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Restrained Revenge

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"Don't fail me again, Admiral."
Darth Vader (after the Millennium Falcon has escaped Admiral Piett's pursuit, and Captain Needa was force-choked to death for failure), The Empire Strikes Back

This trope is when someone satisfies their need for revenge by taking a much pettier (or at least non-harmful) revenge on the subject before forgiving them, typically in the form of a prank or superficial attack.

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The reasons for this can vary; the hero might have done something wrong (or attacked someone innocent by mistake, or taken down someone who deserved it) and actually been forgiven, or they might have been framed or made The Scapegoat, in which case it's likely to satisfy some sort of oath. Other times, they may not have been planning a particularly serious revenge to begin with, but the audience or the victim assumes they are (for roughly the same effect), or it might be clear that the recipient deserves it (in which case it shows that the victim forgave them for their own sake).

If they swore to do something specific, they might invoke Exact Words to take a lighter revenge (for example, they might "take their life" by humiliating them to destroy their social life). It may also involve a Cool and Unusual Punishment, a Prank Punishment, or even a quite enjoyable Unishment.

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Super-Trope to My Fist Forgives You (where the "revenge" in question is one good physical blow and no more than that) and the Paranoia Gambit (where the transgressor's own reaction to the threat of revenge is the revenge). This is a subtrope of Easily Forgiven. Furthermore, it can be a way to deliberately invoke a lighter shade of Redemption Equals Affliction. Compare Forgiven, but Not Forgotten if the character still harbors resentment while forgiving the wrongdoer. Contrast Cycle of Revenge and Disproportionate Retribution (which it may also be used to subvert). If they don't want to admit it, they may claim it's a case of Villain's Dying Grace.


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Examples;

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Chainsaw Man: Katana Man causes Himeno's death, but despite wanting to avenge them, Makima orders Denji to take him in alive. Since Katana Man has Resurrective Immortality, Denji actually does get to kill him, but had to bring him back to life right after. Denji and Aki still get some revenge while Katana Man is chained up and awaiting pickup, taking turns kicking him in the balls to see how loud they can make him scream.
  • Dragon Ball Z
  • In an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Batou is tasked with tracking a soldier he'd encountered in the past butchering civilians, who's become a Serial Killer using the same techniques. He's aided by a couple of CIA agents (who are hoping that Batou will snap and kill him to cover up that the original crimes were committed under orders, and the serial killings are the result of it driving him mad). When he has him cornered, he seems ready to kill him, but instead opts to empty his pistol into the wall and arrest him, saying that unlike the killer, he's finished fighting his wars.
  • In Love Hina, Keitaro constantly gets Megaton Punched by the Tsundere cast (usually for something that wasn't really his fault). There are at least two instances where the girl in question (Naru and Motoko respectively) realizes he was genuinely trying to help her, winds up for the usual violence, and then taps him on the head while he goes "huh?".
  • In Prison School, after Shingo admits to the group that he was acting as The Stool Pigeon all the while treating Kiyoshi like crap, Kiyosh tells him to stand up and... proceeds to gently tap his shoulder with his fists, stating that true friends forgive one another no matter what. Then Shingo admits that not only was he hanging out with a girl behind their backs, but also saw her nipple, at which point they beat him to a bloody pulp.
  • In Soul Eater, after defeating Crona (who'd previously almost killed Soul), Maka delivers a mild version of the Maka Chop by lightly tapping them on the head with a book.
  • In one episode of Trigun, Vash agrees to help a wealthy town mayor who is being threatened by a bandit leader...until he finds out the mayor murdered the bandit's peaceful family and took their land to build his town, at which point he stands aside when they confront each other. With the mayor's beautiful daughter pleading for her father's life, the bandit ends up shooting him in the leg instead of the killing he had originally planned on.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero: The first episode sees Naofumi falsely accused of raping his party member Princess Malty; she goes on to be an Arc Villain partway through the series. After her various misdeeds are finally exposed, she's sentenced to death for treason along with her father by the Queen. However, Naofumi can't bring himself to watch the Queen go through with guillotining her own daughter and husband, and invokes his authority as a Cardinal Hero to commute their sentences to being assigned Embarrassing Nicknames (along with forfeiture of any royal authority): Malty is permanently renamed "Bitch", and given the adventuring name "Slut" to replace her previous pseudonym Myne Sophia.

    Comic Books 
  • The Ultimates: The nurses are not allowed to give details to Banner about his actions as Hulk, as stress makes his condition worse, but one of them lost a niece and said "screw the instructions!". He revealed to him that he had killed more than three hundred people so that he felt guilty and miserable.

    Fan Works 
  • The Peace Not Promised: When Severus realises that the dress robes anonymously gifted to him for his graduation were actually purchased by James Potter, his pride is incensed — but not wanting to upset Lily, he remains calm. Instead of lashing out, he waits until after graduation, sells the robes, and uses the proceeds to purchase ingredients for Lily's contraceptive potion. The best revenge is living well...
  • The Pony POV Series has this happen when the Dark World Mane Six finally confront Discord, who was mortally wounded by his sister Rancor and on his deathbed. Partially due to the machinations of Nightmare Paradox, the others (sans Twilight, who's realized something is wrong) deliver a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to Discord. Apple Pie, however, merely walks up to him, gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, and walks away satisfied with that.
  • In This Bites!, Cross finally repays Robin for almost killing him during their first meeting, letting Chopper almost dissect him, and encouraging the Groin Attacks from the other girls... by giving her a noogie.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Killer Bean Forever, Killer Bean gets even with the bartender (who held him at gunpoint earlier when he got into an argument with another character) by going to the loo, leaving a "double flusher" in there...and only flushing once.
  • In Lilo & Stitch, the Grand Councilwoman of the United Galactic Federation sends Jumba and Agent Pleakley on a mission to retrieve Experiment 626 in exchange for Jumba's freedom. When she tries to get a positive status report from Pleakley on Jumba's progress, she realizes that they weren't the best choices for the job, so she threatens to have Jumba and Pleakley sent to prison for failing to capture Experiment 626, who is taking refuge with Lilo and Nani. Later on, when Jumba and Pleakley decide to help Nani recover Lilo from Captain Gantu's clutches, the Grand Councilwoman claims credit for the mission, deciding not to send them to prison, but to leave them behind on Earth, joining Stitch in exile.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the opening scene of The Godfather, a man begs Don Corleone to kill some cheap thugs who sexually assaulted and disfigured his daughter. Corleone says that killing them wouldn't be justice, since the man's daughter still lives; the man settles happily for having them be similarly disfigured.
  • The main character of Minority Report finds himself confronted by the man who sexually assaulted and then murdered his young son, with a gun in his hand. It looks very much like he's going to simply blow the guy away, but at the last moment he regains control of himself and reads the man his Miranda rights... and then we find out that things aren't quite how they seemed.
  • Star Wars:
    • In The Empire Strikes Back, an Imperial Star Destroyer led by Captain Needa and Admiral Piett has been tasked with finding the Millenium Falcon. After the Falcon eludes the Star Destroyers, Captain Needa is force-choked to death, while Admiral Piett is reprimanded by Vader, who insists that Admiral Piett doesn't fail Vader again. Since Captain Needa decided to take the fall for it, Vader only killed him (accepting his apology) while Admiral Piett is spared for now.
    • In Return of the Jedi, Vader is not pleased with Moff Jerjerrod's lack of progress in constructing the second Death Star when he arrives, and urges his crew to hasten their efforts, since Emperor Palpatine is even less tolerant of failure than Darth Vader is.
      • Later depictions of The Emperor make it clear how serious of a threat this was. Vader merely killed those that displeased him; his Master made them suffer.
  • The protagonist of The Sting settles for cheating the villain out of a huge fortune, rather than killing him, in revenge for the murder of his friend.

    Literature 
  • In the H.I.V.E. Series book five, Laura is cornered by Block and Tackle. Lucy protects her by forcing the boys to stand in the middle of the hallway hugging for days. Although the rest of the cast thinks this is hilarious, Lucy worries they may starve, unable to think their way out of her Mind Control because they're too stupid.
  • In Honor Among Enemies, one of the characters — the series' first full-book-length viewpoint character who isn't a commissioned officer, Aubrey Wanderman — falls afoul of Randy Steilman, a low-life thug who's spent his last 20 years trying (in no particular order) to avoid work and hurt people. After a fairly vicious beating by Steilman, Wanderman is counseled by Horace Harkness to seek hand to hand combat training with the ship's marine complement. One growth arc later, Wanderman hands out a fairly vicious beating to Steilman after Steilman attempts — and nearly succeeds at — murdering his best friend. For the beating, Wanderman suffers through a Captain's Mast (a nonjudicial punishment hearing in front of the Captain) where he is sentenced to... spend a day locked in his quarters and lose a week's pay. Compared to the penalty that could have fallen on him for his actual offense (3 grades' demotion from his permanent rank of Electronics Technician 1st Class and up to 45 days' imprisonment on the spacegoing equivalent of bread and water), he was getting a tiny slap on the wrist that conveyed actual — if unofficial — approval.
  • In Tangerine by Edward Bloor, the resident badass protects his rep after being slighted by "kicking his ass" — literally, kicking him in the rear.
  • Tree Of Aeons: Eriz breaks down in tears at TreeTree's demand to surrender her soul in exchange for the lives of her people, but she ultimately gathers her courage and accepts. Then she learns that it's not immediate nor permanent, the tree just gets to hang onto her soul for a thousand years after she dies.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Charmed (1998): In the episode "Black as Coal," a mortal woman whose witch fiancée was killed by Belthazor — Cole Turner's demon half — seizes her chance at revenge by throwing a potion at him to vanquish him...except that it was actually a power-stripping potion. When she grabs a knife to finish the job, Phoebe refuses her, saying that she had already vanquished the demon that killed her lover, and what remained was an innocent. The woman reluctantly accepts that.
  • In the Law & Order: UK episode "Immune", after being asked to lie in court (pretending that Jake Thorne must have misunderstood him), Casey gets even with Thorne by using his testimony to call him stupid (invoking Hanlon's Razor to explain why he was misunderstood). In the American version, Detective Curtis insults ADA McCoy in a similar manner for similar reasons.
  • The Mr. Potato Head Show: After Mr. Potato Head has a segment of his show where Queenie gets hit by about a dozen pies, she tells him she's not upset because of her new philosophy: Don't get mad — get even! She then pies him in the face. He laughs it off and admits he deserved it.
    • Mr. Potato Head arranging Pie in the Face segment of his show in the first place qualifies, as well, since Queenie had been acting like a colossal jerk while she thought she was the reigning queen of Egypt.
  • In an episode of Night Court, one of Dan's old high school classmates threatens to blow him up as revenge. Harry convinces him he would be no better than Dan if he killed him. So he settles for revealing his real name: Reinhold.
  • The Office (US): Michael initially threatens Dwight with losing his job after he finds out Dwight lied about his dentist appointment, and was actually meeting with Michael's superior Jan to try to convince her to give him the regional manager position. He forgives him after Dwight breaks down into pleas for mercy, and the two even watch a movie together, but he still punishes him by having him stand on a box the next day wearing a sign that says "Liar". He also has him do his laundry for a year.
  • In Power Rangers S.P.D., Commander Cruger has defeated Emperor Gruumm, the one who destroyed his homeworld and left him and his wife the last of their kind, as well as caused a massive amount of pain and suffering to the Earth and the universe, and has him at his mercy. Gruumm tells him to Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred!. Cruger swings...and slices off Gruumm's horn (Cruger cut off the other one a long time ago) and arrests him.
  • In Scrubs after J.D. coaxes Elliot away from her boyfriend...only to realise that he doesn't want her. After spending the whole season being mad at him, Elliot gets her revenge by giving him a note that he assumes will tell his current Love Interest (and Elliot's mentor), Dr. Molly Clock, that she's forgiven him and she doesn't need to feel guilty about sleeping with him. One mad dash later, he gives it to Clock, who reads it and says it's addressed to J.D.; "Now we're even."
  • Seinfeld: In The Frogger, Elaine is caught on surveillance videotape enjoying her boss's historical piece of actual cake from the wedding of King Edward VIII to Wallis Simpson, circa 1937, that he paid $29,000 for and settles for her inevitable digestive distress as his revenge.
    Peterman: Elaine, I have a question for you. Is the item still...with you?
    Elaine: Um...as far as I know.
    Peterman: Do you know what happens to a butter-based frosting after six decades in a poorly ventilated English basement?
    Elaine: Uh, I guess I hadn't—
    Peterman (smiling broadly): Well, I have a feeling that what you are about to go through is punishment enough. Dismissed.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In the Biblical book of Genesis, Joseph is Prime Minister of Egypt when he meets his treacherous brothers (Excepting Reuben, who was halfway decent to him, and Benjamin, who was a complete innocent in the conflict) as they come to purchase food and failed to recognize him. As much as Joseph could have had them all executed, he satisfies himself with scaring them by accusing and jailing them for three days as spies, keeping Simeon in prison until they return with Benjamin, and purposefully arranging Benjamin to be falsely accused of petty theft until he was satisfied they had matured enough to let them off the hook and reveal his true identity.
  • In Pacific Mythology, the snow-goddess Poliahu takes revenge on her fiance Aiwohikupua after he stood her up at their wedding because he wasn't quite over his ex yet. She afflicts his other lover Hina actually a form of Pele; this is a major reason these goddesses don't get along with chills. The kahuna take Hina down the mountain to a sunny spot to warm her up, at which point Poliahu switches Hina's chills to fever. Aiwohikupua decides he'd better go talk to Poliahu, and while he's on the mountain, he too is afflicted with chills and then fever. He begs the angry goddess for mercy, and she shakes her head at him and goes back up to the summit of Mauna Kea by herself. Hina decides it's too dangerous to continue the relationship and breaks up with Aiwohikupua, who himself becomes Persona Non Grata because of his dishonesty.

    Newspaper Strip 
  • Retail: In the penultimate strip of the series, Marla, who has had to endure Stuart's tyrannical incompetence for years, satisfies herself by calling him over announcing to his face that she is quitting immediately along with most of the rest of the senior staff. In addition, Marla recommends Crystal replace her while mentioning that she has already been advised of what salary to demand, leaving the naive hippy well-positioned to negotiate a big number with Stuart cornered.

    Theatre 
  • In Two Gentlemen of Verona, Valentine catches his best-friend-turned-villain Proteus trying to rape his girlfriend. He decides that Proteus' punishment will be nothing more than the embarrassment of hearing the story of his crimes related to his friends and to the Duke.
  • The titular revenge in Zemsta is marrying Rejent's son to Klara, instead of Podstolina — then it turns out that all this wonderful money Podstolina has actually belongs to Klara. So Cześnik is quite a bit embarrassed at the end.

    Video Games 
  • Dawn of War: Retribution: At the end of the ork campaign, Kaptin Bluddflagg tracks down Inquisitor Adrastia, who'd shot his ship out of orbit at the beginning, and refused to give him her Nice Hat as a bonus (the deal was to kill Kyras in exchange for getting a battle set up with three Imperial Guard regiments wherever he wanted). He grabs and lifts her in one hand, loudly proclaims that if she's no good for a fight, she's of no use to him... then grabs her hat, drops her and leaves. Subverted in that while Adrastia thinks she got off lightly, considering someone Not Worth Killing is the absolute worst insult orkdom can think of.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: Chief Movran the Under pelts Skyhold with a live goat as the bare minimum for avenging his son. He considers his son an idiot for going after the Inquisition when he was supposed to be attacking Tevinters. The player responds in kind, by "exiling" Movran and his clan to Tevinter "with all the weapons [they] can carry."
  • Fallout: New Vegas in the Honest Hearts DLC, The Courier can convince Joshua Graham to spare Salt-Upon-Wounds after attacking the White Legs together. Yes, its still after The Courier and Joshua Graham leave a trail of bodies behind while attacking the White Legs, but sparing Salt-Upon-Wounds mirrors Graham's own story themes of violence, forgiveness, and atonement. As the DLC's epilogue makes clear though, Salt-Upon-Wounds and the remaining White Legs are destroyed after leaving Zion by a rival raider gang later.
  • At the end of Max Payne 3, Max is prepared to kill Victor, who orchestrated the death of the family he was hired to protect, but Da Silva tells him it will be better to let Victor be tried in a court of law. Max listens, but not before stomping on Victor's leg hard enough to make the broken bone tear his skin.
  • In the original Mortal Kombat universe, Kung Lao had sworn to avenge the defeat of his ancestor, the original Kung Lao, who had been killed by Goro in a previous tournament. By the time Kung Lao finally came face-to-face with Goro, they were working on the same side against Shinnok. After Kung Lao lashed out and struck Goro without warning during a Pre-Battle Banter, he immediately relented and declared that the ceremonial blow had "avenged" his ancestor, allowing the two to work together for the rest of the conflict.
  • Portal 2: GLaDOS seems to believe she's doing this for Chell, who killed her in the first game. Rather than killing Chell, GLaDOS simply makes Chell go back to testing.
    • It's quickly subverted, however, as GLaDOS has lots of terrible things planned for Chell in the next 60 years.
    • Since GLaDOS is out of humans, she needs Chell for testing, and when she finds an alternative (the cooperative testing initiative) she immediately tries to kill Chell.

    Web Animation 
  • Animator vs. Animation: Initially. The Second Coming's friends have all had their tasks ended, so what is his first act of revenge? Liking someone's Facebook post. note 
  • When Ilia Amitola makes her Heel–Face Turn in RWBY, Sun Wukong — who had suffered a nasty stab wound during their previous confrontation — settles for giving her a sharp pinch and calling it even.

    Web Comics 
  • Naomi Hunter in The Last Days of FOXHOUND wants to kill Big Boss and his clone sons out of revenge for her brother Frank/Grey Fox, but soon after FOXHOUND discovers that she's related, they keep her in line by promising to revive Grey Fox as long as nobody dies suspicious deaths. When giving FOXHOUND Codec injections, she has an opportunity to 'accidentally' give Liquid (who is being possessed by the ghost of Big Boss) a lethal injection, but remembers the promise/threat and stops. So she gives Liquid the Codec injection without sanitizing the needle, so the shot might get infected.
  • Perry Bible Fellowship: Cromax, an alien working at a fastfood restaurant apparently and maybe accidentally infects the food with his larvae which then proceed to violently burst out of unvitting hapless customers' insides. Cromax's boss proceeds to fire him. What's worse, the line "No more warnings, Cromax, you're outta here." implies this incident has happened several times.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, Pranger loses his flagship to Tagon and his company after Petey bribes a judge into giving Tagon the salvage rights (the ship had been shot down during a mission to extract Tagon). Having been reimbursed for the ship but feeling annoyed that the people he was paid to rescue got to keep it, Pranger decides to get revenge by bribing the shipwrights repairing the ship to coax Tagon to take part in an (entirely fictional) rechristening ceremony for the repaired ship that involves Tagon stripping almost naked and being covered in mud. Tagon, accepting that it was in fact a harmless prank (and, for what it's worth, he did look quite svelte), retaliates by mailing Colonel Pranger's effects back to him, mixed with several embarrassing items and labeled in such a way that a lower-ranking crew member would open it first.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Animaniacs cartoon "Pigeon on the Roof," Pesto fantasizes about murdering the Godpigeon and taking over the flock, but after he has a nightmare where the Godpigeon comes back as a zombie, he tearfully confesses everything to the real Godpigeon and apologizes. The Godpigeon seems to easily forgive him... but then gives him a Jump Scare with a Nightmare Face just before leaving.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: In "Joker's Favor", Charlie finally hunts down the Joker, and threatens him with a bomb after the clown threatened his family, hounded him, and tried to kill him. After making the Joker sweat and cry out for Batman's help, Charlie throws the bomb, only for it to turn out to be fake.
  • In "Dan Vs. the Wolfman", Dan hunts down the eponymous wolfman responsible for scratching his car. When Dan finally finds him, his retribution consists entirely of keying the wolfman's car — and Dan is appalled that Chris would suggest he actually kill the wolfman for being a dangerous threat to society. For the sake of context, note that Dan once destroyed Canada because he slipped on some maple syrup. Disproportionate Retribution is practically the man's middle name.
  • Vinnie, a recurring character in Gargoyles, repeatedly suffers misfortune at the Gargoyles' hands and finally seems to break under the pressure, muttering constantly that he's going to take his revenge. He has a huge custom gun made, which he names "Mr. Carter" and tracks down Goliath and threatens him with it. However, Mr. Carter fires... banana cream pies. After the Pie in the Face, Vinnie declares "Now we're even!" and walks off humming, apparently satisfied with his revenge. It should be noted that the futility of the pursuit of revenge is a recurring theme in Gargoyles. Several villains are hamstrung by their inability to let go of old grudges, and more than a few episodes have explicitly used this as an aesop. Vinnie is the only character in the series who sought revenge and got away with it, mostly because his intent wasn't murderous.
  • One episode of the Kablam short Sniz and Fondue sees Sniz, carrying some modeling clay home, accidentally ram into a mysterious Gypsy woman. He apologizes a moment before the woman yells that she'll curse him. Since Sniz already said he was sorry, she decides to go easy on him and "only" curse the clay. Unbelieving, he shapes it into a sculpture of his brother...
  • One episode of Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series has Duke accused of returning to his old jewel thief ways. When his name is cleared and the others apologize for suspecting him, he gathers them into a group hug. A minute later, they all realize they are missing several items.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Chancellor Neighsay is a racist against all non-ponies and any pony who "endangers" Equestria by allying with them. During the Season 8 finale, "School Raze", he accuses the non-pony students of being responsible for the magic slowly disappearing from Equestria, with no proof to back up these claims, and locks them in their dorm room until they can be escorted off school grounds. When the students discover the real culprit is actually Cozy Glow, they end up needing Neighsay's help to stop her, and end up helping him after he has been chained to a chair by her. While they are rescuing him though, Yona manages to get some minor revenge against him by pushing him backwards hard enough to shatter the chair he was tied too (despite having already unchained him).
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in The Curse of the Flying Hellfish" Abe and Mr. Burns are the only ones left in a Tontine agreement for a bunch of stolen paintings, Mr. Burns makes attempts on Abe's life, and even brings Bart into it. Abe has the chance to kill Mr. Burns, but chooses not to, on the grounds that it would be cowardly. Instead, he uses the fact that he held a higher military rank than Mr. Burns to have him dishonorably discharged.
    • Bart and Nelson also become friends in "The Haw-Hawed Couple", with the former merely using it as protection while the latter takes it very seriously. When the truth's revealed, Nelson spends a while glaring and apparently stalking Bart, and when he finally gets him alone and cornered, he seems poised to unleash the beating of Barts life but instead delivers a passionate "The Reason You Suck" Speech, calls Bart a bad friend, and declares their friendship over.
    • The alternate ending for "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" had Smithers as the culprit instead of Maggie. All Mr. Burns does as punishment is dock Smithers' pay by 5%.

    Real Life 
  • In cultures where one was required by honour to duel someone who offended you, it was fairly common to "delope" — deliberately miss your shot, thus fulfilling the terms of the duel while making it obvious to all involved that you never intended to hurt your opponent, and giving them the choice of either doing likewise, or shooting you and ruining their own reputation.
  • Sword duels were often restrained to literal "first blood" — giving your opponent a nick on the cheek or arm, and a cool scar, rather than a serious injury. That's before they devolved even more to the point when giving each other cool scars became the entire point and the whole "fighting" thing was forgotten about.
  • In some more cynical approaches and philosophies, "Living well is the best revenge" can be that. Some people can get some schadenfreude by just simply doing nothing and watching the person who wronged them just self-sabotage themselves in life and refuse to help them when they need it. There are people who can get comfort with the fact the other person is having karma when they themselves managed to rise up.


Alternative Title(s): Disproportionately Light Retribution

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