Fates and Fancy

This Week’s Prompt:33. Determinism and prophecy.

The Resulting Story:My Brother

There is a lot that can be talked about prompts and notes so brief. And there aren’t many subjects as full of potential discussion and possible exploration in stories as the nature of time and fate. Which, make no mistake, is what determinism and prophecy refer too. But given how short of a prompt this is, we will also be extending some of our discussion of story crafting at the end. In other words, this one will be a doozy.

Prophecy is probably the first one we should start with. There are a number of concepts behind prophets and prophecy, and a few of them need some parsing. First there is the sort of divination by divine inspiration that most readers are familiar with. Apollo is the Greek God of such visions, Mimir has a similar role in the north, out of the East Fuxi among the Chinese, Smoking Mirror among the Aztecs. . Across even more cultures, unnamed divinities provide visions of what is to come or what is occurring to mortal voices.



The second aspect of prophecy is bound up with the first, and is most commonly at home in the Near East. These are prophets, yes, but they are not viewers on some great cosmic scheme. Rather, they see the transgressions of society and seek to reform them, often by special gift to mankind. Zoroaster, Elijah, and Mohamed, peace be upon him, are of this sort of prophecy. The future forecasts here are not quite divination as much as impulse to alter the world in a more virtuous way.

While the second aspect has some more interesting aspects to it, if we are being honest with the prompt, it is more fascinated by the first. Determinism gives it a way, really. The philosophy or more properly metaphysics of determinism often relates to whether the future is cast in stone (determinism) or whether we may yet shape it (Self-determinism). While both are filled with potential horror, prophecy leans towards the former.

That being said, there are some interesting facets to consider. And here I must admit, I have primarily knowledge of the Greek thoughts more than the vast Hindu or Middle Eastern thoughts. But I imagine such debates have some universality to them.


Achilles Fate, Reflected In His Shield

Among the Greeks, there are two stories of fate and choice that come  immediately to mind: Achilles’s choice in The Iliad between two fates and the tragic choice of Oedipus in his eponymous tragedy. We’ve discussed something of a Greek tragedy way back in our very first research post almost a year and a half ago, found here. But now we can discuss it’s Aristotelian elements in full.

First we are in need of a flawed man. Preferably one with hubris, narcissism, or curiosity as a flaw (while today we rightly laud curiosity, there is a reason for the ‘what men was not meant to know’ trope). Next we need his or her circumstance that begin tragedy. In all likely hood, this moment of action will be some mystery or another, given both Lovecraft and the great Oedipus. Some also involve homecomings and strangers, as the King in Yellow and Agamemnon’s tales do. Or, lastly, a simple strange phenomenon. Anyway, we must then show how, by means of the flaw inherent in our protagonist, he or she comes to a foul end. And end that they have been warned of repeatedly through out the narrative.


Oedipus Rex by Sir Tyrone Guthrie

So, where to begin? Fate, flaw, or phenomenon? To be honest, it is probably wiser to develop a compelling character first. But I am not necessarily wise. So we’ll start with what has happened. As a writer, I enjoy finding these on weird news sites (like these and these). Sadly, these rarely have ‘ironic ends for those involved’ listed. Not to say that some aren’t interesting reads in a ‘what the hell’ kind of way. Tragedies classically end, however, in the death of all involved if possible. Odd crime sites are better for these (they even have a murder section!) but I must caution those who value animals and humanity from looking too long at them. For short works, a strange murder can often be tweaked a bit to make a good horror or mystery story.

For my purposes, a situation of the supernatural seems well favored. I read Castle Orlanto recently, and the madness that came about there from a sudden and supernatural death of a child has stuck with me as a good starting place. Proceeding, however, I’d suggest swinging in the opposite direction of Orlanto. Rather than the death of a child, a mysterious birth of a monster. A creature like the Jersey devil, strange and alien. This has been done (yes by the Simpsons) but it gives an easy avenue to explore the nature of determinism and the essence of people. Is such a thing, born of an alien mind in human flesh, necessarily wicked?

That brings to mind, for me, my favorite work of horror: Frankenstein. While there is no prophecy there, and ours will certainly have a prophet or seer to warn all of the doom they embrace, there is a discussion of why is the monster a monster. If circumstances were better, would the result be better? Do we control our fate or is it out of our hands entirely?

As a well crafted tragedy, almost all characters must feature some of this conflict (even if the monstrous child is at the center of it). Not that some ancient prophecy involve all of them, but rather that they all struggle in smaller ways to assert agency. And being a tragedy, said assertions are all doomed to fail or to backfire in horrible ways.

This ties the nature of determinism very nicely into Lovecraft’s own notions of cosmic horror. The smallness of one’s self in the face of the universe, how vast it is and uncaring, seems alien to any sort of individualistic notion of self control or determination. The horror comes with the inevitable march of time, and you as a small, singular human cannot stop it anymore than the Elder Things could slow their decay. The modes of escape presented are immortality in the Dreamlands or small, temporary victories that will eventually be overturned.

With that grimness in mind, we can set about our characters and setting. We must assuredly have at least four or five it seems, a large number for our stories. We need something like a family. With all our talk of prophecy and the Bible earlier, I’d say a new and full family. A father and a mother and perhaps an older sibling, as well as the child. Next we are in need of a prophet or prophetess. Not only that but we need a place where such people are somewhat believable. I have heard little of fortune tellers giving dire warnings about children in Phoenix Arizona in the last century, for example. The practice of speaking in tongues is more common in the South East of the United States but…well, frankly, I’ve only been to Florida to see Disney World and fear I would do a disservice. We could instead move in time, back to an era where perhaps such things were more common. It is easier to believe that a small desert town has a fortune telling old woman in the eighteen hundreds then today. It would also, depending on the location, permit for more of a regulated society with which our characters might combat with.

Of course, our point of view should be within the family. Otherwise, we are too distant to appreciate the horror and the tragedy that comes about. But who? I can’t yet say. But that is what I can dissect from this corpse. What about you? Did you find anything of note?

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Gil’s Gone

This Week’s Prompt: As dinosaurs were once surpassed by mammals, so will man-mammal be surpassed by insect or bird—fall of man before the new race.

The Research:Birds and the Bees

Gil says in the time of our oldest fathers, we had great stone houses. We too, Gil says, could look down on the forests and grew trees that touched the sky. Trees with roots made out of rocks and fire in their knots. Meat and berries were there for everyone. Our oldest fathers looked down on the world smiling. Their sons were lazy boys, and so a bit was lost. Their sons were lazy and had bad teacher, so more was lost. And more. Then, we were born. And by now, the birds have knocked down our trees and homes above ground.

Gil is the old brother. Gil is taller than me, and has a big stick most of the time, so when we go under the sky, he always comes with me. He knows where the big nests are, and to keep away from them. He knows where the fish are that can still be found. He’s taught me some. But Gil keeps most to himself, because he says I’m still lazy.

We were out hunting between the trees, hiding from the mesmer bird and the howling owl, in the deep of the leaves, when I first saw it. The great golden tree, planted in the sky. The birds built them, where the roots couldn’t be cut and the branches were beyond our touch.

“Stay away from those,” Gil said, pointing, “More than any other.”

“Any other?” I asked. Gil nodded.

“Our mothers and fathers a long time ago made things like those. They are terrible places, full of bad spirits and birds of all sorts. But worst of all, is the great garuda bird. It’s wings are wider than all our homes, it’s claws could tear open our roofs, and pull us out like worms. They are red, bright red, and fast. They only live in golden nests.”

We went on searching after that, but I kept looking up at the floating nest. It was a second sun floating in the sky. It was like those rocks that line the great blackbirds nests and roosts, or that we see the occasional mouse scampering with. It almost got us killed, when I looked up at it instead of focusing on driving away the flock from the body of the great beetle. As we carved into it’s carcass and wrapped it’s legs and chitin to carry it home, there was a flicker of red, red like our blood, across the sky.

And then a loud screeching sound, like a new born in the warrens the first time. The wind moved fast. Big golden claws grabbed Gil, and then he was gone. High and higher the red wind went, to the sky. I watched on as it flew in circles, then with another screech it swooped towards the shining nest rooted in clouds. Gil was gone, back to the bright nest in the sky.

I had a thought then. Gil was be mad if I went after him, toward the bright nest. The people back in the burrow would be mad if I lost Gil. I think Gil would let go of his anger if I got him out of the nest. If I went fast, I might make it with the sun in the sky still. There was a lot of bush and brush in the way, and birds at night were worse. Howl owls at night slip quiet and slice your head off when you don’t look.

The bushes were free of thorns, mostly. My feet moved quick over leafs and droppings, the mice running beneath my feet and the occasional caw of the big eagle overhead, covering the little light there was in the forest. It was simple going, easy going, for the most part. Gil taught me be quiet, be quick, be cunning and full of tricks, and I would survive.

It was as the sun turned orange on the horizon that things went bad. As it’s gold went over the sky, I heard a rustle in the bush behind me. I turn around spear ready, waiting for the doomed noises. But there was a swaying shimmer back and forth. A pair of talons danced about beneath a long bright beak. Eyes of orange and green waved, a thousand eyes on the back like stars.


It was a bright dancer, child of stars spun in feathers and flesh. Its beak clicked in rhyme and rhythm as round and round talon stepped and its beak bowed about. With a flurry of eyes meeting mine, it invited me to dance wordlessly, a beauty without any of my form. The invitation was doomed and fatal. The mezz bird dances you tired. It talks with no words, only steps, until there is nothing left and you fall. And then it feasts on you.

But when the mezz bird dances, you can’t help but follow along. You dance and dance, and it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve seen. And it would have ended then and there, trapped in the rolling dust

if not for the kind sun. A beam struck across its face as my spear began to slip. And the cruel light broke the trance and dance stalled. I took what I was given, and drove my spear into its glowing face.

The blood along the bright feathers caused it to screech. It’s eyes grew red, it’s body was a crude fusion of two birds. A robin wedged in it’s face. And now it was mad and blind running about. Normally, were I wise or old, I’d kill it and make a coat from it’s feathers and a stew from its bones. But the shining nest was still low in the sky, and so I had to run on past it as it slashed the ground and bit the branches.

Rather than finish off the mezz bird for it’s feathers that hold the sky, I ran further down to the shining nest that began to sink to the ground. As night fell and the sun slept I ran, and ducked away from the howl of the owls and the screeches of other, older eagles that fly round the tree tops with a great deal of sound, feeding on paltry bats and lizards. Near the nest I crept, watching as other birds flew to and from it.

The nest light was dimmed by a thin red and organge spread acorss it on all sides. There was the occasional glint of great talons or a dread eye. I walked across the plain, spear ready and eyes steady. But I slowly realized how big it was. All the burrows back home were smaller. All our houses were smaller. One of it’s sticks ran as long out from the rest as a dozen trees ran from the ground up. And others were woven among each other.

As I got close, there was a single spindle poked the floor. A beam of gold, like a long root or a snake tale. To run in the clear was doom, Gil had said. Stay with the trees and the bush and the large leaves, and you will live. Stray from it and you will die. But it was night, and if your above ground, the night will kill you with no light. Into plain, I will die. In the forest I will die. In the light I will die.

I move to die in the plains and run towards the spiral, grabbing it tight. It feels strange, soft and full of holes, and was harder climbing then the trees had been. I pulled my self, piece by piece, with my spear in hand. The moon was looking down haughtily by the time the wind started to rise around us.

And slowly the nest rose, me with it. The sky grew pale around me. It rushed up with a great crimson breeze with quicks of gold and flicks of yellow. And as I closed my eyes, it carried us both soaring up. And spun about, so much I thought I would be sick. Until I felt earth’s pull on my head instead of my feet.My hands slightly slipped. And slowly I slid down the stick of gold, towards a waiting nest. Fear held back my scream of terror.

And then I saw the garuda bird.


Wings red as mezz bird blood. Wings stretching from mountain to mountain. Wings that were larger than the woods laid end to end. Wings that were larger than the sky could ever hold. Talons, many talons on two long heron legs. Talons that could tear off a burrow roof. Talons as thick as trees. Talons that sun-born, shining and blinding.

It perched between it’s cast pillars. It’s many talons held a limp man. Gil, maybe. Maybe some other poor fool. But as I looked on, in my think place there as the sound of great wings beating. Winds rose and feel in my mind, and I was trapped motionless again. But now it was the second sun that held me fast, turning with a pair of dark eyes upon me.

They were eyes that swallowed the sky, swallowed me into never ending shadow. Eyes black, eyes that ate noises and left only the sound of great wings. I was born on those wings, up higher still. I was born on warm winds. My thoughts turned again, briefly, to the unseen hands of the great garuda.

And then I awoke, up high in the nest, in a golden burrow with sticks of gold making it a dome upon a dome. And around me flew eagles of sapphire and red herons and birds upon birds. And each, each was like the garuda, and a vast cacophony of wings filled my mind. And so I began my story again.

Come back next week, for another corpse. One less…well, feathery then this poor lad was.  Our prompt?

33. Determinism and prophecy.
We’ll…have a lot to talk about.

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Birds and the Bees

This Week’s Prompt:32. As dinosaurs were once surpassed by mammals, so will man-mammal be surpassed by insect or bird—fall of man before the new race.

The Resulting Story: Gil’s Gone

So, we have a couple wonderful things to talk about! So many horrifying ideas. I have worked with this concept before, for my own pre-society purposes, but I’ll try a different route than last time I touched on this one. We’ve talked about cyclical surpassing and ages a few times already, here and here. But now we have the notion of a much grander movement: an entire kingdom replacement. And this is new.
It is firstly an almost apocalyptic notion. The surpassing of the dinosaurs was their complete extinction, and the arrival of (eventually) a level of organization and planning that was utterly alien at the time. If there are any reptilian civilizations, they are so utterly obliterated as to be effectively non-existent. The horror of the future advancing suddenly on a viewer, and the world rendered unrecognizable, is often a reactionary thing.

The deep seated fear of the passage of time is common in Lovecraft, and in this it takes a biological form. The powers of the future will not only out pace us in prominence and intelligence, but they will also forget what to us seems so grand and powerful. We talked about that with Ozymandias here.

Now, insects and birds do share a few common components worth examining as horror authors. Both are occasionally impressive group animals. Both are often shockingly more intelligent then they seem, crows being quite ingenious and ants practicing almost human levels of sophist action in architecture, planning, and agriculture. Neither has a terribly expressive mouth and far less expressive eyes, an important aspect of the alien and horrifying.

Birds are less …strange, relatively speaking. Alot of their strangeness I know is thanks to this wonderful comic artist humon, who outlined the mating styles and courting of a number animals and is a fun resource for strange or alien ideas of romance or the like. Birds do flock, and of course there is the famous war they waged documented by the amazing Alfred Hitchcock (and the…admirable recreation by Birdemic). They are a bit more rife with folkloric and mythological imagery, however, and such things are my favorite to talk about.


Races of intelligent birds brings to mind first the Tengu birds of Japan. The tengu are, at varying times, aggressive demons, angry ghosts, dangerous protectors, and mountain spirit. They often are practices of ascetic arts. They also often tricked, as mischievous spirit are, and well versed in sword play.


The next notion is that of the Garuda Garuda bird, who is a flaming bird that nearly destroyed the Naga. As a group of entities, it is exclusive to Buddhism. In Buddhism the Garuda has wings many miles wide that cause hurricane wings when flapped. Such vast and cosmic creatures border on that existential fear of wind and weather, and would be worth additions beside things like the Great Old Ones in terror they inspired. They could likewise level mountains, and warred with the Naga frequently, sometimes taking human form.


Insects, however, are far far more bizarre. The sheer variety of terrors they inspire is astounding. From vast organizations to small scale assaults, insects are frightful characters. I’d detail all of them, but Tom Waits did it better here:

There is some folklore precedent for insects ‘taking over’. In myth, there are the Myrmidons who are (despite human appearances) born of ants. These legendary soldiers, renowned for their discipline, served beside Achilles at Troy and were among the finest in the world. Bee’s have an even more impressive history. Three bee maidens gave Apollo his famous prophetic gift in Greece. The San people of the Kalahari tell of a dead bee becoming the first human after falling into the ground as a seed. In Hindu myth, the form of a bee was used to kill the demon king Arunasura, who could not be slain by bipeds or quadrupeds.

With all this folklore, where to go with our monsters? Well, that depends a great deal on how we tell this story. There is the obvious way: as the apocalypse occurs, in rapid action. After all, the dinosaurs were quickly overcome, weren’t they? We could frame it as an alien invasion from within, a sudden hostility of the planet to mortal presence. Except…that’s not what happened to the dinosaurs. Sure, the death of the lizard kings was rapid. But the rise of mankind took millions of years to occur.

Such a vast scale is hard to communicate in a narrative. We could take on a sort of historical view, as a text book instead of as a disaster movie. But that borders on the dull unless done exceptionally well.. A mix of the two, as is the style of Planet of the Apes (which also features a humanity overcome and displaced by another species) could work, following the human survivors in an essentially alien world.

That latter seems the best. It allows an alien setting, amongst a reshaped world, while avoiding the time displacement. The plot is less obvious, but fleeing the new arrivals should not be hard to write as a starting point. Surviving to some safe place (which is invariably, it seems, not safe) is a common enough idea, although it tends to be used only in the few centuries after the apocylpse has touched down.

A nice alternative to the sanctuary narrative might be a rescue narrative. While maybe a little more upbeat (at least possibly) then horror is normally, being captured and held by alien forces for unknown (and given our monsters place in the line of history, perhaps unknowable) purpose is terrifying in it’s own right. And for good reason.

There is a stability we, as a species, insist upon. We are the top of the food chain among things we can see, particularly in Western ‘civilized’ societies. The Netsilik and other Inuit peoples, who rely much more on animals and hunting for survival then domestic animals, ascribe the reverse. We can hunt, only because the animals pity us. Such a notion is utterly alien to the world of Western theology and philosophy, beyond a few possible exceptions of animal nobility and particularly naturalistic philosophers.


Threatening stability, rendering humanity another animal, puts our fear of chaos and ourselves on center stage. The uncertainty between our kinship with animals (such as cats and dogs) and our…well, feasting on them (as in cattle and sheep) and a general fear that we are not much more than them. There is a very of subordination of place in the cosmos (a common concern in Lovecraft’s) as well as the creation of alien terrain. For, the dinosaurs did not give way merely to humanity, but to all mammals as the apex predators and herbivores. How strange a world, where the chief forest hunter is not the wolf by a flock of hawks or peacocks. What adaptations would they have to help them prey on their new food?

Some of these are starting to form into concrete concepts, with new venues of perception and awareness available to the great garuda birds that is lost to us. The way to traverse between stars and worlds, the way into minds and souls, a race so much more aware and intelligent then we that the comparison would be as if brutes were to call their burrows shining metropoli. There is something…terrifying in beholding something so aware as to look down upon mankind, and I think a rescue of sorts from whatever occult experiments such vast things wish to preform on such small creatures. And there is a lack of avian monsters in the mythos…

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At the Bottom Of The World

This Weeks Prompt: 31. Prehistoric man preserved in Siberian ice. (See Winchell—Walks and Talks in the Geological field—p. 156 et seq.)

The Research: The Old Ones…The Human Old Ones

The arctic wind is cold enough to cut rather than bite. Especially along the shore, as we made our way by boat to the large glacial outcropping. I pulled my jacket close over myself. Honestly, there was no reason for a man of my learning to be out here, so close to the worlds savage wilderness. Confirmation of what was apparent to anyone of intelligence was superficial in the grand scheme of things, but it helped to witness evidence you knew existed. But I was persuaded that the chilled air would be good for my temperament, and that some sketches could use my improvements.

It is hard to describe the arctic. It is mostly, without exception, a void of color and warmth expanding endlessly towards the horizon, broken by reflective cracks of blue. The scale of the void is only matched by the bareness of the open ocean. The parallel is apt, with islands of habitation popping up along the edge. One rig in particular lay across a cavern carved into the glacial walls, with Old Glory flying atop its edge. Unlike most zones of civilization in the tundra and bareness, this was hanging off onto the water and secured only by several steel beams to the might of the glacier.

“Now, if you’ll follow us this way sir, you’ll find what the object.” one of the workmen, in a coat three times his size said, gesturing for me to follow into the cave.

Right, the object. Some primitive man-thing, some backward savage they’d found the silhouette of covered in iron beneath the glacier. Iron this deep, and so form fitting, might indicate (to the foolish fellows within academia) that this might be actual equipment and clothing of a primitive man. Still, even ignoring such things were beyond him, a natural statue of humanity’s earliest form was of some use.

The caverns were like the lungs of some horrible beast, veins letting wind flow through them. Everyone was covered head to toe. Eventually, in the oil lamp lit depths, they brought me to the beast. A massive blob of black and red beneath the ice.

“Isn’t it wonderful, Mr. Crane?” a fellow who, prior to speaking, looked exactly like the rest of the barely civilized workforce. His voice, uncomfortably jolly, gave him away as my colleague Johan Berkly. One of those…less intelligent academics I mentioned.

“It inspires a sense of immenient dread that might be mistaken for wonder,” I said. I am at home in the warmth of an office, in my excellent chair and pipe. All three elements lacking, and I couldn’t find wonder in the holy ghost.

“Oh, Crane, you’ll see. The discovery of a century! I wonder how old the poor thing is.”

“How old indeed. No doubt we’ll find some proof of some Mongoloid deformity.”

“Well, I suppose,” Berkly said, glancing at the wall at that. Never a fan of phernology, strange man. How he earned tenure, I’ll never know.

A number of large drills were brought, to carve out the ice. It took several minutes of Berkly’s giddiness for cracks to form. At first, there was a revolting squishing noise and some of the iron oxide infused water began to flow out. Were I a suspicious savage, I would note how the very walls seemed to bleed from our intrusion. As a man of science I was unalarmed.

At first.

And then there was a shaking. The cracks spread rapidly. They all poured with blood. Blood spilled everywhere, like a scab of the earth being undone. It froze as it hit the ground, a crimson floor in a white hallway. And there, emerging from the cracks as if from a sanguine baptism, stood a tall woman with dark skin. She looked…peaceful. Almost as if she were enjoying a long sleep and slowly relized she was being disturbed.

Her eyes will stay with me forever. They were as bright as a pair of suns blazing in the cold void out us, heat burning across the workman’s face, leaving the room filled with the smelt of burnt hair and smoke. I was transfixed for a moment, as the skin of the workman fried and the smoke rose off of him. The walls of the hall began to crack from the waves of warmth slowly flowing off of her.

Control of my legs returned with the warmth, probably more from alarm at a sensation besides the near death embrace of the dread winds. Slowly I backed away from the woman towards the passages. The other workman turned to run, only to catch the woman’s gaze. Desert winds suddenly emerged in the depths, the sun rising again down here in the depth. As the head of the other workman began to crumple and burn to ash, I made it back another step. Berkly let out a shout, it took minutes for it to register, echoing as it did.

And I must thank Berkly three fold. Firstly, for his alarming shout that woke me from my dimmed slumber. Secondly, for a lifetime of indulgence and decadence that made it ahrd for him, once pushed onto the floor, to get up. Three, for making a very loud thud when pushed in such away, allowing for me to sprint down the halls, away from the madness. I am certain that someone as simple as him must have made his way to the choir invisible. If for nothing else than his noble sacrifice for the cause of mankind.

Chunks of the tunneled ceiling began to fall around me as I ran all the way to the rig affixed outside. I stopped for a moment to catch my breath, not being much of an athlete myself. There was something like the sound of thunder behind me as I heaved as well I could. Slowly turning, I saw a new line running across the cliff, and a sheet of Arctic landscape sinking into the sea. I have enough knowledge of the world to know what follows a collapsing glacier.

“Everyone,” one of the workmen shouted, “Onto the boats! Now!”

For once I yielded to my lesser. As we stood on the boat moving out to sea, there was a brilliant flash and something shot forth out of the glacier, a newborn comet out of the depths, dripping with blood. It burned to look at.

I cannot say where she went, or what dreadful thing she was. Certainly, if we share any lineage with such a thing, who with but a gaze can unmake the glaciers, then I fear we have not found some savage ancestor, but rather some ancient and enraged spirit.

I like this Crane man. I tried to capture the arrogance of Mr. James Frazer’s work with him, but don’t know if it entirely worked out. Depending on prompts, I’d like to return to Mr. Crane and his newly unleashed god/prehuman power. It seems…fascinating as a calamity. For those who may suspect another inspiration for the angel in the Arctic, keep quiet.
Come back next week for our new prompt!

32. As dinosaurs were once surpassed by mammals, so will man-mammal be surpassed by insect or bird—fall of man before the new race.
Oh…insects and birds. That will be intriguing.

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