I've done a question about Aerial battle of knights riding flying creatures... How would they fight?, that was put [on hold] for being too broad. So I'm splitting the question into a series.

The context: In my world, we have two cities, each on a high mountaintop, separated by a vast valley. In order to wage war, the warriors of each city bridge the huge gap between them by using flying creatures.

Now, these flying creatures are of various natures... Some are dragon-like pterodactyls, others are giant eagles. But each one can carry only one warrior and his gear. The warriors saddle and mount the beasts like they would do with horses.

Their technology is on the medieval level. Warriors can only use swords, spears, bows and arrows and such.

So, my question are: What would be the best tactics for warriors to fight each other? Long-range mongol-type combat, with bows and arrows or crossbows? Short-range melee combat, with swords or axes? Short-range joust-like combat with spears?

Note: I want the riders to actually ride the flying creatures, not being strapped under the creature

Note2: I would like these series to focus on the warriors, not the creatures. So, please, no answers about using the beaks or the claws of the creatures, but only the weapons (the weapons can be used on the creatures, though). I'm also not interested on the feasibility or the anatomy of the flying creatures, just about the feasibility of each combat mode

Bonus to the answer that can show both types of combat (whether long range or short range) as feasible

PS: Links to the other questions for this series:

  1. Aerial battle of knights riding flying creatures - how would their military formations be?

  2. How can a city protect itself from the invasion from knights flying riding creatures?

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    $\begingroup$ What prevents either side from simply ignoring the other? $\endgroup$
    – fectin
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ Wich kind of creatures we are talking about? Something traditional like dragons? Or something more exotic like gas giant fauna? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @fectin: That's part of the story ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexMyrmidon: Let's keep us on the species I have named: dragon-like pterodactyls and giant eagles. So... something traditional. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ @alex myrmidon: I really have nothing bad to say about the site, its rules or the people here. They are doing me a favor for answering and/or providing this service. What I meant is that I'm feeling a little lost here about how I should handle ithis situation :P $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 22:52

13 Answers 13


First let's consider a saddle. on any flying animal you will want a saddle that actually attaches you the the animal, you are not just sitting on it you should be strapped to it, you don't want to come loose during maneuvers, which a flying animal will do in all three dimensions.Your riders should be so secured that even if they are killed they will not fall off. This makes things like lances or catchpoles pointless, you'll break your arms or just end up bringing both mounts together an a fouled mess before you dislodge them.

If the animal is much much larger than a person (something fantastical) you can get away with the person being upright but for anything else you have to worry about drag. you also can't put your legs down their sides becasue the wings are there, giving you three choices.

  1. the rider can be lying flat against the animal, belly down, to reduce drag. that reduces what you can use. this means you have very few good angles of attack, the wings get in the way in the downward direction, the head is in the way forward. Up is you best bet but also the most difficult for a human to attack from. Your riders may actually have a saddle designed to let them turn sideways (effectively lying on one arm) so they can reach out.

  2. another option is to be saddled in a kneeling position and stay in a prone prayer like position or lying flat most of the time, only sitting up to strike. this would let you use a wider range of weapons (even bows) as well as give you a wider angle of attack, including letting you lean back to strike upwards.

  3. the last option is to have the rider legs forward and lying back belly up, lifting the head to see, like a bobsledder. This is the most complex position, and requires the most confidence in your mount steering itself, but also the one that gives you the most options for attacking others, combining this with option one in a tandem, two rider, setup would also work well, one focused on steering the other on attacking. this does double your weight however.


There is not much point attaching another rider when the mount makes a much better target, especially the mounts wings. Wings are fragile, essential, and large targets. Any slashing blade on a stick(like a naginata) will work well for this, even swords although less effective. Slashing at the enemy wings will be most effective but is also the most dependent on winning a competition of maneuvering almost like a dogfight. Alternatively a hooked or barbed disposable weapon would also work well, something that can left behind and will stay in the wing, fouling it while doing even more damage. One large hook or spear in a wing will take an flying animal out of the fight. even if it doesn't kill it.

If you use option 2 or 3 you can use bows, composite shortbows like the mongols or crossbows would be best, barbed arrows to stick in the wings of your opponent would be best, that way you don't have to hit the body to do damage. A trained group of flying archers would be devastating against ground troops just look at the variety of maneuvers created by horse archers and how devastating they were.

You can also hang a line of barbs of hooks off the back of the animal almost like a troll line dragging behind it. it will need some kind of break away so you don't end up fouling your own mount if you catch something, but a line of barbed hooks will injure rider, injure the mount, and likely bind the wings, which would be fatal. They will be costly and heavy limiting how many you can carry but they protect your underside and have a much large strike range. I could even see these used with kites both on the ground and anti-air and from mounts to increase the range.

weapons you don't want to use.

Nets need to be swung, and if you miss your in danger of tangling you own mount. if drug behind you get a less effective version of the hook line for more weight. carrying between mounts might be possible if you have it furled, but that's a lot of weight and drag so you need a big mount.

Lances or halberts, besides the weight, unseating another rider is unlikely and requires either your mount to fly upside down or incredibly precise flying to hit. both are designed to take advantage of horse saddles not ones that actually secure you to the mount. Spear like lances can work although they will be difficult to use and again you will need to let go. Any of these will need to be much longer than normal to reach the other rider.

Maces or flails, you run the risk of hurting your own mount as much as the enemy, you don't have the wide open side for striking as you do on a horse, the wings get in the way. One missed swing could bring you crashing to the ground when you hit your own mounts wings. Anything you swing that has a large recovery is right out for the same reason.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 overall, but you initially say any blade on a stick is a good idea (naganita) and later say blade on a stick is a bad idea (lance or halberd) $\endgroup$
    – Mr.Mindor
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ neither one of those is a blade on a stick, a halbert is an combination axe , pick,and hook on a stick, and not disposable. A lance is either a very unweildy spear or something only used in sports. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ You may be working with more refined internal definitions, but in a general sense they are both very much blades on sticks (most polearms are): The head of the halberd is often called a blade, and while not all lances have metal tips, most spears do and and it isn't uncommon for those to be bladed. Ultimately I get the distinction you are trying to make in the answer... lighter- slashing polearms: good; heavier polearms and non-disposable polearms with complex heads: bad. (I've proposed an edit to clarify the slashing part) $\endgroup$
    – Mr.Mindor
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ "Wings are fragile, essential, and large targets." and this is why winged combat is a bad idea. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ Melee Combat would come down to mount Betsy mount, with the rider being baggage. However, given the prone position of the rider, a crossbow might be arranged. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 12:51

It is a good question. Flying is unlike riding because when you are flying you can't stop. If you bring your mount up against an enemies mount you are liable to both stop flying and drop. Also these mounts are formidable in and of themselves and you might be reluctant to mix it up at close quarters with mounts encumbered by riders.

That leaves projectile weapons and long weapons. I think it would be phenomenally difficult to throw or fire something and hit a flying target from a flying target.

What is left is weapons with zones. You could have a long lance or a sword on a stick and slash or stab at your opponent in passing. I am reminded of the old video game Joust.

My favorite is a whip. I found videos of a guy who was accurate with a 40 foot whip and longer ones are possible. Whips give you a 3d zone within which the tip of your whip is moving and you can strike. A whip spinning in the air could foul rider or mount. Getting hit by a cracking whip is not like getting whacked with a mace but it still hurts - that is a bullwhip, which is not really meant to damage severely. Probably more damage would be done if whip tip were edged or sharp - a hybrid giant bull whip and kung fu chain whip. There exist multi-whips: the cat-o-9 tails. My google search suggests that these are mostly for recreational use now.

Whistling whips are scary. A whip crack is super scary: scary noise + hurt might be good against a dumb flying mount, who will spook or bolt.

Also whips are light. You can bring spares rolled up beside you. Harder to do that with a lance.

So: multi whip with barbed tips vs very long whip with very sharp tip.

  • $\begingroup$ Hum... but could you whip something at high speed on a flying creature? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ But your answer about swords on top of sticks gave me an idea... what about scythes? Those would have long range... and the blades could "grab" the opponent and throw him out of his mount, no? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ A whip would sort of be like a reusable projectile. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ Many birds can hover, especially raptors $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 7:27
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    $\begingroup$ The trouble with a weapon with a handle is that the kinetic energy of the blow is also transmitted to some extend to the person holding the weapon. The whip accumulates energy and then transfers it - there is no corresponding impact to the person holding the whip. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 12:34

The mount IS the weapon

I know you want answers focusing on the knights weapons, not the capabilities of the creatures themselves, but still any reasonable answer must start with an analysis of an unarmed rider. What can we give him that will make the rider/mount combination even more effective?

Oversized fantacy eagles and pterodactyles are formidable weapons in their own right. Especially if breeded for the purpose.

If I was in a aerial battle such as you envision, the beak, talons and sheer momentum of my opponents mount would be my main worry. Anything fired, thrown or wielded by a human rider a very distant second.

To engage the eneny, I would manouver into a advantageous position (higher altitude and if possible between the enemy and the sun), pick a target and order my creature to attack using its strength, not get in a relatively weaker position and try to compensate with weaponry.

Think about how a rider could use a sword or spear for example. The best angle of attack (if the rider wants to stab or slash his opponent) is from below, where the wings and head of his own mount is not in the way. Now this is exactly the position you don't want to be in while fighting a giant eagle. Human muscle plus spear vs fantacy beast muscle plus multiple talons? Wanna bet on the outcome?

Any "weapon" for the pilot would merely compensate for the mounts weak spots. They would be aimed at an enemy that is attacking you from behind/above. A crossbow might not be the best way to bring down an enemy, but it might at least force an attacker diving towards you to make some evasive manouvers. Nets thrown (or rather just released) in your wake will cause trouble for an enemy chasing you.

So my answer is: short bows or crossbows. Not for attacking the enemy, but to deny him easy access to your own weak spots.


So what do the cities deploy as defence against airborne attacks?

I'd say that catapults and bows/crossbows will be the last resort, due to their limited range (and the sad fact that anything fired straight up will come back down at you). This, after all, is a world where fying creatures are bred and trained for combat.
So what better way to defend your city agains flying invaders than another breed of flying creatures. But we want a purely defensive role. I'd go with a massive number of smaller birds, like starlings. Train them to swarm between your city and the approacing enemy. Train them to actually attack the war-eagles, relying on numbers to overwhelm them. Hundreds of small birds picking and clawing at each attacker will break up the assault and possibly force the enemy down.

Or take it one step further and release swarms of wasps.

  • $\begingroup$ The OP specifically said he didn't want discussion of the capabilities of the creatures, merely of weapons used by the knights. $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, and I might edit my answer to make it more clear that i am aware of that. $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 6:15

Projectile weapons like bows or javelins would be incredibly difficult to use from the back of a flying creature. Not only would you need to calculate for your own speed and the speed of the enemy, you'd also need to account the much higher wind resistance, relative height of the target, and hope you don't turn the wrong way and end up staring right into the Sun. You also have a massive blind spot directly beneath you, and run the risk of accidentally shooting your mount in it's wing if you can't sync up with the flapping motion.

Physics wise the creatures you talked about, eagles and pteranodons, would also be almost impossible to saddle like a horse and sit upright on, since their wings connect to the body and there'd be nowhere for your legs to go, and sitting on the neck would throw off it's center of balance. You'd have to sit on your knees to fire a bow properly, and that would reduce aerodynamics. A crossbow might work from a laying position but you'd be limited to shooting forward.

If a rider could somehow overcome all this then the combat would involve trying to fly under your opponent and shoot up so they can't return fire.

Another option is a light lance. Hold it forward and go for natural swooping strikes to penetrate your opponent or their mount and take them out. This works well for a sitting up or laying down position, and would be significantly easier to train soldiers and mounts to do. There's also no risk in injuring your own animal and falling to your doom.

Regardless of which main weapon you pick, the secondary should probably be the net. It's very easy to use. Just fly over the enemy, loosen the net, and drop it on the enemy. If they get snagged in it they'll fall to their deaths, and if not it's not too big of a deal because you can carry several nets without incurring significant encumbrance for your mount.


I think Guran is definitely on the right track.

Such a large creature is bound to have claws, and a large beak or jaws. It would be much too wasteful not to make use of them. After all, they are there, they are up to the job, so what should stop you?

But just being the pilot for the beast is simply not cool enough, so our knights need a weapon. And while we're at it, we might make that two or more.

If you see birds fighting, one pattern becomes clear: the attacker will try to move behind the prospective victim, and preferably above it. Since most creatures can look ahead effortlessly, but have a much harder time looking back, that alone gives the attacker an advantage. also, using claws on something in frond of and below you is much easier than in the other direction.

So mount and rider will always try to get behind and above the opponent. Anything that looks like knights and lances is out of the question anyway, you can not pass an opponent with less than one wingspan of distance if you want to maintain controlled flight. I guess bows and crossbows might be some option, but hitting a target moving in three dimensions while moving in three dimensions yourself seems really hard to do.
A whip has been mentionned, and the general idea - that of a reusable projectile weapon, is interesting. But i would go one step further and suggest a grappling hook. It will most likely hurt the opponent's mount, hinder it's movement, and at the same time help with keeping it near enough for your own beast to do it's thing with it's beak and talons.
Obviously the opposing party might have the same idea, so your kight should carry a short sword, preferrably with a serrated edge, to cut through the rope with the grappling hook, should the enemy be faster.

Some very ingenious knights might also carry a pouch of freshly ground pepper.
With your enemy behind and above you, reach into your pouch and throw a fistful of pepper over your shoulder. I imagine it might be interesting to be the rider of a large and ferocious flying mount, in close combat, when your mount starts to sneeze violently...

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, there's a reason RL aerial combat adopted machineguns quite quickly...hitting a flying target from a flying platform was bad enough at WWI rag-wing speeds! (Nowadays, you need a veritable bullet hose in order to have a chance at aerial gunnery...) $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ It's way better than pepper, it's .... chilli pepper! If your knights have it, or something equivalent, just throw that in their eyes, and my guess is that they are going down really fast. $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 14:27

I guess the weapons in use will most certainly depend on the type of mount in question. Pterodactyl like dragons can be very fast but not very maneuverable (I am guessing) while giant eagles would most definitely be slower than the dragons but a lot more agile in battle. Let's start with this possible framework.

Second, the kind of tactics each employs shall also decide the weapons that are to be used. Faster dragons would be better suited for ranged attacks using bows and arrows while the more agile eagles would be better suited for a dog fight with melee weapons. Having said that, weapons like a sword or an axe would be more than useless. However close the two combatants get, they will still be separated by at least the distance of the wingspans of the flying animal. Something suited for medium range warfare like the halberd, the naginata might just do the trick (Emphasis on the word just). Again, I would suggest a Chinese Repeating Crossbow as what it lacks in accuracy it more than makes up for in firepower and as it shall be carried on the back of a stead, it can be made heavier and can carry longer arrows instead of simple bolts.

One thing that has not been suggested I guess is using irritants against the steads themselves. Ninjas used to use Black Eggs which were filled with ground glass and crushed chilli peppers. This was literally thrown into the eyes of their opponent which caused them severe pain and discomfort. If some way can be devised to blow something like chilli powder or something like that into the face of the dragon, it would simply become wild with pain and discomfort and it might hurt other members of the same army just out of disorientation.

For tactics, you can use the Mongol Feigned Retreat or multiple units attacking from different directions, harrying the opposition.


You might consider 2 manned mounts, one facing forward, steering and maybe equipped with a lance and sword. The lance for a frontal attack, the sword for side swings.

I belive that heavy weapons are not good in this senario, as the rider needs much force to swing it fast and actually hit anything flying by fast. It would not be good for his balance too.

With a second rider on the back, he could focus on ranged attacks with bows and crossbows. I think crossbow would be a much easier to use, the archer does not have to use force to span the bow, which gives him better aim. Bows on the other side are faster, but has a shorter effective range in the air, as the bow arrows start to drop faster. Crossbow has more power too.

An other piece of equipment could be the bola. At midrage SUPER effective, a clean hit would restrain the mounts movement.

Use slower two or even three manned mounts (depending how big those dragons get) as the main fighting force. Other one manned fast mounts for flanking (Assault troops like cavalry to break lines and take out high priority targets).

Nets could be big, instead of just dropping them on the mounts you could span them across of a few heavy mounts and use them like a fishing net. (A bit silly but it would be capable of breaking attack formations) One time use only, after riders got into the net you need to cut it so your dragons wont get pulled down. Cheesy. Same could be done with a rope between 2 mounts to throw enemy rides off their mounts.

Another option is to create little jars with oil in them, throw them, burn them, enemy down.

Hang some kind of blade off the mount. Flying over things now kills it.

In the end is restraining movement the same a killing the enemy midair.

Depending on the anatomy tools could the developed to destroy the wings. (Special arrows that rip apart wings and so on).

Train rides to stay away from dogfights, sign 2 riders in a team, they are supposed to get enemy of each other backs. Close combat should be the last resort. Arial fights are way more tactical than on the ground. So you need a good commander and a way to get the commands to the riders.

Dogfights would reduce the ability to see the battle flow, getting riders to lose position to get lost in enemy lines. If the fights get to the point of wild dogfighting it would be a signal for a tactical retreat to reform lines.

Don't forget support units fighting of the ground.


Crossbow launched grappling hooks.

This allows you to shoot PAST the enemy, then maneuver such that the hook and line drags over the target until the hook bites in. Then you can maneuver your mount to entangle and damage the enemy. You can whip the line across the rider, dislodging him, catch up a wing, rip something loose just by dropping suddenly, pulling the hook. You can also cut your line easily should the shot miss or the enemy outmaneuver you in some fashion.

You could have 2-3 preloaded and cocked crossbows attached to your saddle, each with their own line on a spool. This gives you a few chances to engage the enemy, especially ones that try to drop down on you (probably the most effective tactic) or chase up your tail. Of course riders will try to cut enemy lines thrown across their mounts and probably have built in line cutters around their saddle much like how helicopters do on the forward fuselage.


How deadly do these combats need to be? One aspect of medieval mounted knights was that they were often trying to capture rivals in order to ransom them back. Capturing the mounts alive to keep or ransom was also popular. As pointed out dismounting an opponent would be deadly in the air but what about disarming them? Some form of counting coup could also be a victory senario.

I like the idea of these guys fighting with lances. However, instead of the mounts heading face to face. I see them gliding toward each other so that the dorsal side (the backs) pass each other. The mounts would be in a glide so the wings would be nearly stationary. The knights would be able to reach each other for one quick strike. Training would be intense for this since the knights would be working sideways or possibly upside down. The mounts would have to be strong to fly up to a high position and then dive/glide toward the opponent.

  • $\begingroup$ Just to answer your question... While in battle, the knights are not interested in taking prisioners. It would be too much of an hassle. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 20:21

Lances and melee weapons mean suicide when fighting against a netgun, which reliably kills any flying enemy that is hit.

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The counter against a netgun, other than another netgun, is a bow or crossbow, possibly with poisoned projectiles - it has longer range, and if you miss (which is very likely) you fly away, reload, and shoot again.

For large engagements, people would probably invent schrapnel a couple centuries early.


Just a few points. This is a fantasy setting and while I'm sure the person who posted does want something believable they also just want something that works so stop taking every tiny detail so seriously, they want a creative idea that they can use or develop.

Body wise a great eagle would be more similar to a human and so you would definitely be able to saddle it especially when you consider that many wildlife programs feature birds with cameras attached to their backs, they are not glued on people, where as the pterradactyl has a large wing membrane attached to the body which makes it a lot more difficult but not impossible.

I would like to propose a couple of ideas for you. Have you considered either changing the mounts to something of your own design or reconsidering abilities of the mounts themselves. Example if the mounts were magically propelled they would have less need for huge flighty wings that get in the way of most weapons as discussed above. This would make almost any weapon a viable option even up close and personal.

Perhaps there is some kind of aerial etiquette for fighting (like general rules of engagement) as both cities revere the flying creatures used and do not want to harm the creatures just the riders. This allows the use of flying formation for both combatants such as flying in opposed orientations so the riders can engage in melee combat (the mounts would fly in a helix pattern so they have equal lift and such). Getting this close also allows for potential mount crossing for a better aerial melee and in this context means you will be able to steal the enemies mounts.

As far as specific weapons, you are creating the story so make whatever you like work for you. Create you own list of weapons with as many categories as you can and just spend some time considering what would in the context of what your planning. Getting ideas from other people is great but I think you also need to be somewhat more specific, is it a board game or video game or animation? Also you should consider more exaggerated weapons on the fantasy side of things, saying medieval weaponry really limits what can be achieved unless you make them more than what they are.


Well I'm not sure how big these creatures are, but I guess you are talking about beasts 3 times larger than a domestic horse in order to achieve flying with a knight riding it.

Your knights should be light armoured so that their flying creatures won't get so easily tired. Your eagles face a disadvantage over the lizards due to the scales, but they would be faster.

As for the weapons: I think that poison coated projectiles are a good option. Don't try to kill the enemy knight, just aim at his beast. Gravity would finish the job.

Note: If gunpowder is available in your world you can use your flying creatures as modern aircraft. Dragons are the bombers and eagles the fighters because they are faster than the lizards.

I can actually see a big dragon flying over a kingdom, ready to bomb the land and then 3 giant eagles intercepting and killing it.

  • $\begingroup$ If you are unsure about the requirements proposed by the OP in his question you should leave a comment and ask for clarification, rather than answering. Otherwise the OP could answer in a way you had not imagined and thereby invalidate your answer, which is something that is frowned upon. For example you assume that the eagles are faster than the dragon-like pterodactyls, but the OP hasn't said anything about their respective speed. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 7:52

Projectile weapons and spears.

If you don't have guns then bow and arrow or crossbow would be best. With spears for close fighting. Swords might work for horse soldiers, but on a flying creature you might end up chopping off a wing.

A projectile weapon that cast a net or bolas might be very useful. Entangle your opponents mount and watch them plummet.

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    $\begingroup$ aiming might be tricky... and getting close enough to use a spear, without entangling wings and all, seems pretty much unfeasible in my opinion. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki aiming from a horse takes a lot of practice, flying would possibly be smoother. I agree the spear would need to be very long, but still better than a sword. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 11:28

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