The Telepathy of Gardens

telepathy of gardens

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chapter-1

drop-cap-the kittens really were the cutest visitors Reg had ever had in the cottage. Nine pure-black little cats, they were almost impossible to tell apart. Yet they were each starting to show distinct personalities so that Reg could, in fact, tell one from the other. It was hard to believe that only days before, they had been draugrs, undead creatures raised by the Witch Doctor to do his bidding. Now, no one would guess that they had started their existence as zombies.

Francesca laughed as one little fellow chased her shoelace, so intent on it that Reg would have thought it really was a mouse or whatever kind of prey the cat imagined in his little kitty brain. “Come here, little kattakyn,” blond-haired Francesca crooned in her Haitian Creole accent, “did you not hear Nicole tell you it was time to go bed? You are getting yourself all wound up instead of ready for sleep.”

He continued to romp around her, pouncing on her shoelace and then darting back in retreat. Nearby, the kittens’ surrogate mother, Nicole, patiently caught another of the kittens by the neck and wrestled it over to the pile where the others were washing or sleeping. They were too big for her to be bossing around, almost three-quarters her size, but she seemed determined that the little black cats were her own kittens and she would train them to obey her. She licked him and pressed him into place with the others, then approached the kitten that was playing with Francesca, making low meows and purrs as she called to him. He continued to jump at Francesca’s shoelace and then retreat as if it were a dangerous snake.

“You are never going to get this one settled down,” Francesca warned.

But Nicole was undaunted. She put one long foreleg over the kitten’s shoulders, pinning him down, and then dug her teeth into the scruff of his neck to drag him over to the other kittens. While they were acting sleepy and getting ready for their naps, the last kitten was having nothing to do with it. He pounced on the nearest tail, then bit it, rousing one of the others. Nicole again pinned him with a foreleg, and then lay atop him, licking him soundly, forcing him to be still as she gave him a bath. The kitten wriggled and turned his head, but she kept a firm hold on him, all the while licking persistently until his eyes started to shut into slits and they were both purring in unison.

Reg shook her head, her thin red braids swinging around her face. “Well, I never would have thought she could do it. That little guy has ADHD if any kitten ever did. Always distracted by the nearest movement.”

“Or shoelace,” Francesca laughed.

“Well, you have to admit, it did look pretty lively.”

Francesca shook her head, her tinkling laugh filling the room.

Reg felt relaxed and comfortable. She liked the aura that Francesca brought with her. Despite the logistics of bringing ten cats over to the cottage for a visit, Francesca never seemed to be frazzled. Nicole and the kittens themselves also brought a calming, happy presence into the house, like the warmth of a fire. After all of the dread and fear that Reg had suffered as the Witch Doctor raised his draugr army, Reg needed the beneficial feelings they brought.

Starlight was the only one who didn’t seem happy with the arrangements. It was understandable; the tuxedo cat with the mismatched eyes had been pining over Nicole since she had first appeared in the garden. Now that she was back inside and coming over for visits, she should have had plenty of time for him. But Nicole had been smitten with the kittens as soon as she had seen them and seemed oblivious to Starlight’s advances.

“Don’t you worry,” Reg told Starlight, patting the seat of the upholstered couch beside her to invite him over. “The kittens will not be around forever. We need to find them all new homes. Then Nicole will have time for you.”

He glared at her and washed his face, blaming her for the arrival of the furry interlopers.

It wasn’t Reg’s fault that the Witch Doctor had decided to make Black Sands his center of operations, nor that Francesca had charmed the draugrs into their kattakyn form and magically bound the Witch Doctor’s life force that was dwelling within them. Reg hadn’t wanted anything to do with the dark force from her past. She had been dragged into it by Corvin, much like the kittens being dragged by the scruff of their necks by Nicole.

It wasn’t Reg’s fault that she’d been recruited to protect Black Sands against zombies.

“We do need to find them new homes,” Francesca agreed, watching the pile of black cats snoozing peacefully, Nicole on top of the pile looking very satisfied with herself. “It is vital that they are separated so that no one can unbind them. As long as they are kept apart from one another, Samyr Destine will not be able to re-form, and the world will be safe from him.”

“Hard to believe that those little cats are all that separate Black Sands from the Witch Doctor’s evil powers.” Reg couldn’t sense even a hint of the evil and dread that had accompanied the Witch Doctor. His force was completely suppressed by Francesca’s spell. She and Corvin Hunter were the ones Black Sands owed their safety to. Without their powers, Reg and the others would easily have been killed, and the Witch Doctor would have gone on acquiring magical artifacts, gaining in strength, and raising more draugrs to do his bidding. Anyone who crossed his path or dared to stand up to him would be killed. It was a simple matter for a draugr to enter into its victim’s dreams and to sit on his chest until he suffocated. Reg had only been spared that fate by Starlight’s intervention. Reg wasn’t sure how a real cat could fight off a dream cat that could kill despite not having real substance—but he had. The kattakyns were no longer dangerous, and it was easy to forget their origin, imagining instead that they were Nicole’s natural kittens.

“How exactly are we going to find them homes all around the world?” Reg asked. “Is there some magical network that adopts cats?”

“These are very special cats,” Nicole pointed out. “They will make good familiars. Even though the power of the bokor is bound, it is still there, and it will help to magnify the powers of the witch or warlock they are joined to.”

“So is that a yes?”

“There is no magical network for cats,” Francesca said, “but there are many people who will be happy to take one of these special cats. It is just a matter of finding the right homes. Not every cat is a good match for every practitioner.”

Reg thought back to the day she had gone to the animal shelter and picked out Starlight. None of the other cats had responded to her the same way as Starlight. She knew that he was the cat she was supposed to have. The shelter worker’s story of how Starlight had recently lost his old master and had not responded to anyone else who had approached him had sealed the deal. Reg needed a cat and he needed her. She hadn’t anticipated just how compatible they would be. With the white star in the center of his forehead—his ‘third eye,’ as Sarah referred to it—his psychic powers were considerable. She was often surprised by how much he could give her a boost and enhance her psychic abilities when she needed a little extra help.

And he was furry and cute and lovely to cuddle up with when she was alone.

Starlight stopped washing and looked toward the window, his ears pricked forward.

“Someone out there?” Reg asked. Focusing her attention in the direction Starlight’s ears pointed, she could sense Sarah Bishop, her landlord, along with someone else she wasn’t familiar with. Sarah didn’t seem to be headed toward Reg’s door, so she wasn’t bringing over a client or someone she wanted to introduce Reg to. Reg leaned over and pushed the curtain back an inch to see the two figures headed toward the garden. She only caught a glimpse of Sarah and the short man who was walking with her. Her seemingly middle-aged landlord was dressed in pink pants and a white shirt, with lots of pearls as accessories.

“Who is there?” Francesca asked.

“Sarah. Somebody else, maybe the new gardener.”

“Good,” Francesca approved. “That poor garden needs someone to take care of it.”

Sarah had thrashed the garden with a broom when trying to shoo Nicole, then an unknown stray cat, out of the yard. The devastation caused by her impulsive act—the result of dementia caused by rapid aging—was significant. When Sarah had regained her health, she had attempted to rehabilitate the battered garden herself, but it was too much for her.

“Do you think I should go out and say hello?” Reg ventured, unsure what the proper etiquette was in a small town. She was only a tenant; Sarah was in charge of the yard and its upkeep, so it really wasn’t any of her business.

Francesca shrugged. “You might introduce yourself. He is going to be working in your yard; it could be awkward if you keep walking by without saying anything.”

“Okay. Makes sense,” Reg agreed.

She got up and made her way to the garden back behind the house. Sarah was standing with the man, pointing out this and that. Reg wondered, looking at her newly-youthened face, whether she had also lost some weight with her transformation.

The gardener was quite short, probably suffering from some form of dwarfism. He was an old man with a wrinkled face and white beard. He had on green coveralls and a red cap. Reg couldn’t avoid feeling his pain as he looked over the ruined garden.

Sarah turned, hearing Reg’s approach. “Oh, Reg. Come and meet the gardener who is going to get my poor little garden back into shape again.” She stretched her hand out in welcome and motioned toward the little man. “This is Mr. Blumenthal.”

“Forst,” the gardener introduced himself gruffly, holding out a calloused, stained hand.

Reg shook. He had a very strong grip—someone who had spent a lifetime working with his hands.

“I’m Reg Rawlins. I’m sorry this is such a mess.” She gestured to the garden. She wasn’t taking responsibility for the damage, of course, just acknowledging his pain at finding the plants in such poor condition. He cared very deeply about his work.

Forst gave a single nod. He looked back at Sarah for further instructions.

“Anyway,” Sarah shrugged. “This is your area of expertise, so I don’t have to tell you what needs to be done. Let me know if you can’t find something you need. Come in for a cup of tea whenever you want one and have a break.”

Reg was a little surprised that she was inviting a stranger into her house, especially with all of the trouble that a magical intruder could cause. But maybe Sarah had known him for a long time. Or maybe she had special wards or knew something about his magic or lack of it. It wasn’t Reg’s place to object. But she wouldn’t be inviting him into her cottage.

“Nice to meet you,” Reg told Forst. “Thank you for helping Sarah to get this fixed up. I know she’ll be much happier once it is looking better again.”

He gave another nod and said nothing.

Sarah walked Reg back to the cottage door. “Let me know if you have any concerns,” she said. “I don’t want you to be disturbed by his work. If he is using a chainsaw during a seance… just let me know, and I’ll take care of it.”

“I’m sure it will be fine.” As far as Reg could tell, there was no reason for Forst to be using any power tools. Sarah had beaten down the flowers and plants with a broom; it wasn’t like Forst would need to cut down trees, and certainly not at midnight. He would be cleaning up the bits that were dead and maybe staking the plants that were bent over until they were strong enough to stand on their own again. But then, what did she know about gardening? The full extent of her plant-growing experience was planting beans for early school experiments. She’d never owned a houseplant, let alone tended a garden.

“He seems like a nice man,” she told Sarah neutrally.

“They do tend to be very… laconic. Talk with each other, but not to outsiders.”

“Outsiders?”

“Well, we aren’t exactly his kind, are we?”

Reg came to a stop on her doorstep. “What exactly is his kind? Is he a fairy? A dwarf?”

Sarah laughed. “Fairies do have an affinity to nature and plants,” she admitted, “but they are not likely to tend your garden for you. They are much too proud for that. They don’t work for humans. And dwarves… you won’t see them this near open waters. You’re not likely to run into any dwarves outside the mountains, even in these modern times.”

“Then what is he?”

“A gnome, dear.” Sarah laughed again. “A garden gnome.”

Reg had seen fake gnome statues in gardens, but she had no idea that they were really a thing. She shook her head at Sarah. “A garden gnome?”

“Of course. Who else would you get to rehabilitate a garden? A gnome will do it faster and with much better results than any other kind of expert. Those human landscapers that you can hire… well, they would take months to get my garden back to its natural glory. I would never hire a human to do a gnome’s work.”

“Of course not,” Reg agreed dryly. “Who would do that?”

“Exactly,” Sarah agreed. “Well, I shall leave you to your guest.” A crease between her eyebrows, Sarah glanced at the living room window where Starlight was poking his head out between the curtains waiting for Reg’s return. Reg wondered whether she could sense the other cats. Sarah would not have been happy to find so many cats in the cottage. She tolerated Starlight as Reg’s familiar but had blanched at even the thought of a second cat around when Reg had started to look for Nicole.

Sarah had an African gray parrot and an affinity for birds, and she did not like cats.

Reg sat down again with Francesca. She looked at the cats all snoozing in a pile and picked up Starlight to give him some attention while she talked.

“So what do you need me for?” she asked Francesca. “It seems like you’ve got a pretty good handle on the market for the kattakyns. I don’t know anything about giving cats away. I always wanted a cat as a kid, and I tried bringing abandoned kittens or stray cats home more than once, but that never worked out. Foster moms are usually overworked as it is, they don’t need another mouth to feed or critter to look after. Even if I promised to take care of all of its needs, I could never convince anyone to let me have one. So I’m not sure how much help I would be to your case.”

Francesca smiled, watching Reg pet Starlight, scratch his ears, and rub the white spot on his forehead. “It is not your marketing expertise that I am hoping for,” she said with a lilt. “I am looking for someone who can help to match the kattakyns with the right owners. The ones who will suit them the best.”

“Oh.” Reg thought once more to her tour of the animal shelter, eventually finding Starlight there. She had found the cat that suited her the best or needed her the most, but was that a transferable skill? “I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like that before.”

“You are very good with the kittens,” Francesca pointed out. “You can see their personalities. You can tell them apart.”

“Well, yes, that’s true. But they do have very distinct personalities; you’ve noticed that too, right?”

Francesca shook her head. She adjusted the lay of her sweater, looking uncomfortable. “No, I am afraid not… as much as I try, I only see nine little black cats. We want to be able to match them up with the practitioners who best suit them.”

“Okay. Well, I guess I’ll do my best.”

“You want them to be happy in their new homes. We need them to stay put, not to roam around and find each other.”

“Do you think that would happen? It wouldn’t, would it? They would get lost, but they wouldn’t be able to find each other. They wouldn’t know where to go.”

“They are bound together. They will eventually find each other. We want to keep that from happening for as long as possible. By placing them around the world, I hope to keep them apart for hundreds of years. The farther they are apart, the less chance there is of Samyr gathering enough power to reform himself.”

Reg shuddered. “Okay, I’m in,” she agreed.

chapter-2

drop-cap-reg helped Francesca carry the cats to her car in a couple of boxes. Since they were half-grown rather than small kittens, they couldn’t all be corralled in a shoebox. They scrabbled around in the large boxes, their claws slipping on the slick cardboard. A couple of them started meowing, protesting their situation. They put the boxes on the back seat of the car. Reg smiled at all of the inquisitive black furry faces looking back at her. She pushed a couple down when they tried to climb up out of the boxes and sent them calm, reassuring thoughts. Eventually, they all settled.

Francesca nodded and got into the driver’s seat. “Thank you, Reg! I will be in touch when I have had a chance to talk to some of the potential buyers. Then we can sort out which one to send where.”

“Okay. Sounds good. Drive slow.”

“I do not want to have any accidents with this cargo,” Francesca agreed, taking a look over her shoulder at them.

After Francesca’s car pulled out, Reg became aware she was being watched. She looked around and saw a white compact car. Not a surprise, since the town was full of white compacts, but she knew by the feeling that started to grow and thicken around her precisely who it was.

Corvin extricated himself from the small car and approached her. His handsome face was sullen. “I’ve been waiting half the day for you to get rid of that woman and her cats.”

“Oh?” Reg gave a careless shrug. That was another bonus of a houseful of cats—it kept Corvin at a distance. “I don’t remember you calling or mentioning that you wanted to come over.”

He looked like he had tasted something sour. “That would probably be because you’ve blocked me on your phone.”

Reg smiled. “Yeah, that’s probably it.”

“But I still know where you live. All that means is that I have to come over here in person, which is not exactly a hardship. I would rather see you face to face.”

That was a drawback of cutting off phone communications. Reg would have to rethink that. It wasn’t like she could get a restraining order to keep him from hanging around her house. He wasn’t doing anything to threaten or harm her. Reg also had no desire to stand before a judge and plead her case. She made it a policy to stay as far as possible from police and courtrooms.

Corvin’s eyes roamed around. “Why don’t we go for a walk?”

He knew, of course, that she wouldn’t allow him in her house. Not with his track record. It was dangerous to invite any unknown warlock into the house. All that much worse with one like Corvin whose dangers were known.

“I’m not going for a walk with you. Spit out what it is you want because I’m going back to my house and you’re not going to stop me.”

“There’s no need to be so vehement about it.”

“There is every reason.”

“I just wanted to talk. You know I don’t have very many options of who to talk to right now.”

“It’s not my fault you are being shunned.”

“Well…” He raised his brows. “It is sort of your fault.”

“You’re the one who attacked me. If you mean it’s my fault because I testified against you, then fine. It’s my fault you’re being shunned.”

He didn’t look pleased that she had agreed with him. He was looking for a fight. Looking to engage with her. Reg couldn’t afford to let him work his wiles on her. She looked at her phone to see what time it was.

“So, what did you want to talk about? Do you actually have a purpose here, or are you just hanging around because you’re bored?”

He took a step closer to her, into her comfort zone. Reg took a step back and tried to raise her psychic defenses against him. Sooner or later, he would make his move. She needed to be ready for it. He wouldn’t be able to resist trying to magic her.

“I didn’t say I was bored,” Corvin said, staring into her eyes, his manner confidential and intense.

“Well, good. Then I guess you have plenty to do and don’t need to bother me.”

“Regina,” he crooned her name, correctly pronouncing it, Reh JEE nah, not like the Canadian city. “When are you going to stop this dance? Just admit that the two of us are fated. Stop fighting every word and every move. I don’t want to hurt you. I want us to be friends.”

“You want a lot more than friendship, and I’m not going to give it to you.”

He shifted his feet, looking for a more comfortable position. But he wasn’t going to her cottage, they weren’t going for a walk, and he was too far away from his car to lean casually against it. He could only stand there, out in the open where everyone could see him, talking with Reg. Because that was all she was going to let him do. As handsome as the dark warlock was, and however enticing he could become when he exercised his charms, she couldn’t give in.

Corvin leaned closer. “You realize that things could change very quickly.”

She didn’t like his proximity. Was he making a threat? Having gained so much more power in his fight with the Witch Doctor, who knew what he could do now. Or was he suggesting something else?

“What things could change?” she asked cautiously.

“The Council is considering commuting my sentence.”

Reg felt like she had been punched in the gut. After all of the pain and suffering she had gone through, after having to face the humiliation of testifying against him, they were going to let him get off that quickly? They had said that they would shun him until he proved he could be a positive member of their society. His sentence was indefinite, and Reg had thought that meant it would be long, not short.

“How can they do that?” she asked breathlessly.

“Our encounter with the Witch Doctor proved that I am a valuable asset to the magical community. We saved countless lives and bound a dark force that could have done unimaginable harm.”

“You didn’t exactly do it for altruistic purposes.”

“Who is to say?” he countered with a smug smile. “When I tell the story to the Council members, it certainly will be.”

“The only reason you went into that warehouse was so that you could have access to the magical artifacts and consume their powers.”

“Not the only reason.”

“And to prove that you could defeat a powerful being. An immortal, or whatever he was.”

Corvin’s smile just grew. Reg shook her head, sickened by his attitude and the thought that the warlock council might reinstate him so quickly. It was beyond belief. How had he been punished for what he had tried to do to her? He had gone against all of the rules imposed on his kind and tried to steal her powers from her by force. If they reinstated him so quickly, it would be a sign that they didn’t care what he did. He could go on doing whatever he liked; they didn’t care a bit about his victims.

“Reg…” He cocked his head, looking at her like she had hurt him by not being excited about his news. He made a pouty face. “Don’t be that way. I don’t harbor ill will toward you. We can be friends. Forget the past, and look forward to the future.”

“To a future where you can have whatever you want because you’re the strongest? Where you can break all of the rules and no one cares about it one bit?”

“Obviously, people care, or they wouldn’t have disciplined me to begin with. But I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t let my appetites get away from me again.” He blinked and smiled encouragingly. “You and I can get along. Our powers are synergistic. They go together so well, matching each other strength for strength. The two of us together could defeat any foe.”

“Oh, that’s your new line, is it? Now that you’ve got the power, you’re ready to use it. And it’s not to protect all of the innocent citizens of Black Sands anymore. Now it is to defeat all foes and get what you want.”

“That isn’t what I said. Think of how many people could benefit if you and I combined our powers. Think of all of those people that you would like to be able to help. The two of us together could do almost anything. Think about all of your lost and broken dreams. All of those things that you used to want that you’ve given up on. You could have them all.”

Reg shook her head, trying to rid herself of his influence, like a fly buzzing in her ear. He didn’t understand anything about her childhood and her lost and broken dreams. He thought that she had dreamed of money and power. But in reality, she had dreamed of a loving family, stability, enough to eat, and a future. She was doing well in Black Sands, but it was only a matter of time until that dream ended too. They would come for her and she would have to run again if she wanted to avoid incarceration. She would be on the skids once more, looking for a home and a stable income somewhere else where people had never heard her name.

“Reg.” He reached out to touch her cheek. “You look so sad. You can have anything. Think about it. Whatever you want.”

She could feel his warmth even before his fingers touched her skin. She swallowed and closed her eyes, wishing that she could swim into the warm, safe feeling that he promised. But she knew how she would feel if she surrendered to him. When he was done with her and had stripped away all of her gifts, she would be left an empty husk, with a hollow, echoing space in her head that used to be filled with voices. She would be more alone than she had ever been before. She pulled back from his touch, forcing herself to withdraw instead of leaning into him.

“Corvin…” She rarely addressed him by name, rarely told him anything about her past or how she was feeling. “You have no idea what it’s like for me.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him. Corvin frowned, wrinkle lines forming between his eyes. He pulled back his hand. “Then tell me. I know what it’s like to hold those powers. I don’t know how you could be unhappy with the richness of the powers in your possession.” It was his turn to look at her longingly. He had untold powers after consuming many of the magical artifacts at the warehouse and the powers of the Witch Doctor himself. Anyone else would have been satisfied with that. But not Corvin. He had to have it all. He had to have Reg’s powers too.

“How could you still be hungry?”

He shrugged and chuckled. “You know how you can spend a couple of hours eating at a buffet, until you’re absolutely stuffed, and still want the dessert afterward?”

“And I’m your dessert?”

“Well, not you, but your powers.”

“It’s the same thing. I don’t want to be consumed. You don’t know what it feels like.”

“Oh, but I do,” Corvin reminded her. He had told them all at his hearing how his father, also a power-drinker like him, had consumed his powers multiple times. Because Corvin could gain power from other people and magical objects, then unlike most of the practitioners in existence, he could have his powers stripped away more than once. Reg looked away from him, embarrassed to remember his vulnerability.

“If you know what it’s like, then how can you do it to someone else?” she demanded. “How can you do that, knowing how empty they will feel after you take their powers?”

“Because I need to do it to survive. Do you like the fact that animals are killed for your consumption? That to survive, you kill other living creatures?”

“Well… I don’t like to think about it, no. But it isn’t like I’m killing them myself. And if it weren’t for the agricultural industry, I wouldn’t eat them at all. It’s just because… they are there. If I stopped eating animals, it wouldn’t change anything in the industry.”

“So if you won’t stop killing other creatures to fill your appetites, then why would you criticize me for doing what comes naturally for me? I need to consume others’ powers for my survival.”

“I could decide to be vegetarian; then I wouldn’t be eating animals. You could choose to just consume the powers from objects, not from people.”

“Think of the pain you would be inflicting on the plants you ate. Is that any better than killing animals? You consume them alive!”

“Plants don’t have feelings!” Reg rolled her eyes.

“Tell that to a nature guardian. Those who tend to the plants know better.”

Reg shifted uncomfortably. She looked at him, squirming. “You don’t need my powers right now. You don’t need anyone’s powers right now. You’re still full from the buffet. With the amount that you filled up before the Witch Doctor gave up, you shouldn’t need to feed again for about a century.”

“You don’t know anything about how long it will last,” Corvin pointed out grumpily.

“I know that you’re full right now.”

“And did I say I was going to consume your powers? I suggested that the two of us could work together. That’s all.”

“And that you would still like dessert.”

“A man always wants dessert.”

“I’m going inside. I really don’t want to talk about this anymore. I’m not about to become Bonnie to your Clyde, so you can forget about that. You’re on your own.”

He mouthed the words, Bonnie and Clyde, like he had no idea what she was talking about. The magical world could be so isolated from the real world. They just lived in their own little pockets, ignoring the rest of the world. Some of them didn’t have any electronics. No phones. No TVs. Reg had no idea how they could survive without modern conveniences. It was a modern world.

“The answer is no, Corvin. I’m not teaming up with you. I wasn’t happy about being forced to team up with you against the Witch Doctor. I’m done.”

Corvin blew out his breath, frustrated. “You owe me. You just remember that. We are bonded together until you repay me your part of the covenant.”

Reg swallowed. “You took my powers. The contract was fulfilled.”

“I returned them to you. That means you still owe me. You agreed. You made a covenant. And until you fulfill it, we will be fated to cross paths.”

“Ick. I’m going home. You can sit in your car and wait for me to come out again. Or you could go home and do whatever warlocky things are on your magical to-do list.”

Reg pulled back, forcing herself to leave his circle of influence. The cooler air caressed her skin and she was able to take a full breath again. She had failed to notice just how much he had been stifling her.

She went back to her cottage, looking back once or twice to make sure that Corvin wasn’t following her. He stayed out in front of the main house.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Telepathy of Gardens

By P.D. Workman

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