Question- are you accepting constructive criticism? I won't be too harsh, I promise. There's nothing harsh to say about this IMO
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Re: Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by MothballMilkshake »

audrei9 wrote: December 19th, 2023, 5:29:39 am Another amazing and suspenseful entry! I love your style of writing

Question- are you accepting constructive criticism? I won't be too harsh, I promise. There's nothing harsh to say about this IMO
Thank you for asking first, that's very polite of you! I'm fine with constructive critisicm, I know some of this seems a little rushed - and it is! I wrote it in a couple of hours while working from home for Kestrad's raffle competition entries hehe
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Re: Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by audrei9 »

Aight. Just one little thing-

you said that Alethin's phoenix was a cardinal phoenix, but that phoenix hurt him? Cardinal phoenixes are supposed to be pushy healers right? Did you forget that you were writing a cardinal phoenix halfway through lol
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Re: Journey Into Alasre Moutains

Post by MothballMilkshake »

audrei9 wrote: December 20th, 2023, 7:53:41 am Aight. Just one little thing-

you said that Alethin's phoenix was a cardinal phoenix, but that phoenix hurt him? Cardinal phoenixes are supposed to be pushy healers right? Did you forget that you were writing a cardinal phoenix halfway through lol
I'm not finding a passage where the phoenix hurt him, unless I am having a complete mental blank?
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