On November 17, 2020, The Stormlight Archive saga continues in Rhythm of War, the eagerly awaited fourth volume in Brandon Sanderson’s #1 New York Times bestselling fantasy series.
Tor.com is serializing the new book from now until release date! A new installment will go live every Tuesday at 9 AM ET.
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A Loose Thread
With a captured spren, you may begin designing a proper fabrial. It is a closely guarded secret of artifabrians that spren, when trapped, respond to different types of metals in different ways. A wire housing for the fabrial, called a “cage,” is essential to controlling the device.
—Lecture on fabrial mechanics presented by Navani Kholin to the coalition of monarchs, Urithiru, Jesevan, 1175
Radiant backed up, the sack on her head. She pressed her fingers against the cool stone of the wall as the shouting continued. Yes, that was Adolin’s voice. As she’d feared, he’d come to rescue her.
Radiant considered pulling off the hood, summoning her Shardblade, and demanding the conspirators surrender. However, she acknowledged what Veil and Shallan wanted. They needed to meet Ialai face-to-face.
A scraping sounded nearby. Radiant turned toward it. Rock on rock. And… some sort of mechanism turning?
She strode blindly toward the sound. “Bring me,” she shouted. “Don’t leave me to them!”
“Fine,” Ulina said from somewhere nearby. “You two, grab her. You, guard the doorway from inside. Try to jam the mechanism closed. Quickly!”
Rough hands grabbed Radiant by the shoulders and pulled her along, steering her into what sounded—from the echoing footsteps—like a tunnel. Stone ground on stone behind them, cutting off the noise of the skirmish in the chasm. At least she knew how the cultists were getting in and out of the chasms. Radiant stumbled and purposefully fell to her knees so she could put her hands on the ground. Smooth, cut rock. Done with a Shardblade, she suspected.
The others forced her to her feet and pushed her up an incline. They didn’t remove the sack, even when she protested that it wasn’t necessary.
Well, a tunnel made sense. This warcamp had been occupied by Sadeas and Ialai for years before everyone else moved to Urithiru. They would have wanted a secret escape route from their warcamp, particularly during the early years on the Plains when everyone—Adolin said—had been so certain the princedoms would shatter apart and start fighting one another.
The tunnel eventually reached another door, and this one opened into what sounded like a small room. A cellar perhaps? Those weren’t common on the Shattered Plains—too easy to flood—but the richer lighteyes had them for chilling wine.
The conspirators muttered to themselves about what to do. Four people. Judging by the sounds of rustling cloth, they were removing their robes. Probably had ordinary clothing underneath. Red wasn’t here; he’d have squeezed her arm to let her know. So she was alone.
The others eventually hauled her up some steps and then outside; she felt wind on her hands and warm sunlight on her skin. She pretended to be pliable and easy to move, though she waited—ready to attack—in case this was some kind of ruse, and she was assaulted.
They led her through the streets quickly, the hood still on. Shallan took over, as she had an incredible—likely supernatural—ability to sense and memorize direction. She mapped their path in her head. Sneaky little cremlings; they led her in a large double loop, ending at a location near where they’d emerged from the cellar.
The hike up had taken only a few minutes, so they had to be near the eastern edge of the warcamp. Perhaps the fortress there? That would put her near the old Sadeas lumberyards, where Kaladin had spent months building Bridge Four from the broken remnants of the men delivered there to die. She wondered if anyone in the area had found it odd that they were leading around a woman with a sack on her head. Judging by how upset they seemed as they finally pulled her into a building, they weren’t thinking very clearly. They forced her down into a chair, then left, boots thumping on wood.
She soon heard them arguing in a nearby room. Carefully, Veil reached up and removed her hood. The cultist left guarding her—a tall man with a scar on his chin—didn’t demand she replace it. She was sitting in a stiff wooden chair right inside the door of a stone room with a large circular rug. The rug didn’t do much to liven the otherwise bare chamber. These warcamp buildings were so fortresslike: few windows, little ornamentation.
Shallan had always viewed Sadeas as a blowhard. A fortress like this—and the escape tunnel she’d traveled through—made Veil revise that assessment. She sifted through Shallan’s memories, and what Veil saw in the man was pure craftiness.
Shallan didn’t have many memories of Ialai, but Veil knew enough to be careful. Highprince Thanadal had started this new “kingdom” at the warcamps. But soon after Ialai had set up here, Thanadal had been found dead, supposedly knifed by a prostitute. Vamah—the other highprince who hadn’t supported Dalinar—had fled the warcamps in the night. He seemed to believe Ialai’s lie that Dalinar had ordered the assassination.
That left Ialai Sadeas the one true remaining power here in the warcamps. She had an army, had co-opted the Sons of Honor, and was demanding tariffs from arriving trade caravans. This woman remained a thorn, a reminder of the old Alethkar full of squabbling lighteyes always eyeing one another’s lands.
Veil listened as best she could to the arguments coming from the next room; the conspirators seemed frustrated that they’d lost so many in the strike. They seemed frantic, and worried that it was “all falling apart.”
At last, the door swung open and three people stormed out. Veil recognized Ulina, the woman she’d suspected earlier from her voice. They were followed by a lighteyed soldier in Sadeas colors.
The guard gestured for Veil to enter, so Veil rose and carefully poked her head into the room. It was larger than the antechamber, with very narrow windows. Despite the attempt to soften it with a rug, couches, and pillows, it still felt like a fortress. A place for lighteyes to hole up in during storms or to fall back to if attacked.
Ialai Sadeas sat at a table on the far side of the room, shrouded in shadows, away from the windows and the glowing sphere lamps on the walls. Near to her sat a large hutch with a roll top covering its front.
All right, Veil thought, walking forward. We’ve found her. Have we decided what we’re going to do with her?
She knew Radiant’s vote: get her to say something incriminating, then bring her in. Veil, however, hadn’t pushed this mission solely to gather evidence for Dalinar. She hadn’t even done it because the Ghostbloods saw Ialai as a threat. Veil had done it because this woman stubbornly continued to jeopardize everything Shallan loved.
Dalinar and Jasnah needed to keep their eyes on the real prize: reclaiming Alethkar. And so, Veil had determined to snip this particular loose thread. Adolin had killed Highprince Sadeas in a moment of honest passion. Veil had come to finish the job he’d begun.
Today Veil intended to assassinate Ialai Sadeas.
The hardest thing in the world for Kaladin to do was nothing. It was excruciating to watch one of his soldiers fight for his life against a skilled, dangerous opponent—and do nothing to help.
Leshwi was a being of incredible age, the spirit of a singer long dead turned into something more akin to a spren—a force of nature. Sigzil was a capable fighter, but far from the order’s best. His true talents lay in his understanding of numbers, his knowledge of other cultures, and his ability to remain focused and practical in situations where others lost their heads.
He was quickly forced onto the defensive. Leshwi loomed over him—thrusting down with her spear—then swung around and stabbed from the side. She expertly flowed from one attack to the next, forcing Sigzil to keep spinning around, barely deflecting or dodging her strikes.
Kaladin Lashed himself forward, fingers tight on his spear. It was vital his team keep to the Heavenly Ones’ sense of honor. So long as the enemy agreed to one-on-one combat, his soldiers were never in danger of being overwhelmed and wiped out.
The forces on the ground might mercilessly brutalize one another, but up here—in the skies—they’d found mutual respect. The respect of combatants who would kill one another, but as part of a contest, not a slaughter. Break that unspoken rule, gang up on Leshwi now, and that precarious balance would end.
Leshwi shot forward and speared Sigzil in the chest. Her weapon impaled him straight through, bursting from the back of his blue uniform, slick with blood. He struggled, gasping, Stormlight leaking from his mouth. Leshwi hummed a loud tone, and the gemstone on her spear began to glow, sucking Stormlight from her prey.
Kaladin groaned, the deaths of so many he’d failed flashing before him. Tien? Nalma? Elhokar?
He was again in that terrible nightmare at the Kholinar palace, where his friends killed one another. Screams and lights and pain and blood all swirled around one image: A man Kaladin was sworn to protect, lying on the floor.
Moash’s spear straight through him.
“No!” Kaladin shouted. He couldn’t simply watch. He couldn’t. He Lashed himself forward, but Leshwi met his eyes. He paused.
She yanked her spear from Sigzil’s chest right before his Stormlight went out. Sigzil sagged in the air, and Kaladin grabbed him, holding him as he blinked in a daze, clutching his silvery Shardspear.
“Drop your weapon,” Kaladin said to him, “and bow to her.”
“What? Sir?” Sigzil frowned as his wound healed.
“Drop your spear,” Kaladin said, “and bow to her.”
Sigzil, looking confused, did as he requested. Leshwi nodded to him in turn.
“Go back to the ship,” Kaladin said, “and sit out the rest of this battle. Stay with the squires.”
“Um, yes, sir,” Sigzil said. He floated off, poking at the bloody hole in his jacket.
Leshwi glanced to the side. A short distance away—hanging in the air with no weapon—was the Heavenly One that Kaladin had defeated earlier.
Leshwi shouldn’t care that Kaladin had spared the creature. It had been a foolish gesture toward a being who could be reborn with each new storm. Then again, Leshwi probably knew that if Sigzil were killed, a new Radiant could be raised up using his spren. It wasn’t exactly the same—in fact, in terms of Kaladin’s relief, there was a huge difference.
At any rate, as Leshwi raised her spear to him, he was glad to accept the challenge.
In the middle deck of the Fourth Bridge, Navani counted off another family and pointed them toward a clearly marked and numbered section of the hold. The ardents there were quick to provide comfort to the worried family. Wide-eyed children clutching blankets settled in, several of them sniffling. Parents arranged sacks with the clothing and other possessions they’d hastily packed.
“Some few are refusing to leave,” Ardent Falilar said quietly to Navani. He fretted at his pure white beard as he looked over the list of names. “They’d rather continue living in oppression than abandon their homeland.”
“How many?” she asked.
“Not many. Fifteen people. Otherwise the evacuation is going faster than I’d estimated. The refugees, obviously, were already prepared to move—and most of the normal townspeople had already been forced into close quarters with their neighbors to give parshmen their dwellings.”
“Then what are you so worried about?” Navani asked, making a notation on her list. Nearby, Renarin had stepped up to the family with the sniffling children. He summoned a small globe of light, then began bouncing it between his hands. Such a simple thing, but the children who saw it grew wide-eyed, forgetting their fear.
The ball of light was bright blue. Part of Navani felt it should be red—to reveal the true nature of the spren that hid inside Renarin. A Voidspren. Or at least an ordinary spren corrupted to the enemy’s side. None of them knew what to do about that fact, least of all Renarin. As with most Radiants, he hadn’t known what he was doing when he began. Now that he’d formed the bond, it was too late to turn back.
Renarin claimed the spren was trustworthy, but something was odd about his powers. They had managed to recruit several standard Truthwatchers—and they could create illusions like Shallan. Renarin couldn’t do that. He could only summon lights, and they did strange, unnatural things sometimes…
“So many things could still go wrong!” Falilar said, drawing Navani’s attention back to the moment. “What if we underestimated the weight this many people will add? What if the strain cracks gemstones faster than we’d planned? The fans barely worked at all. It’s not a disaster, Brightness, but there’s so much to worry about.”
He tugged at his beard again. It was a wonder he had any hairs left at this point.
Navani patted his arm fondly—if Falilar didn’t have something to worry about, he’d go mad. “Do a visual inspection of the gemstones. Then double-check your calculations.”
“Triple-check, you mean?” he said. “Yes, I suppose. Keep myself busy. Stop worrying.” He reached for his beard, then pointedly shoved his hand in the pocket of his ardent robes.
Navani passed her checklist to another ardent, then climbed the steps to the top deck. Dalinar said he’d reopen the perpendicularity soon, and she wanted to be there—her pencil poised—when he did.
Down below, the townspeople kept clustering and looking up at the strange battle overhead. All this gawking was really going to throw off the orderly boarding plan she’d commissioned. Next time she’d have the ardents draw up a second plan that indicated how long it might take if a battle were occurring.
Well, at least only the Heavenly Ones were here. They tended to ignore civilians, considering them little more than battlefield obstacles. Other groups of Fused were far more… brutal.
The command station was mostly empty now, all of her ardents having been recruited to comfort and guide the boarding townspeople. Only Rushu remained, absently watching the flying Windrunners with her notebook open.
Bother. The pretty young ardent was supposed to be cataloguing the town’s food supplies. Rushu was brilliant, but like a sphere, she tended to shine in all directions unless carefully focused.
“Brightness,” Rushu said as Navani walked up. “Did you see that? The Fused over there—the one now fighting Highmarshal Kaladin—she let one of the Windrunners go after stabbing him.”
“I’m sure she was merely distracted by Kaladin’s arrival,” Navani said, glancing toward Dalinar, who stood directly ahead.
The large Horneater bridgeman had taken a position near Dalinar and was looking over some sacks of supplies that Rushu had apparently forgotten about. Navani didn’t miss that his daughter—the Shardbearer—was standing very close as well. Kaladin had been promoted beyond being a simple bodyguard, but he did tend to keep an eye out for Dalinar regardless. Almighty bless him for it.
“Brightness,” Rushu said, “I swear there is something odd about this battle. Too many of the Windrunners are idling about, not fighting.”
“Reserves, Rushu,” Navani said. “Come, let my husband worry about tactics. We have another duty.”
Rushu sighed, but did as asked, tucking her notebook under her arm and accompanying Navani. Dalinar stood with his hands clasped behind his back, watching the fighting. As Navani had hoped, he relaxed his posture, then brought his hands to the sides—as if gripping some unseen fabric.
He pulled his hands together, and the perpendicularity opened as a burst of light. Gloryspren, like golden spheres, began to spiral around him. Navani got a better glimpse of Shadesmar this time. And again she heard that tone. That was new, wasn’t it? Though she didn’t consider herself talented at drawing—at least not compared to a master like Shallan—she sketched what she saw, trying to capture an image of that place with the strange sun over a sea of beads. She could visit it in person if she wished, using the Oathgates—but something felt different about these visions.
“What did you see?” she asked Rushu.
“I didn’t see anything, Brightness,” Rushu said. “But… I felt something. Like a pulse, a powerful thump. For a moment I felt as if I were falling into eternity…”
“Write that down,” Navani said. “Capture it.”
“Very well,” Rushu said, opening her notebook again. She glanced up as Kaladin skimmed the deck overhead, dangerously close, following one of the Fused.
“Focus, Rushu,” Navani said.
“If you wish depictions or descriptions of Shadesmar,” Rushu said, “Queen Jasnah has released journals of her travels there.”
“I’m well aware,” Navani said, still drawing. “And I’ve read the journals.” The ones Jasnah would give her, anyway. Storming woman.
“Then why do you need my depiction of it?” Rushu asked.
“We’re looking for something else,” Navani said, glancing at Dalinar—then shielding her watering eyes. She blinked, then waved for Rushu to follow her to withdraw back to the nearby command post. “There’s someplace beyond Shadesmar, a place where Dalinar gets this power. Once long ago, the tower was maintained by a Bondsmith like my husband—and from what the spren have said, I conclude that the tower got its power from that place beyond Shadesmar as well.”
“You’re still worrying about that, Brightness?” Rushu pursed her lips. “It’s not your fault we haven’t decoded the tower’s secrets. It’s a puzzle one woman—or an army of women—can’t be expected to unlock after only a year.”
Navani winced. Was she truly that transparent? “This is about more than the tower, Rushu,” Navani said. “Everyone is praising the effectiveness of this ship. Brightlord Kmakl is imagining entire fleets of airships blotting out the sun. Dalinar speaks of moving tens of thousands of troops in an assault on Kholinar. I don’t think either of them realistically understands how much work goes into keeping this one ship in the air.”
“Hundreds of laborers in Urithiru turning winches to raise and lower the ship,” Rushu said, with a nod. “Dozens of chulls used to move it laterally. Thousands of fabrials to facilitate both—all needing to be perpetually reinfused. Careful synchronization via a half dozen spanreeds to coordinate maneuvers. Yes, it is highly improbable we could field more than two or three of these vessels.”
“Unless,” Navani said, stabbing her finger at her notes, “we discover how the ancients made the tower work. If we knew that secret, Rushu, we would not only be able to restore Urithiru—we might be able to power these airships. We might be able to create fabrials beyond what anyone has ever imagined.”
Rushu cocked her head. “Neat,” she said. “I’ll write down my thoughts.”
“That’s all? Just… ‘neat’?”
“I like big ideas, Brightness. Keeps my job from getting boring.” She glanced to the side. “But I still think it’s odd how many Windrunners are standing around.”
“Rushu,” Navani said, rubbing her forehead. “Do try to focus.”
“Well, I do try. I simply fail. Like that fellow over there? What’s he doing? Not guarding the ship. Not helping with the refugees. Shouldn’t he be fighting?”
“He’s probably a scout,” Navani said. She followed Rushu’s gaze past the edge of the ship, toward the fertile stone fields. “Obviously he…”
Navani trailed off as she picked out the man in question standing atop a hill—distinctly separated from the battle. Navani could see why Rushu would think him a Windrunner. He wore a uniform after the exact cut of Bridge Four. In fact, Rushu—who paid attention to the oddest things, but never seemed to notice important details—might have once seen this man in their ranks. He’d often been at Kaladin’s side during the early months of Bridge Four’s transition into Dalinar’s army.
Rushu missed the fact that this man’s uniform was black, that he wore no patch on his shoulder. That his narrow face and lean figure would mark him as a man interdicted. A traitor.
Moash. The man who had killed Navani’s son.
He seemed to meet her eyes, despite the distance. He then burst alight with Stormlight and dropped out of view behind the hill.
Navani stood there, frozen with shock. Then she gasped, heat washing over her as if she’d suddenly stepped into burning sunlight. He was here. That murderer was here!
She scrambled over to one of the Windrunner squires on the deck. “Go!” she shouted at him, pointing. “Warn the others. Moash, the traitor, is here!”
Kaladin again chased Leshwi through a chaotic battlefield. The flight gave him the chance to quickly survey how his soldiers were doing, and what he saw was encouraging.
Many of them had pushed back their opponents. The bulk of the Heavenly Ones were hovering in a wide perimeter, pulling away from fights. Kaladin suspected they’d realized there was little to discover by looking at the outside of the ship.
The Heavenly Ones, unsupported by ground troops or other Fused, didn’t seem to want to fully commit. Only a few contests continued, and Kaladin’s was the most furious. Indeed, he had to turn his full attention to the chase, lest he lose Leshwi.
Kaladin found himself grinning as he followed her through a wide loop, weaving and dodging around other combatants. When he’d begun training, he’d have thought maneuvers like this turn impossible. To perform the feat, he had to constantly dismiss and renew his Lashings, each at a different angle in a loop—doing so without conscious thought—all while sculpting his motion with the rushing wind to avoid obstacles.
He could now execute such a maneuver. If not easily, at least regularly. It left him wondering what else Windrunners could do with enough training.
Leshwi seemed to want to buzz past every other combatant on the battlefield, forcing Kaladin to constantly reorient. A test. She wanted to push him, see how good he truly was.
Let me get close, and I’ll show you how good I am, he thought, cutting out of the loop and flying down to intercept her. That put him close enough to strike with his spear.
She deflected, then darted to the side. He Lashed himself after her, and the two of them shot through the air parallel to the ground, curling around one another while each tried to get in a hit. The wind was a huge factor, tugging at his spear. At these speeds, it was like dueling in a highstorm.
They quickly left the town and the main battle. Kaladin had Syl re-form as a sword—but Leshwi was prepared for his lunge. She slid her spear through her hands and gripped it near the head, then dove in and struck at his neck, throwing off his next attack.
Kaladin took a slice on the neck—but not enough for her to siphon away his Stormlight. He pulled away further, still flying parallel to her, the wind making his hair whip and twist. He didn’t want to end up isolated, so he curved back toward the main battlefield.
Leshwi followed. Apparently she’d determined he could keep up with her, and now wanted to spar. Their loop took them toward the manor, coming in from the north side.
This land was so familiar to Kaladin. He’d played on these hills with Tien. He first touched a spear—well, a length of wood he pretended was a spear—right over there…
Stay focused, he thought. This is a time for fighting, not reminiscing.
Only… this wasn’t some random battlefield off in the Unclaimed Hills. For the first time in his life, he knew the terrain. Better than anyone else in this battle.
He smiled, then came in close to Leshwi for a clash, slowing and nudging them to the east. He allowed a slice along his arm, then pulled away as if in shock. He shot toward the ground, leveling off and darting among the hills, Leshwi following.
There, he thought. That one.
He ducked around the side of a hill, pulling his water flask off his belt. Here, on the leeward side of the hill, the rock had been carved away into a cavern for storing equipment. And as it had always been when he was young, the door was slightly ajar and crusted over with the cocoons of lurgs: little creatures that spent days hiding inside their coverings, waiting for rain to wake them up.
Kaladin sprayed water from his canteen across the door, then dropped the canteen and ducked around the next hill over, falling still nearer the ground. He heard Leshwi come in behind him. She slowed—evidenced by the sound of rustling cloth. She’d have found the discarded canteen.
Kaladin peeked around and spotted her hovering between the hills, maybe two feet off the ground, her long clothing rippling in the breeze. She slowly turned in a circle, trying to locate him.
The lurgs started dropping from their cocoons, thinking rain had come. They began hopping around, causing the door to creak. Leshwi immediately spun and leveled her lance toward them.
Kaladin launched toward her. She nearly reacted in time, but this close to the ground her long lance was a hindrance. Leshwi had to twist it around and grab it closer to the head before striking, which gave Kaladin the chance to ram a newly shortened Sylspear toward her chest.
He caught her in the shoulder, making her gasp in pain. She ducked his follow-up slash, but again had trouble maneuvering her lance as he slashed her in the leg.
For a moment, the struggle was everything. Leshwi dropped her lance and pulled a short sword from her belt, then came in closer than Kaladin had expected, knocking aside his spear and trying to grab him by the arm. Her bleeding cuts healed slowly enough that he was able to ram his shoulder into her wound, making her grunt. When she tried to slide the sword into his neck, he deflected it with a Sylbuckler that appeared on his arm.
Leshwi feinted toward him to make him pull back, then snatched her lance and streaked toward the sky. Kaladin followed, his spear materializing before him—and was on her before she could pick up enough speed to dodge. She was forced to defend by sweeping his attacks away, growing more and more reckless. Until Kaladin saw his moment and made the Sylspear vanish in his hands right as she blocked.
Then—while Leshwi was reacting to the failed block—he stabbed forward, the spear forming as he did so, and slammed it straight into—
Leshwi had brought her spear around to strike precisely as he did. Her weapon hit him in the shoulder, mirroring where he’d struck her opposite shoulder. He felt his Stormlight draining away, leeched into the spear; it felt as if his very soul was being drawn out. He held on, sucking in all the remaining Light from the recharged spheres in his pouches—then forced his spear deeper into her wound until tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.
Leshwi smiled. He grinned back, a full-toothed grin, even while she was draining away his life.
He yanked away almost at the same moment she did. She immediately put her free hand to her wound, and Kaladin shivered. Frost crackled on his uniform as a great deal of Stormlight rushed to fill the wound. That had cost him. He was dangerously low, and Dalinar had taken another break from his perpendicularity.
Leshwi eyed him as they hovered. Then Kaladin heard the screaming.
He started, turning toward the sounds. People yelling for help? Yes, the citylord’s manor was on fire—plumes of smoke rising through broken windows. What was going on? Kaladin had been so focused on his duel, he hadn’t seen.
Keeping one eye on Leshwi, he scanned the region. Most of the people had made it to the ship, and the other Windrunners were withdrawing. The Edgedancers had already boarded, but there was a small group of people standing in front of the burning manor.
One of them stood a good foot or two taller than the others. A hulking form of red and black with dangerous carapace and long hair the color of dried blood. The Fused from earlier, the one that could become a red line of light. He had gathered the soldiers Kaladin had sent away. Several were accosting townspeople, slamming them to the ground, threatening them with weapons and causing them to scream in pain and panic.
Kaladin felt a burning anger. This Fused went after the civilians?
He heard an angry-sounding hum beside him. Leshwi had drifted near—closer than he should have let her get—but she didn’t strike. She watched the Fused and his soldiers below, and the sound of her angry humming intensified.
She looked to him, then nodded toward the Fused and the unfortunate people. He understood the gesture immediately. Go. Stop him.
Kaladin moved forward, then paused and held up his spear before Leshwi. Then he dropped it. Though Syl vanished to mist almost immediately, he hoped Leshwi would understand.
Indeed, she smiled, then—her off hand still pressed to her bleeding wound—she held out her own spear and pointed the tip downward. A draw, the gesture seemed to say.
She nodded again toward the manor. Kaladin needed no further encouragement. He shot toward the terrified people.
Excerpted from Rhythm of War, copyright ©2020 Dragonsteel Entertainment.
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