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Generated: Aug 16, 2022 12:22 AM
Post last updated: Aug 16, 2022 12:22 AM
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rule one is that you're only allowed to refer to it as an "armoire"
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Her first child, her son, was so full of darkness - 

She could see it, she knew him, she loved him, and she could've taught him better if only he'd stayed -

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And she can't bear another child, and her husband left too anyway, but she can take in orphans.  She takes in a pair of little redheaded sisters who so adore each other.  She can succeed with them where she once failed.  She can teach them to love and be loved, she can teach them virtue and discipline.  She can raise them on bedtime stories of wicked sons and weeping mothers, and fill them up with wholesomeness and purity and decency and love and goodness and light.

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There are nights she still cries, thinking of Thomas marching out the door, thinking of screaming after him until her voice gives out.  She tries not to let the girls hear.

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Kaylee's scared of her.  She can tell.  Kaylee's sweet but sometimes she says dark things, "why can't you just" when the answer is that's horrible, and Sybil hates it.  So Vanessa hugs her and pets her hair and tells her it's okay, when Sybil does the thing she does, when she almost-cries and makes it your fault.  But Kaylee is sweet, and a good person, and if there's anyone Vanessa trusts to carry darkness in her heart it's her.

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Vanessa hates her.  She can tell.  Sybil tries to teach her right from wrong, tries to teach both of them, and Kaylee knows she's supposed to learn but it's all askew, and she doesn't know why, and it's like Vanessa has her own right and wrong that shines through her like the sun through a crack in a cold stone wall but she's just a girl, like Kaylee -

And she knows Vanessa has perfect unshakeable faith in her and she feels so ungrateful, not to feel the same way about Vanessa -

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They're twelve, and more and more often Sybil's tears turn to anger, and she takes Kaylee's hand and says "we can leave" and -

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- and they do.

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They go under cover of night.  Kaylee will of course be trying not to think of how anguished Mom will be, and she squeezes her hand as she realizes it.

(She calls Sybil Mom sometimes, in her thoughts, names like that don't matter too much to her.)

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They take food, and clothes, and cash, and head for the empty house on the edge of town, where they're pretty sure Thomas hid out when he was running away.  They'll catch the next bus into the city.  They have an aunt, there - she couldn't take them in back when their parents died.  Maybe she can now.  Maybe.

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The house is dark, and creaky, and cobwebby - and Kaylee hates spiders - but in good repair; Vanessa judges it safe to explore.  Flashlights illuminate it feebly, Vanessa's in yellow and Kaylee's in pale white, leaving swooping green-violet afterburn in their eyes as they sweep over ornate old-fashioned wooden furniture.

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"Nessie, come see."

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"What is it?"

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It's a room full of dressers.  Not normal dressers with drawers, but old-fashioned dressers with double doors and mirrors on the inside.  Armoires, she thinks.  (There is another name for them but the word is eluding her.  She's tired.)

The room is packed full of them - not just against the walls, but lined up in haphazard irregular rows, to make the room a dusty, musty armoire-maze.

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"That's weird."  Sometimes it is Vanessa's job to state the obvious.

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"Why would someone have so many?"

She runs her fingers lightly across the door of one.

"It's - stuck shut," she says.  "Nailed or something."

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"This one's padlocked," she says.  "This one's stuck shut too.... this one's locked.  This one's boarded shut."

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"Boarded, like..."

She looks where Vanessa's shining her flashlight.  Boarded like there's two planks of wood, crossed across the doors, hammered into place.  Like it's the entrance to an abandoned house.  - a much more-abandoned house.

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"This is creepy," Vanessa opines.

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She rounds a corner, around a row of armoires, slowly, her left hand trailing over ornately worked wood.

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"Kaylee?"

She darts around the corner after her.

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She glances back.  "Sorry," she says.  "It's just - there's something about them."

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"...you're not wrong," she says.

" - this one opens."

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"Which one?"

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Dark, almost reddish wood, still shiny as though freshly varnished, with twining leafy viney designs around the edges of the doors and delicate little brass handles.

"There's no lock, and it's not nailed or padlocked or anything..."

She hooks a finger through one brass handle, pulls.  It swings right open.  Doesn't even creak.

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She shines her pale white flashlight on the back of the empty armoire, the narrow little left-hand wall, the narrow little right-hand wall--

 

There's no right hand wall.

There's a little passage, a narrow corridor.  Too narrow to walk through, but a child or a small adult could sidle sideways through it.

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The armoire isn't quite flush with the one to its right.  She slides her hand between them.

It sure has a right-hand wall on the outside.

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"...Do you kinda want to go in there?"

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"...Yeah," she admits.  "But..."

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"But," she sighs.

She sets her backpack down and rummages in it for a ball of twine.  She hands the ball to Vanessa, pulls out a thread, wraps it a couple times around her palm.  "I'll tug on this twice, every so often," she says, "and you tug on it twice back.  If I ever don't feel you I'll come back as fast as I can."

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Kaylee's so smart.  "Okay."

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She takes a deep breath, and steps inside the armoire, and starts sidling sideways.

 

"Can you hear me?" she calls after just a minute.

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"Yeah."

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"I'm just past where I should be able to be - can you bang on the wall of the dresser?  The one I just went through.  I wanna see where it sounds like you're hitting it."

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She can't get the angle for a proper slap, but she can slip her hand between the two dressers again and sort of slap it back and forth, taptaptaptaptap on the wall Kaylee just walked through.  "Could you hear that?"

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"Yeah.  It sounded like you were hitting the back wall.  This is weird."

She keeps sidling, tugging twice every few seconds.

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Tug tug.

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"Can you still hear me?"

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She raises her voice a little: "Yeah."

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"There's a corner.  Like, the little passageway turns.  Toward the back wall.  I'm gonna look around it."

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"Okay."

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"There's a light," she says.  "The passageway goes on for a little bit and then - there's a light at the end of it."

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"...what color is it?"

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"Orange," she says, matter-of-factly.

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"Orange?" she says.  "Like - fire?"  She sounds a bit worried.

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"No, it's steady," she says quickly.  "It's like - a forest in autumn."

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"...you wanna keep going?"

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"Yeah."

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"Okay."

Tug tug, as appropriate.

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"This leg's a lot longer," she calls, voice faint, after a little while.  "Light's getting bigger."

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"What's it look like?"

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"Kinda - curvy?  Not straight lines like the rest of the wardrobe."  Wardrobe, that's the word.  "I'm gonna keep going."

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"Okay, but I don't think I can hear you much farther."

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"Still got the twine."  Tug tug.

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Tug tug.

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Yelp!

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She sticks her head into the corridor.  "What's wrong??"

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"Sorry!" Kaylee yells.  "Okay!  Just - lots of spiderwebs."

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"Okay."  Tug tug.

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Tug tug.

 

She won't hear Kaylee again for a while.  The signals on the twine keep coming, though.

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She'll keep signalling back.

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She reaches the light.

She called out to Vanessa one more time, before now, and Vanessa didn't answer.  So she probably couldn't hear if she yelled from here.

The light is an opening in the wall, shaped more like something that grew that way than like something that was made intentionally or something that was broken.  It looks out into - a forest in autumn.

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She clambers through the hole.

From the other side, the hole is a gap in the bark of a hollow tree.  It looks exactly like the shape as a gap in a hollow tree would look, from this side, though she didn't recognize the shape when light was shining through it into the dark.

She looks around.

 

That's a forest, all right.  In autumn, which it isn't, and in the middle of the day, which it also isn't.

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A great big bug floats through the air and comes to hover in front of her face.  Not a frightening bug - it looks like it's an oversized lightning bug.  And there is a tiny little person riding on it, with goldenrod skin and gleamingly black hair and a tiny little bow and arrow made out of a tiny little curve of wood and strung with gleaming silk, strung over her(?) back.

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"Hello, giant!" the tiny little person calls out bravely.  "These trees are the gathering-grounds of the honeysprite city of Dozen Leaves!  I am a scout of Dozen Leaves and would like to know your business here!"

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" - hello!" Kaylee says.  She is thoroughly charmed, though she considers in the next moment that being thoroughly charmed by this person, who is asking basically reasonable and straightforward questions, just because they are tiny and little, is maybe condescending and prejudiced.  "My name's Kaylee.  I didn't know there was a forest here.  I was following a passage through - what I suppose must have been a magic wardrobe - and it led to that tree - " she points.  "Before now I hadn't believed in magic.  I'm pretty - confused and astonished!"

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"That tree is called Fool's Hollow, and the sprites who have entered it say its darkness goes on forever, and if you go too deep you will be trapped in the webs of wild spiders."

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" - well, there were some spiderwebs in there," Kaylee says.  "But - well, I just walked through them.  I suppose if you're a fairy they'd be dangerous?"

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It's hard to tell, but the tiny little person might be frowning bemusedly at her.  "A fairy?  Fairies don't exist.  I'm a sprite."

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"Oh, I'm sorry," Kaylee says.  "Where I'm from there's no such thing as sprites or fairies.  There's only humans - I suppose humans are my kind of giant."

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"You're a human?" the sprite says.  "An eld-giant from an entire land full of them, on the other side of Fool's Hollow, with no magic and no other types of creature?"

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"Yes, I guess, if eld-giant is another word for human - and, well, we have animals, but nothing else that talks.  ...Well some type of birds can talk.  But they don't talk as well as you and I are talking and they don't have cities."

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"You've never heard of Casthanaea before?"

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"Is that the name of the forest, or the place the forest is?  I haven't."

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"Casthanaea is the name of all the world under the dome of the sky, Springland and Summerland and Autumnland and Winterland, and Giantland in the center within the ring-mountains.  And at the center of Giantland is Tower Axial, and at the center of Tower Axial is the Throne of the World, upon which legends say an eld-giant must always sit or the world will end."

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" - is there an eld-giant sitting on the throne now?"

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"Yes, but - well, there's probably someone in Dozen Leaves who can explain the situation Casthanaea's in better than I'd be able to, to a giant who's just arrived from another world - would you be willing to travel with me to Dozen Leaves and hear what my people have to say?"

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 - there's a tug-tug on her length of twine.  She tug tugs back and says, "I should tell my sister what's going on.  She's on the other side of the passage - of Fool's Hollow.  But can you give me the five-second version?"

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"All right.  The king of Casthanaea is the Witch-King Eldest-Giant, who has sat on the Throne of the World for all of living memory and history.  He's cruel and uncaring and considers everyone in Casthanaea his playthings, and when he's not tormenting or enslaving us he leaves us to fend for ourselves.  The only reason he's still on the throne is that he's an eld-giant and Casthanaea needs an eld-giant on the throne."

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"All right."  She - first ties her twine around a knot of the tree, just outside the hole, and then says, "I'll go find my sister and we'll - figure this out."

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The honeysprite salutes her.

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And she starts sidling back through the passageway.

 

Once she gets to the bend, she calls out, "I'm here!"

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"You okay?"

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"Yeah I've got loads to tell you - hold on - "

She finishes the trip back, steps out of the armoire and catches her breath.  "Oof."

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"Are you okay?  Did you get to the hole in the wall?"

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"Yes and yes," she says.  "There's a whole forest on the other side of it.  I met a sprite."

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"A sprite?"

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"Like a tiny little person, riding an oversized firefly.  She called me an eld-giant.  She said - she said the forest is in a land called Casthanaea, that needs to have an eld-giant ruling it or the world will end.  And the eld-giant on the throne now is nasty, he - he tortures and enslaves everyone."

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"...Do you wanna go in there and try to usurp Casthanaea."

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She wrings her hands a little.  "I mean - we should get a grownup, but - no one in town would believe us, right?  They'd say we were crazy.  And they'd ship us back to, to Sibyl.  Everyone loves Sybil."

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"Sweet old lady whose troublemaking son ran away," Vanessa mutters.

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"And - and even if Aunt Sophie believes us - would she believe us enough to come all the way back out here about it."

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She sighs.

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"But.  But kids can't do stuff like that, right?  Not in real life."

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"...If Casthanaea needs an eld-giant on the throne... maybe the only reason they haven't already overthrown him is because he's the only eld-giant," Vanessa says.  "We could go and say - if there's a rebellion or something, we can join up, and stop the world from ending after the old guy is taken out."

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It's the rest of our lives, she wants to say, the whole rest of our lives...

But what will the rest of their lives look like if they don't?  Hitching a ride into the city, hoping Aunt Sophie can take them in, hoping Sybil doesn't send anyone after them to track them down... and if Sophie can't take them in, then - then what?  She can't imagine what, her mind goes blank, Sophie taking them in had been their only hope.

 

So she nods.

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It's not a big grin, but it's a grin.

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The trip back through the armoire is lengthy and awkward and generally unbefitting of an emotionally weighty resolution to try to save the inhabitants of a magical forest.  But soon enough they're out the other side, and -

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"Hello!" the sprite calls, once they've both clambered out of the tree.  "Welcome to Casthanaea!  ...I don't think we ever properly introduced ourselves, did we?"

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"I guess not!  My name's Kaylee, and this is my sister Vanessa."

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The honeysprite salutes them.  "It's an honor to meet you, Kaylee, Vanessa.  My name is Ambrosia."

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"Ambrosia, that's pretty."

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It's hard to tell, on a face that small, but she might look a little bashful.  "Thank you.  It's actually a pretty common name among honeysprites."  She ducks her head, then meets their eyes again.  "But I'm glad you think so!"

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Vanessa does a little wave with her fingers.  "Hello Ambrosia!  So, are you going to take us to your city?"

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"Not yet," she says.  "I shouldn't lead strange giants to Dozen Leaves on my own recognizance.  But I'm going to head back as fast as I can, and they'll send some Rangers and a Most Honored Daughter to meet you properly.  It might be a little while - though I suppose I don't know how eld-giants account a long or short time - maybe about an hour?"

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Vanessa glances at Kaylee.

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Kaylee glances at Vanessa - but then her face firms up a bit, and she looks back at Ambrosia.  "We can wait."

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"All right.  Thank you both."

Ambrosia and her firefly fly off.

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Kaylee sits down, back against the tree.

"So what should we - "

She stretches, and yaaaaawns.

" - do while we wait?"

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Vanessa sits down next to her.  "Maybe take a nap.  It's late, for us, even if it's the middle of the day here."

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Kaylee grins a little sheepishly.  "Yeah, good point."  She closes her eyes and curls into herself against the tree a little.

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Vanessa lets herself flop sideways and splays out her limbs.

Zzz.

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Zzz.