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Chocolate and Hatred [story]

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[To consume time until next week, I'm posting stories previously written two years ago on Kannadi's Lodestone blog. This one follows "Heat and Arrows." 1572 was certainly a busy year for her.]



The Quicksands was full of its usual bustle of adventurers when the young elezen waitress brought Kannadi a mug of something frothy, steaming and brown.


Kannadi, conspicuously alone at her table, tilted her newspaper, prepared to say thank you but instead said “What’s this?”


The waitress fumbled for a slip of paper in her pocket, flapped it straight and squinted at it. “Hot chocolate, table four. Is there a problem, ma’am?”


Kannadi folded her copy of the day’s Mythril Eye.  “No, just that Miss Momodi doesn’t always tell new hires how to decipher my penmanship. I’m afraid it’s a bit florid.”




“I wrote chamomile, not chocolate.” Kannadi laid a stack of coins on the table. “Here’s the cost regardless, and the extra is for you to keep if you can add a twist of lemon to my original order.”


“Oh, uhm, but this is….”


“You know what a tip is, don’t you? I’ll double it if you leave the lemon slice in.”


“Th-thank you!” The waitress scooped up the coins, bowed quickly and shuffled away.


Kannadi opened her paper again.


Footsteps approached, making a deliberate slapping effort to be heard above the bustle.


“Ever so kind to the help, Kannadi,” a woman’s voice sneered.


The steam off the chocolate disappeared. Kannadi did not lower her paper. Only one person she knew could tilt the word "help" as though it were a tankard of aldgoat spit.


“Leyla,” Kannadi said. It was not a greeting.


“Won’t I sit down? I’d be glad to.” And she did.


Kannadi engrossed herself in a weather forecast.


The unwanted seat-occupant sniffed, and Kannadi could hear the arched upper lip. “Chocolate? That’s so… middle-class.”


“Mistaken order. Cheap stuff. Drink it all, I’m allergic.”


Kannadi glanced up from the reports of more rain. There sat a lance of a woman, long and sharp and thin, already sipping from the mug. The actual lance on the back of her jacket only accentuated the hard angles of her face and build. She herself would call her features austere; Kannadi called them hacked-out by a scimitar.


Kannadi glared icebergs over the paper, keeping it upright as a city wall. “I assume you have presented yourself for a reason, cousin.”


“Oh, just a minor issue,” Leyla said, setting the mug down with the absolute minimum finger contact. “I’ll be brief. You were aware, I’m sure, of my father’s impending birthday?”


“As a ship is aware of shoals.”


“Well, my sister took it upon herself to not purchase but… craft her present.” The word came out drenched in disdain.


“Which sister?”


“The fat one. She planned an elaborate birthday cake, multi-tiered, primarily chocolate -- only the finest, mind you,” Leyla tapped the table for emphasis, “from the finest ingredients.”


“And this is a problem?”


“You do know where the finest kukuru beans come from, don’t you?”


Of course she did. They grew natively in the southern continent and wild in a few corners of Eorzea, but the highest-quality ones were steeped in the digestive fluids of….


Kannadi at last lowered her paper. Leyla cocked a knowing eyebrow.


“So Dima went off to hunt flans,” Kannadi said. “She can take care of herself.”


“She hunted them in Mistbeard Cove.”


“I repeat my statement.”


Leyla raised her voice only slightly. “She has been missing two days, cousin.”


Kannadi kept her voice steady. “Then you failed to find her yourself? Or did you even try?”


Leyla rose and shouted. “There was a tonberry in there!


Silence spread among the bustling adventurers in a reverse explosion. All eyes turned to the table.


The waitress set a cup of chamomile tea by Kannadi and hurried away from the scrutiny of the crowd. There was a lemon slice stuck on the rim.


Kannadi laced her fingers. “You are lying,” she said.


“I know what I saw.”


“You saw a bent, shriveled sahagin and fled in terror, leaving your sister to her fate.”


“I – I retreated! And from a tonberry!” Leyla slammed her long hands into the heavy wooden table. It shook from the blow, betraying the strength of her thin arms. Kannadi sat unmoved.


“Was it riding a white buffalo? Leading a battalion of dwarfs, perhaps? Can’t you just imagine one in a little helmet?” Kannadi mimed twisting a knife. “Rally ho, stab stab?”


The spectators chuckled and smirked and most went back to their business. Leyla sat with some effort to keep from exploding into knives.


“So full of doubt, are you? I thought monsters were your… area of study,” Leyla said, tight as a bowstring.


“Monsters are, yes. Wholly mythological creatures, the existence of which is supported by no conclusive evidence which has ever crossed my sight or hearing, are not.”


Leyla lowered her voice. “Look at me, Kannadi. Are you willing to risk that I am not lying? Are you willing to risk that I won’t pay a dozen brave and stupid adventurers to storm the place while I rescue my sister and destroy a specimen for which your father’s, ha-ha, museum, would pay millions?”


Kannadi and Leyla locked eyes. Snow could have fallen in the space between.


“Why haven’t you already?” Kannadi asked.


“I felt magnanimous today. Besides, you being technically family, I needn’t pay you for the same service.”


“I will go,” Kannadi said, sipping her tea, “for Dima’s sake. And for no other reason. You may come along if you wish.”


“Then let us depart this commoner’s haven at once,” Leyla shot upright, “lest we find her body riddled with stab wounds.”


“Ones you didn’t put there yourself?”


Leyla’s face twisted into a haughty scowl.


Kannadi smiled back and drank her tea, pinky extended.



- - -




Kannadi and Leyla were born in the same week. Both were Albedos through their fathers, to whom they served as a war by proxy. Every high mark, every achievement, every fingerpainting by one girl was a nocked arrow for her father to politely loose at his brother. As the girls matured and diverged in their interests, the brothers always maintained that the other one’s daughter was wasting her life on trifles.


Both men had sent their respective girls to the prestigious Saint Branford’s Academy for Young Ladies, a highest-brow school made of a mansion and tower in a corner of Ul’dah strictly off-limits to the public. The brothers openly stated, repeatedly, particularly in front of their wives, that they wished only for Kannadi and Leyla – no, Leyla and Kannadi – no, K comes before L, would you just – for the girls to grow to be the best of friends. And on the first day, even across the first week, that seemed possible.


The girls got along in arithmetic and arts. They got along better in etiquette. They sat quietly side-by-side at story time. They even played nicely at parley. It was in the first Domestic Sciences class, which Kannadi later felt used the second word of its title like a chigoe used an aldgoat, that the first crack between the cousins appeared.


Both of them were all of eight years old, and had absorbed completely the essences of their respective fathers’ worldviews. The purpose of Domestic Sciences was to impart the skills and virtues of housework to very young ladies of quality, one or two of whom already had an arranged marriage in the offings.


The day’s lesson was identifying and arranging by size all manner of forks and spoons and then setting them out properly. The teacher set a box of mixed-up utensils on the floor and Kannadi eagerly reached in, adding to the silver-on-silver cacophony of seven other girls all fumbling for the shiniest dessert-or-maybe-salad fork. Leyla refrained from participation, standing far away with her arms crossed.


“What’s the matter, Miss Leyla?” The teacher sweetly intoned.


“Mama never sets the table. I’m not gonna.”


“It’s only proper for young ladies to learn the ways of the table,” half-sang the teacher, “and we must start the learning somewhere.”


“I don’t need to learn. Mama said the help will do everything.”


Kannadi looked up from the utensil-scrambling and had to shout to be heard. “What if you don’t have help?”


“I’m always gonna have the help!” Leyla shouted back, bending her wrist to touch her chest with only her fingertips. “I’m rich, and I’m gonna marry a rich prince, so we’re gonna be super-rich, and we’ll never have to do anything!”


“That’s dumb,” Kannadi said into the clattering.


Leyla stomped a little red shoe. “What was that?!”


“I said that’s dumb! Why’d’ya wanna sit around and do nothing? You’re gonna be old and lazy and… lazy!”


“Nuh-uh!” Leyla strode toward Kannadi. The teacher observed, smiling serenely.


“My daddy’s rich,” Leyla continued, “and he’s not lazy! He makes everybody work for him all the time!”


“My daddy’s rich too,” Kannadi pointed a spoon at her cousin, “but he does everything himself! And if you don’t do something yourself, you’re a lazy bum!”


The other girls, some with little fistfuls of forks, gave a trouble-anticipating crescendo of oooohs.


The teacher clapped twice, but her pleasant tone remained somewhere near the ceiling. “That’s quite enough of that sort of language, Miss Kannadi.”


“Sorry, ma’am.”


Behind the teacher’s back, Leyla stuck out her tongue.


Domesticity eventually had nothing left to teach but practice, but the abrasiveness between the girls continued, with varying periods of hot and cold war, for the next decade. The battlefield and weapons shifted as the cousins grew, ultimately ending in firebombs and siege engines when it came to romantic interests.


Graduation came and went. Kannadi pleased her father by pursuing higher education. Leyla infuriated her father by pursuing Ishgardian knights. Kannadi picked up a government job and became a scholar; Leyla picked up lancing from her beaus and liaised with whatever handsome and/or powerful brothers they had.


The meeting in the Quicksands was the first time the cousins had spoken more than two words directly to each other’s faces, of their own accord, in eight years.


That wasn’t the only source of Kannadi’s suspicion. Despite Leyla’s preference for getting others to do her work, the situation with her missing sister was the sort of thing she would handle on her own, and then write to Kannadi about with no shortage of arrogance. The Champion’s Lance she carried wasn’t for show. So why did she flee, even from an alleged tonberry? Something strange was at work….


Kannadi tightened her gloves as she and Leyla vanished from Ul’dah’s aethertye plaza. When wasn’t there?




- - -




The sky over Mistbeard Cove was overcast. Kannadi and Leyla arrived at the mouth of the cave before either of them said a word since the Quicksands.


“I never knew you were allergic to chocolate,” Leyla said, apropos of nothing.


“Yes you did. You tried to get me sick from it once.”


“Did I?”


“Year five, end-of-session cotillion. You spiked my tea with the darkest chocolate you could find when you thought I wasn’t looking.”


“Oh, yes, that. But nothing came of it.” Leyla walked ahead into the wet gloom of the cove. Kannadi followed, adjusting her hat.


“That,” Kannadi said, “was because you didn’t use the cheap stuff, which is cheap by virtue of being cut with milk. You always did make uneducated attempts on my health.”


“Ah-ha ha ha, uneducated? And whom, might I ask, made top of the class in first form?”


A slug lifted its antennae at the women heedlessly passing it.


“Oh, yes,” Kannadi allowed herself some bitterness, “the year that formal dancing weighed heavier on the grades than mathematics and biology combined. An excellent accomplishment you achieved, truly.”


“Better than excelling at scrabbling in the dirt,” Leyla bit.


The glowing spire of the Cove’s aetherial gate turned the damp stone around it a sickly shifting blue. The women passed right through it, neither breaking pace nor glancing at the other.


“Which itself was better than excelling at scrabbling for boyfriends,” Kannadi said.


“I’m wounded, cousin.” Leyla sniffed, mockingly. “They came to me of their own free will. Joyfully.”


“As buzzards to a permanent corpse.”


“Who could blame them for wanting a little respite and refreshment after flying clear over a glacier like you?”


“And how many had their beaks in you? Ten? Twenty?”


“It was seven.”


“At once?”


Leyla swung her hand. Kannadi raised her own to block, but the slap tilted upward and knocked off her hat. She caught it behind her back, swung it around front and adjusted it on her head, all without a twitch in Leyla’s direction.


“My, such low clearance in here,” Kannadi said to the walls, and in the same breath continued, “has that lantern always been there?” There was indeed a lantern on the ground, lying on its side, casting a strong yellow glow.


“Oh there's that lantern I left behind,” Leyla said to the ceiling. “How prescient of me to leave some as markers, should I have needed a quick retreat. No ignorant hypothetical cousin of mine would have thought of that.” The women walked somewhat awkwardly past the light, turning with the contours of the walls yet keeping each other out of even their peripheral vision.


“And here I expected you to say it belonged to the tonberry,” Kannadi said.


“I am nothing if not truthful,” Leyla said, still staring upward.


“I suppose that one over there is also yours?”


“Of course it is.”


“Are the flans hers too?”


Leyla looked down.


There, gathered around another tilted lantern, were two plain-pudding flans staring raptly at the flickering flame inside. Their flabby mound bodies made no motion but curious eye-tiltings at the strange artifact they had found.


Kannadi fingered her brand, but Leyla shot straight ahead. So quick that Kannadi could’ve missed it if she blinked, Leyla drew her lance and thrust it clean through the flans in a single blow. Their pinprick eyes turned toward her, showing not a flicker of pain. Leyla adjusted her grip and, obeying strict principles of leverage and muscle tone, flung the monsters overhand and splatted their gelatinous bodies on the nearest wall.


“Scourge Two!” Kannadi shouted, and the pierced oozing blobs warped and shredded under the twisting force of umbral magic.


Leyla gave a conceited sniff and holstered her lance. “Gruesome things.”


“Precisely how many lanterns did you leave behind?” Kannadi asked, still gripping her brand and eyeing the gushy pile of former flan.


“Enough to light my way,” Leyla said. “They were only only two thousand gil each.”


There were nine more lanterns, as it turned out. And six puddings, four crabs, fifteen wisps and a gnat, each drawn to the foreign lights and therefore to the women who followed them. All through the fighting that necessarily followed, the cousins spoke not a word that wasn’t an invocation for a spell.


Finally they came to an upright lantern, well back in the cove, at a closed door in the end of a tunnel.


“This is it,” Leyla said, lifting the lantern. “I heard a voice further in, and went to see, and….”


“And you fled. That is the only clear evidence.”


“Just proceed, will you?”


“Why should I go first?”


“So when it comes at you, I’ll be in a better spot to leave you to its mercy.”


Kannadi assumed that was about as truthful a statement as she was likely to hear.


She opened the door.


Inside, the cavern room was black as ink. Kannadi stood and waited for her eyes to adjust. She called back over her shoulder.


“Bring that light in, would you?”


Leyla turned the lantern off with a soft squeak of metal. 


Kannadi blinked in the sudden primordial dark. “Mature as ever, hm?”


The door closed.


A second lantern lit a short distance in front of her.


It rose in the hand of a diminutive hooded figure and glinted off a dagger blade.


“Fire Two,” Kannadi spoke plainly to the darkness.


The cavern room burst into light from the flash of flame against its ceiling. Half a dozen cries of surprise and anguish echoed off the walls, and in the brief illumination Kannadi saw the same number of lalafell, marauders by the look of them, cover their eyes and recoil.


And there in the corner, as the flame quickly died, she saw her bound and gagged cousin. Dima was dressed only in her smallclothes, lying among lumpy, man-sized canvas bags in a fair attempt at camouflage. Her chubby face clenched in a squint at the light.


The light of the cave returned to the solitary lantern. Kannadi stared straight ahead at the central figure, the only one besides her who wasn’t moaning and arghing. Knife, lantern, cloak, hood, short stature. Not bad.


“Fair effort on the details,” Kannadi said, “but tonberries in the old stories always stabbed in the back. Isn’t that right, Leyla?”


Leyla propped herself against the door and rubbed her eyes with her forearm.


“They were her favorite stories, you see,” Kannadi continued to the unreactive hooded figure.


“I don’t,” the alleged tonberry said in the deep voice of a man three times his height. He tilted his head out of its hood, and the light of his lantern shone off the deadest eyes Kannadi had ever seen. The elderly lalafell’s cataracts were so thick, his eyes had nothing but whites.


“And you are?” Kannadi asked. The focus of the lantern blinded her to the remainder of the room, where some of the men still moaned.


“The terrible Tom Berry,” the lalafell grinned. His wrinkles stood out like chasms in the close, sharp light. “Bit of a pun, or play on words. Makes a pirate such as meself stand out among the locals. Puts a bit of respect in the damned malm-high competition, you see.”


“I do. Would you like to explain your presence before I blind your men again?”


More moaning came from the darkness.


“Love to,” said Tom Berry. “We harpooned that whale over yonder while we was poachin’ the puddings what we stuffed full of kukuru some suns past. And whaddya know, there’s gold to be had under that fat.”


Muffled protests came from one corner of the darkness. Kannadi was sure they were assertions about muscle weight and bone width.


“So you held her for ransom,” Kannadi said, “and as luck would have it, her sister came in search of her.” She looked over her shoulder, where Leyla blinked back to the world of the seeing. “And you, cousin, thought slaying them with me would be cheaper?”


Tom Berry laughed, as did his compatriots lurking in the dark.


“Hardly,” Leyla answered, and raised her voice. “Listen, you brigands! The one you have is the fourth of six children born to parents who wouldn’t drop a gil to save any of them but the first! But here,” she pointed at Kannadi, “here stands a firstborn and only child, beloved by her father and mother! Ransom her instead and release my sister!”


Kannadi clenched her jaw. Leyla’s position as third of six didn’t matter, right that hot second. Anger boiled away Kannadi’s pity.


“You’re in no spot to make trades,” Tom Berry said coolly, “now that we got three Albedo daughters to sell off….”


Kannadi pointed her brand at the pirate but her legs suddenly collapsed, knocked down at the back of the knees. Tom Berry’s associates had rubbed out their blindness and struck in force. Kannadi swung out her brand arm as she fell.


Dia!” She shouted.


Sharp white aetherial light stabbed the recovering eyes of her two assailants and cast enough side-glow for her to see the four others swiftly tying Leyla’s legs together. Leyla struggled furiously, and Kannadi let her.


Fire Two!” Kannadi shouted, and flames burst over the ceiling. A trailing arc of fire landed among the bags by Dima and set one of them alight.


“Clever girl,” Tom Berry said, sniffing the air, “but I works best under a time limit!”


Kannadi looked down too late. The hooded lalafell was worlds faster than his name implied, and a dagger thrust cut her leg before she could register his level of threat.


Kannadi limped a step back and leveled her brand at him, but the word of her spell caught in her immediately swollen throat. Silencing potion. Clever bastard.


Tom Berry chuckled. “Muted the new one, lads! Get ‘er!”


Four of the marauders struggled against Leyla’s thrashing. The two with Dia-abused eyes drew their axes and stumbled in Kannadi’s direction.


Kannadi sidestepped the wild axe-swings until the first marauder stuck his axe fast in the rock floor. The second came at her more accurately, but tripped over his comrade’s weapon. Kannadi cracked her brand across the forehead of the first, lifted the second by the belt and hurled him bodily across the room.


The flames licked and crackled in the bags, filling the air with the scent of burnt chocolate. The thrown pirate landed hard against them and rolled down the slope they made. His axe clattered on the rocky floor.


Tom Berry parried a stab from the pointed end of Kannadi’s brand and multiple blows from the business end. “Settle yourself!” He taunted. “Else I’ll send your ear home in a box!”


If Kannadi were able to speak, she would have carried on battle banter regarding how a blind old lalafell could move like a galago. If she were able to yell, she would have called Leyla -- now rolling about on the ground, arms and legs restrained by only the strongest efforts of four hip-high pirates -- an insufferable cow who wasn’t worth a single gil of ransom. But she couldn’t, so she made do with using her brand as a club.


Disoriented by both light and smoke, the lalafell who hit the bags shuffled and patted the floor for his axe.


“Looking for this?” Dima asked. Severed ropes hung from her thick wrists. What took two hands for a lalafell to hold took her only one.


“Lads wanna get that damn fire out?!” Tom Berry shouted, dodging the swing of Kannadi’s brand.


“We got our hands full with the skinny tart here!”


“How dare you!” Leyla shouted.


Kannadi backed her quarry to the wall. Tom Berry leapt against it and vaulted off, smashing his lantern against Kannadi’s hat. It cracked and leaked burning oil. Her voice returned in a grunt and she staggered, dazed.


The blind old lalafell landed and threw his lantern aside. “What do I keep you gits around for then?!”


He turned and bumped into what felt like a pair of legs.


Dima swung her miniature axe, fetching him clear off the floor with a resounding clang. He landed by his remaining men, bearing a diagonal gash in his cloak and a similar dent in the armor underneath.


“Boss?!” Said the one holding down Leyla’s right arm. His next word was an airy explosion of a fist meeting his solar plexus.


Kannadi furiously stomped out her blazing hat. She looked toward the fire and saw Dima, an axe in one hand and a bag in the other.


“You all right?” Dima asked.


“Never better,” Kannadi said.


The three conscious lalafell huddled together away from Leyla as she thrashed her way out of the ropes holding her.


“The fat one’s free!” One said.


“And she whacked the boss!” Another said.


“I ain’tn’t dead!” Tom Berry groaned.


“What do we do?” Said the first.


You’ll get your filthy selves out of my sight lest I rip you apart!” Leyla screamed among her flailing.


Two of the three hauled their boss up by the arms and legs. The third kicked Leyla in the hip. She positively roared and he threw open the doors, fleeing ahead of his partners.


“Be seein’ ya, y’damn sand-suckin’ wenches!” Tom Berry spat, carried out by his underlings.


The fire spread faster over and through the bags.


“Let’s go before we suffocate,” Kannadi said to Dima. “What’s in the bag?”


“Only the finest flan-aged kukuru beans,” Dima smiled, slinging the overstuffed bag onto her shoulder as though it didn’t weigh as much as a man. “They won’t miss ‘em. You coming, sis?”


Leyla kicked the ropes off her legs. “If I ever see them again, I’ll--”


Kannadi slapped her threat short. It wasn’t a slap so much as an open-palmed punch. Leyla tilted from the blow and nearly tripped on the rope as she righted herself.


“If I ever see you again, Leyla Sandra Albedo, it had best be on your knees in forgiveness, lest I tell Grandmother what you tried to do.”


Leyla held her cheek and glared.


“C’mon, sis,” Dima said, “let’s just port back and--”


The air around Leyla thrummed and shrank and winked her out of sight.


Dima awkwardly rubbed the back of her head with her axe handle. “All right then.”



- - -




A week passed. Alicanto Albedo turned fifty-five years old amidst a celebration which saw ninety guests, one short yet polite congratulatory form letter from the office of the Sultana (stamped with her seal by a nameless bureaucrat), one life-sized ice sculpture of a chocobo, and one chocolate cake of the same height.


Kannadi and Leyla both attended, as neither of them could escape certain obligations of high society. Neither of them registered the other’s presence in the slightest way.


Among the toasts given was one from the guest of honor to his “now quite eligible” daughter Dima, thanking her for her brave, selfless, and completely solo efforts in acquiring the ingredients to make a cake “to outshine those fish-roasting alleged culinarians of the Thalassocracy.” Neither Kannadi nor Leyla said a word in response.


Dima eventually caught up with Kannadi in the Gold Court when the party let out that evening.


“Hey,” Dima said, out of breath. Her dress didn’t flatter her, but unfortunately, not much did. She was much more at home in an apron.


“Hello, Dima,” Kannadi said. “Doing well?”


“Just wanted to thank you? For the thing with the kidnapping, and the pirates? And the saving?” Dima was full of question marks when she was excited, a habit that twenty-one years in the world hadn’t yet broken.


“It was my pleasure.”


“And for not telling my folks?”


“Again, my pleasure.”


“And for not murdering my sister when you totally should’ve?”


“I assure you I had no intention of that,” Kannadi lied.


“Yeah, well, I wanted to thank you? ‘Cause it was really all my own dumb fault? So here.”


Dima thrust a flat square wooden box at her cousin, plain black with the top and bottom meeting at a diagonal. Kannadi had seen similar ones contain necklaces, and made the obvious assumption.


“Oh, I have enough already, but thank you.”


Dima opened the box, grinning. “You sure?”


Inside, twenty-five snail shells of pearl-white chocolate caught the light of the court’s lamps. Kannadi instantly recalled Tom Berry’s pair of cataracts in the light of his lantern.


“I had a lot left over,” Dima said, clearly proud of herself. “They’re my latest thing, white chocolate on the outside and only the darkest truffle in the middle. They melt in your mouth like you can't believe. Write me sometime and tell me how they are, ‘kay?”


Kannadi closed the box, hoping that they wouldn’t glint so much at home, but a thought made her hand pause on the lid.


“Only the darkest?” She asked.


“Yeah,” Dima said. “Leyla told me you’re allergic to the cheap stuff.”


Kannadi blinked. “Why would she?”


“Didn’t want you to get sick, I guess.”


Kannadi took the box with a polite “Thank you very much.”


Dima smiled. Waited. “And?” She prompted.


“And, your sister will have to do better than that to make up for attempting to hand me to pirates.”


Kannadi heard a loud offended scoff from around a corner.


“But I acknowledge the gesture as a fair first step toward abject contrition, and expect more such acts in the near future!” Kannadi called over Dima’s head.


Kannadi turned to leave with perfect timing to miss Leyla storming down the hall after her. She smiled at the sound of Dima restraining her sister with angry whispers and strode away home.

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