Magic Bites Chapter 10

SOMEONE STOOD OVER ME. MY EYES SNAPPED OPEN and Curran's face slammed into focus. He leaned against the wall next to the bed looking at me.


"He called," Curran said.

I sat up in bed. "He decided he wants a fight?"

"Yeah. He put Derek on the line. He broke the kid's legs and is keeping him in the leg irons so the bones can't heal."

Better and better. "Bono give you any terms?"

"Me, the Crusader, and you. Tonight."

How nice. A party for the top three on the upir's most wanted list. "Where?"

"South-eastern ley point. He says he'll let us know from there."

"Are you bringing backup?"

"No," he said. He didn't mention any reasons but I knew them all: his word, his pride, his duty, the fact that the upir would kill Derek. Any one of those would do.

I rubbed the sleep from my face. "What time is it?"


The patrols caught me at seven in the morning and I had gone to bed around eight, which gave me a grand total of four hours of sleep. "When do we have to leave?"

"Seven thirty."

I lay back down, pulled the blanket up, and yawned. "Fine, wake me up at seven then."

"So you're coming?"

"Did you expect me to hide here?"

"He referred to you as his little snack."

"He's a sweetie."

"He's also all about screwing you."

I raised my head enough to look at him. "Look, Curran, what do you want from me?"

"Why does he want to mate with you?"

"I'm a good lay. Go away, please."

Curran brushed my quip aside. "I want to know why he's got a hard-on for getting you knocked up."

There was a pun in that sentence somewhere but he didn't look like he was in the mood to notice. "How should I know?" I said. "Maybe the idea of torturing my child gets him hot. I've had four hours of sleep. I need at least four more, Curran. Go away."

"I will find out." He made it sound like a threat.

"You read too much into it."

He peeled himself from the wall. "How will I find the Crusader?"

"He'll be here in a couple of hours. He thought he'd get an invitation. Please don't take his weapons away this time. He comes of his own will."

Curran walked out. I took a deep breath and forced my mind to go blank.

NICK WALKED THROUGH THE DOOR AT TWENTY minutes till four. I was awake and putting on my boots.

He closed the door and leaned against it. His face had gained stubble and his hair looked greasy again.

"What do you do to your hair?"

"Dust, hair gel, and a little gun oil."

"Ever thought of patenting the recipe?"


I stood up. He locked the door and took a leather roll from the inside of his trenchcoat. He put it on the table, untied the string securing it, and unrolled it with a snap. Inside lay two yellowish blades, one almost a foot long and the other about the size of my hand. I picked up the larger one. It was filed from a human femur split in half, and a long groove ran along the center of the blade where the bone marrow had been.

"Too heavy," I murmured.

"And brittle," he said softly. "I broke four."

"Why didn't you have one when you and Bono fought over Derek?"

His eyes flashed. "I did," he said. "It shattered in my coat when he kicked me."

I ran my finger along the blades. Considering how little time he had, they were amazingly well made.

"I won't get anywhere near him with this one." I put the large blade down and picked up the smaller one. With this one I'd have to get close to the upir. Very close.

"You get one shot," Nick said.

I nodded and tucked it into my knife sheath.

"You still have the sphere?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Still planning to use it?"

My hand twitched to check the comforting weight of the metal in my pocket. Somewhere deep down I knew I wouldn't use it. I would fight to the end, fight until he would be forced to cut me to pieces. I would make him kill me if I had to. After all I was only human. It wouldn't take much.

I glanced at Nick and realized he knew exactly what I was thinking. "Only if I have no choice," I said.

I RODE ONE OF THE PACK'S HORSES, A SOLID, THICK-MUSCLED creature of undeterminable shade somewhere halfway between mud and soot. He pounded the ground with his hooves as if suspecting that the thin layer of soil masked a nest of wriggling snakes and he could get at them if he just stomped hard enough.

"Wind," the surly werewolf had told me after presenting me with the reins. Given that I had smothered his face with wolfsbane less than twenty-four hours ago, I wasn't high on his list of favorite people. "His name's Wind."

I had thought of asking him what possessed someone to give this illegitimate offspring of a knight's war stallion and an oversized plow horse a star-of-the-racetrack name but had decided against it. Now Wind was merrily pounding his way through the darkened city at the velocity of a tired speed walker. Curran's howling jeep wasn't even getting a workout and Nick I couldn't see. His red gelding had taken off at the first snarl of the magic-powered engine and insisted on maintaining the distance.

I patted the charger's neck. "At least you're not skittish."

Might just as well have screamed into a tornado. The bloody jeep drowned any sound in its tortured battle for sonic supremacy.

The magic was thick and growing thicker, flooding the sleepy city with untapped power. It mixed with the light of the old moon, swirling in the alleys, churning among the ruined carcasses of gutted buildings, feeding on concrete and plastic. As we rode through the derelict industrial district, heading toward Conyers and the ley point, we watched the crumbling wrecks of once proud structures disintegrate slowly into nothing while all things magic triumphed. It was impossible not to find significance in the situation. A superstitious person would've viewed it as an omen, a gloomy forecast of things to come. I scowled at the cemetery for human ambition and kept riding. Tonight I would have given ten years of my life to have the tech reassert itself for a few hours. As it was, I probably didn't have ten years to give.

The ley point shimmered ahead, a short, controlled jerk of reality pricked by a magic needle. We reached it at the same time, the snarls of Curran's jeep sending Nick's gelding into near panic.

"Would you shut that thing off!" I screamed over the noise.

"No! Takes too long to warm up!" Curran roared back.

"Why won't you ride a horse!"


"A horse! Horse!"

Curran's gesture plainly told me what I could do with the horse in question.

An animal scuttled forward and paused before us, poised until it was sure we noticed it. It resembled a bobcat but only vaguely. It was too large, close to sixty pounds, its spine and legs too long and disproportionately narrow, like those of an adolescent cat. The top part of its face was unmistakably feline, while the bottom half boasted an almost perfect human jaw with a small, pink-lipped mouth. The effect was too disturbing for me.

At least now I had a good idea who had left those hairs at Greg's murder scene.

Convinced that we'd seen it, the nightmarish bobcat took off down the highway with unexpected speed. Nick chased it and so did Curran in his Jeep. After a few moments of prompting, Wind realized that I wanted him to move and happily obliged.

We followed the bobcat out of the city and along the highway for the better part of an hour. The horses began to tire, but the beast showed no signs of slowing down. Finally it darted off onto a side road, under a canopy of tall pines. The pavement had crumbled, splitting under the pressure of the roots. It would slow the horses down and stop the car flat.

Nick pursued the cat, while I lingered long enough to see Curran park his Jeep on the side of the highway and shut it off. He pulled himself out of the cab, showing every intention of running after us. I squeezed Wind's sides with my knees - he didn't seem to understand subtle clues - and my faithful mount pounded after Nick.

I caught up with the Crusader at the end of the road, where the trees parted, bordering a large clearing. A massive, forbidding structure of red brick and concrete stood before us. An eight-foot-tall concrete wall secured the building and only the three upper stories were visible. I looked around. Overgrown and unkempt, the clearing showed signs of past landscaping, and a straight streak of pavement, half-choked by weeds, led to the gap in the wall, where heavy metal gates stood partially ajar, offering a glimpse of the inner yard. The bobcat thing bounded up the walkway and dove between the gates.

There was something familiar about the building. It was simple, almost crude in construction, just a blocky box of about four stories with narrow windows blocked by metal grates, yet the sight of it filled me with dread.

Curran came around the bend in the road, running at an easy pace. No sweat marked his face.

"Red Point," he said grimly, stopping beside me. "It had to be Red Point."

Nick looked at me.

"A local prison," I told him. "The left wing inmates kept complaining that ghosts were trying to kill them. Nobody paid attention until the walls came to life during a strong magic fluctuation and swallowed the prisoners. They found partially entombed bodies."

"Prisoners half-buried in brick," Curran said darkly. "Most were still alive and screaming."

I shifted in the saddle. What I took to be a pile of debris to the left of the main building now took on a definite shape of a decrepit guard tower. How the hell did the trees grow so fast? They looked decades old.

"I thought MSDU leveled this place years ago," I muttered.

"No." Curran shook his head. "They just condemned it when the walls wouldn't stop bleeding. They don't kill it unless they know they can't use it."

I reached out, feeling for the power, and recoiled. Thick dire magic clothed the prison. It permeated the walls, drowning the building, flowing from it like an invisible octopus spreading its tentacles out in search of its prey. I quested again and found a tangle of necro-tainted threads within the thickness of the magic. Something fed on the power of the prison, digesting it to fuel itself. Something undead and enormously powerful.

"A zombie?" I whispered.

"Smells like one." Curran grimaced, upper lip quivering lightly to reveal his teeth.

The metal gates stood partially ajar, inviting us in. I didn't want to go. A crazy thought popped into my head - I could just ride away. I could turn my horse around and ride away, far away and never look back.

I don't have to enter.

I dismounted and tied Wind to a tree. It wasn't fair to take him into that place. Reaching for Slayer, I freed it from the back sheath.

"Ever twist your elbow doing that?" Curran asked.

"No. I've had a lot of practice."

Nick dismounted and tied his gelding to a tree next to Wind.

Not waiting for him, I started toward the gate.

"You're going to take him on by yourself?" Curran's voice asked at my side. He sounded amused.

"If I wait any longer, I won't go in," I said. My knees trembled. My teeth chattered in my mouth.

He grabbed me and kissed me. The kiss sent a wave of heat from my lips all the way to my toes. Curran's eyes laughed. "For luck," he whispered, his breath a hot cloud on my ear.

I broke free and wiped my mouth on the back of my hand. "When we're done with the upir," I growled, "I'll give you that fight you've been wanting."

"Much better," Curran said.

"If you lovebirds are done," Nick said. "Get out of my way."

Curran changed in an explosion of ripping clothes. I wasn't sure what was more frightening, whatever awaited us beyond the gate or the awful meld of human and prehistoric lion next to me, but at the moment I didn't care. The weight of the cyanide sphere tugged on my pocket.

Together we stalked toward the gates. Curran hit them once and they flew open, revealing the yard beyond, illuminated by three bonfires. I took a step inside and stopped, stunned.

The upir stood in the middle of the yard, bathed in the light of the flames. He wore a kilt. A belt of wide silver disks enclosed his waist and charms of fur and bone hung from the links on leather cords. Ornate spaulders of silvery metal guarded his shoulders, joined by a chain of metal disks across his bare chest. Matching vambraces shielded his arms from the wrist to the elbow, leaving his hands exposed. His shins were bound in cloth but no boots protected his feet and he stood lightly poised, ready to leap. He held a spear, tipped by a foot-long blade, curved like a scimitar. The blade shimmered with borrowed firelight, matching the gleam in his eyes. He looked so odd, standing there in the middle of the yard, against the backdrop of a crude modern building, a being ancient but alive, a contradiction in terms, as if time itself had torn and spit him from its depths complete with the kilt and wild gray hair.

"Damn," Curran growled. "I didn't know this was a costume party."

His voice jarred the illusion. I snapped my fingers. "Oh, hell. I should've brought my French maid outfit."

The upir laughed, sharp teeth gleaming. "Look at the windows, Kate. Look at your sisters."

I glanced up and saw them, positioned in the windows like pale statues. Women. At least two dozen, standing rigid and still in torn, bloody clothes on the windowsills. Some of them looked dead, others were - several corpses hung from a large chain stretched from the roof. They all looked the same, robbed of their souls by identical expressions of fear twisting their faces. They hadn't been there when I had surveyed the place from beyond the wall.

Slayer smoked, feeding off my fury, and thick opaque liquid slid shimmered from the tip of its blade, evaporating before it hit the ground.

Something moved within a giant pile of rubble at the far wall. The hill of garbage and refuse shuddered, breathed, and surged upward, impossibly high. A nauseating stench hit me. I gagged. Garbage fell, revealing yellow bones and shreds of rotting flesh oozing putrid juices. Flies swarmed, thick like a black cloud. An enormous skull fixed me with deep-sunken, dead eyes. Gargantuan jaws gaped open and clanged together, forcing teeth as long as my arm to scrape against each other. The horrid corpse shifted. A taloned paw rose and touched the ground, sending tremors through the yard. The bonedragon advanced.

"A dragon for a knight," the upir called. "Aren't you happy, Crusader? I gave you an excuse not to fight me."

Nick charged past me, the silver chain whipping from his sleeve. He swung at the upir and Bono danced away. An enormous putrid foot slammed before Nick, separating him from the upir. The bonedragon snapped at the Crusader.

A horde of the upir's offspring burst from the doors and swarmed upon me. I sliced, nearly splitting a furry carcass in two just before I saw Curran leap onto the dragon's shoulder. He lingered for a mere moment and pounced down, behind the creature, where Bono stood grinning.

The beasts surged about me. Slayer cut and hissed. Sharp claws dug into my foot and withdrew.

Something was wrong.

I cut at a piggish snout and saw the light die in the creature's human eyes. The shaggy body crumpled to the ground. Its siblings closed the ranks above it. I raised my hand for a new blow.

The beasts didn't attack. They snarled and pawed the ground, but no fangs ripped into me. I lowered the blade.

They were there to contain me. Fodder for my saber to keep me busy and away from the fight. I advanced. The creatures stood their ground and snarled. A wide-jawed spotted thing snapped, missing my arm by a hair. So they wouldn't let me move.

I could just kill all of them. I should just kill all of them.

Something in me rebelled at the idea of slaughtering these pitiful half-animals while they looked at me with human eyes. I swung about, looking for a leader and found Arag, half-crouched, swaying softly. His horrid face had a slack, muted expression.

"Arag," I said.

The monster gave no indication he heard me. His jaws hung open, exposing yellow fangs and a thick tongue.


The creature stared at me stupidly. I moved to skirt him to the left and he snarled, coming to life. I kept going. He charged me. His huge head hammered my side with awesome force. I fell and saw his fangs above me. Drool dripped on my face, stretching from his teeth. He hovered above me, black lips quivering, legs rigid. The slack expression reasserted itself and he moved back, returning to his place in the ring of furry beasts.

I gained my feet. Not trusting his offspring, Bono was keeping them on a short telepathic leash.

Beyond the line of furry backs, the bonedragon bit at Nick. Crusader ducked and hurled something into the gaping mouth of the zombie. I waited for the loud boom, but none came. Nick's grenades wouldn't work. The magic here was too thick.

Far to the left, Curran and the upir battled. Bono moved fast, matching the shapechanger in both speed and agility. His wild hair flying, he leaped and spun like a dervish. His weapon was a blur in his hands, forming a wall Curran had trouble penetrating. A long laceration marred Curran's back, swelling with blood. It wasn't healing - the spearhead had silver in it.

Bono fought Curran and held his children in check. A man of many talents.

Time to jam a stick into his wheel.

I surveyed the horde before me and picked a thick, bald beast. It stood on disproportionately thin legs, staring at me with dull eyes. Its fat gut hung low, almost reaching the ground.

I flicked my wrist. The heavy round head rolled to the dirt in a gush of blood. The beast's heart pumped a few times, not knowing that the creature was dead, and more blood bubbled from the stump of the neck, saturating the air with a sharp metallic scent.

The horde trembled. The beheaded carcass crumpled to the ground and the ring of beasts around me nodded in tandem, mesmerized by its fall. I slashed the beast's gut and a clump of tangled bloody intestines spilled into the dirt.

I cut a piece of steaming entrails, speared it with Slayer, and dipped it in a puddle of blood. The horde's eyes fixated on the flesh. I raised it on the tip of my blade and held it before Arag's nose.

"Blood," I told him.

Arag's baboon nostrils flared. He sucked in the scent. Thick tongue rolled from his mouth, greedily licking the air. The quivering piece of intestine beckoned, dripping blood to the ground. I moved back a step and Arag moved with me, his gaze glued to the slimy morsel.

I took another step. Arag followed and jerked, checked in midmotion. The bloody, tender piece of flesh hung before his nose, so close that he had only to lean forward to touch it. And he wanted it. He wanted it very badly. Yet Arag did not move.

Bono's hold on them was too strong. There was nothing I could do to break it. Every moment I delayed was costing Curran and Nick in blood.

The twisted monstrous horde looked at me, seeming so pitiful.

I flicked the piece of flesh from Slayer's blade, sending it arching high into the night air. Arag died before it hit the ground.

Bono had never seen me kill before. I cut them down one by one, quickly, methodically, working with mechanical precision. Some fought when threatened, others just stared stupidly as the smoking blade sliced into them, cleaving muscle and tendon. In three minutes time it was over and I ran across the yard to Curran and Bono.

The bonedragon charged to intercept. Its skeletal tail swept at me, and I rolled to the side as the dragon pounded its enormous paw into the ground, blocking my way. The zombie snapped at me, jaws clanking inches away. I leaped to my feet and slashed at the rotting paw. Slayer sliced through decaying tissue in a spray of putrid sluice. The dragon's tail smashed into me. Pain exploded in my side as if I had been hit by a truck. I flew through the air and fell into the carnage I had wrought.

I leaped to my feet and slid on the blood of Bono's children, sprawling head first onto their corpses. Where the hell was Nick?

The dragon closed in for the kill. Huge teeth reached for me, and I pushed away from a corpse, sliding on my back across the bloody mess. The skeletal jaws dug into the spot where I had been a moment earlier.

The dead orbs of eyes swiveled, focusing on my new position and the dragon attacked. I squirmed to the side. Great teeth scraped the ground next to me and I jammed Slayer into the undead beast's cheek, sending a jolt of magic through the point where its jaws met. The dragon jerked its head up, taking me with it. I hung twenty feet above the ground as the zombie's jaws opened and closed, trying to crush my sword. The stench of decay choked me. Through the gaps in the dragon's teeth, I saw a ribbon-thin, half-rotten tongue flailing against the cage of fangs.

Slayer ate through the undead flesh, liquefying gristle and muscle. The dragon shook its head like a dog gripping a dead rat in its mouth. Something within its skull popped with a light crack. The enormous mandible broke free and crashed to the ground, taking me with it. I flipped in the air, trying to land on my feet and fell onto the jagged teeth. A sharp bone shard jabbed through my ribs. I cried out and pushed myself off the bones. Above me a clawed foot replaced the sky. I dove to the side and the dragon's paw crushed its broken jaw.

It didn't matter. I could hack it to pieces and it would still keep coming at me limb by limb.

I clenched my teeth, fighting the fire in my side and saw Nick above me pulling himself onto the roof of the building. He was aiming for the far end, where several silhouettes crouched by a vent. The navigators.

The dragon bounded after me. I backed away, almost stepping into a fire.

Nick sprinted across the roof to the clump of figures. It would take several navigators to pilot the dragon. If Nick knocked one of them out of the lineup, the zombie might collapse. Or break free.

I grabbed a branch from the fire and hurled it at the dragon. It arched across the sky and splashed across the undead chest. The rotting tissues failed to ignite. The dragon kept coming, undaunted. I ran around the blaze, keeping the flames between me and the dragon.

The beast snapped at me, but stayed away from the fire. Above me, Nick smashed into the beings on the roof and a shaggy body tumbled to the ground, screaming out its life on the way down.

The dragon skirted the bonfire, forcing me to move. I dug my fingers under my T-shirt as I ran. They touched broken bone, sending a shock of blinding pain through me, and came away slick. Not good.

The dragon hesitated and twisted away from me, huge head rising on an impossibly long neck to reach the roof.

A distraction. Lord, please, let the dragon's pilot be a coward. A couple of minutes, that's all I need.

I began to chant low, under my breath. The magic surged to me, coalescing about me, stalking my tracks like an opportunistic cat smelling tuna. I plunged Slayer into the ground and put my other hand against my ribs. Warm blood coated my palm and I thrust my hands into the fire. Flames licked my skin and blood hissed, evaporating. I kept chanting.

On the roof Nick struggled with something tall and clawed as the dragon snapped, trying to skewer them both with its fangs.

Magic grew, flowing into me and through my blood and flesh bonding with the fire. My hands blistered as I paid the fire for its service.

"Hesaad," I whispered to the flame. Mine. Suffused with my blood, the fire flinched like a living thing, no longer a simple reaction of oxidation but a force alive with the power it borrowed from magic. "Amehe." Obey. "Amehe, amehe, amehe..."

The flames detached from the refuse that served as its fuel. An enormous fireball hovered before me. With a wave of my hand, I released it. It streaked across the yard, roaring with fury, and smashed into the dragon's jagged spine. The impact broke the dragon in two. The back half fell, burning, while the front, lacking support, sagged to the ground, the huge head stretching helplessly, still trying to reach the combatants on the roof.

The flames consumed the undead flesh. It was so tempting to sink to the ground and watch them, but if I did that, I would not get up again.

I gripped Slayer's hilt and the skin on my right hand split. I cried out and let go. The pain was too much. My charred fingers found a vial of anesthetic in my belt. Numb. I had to make my hands numb. The belt wouldn't release the vial and my ruined fingers were so clumsy. Tears wetted my cheeks. Finally the vial came free and I gripped the cork with my teeth, pulling it out. I spat the cork to the ground and shook the vial, throwing a cloud of dust into the air. I walked into the dust, my hands before me. The world swayed, growing distorted, and numbness came.

I watched myself reach for the sword and grip the handle I couldn't feel and pull the sword free. Turning I walked across the yard to where Curran still fought with the upir.

A piercing howl cut through the roar of the fire, a scream of pure towering fury, so potent it could only be human. Two bodies plummeted to the ground from the roof. One of them wore a trenchcoat.

"Good-bye, Nick," I whispered, as the bodies smashed into refuse. The Crusader's scream died with him. The dragon shuddered and melted, decomposing before my eyes into a pile of bone and ooze. The abomination's pilot was dead.

I dragged myself across the yard. I could see the bloodstain on my T-shirt now. Not that much time left.

I saw Curran, exhausted and bleeding from a dozen places. Bono's body looked misshapen, as if he was missing pieces of himself. It looked like whole sections of muscle had been torn from his body and his skin had simply closed over them.

The upir spun the spear off his neck, catching it with ease and rammed its point into Curran's thigh. Curran snarled and ripped into the upir, tearing great chunks of meat from Bono's chest. The upir cried out and danced away. His skin knitted itself over the wound.

My legs failed me and I fell. The poison sphere rolled out of my pocket beyond my reach. Nice going, Kate. Nice going.

I bent my neck and watched the battle upside down, unable to flinch when their blood splashed me.

They were tired. Both of them. There were no taunts, no showy roars. Just fighting, grisly, bloody, and painful.

Once again Bono danced away, light on his feet. Curran snarled low and saw me. His gaze locked on me for a moment and I knew that this was it.

Bono lunged. Curran knocked away the spear, ripping at the upir's leg and missing, deliberately too slow. The spear came back in a shiny arch. Bono thrust. The razor-sharp point slid into Curran's stomach and out his back, pinning him to the ground. But Bono had leaned forward, putting all his strength into the thrust. Curran's massive hands gripped him by the shoulders. Enormous muscles strained. A horrible snarl ripped from Curran's mouth. Bones broke, muscle snapped, and I saw light through Bono's chest, as Curran tore his torso in two. For a moment the two halves of the chest were upright, the head and neck on the left half sticking out at a strange angle, and then the upir lost his balance and tumbled into the dirt.

Curran sagged against the spear. Blood poured from his mouth and his face went slack. "No," I heard myself whisper. "Please, no."

The upir's body jerked. His mangled chest shuddered and slowly he rose to his knees. He remained upright for a moment, fell again and pushed himself forward across the soot-stained ground toward me.

I watched him crawl, his body straining to mend the damage. His head came level with mine. I could see the red sack of his heart pulsing through the gap in his chest half-hidden by ruined spongy lungs.

"Nice fight," he said through the bloodstained lips. His right eye wouldn't stop blinking. "Something to remember on our honeymoon."

I jammed the bone blade into his heart.

Bono screamed. His unearthly howl shook the prison and the windows exploded. His hands flailed, trying to reach the dagger, but failed to find the small blade. He clawed at my neck, but I couldn't feel it. It didn't matter. That final thrust had taken everything I had.

There was nothing left to do but to lie here. I'd see him die before I did. That would be enough for me.

Bono lay on his back. "I don't want to die," he whispered between short, hoarse breaths. "I don't want to die..."

His body began to smoke. First a thin sheen of indigo fog coated his skin and then it grew, curling into long tendrils and escaping into the night sky.

"My power... leaving me," Bono rasped. The smoke thickened and the upir began to whisper in the language of power. His words made no sense to me. He chanted feverishly, trying to hold onto life or simply praying, I wasn't sure which.

A shudder troubled his ruined body. His speech faltered. His heels dug into the ground. The blue smoke vanished, like the light of a candle snuffed out by someone's breath. The upir's unblinking eyes stared into the night. It was over.

I wished I could push myself farther and reach Curran. Maybe I'd have someone to fight with in the afterlife if we went together.

It was a hell of a kiss...

Darkness claimed me.

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