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Monsoon season was always a strange time in Toondor Lanpin, but this year it seemed worse than ever. By the middle of September the Indigo-ites were cut off, marooned, turned into an island, by the completely unpassable causeway. Down in the town itself the natives were depressed and fed-up, with an undercurrent of dark unease to their feelings, desperately looking forward to the Equinox Fair to try and lift their spirits.
One man, from across the river, committed suicide with a shotgun, and for no apparent reason. Such acts were rare enough in the town to cause deep shock. Not long after this a deformed baby was born at the cottage hospital, which increased the feelings of general unease. The little girl had been born with two mouths! One was in its usual place, but the other was on the back of her tiny neck. This was made even more shocking by the fact that the surplus mouth was vastly out of proportion to the rest of the baby's body, with full lips which dribbled and constantly moved, as though trying to form words. The doctors tried to reassure the frightened mother that this had nothing to do with witchcraft or bad omens, that things like this were usually to do with a Siamese twin that hadn't developed fully. Anyone who saw the baby found this hard to believe. It wasn't a baby's mouth, but something bestial and demonic.
"I won't take it home!" the mother cried "I don't want it. She won't be safe. The neighbours will throw her on the fire! Everyone believes it's a changeling!"
The mother's warnings were only too plausible, and the doctors agreed to keep her and the baby in hospital until the freak-child's presence began to be accepted, probably when the monsoon's came to an end!
The new Governor was disturbed by these events. The low morale in town was getting such that the streets had a disjointed, almost electrified air. He began to lose patience with the seemingly endless tales of massed ranks of black cats being seen outside people's houses, of a little grey man spotted sitting on the town hall steps, of black shapes being seen through the windows of empty rooms. It seemed that no one was keeping a sense of proportion, or questioning enough what they saw. He didn't doubt that people genuinely believed they saw these things, but whatever was causing these images was preying spectacularly on people's nerves. A good slug of healthy scepticism and indifference to dark forces would have banished these things back below ground in no time at all, but the entire town was losing its grip, incapable of doing this.
"Kieran has got to come down from the mountain!" he said "Somehow, and soon!"
Every morning, whilst Joby was busy with in the cook-house with Adam, Kieran took the little brass telescope and went up onto the battlements to spy at the Turd House. He never saw anything different, and the rain-drenched marshes gave no clue as to what was happening. Mieps was with him this morning, and the Ghoomer couldn't help but notice that Kieran was even more preoccupied than normal.
"Are you going to go there?" Mieps asked, suddenly.
"No", said Kieran "Joby wouldn't like it".
Mieps looked at him with astonishment. Kieran was very tiny, you only fully realised this when you got up close to him. Mieps could easily have picked him up and tossed him over the battlements with no trouble at all, but in spite of his small frame Kieran was no wimp, and Mieps was amazed that he could allow himself to be cowed by Joby.
"But you're older than him", Mieps protested "You shouldn't have to worry about what he feels!"
"There's only 3 months between us", said Kieran "It's hardly a huge difference, not like you and Tamaz".
"Talking of Tamaz", said Mieps "Joby is far too lax with him".
"That's not true", said Kieran "Joby can be very firm with him when it's necessary. I sometimes think he's the only one of us that can truly control him".
"He should have beaten him for getting out onto the causeway", said Mieps, emotionally "Tamaz could have disappeared. The brat displayed a stupid level of incaution".
"Well if you feel that strongly about it", said Kieran, mischievously "Why didn't you beat him yourself?! Methinks you're picking up soft human ways, Mieps!"
"Is that meant to be me?" said Joby, looking at one of Adam's sketches in the steamy kitchen.
"Of course it's meant to be you!" said Adam, ducking through a mass of damp washing hanging from the indoor line "What on earth can you object to in it?"
"The fact that you never draw me with clothes on!" said Joby "Anyone looking at these in the future is gonna think I spent all me time poncing around in the nude!"
"No, just wishful thinking on my part", Adam smiled.
There was a crashing noise from the pantry, where Tamaz was supposed to be washing-up coffee-cups at the sink.
"Tamaz!" Joby yelled "Be careful!"
"I don't want to do this", said Tamaz, storming into the kitchen "Why have I got to do this?! Yesterday I could have disappeared, died! And you don't seem to be appreciating that fact at all! You haven't given it any thought!"
"Yes I have", said Joby, emotionally "Far too much in fact. It's doing my head in".
"Why don't you two go through to the dormitory?" said Adam "I can manage in here. Particularly if you send Lo-Lo in to help me".
"Come on", said Joby, pulling Tamaz towards the door.
A brief lull in the monsoon 3 days later spurred Julian into action. An inspection of the causeway from the battlements decided him that they should make a frantic bid to return to Toondor Lanpin. His sudden decision was a good one, as it gave no one any time to get apprehensive about it. All morning the hay-cart was loaded with their belongings, including the 2 goats. Julian paced around, brandishing his horsewhip and giving anxious looks at the watery sun, urging everyone to work faster.
"Where's Adam?" he barked at Bengo, Tamaz and Toppy, who were sitting side-by-side on a heap of mattresses.
"He's still in the cook-house", said Toppy.
Julian went across to it, where Adam had been fetching damp clothes from the indoor washing-line and stuffing them into a canvas bag. He had paused to change his trousers and was in his underpants when Julian walked in.
"Oh don't start shouting, Jules", said Adam, pulling on a clean pair "I'll be with you soon".
"You daft old mare!" said Julian "If it was left to you to organise anything we'd still be here come the next monsoon!"
"I'll excuse that remark on the grounds that you're anxious", said Adam.
"Yes, and you're not helping!" said Julian.
"I'm ready now", said Adam, calmly "So loosen your corsets a little!"
The cautious journey back down the mountain and along the causeways was refreshingly without incident. It was when they got back into the town that things took a disturbing turn.
"Where is everybody?" said Joby, as the cart rumbled through the deserted streets "There's not been an outbreak of the plague has there?"
"I hope not", said Hillyard, holding the reins next to him on the box.
One of the goats poked her head through the awning and bleated at Joby.
"Well I'm glad someone's still lively!" said Joby.
"I think she fancies you", said Hillyard.
"Fancies my cap more like!" said Joby "She's had her eye on it for some time now!"
"The house is still standing anyway", said Hillyard, as it hove into view "I expect we'll find out soon enough what all this is about".
Lonts and Bengo jumped down to open the gates to the back, and Hillyard steered the cart through the archway and along the drive to the stable-yard. Once they were parked Julian did some more striding about with his horse-whip, giving instructions.
"Adam", he said, imperiously "You are to do only 2 things. Light the kitchen stove and put the kettle on!"
The house was in reasonably good shape for somewhere that had been locked up for 4 months. There was a heap of mail in the hall, most of it for Hillyard. As a lot of it bore postmarks from places all over the world, it was safe to assume they were begging letters.
Adam lit the stove and had just made 2 pots of coffee when Toppy returned to the kitchen.
"Who was that at the front door, Toppy?" said Adam.
"The Governor", said Toppy "He wants to see Kieran".
"Oh for heaven's sake!" said Adam "He could at least give us a day to settle back in! People can be so bloody thoughtless!"
"There isn't much chance of him seeing Kieran just yet", said Hillyard, who had just come in from the stables "He's in the tack-room with Joby".
"No need to ask what they're doing!" Adam sighed "Still, I suppose it saves having to wait until we've put the mattresses back on the beds! What are we going to do with the Governor in the meantime?"
"I'll go and see him", said Hillyard "Give us a chance to find out why there's such a strange atmosphere in the town".
"I've put him in the living-room", said Toppy.
"I suppose he'll want coffee too", said Adam "Find out, Hillyard".
"Will do", said Hillyard.
The new Governor of Toondor Lanpin, Crister, was standing in the middle of the living-room twisting his hat in his hands anxiously. Meanwhile, Tamaz was walking around him, pulling dust-sheets off the furniture and menacing him with his eyes. Crister looked unbearably relieved when Hillyard walked into the room, smelling strongly of horse-sweat.
"Kieran can't come at the moment", said Hillyard "He's a bit ... er ... he's a bit tied up".
Crister made a nervous sound in reply.
"Tamaz", said Hillyard "Why don't you go and iron your drawers or something?!"
Tamaz gave a contemptuous hiss but obeyed nonetheless. Hillyard signalled for Crister to sit down.
"So", said Hillyard "What's the story?"
Awkwardly, Crister gave him a resume of all the strange things that had happened in the town whilst they had been up the mountain. Crister was aware that most of it sounded silly, but he couldn't put over strongly enough how much it had affected the town.
"It sounds like mass cabin-fever to me", said Hillyard "Hardly surprising. This year's monsoon seems to have been worse than ever. Things should get easier when the Fair arrives".
"That's really what I came round here for", said Crister "I wanted to know if Kieran would lead the opening parade. I have a feeling, the way things ae in this town at the moment, that that's the only way we'll get people out of their houses".
"Yeah I expect he'll do it", said Hillyard, mentally crossing his fingers.
He showed Crister out soon after and then leaned wearily against the front door. He knew the others wouldn't be too pleased with him volunterering their services without consulting anyone first. The only way to cope with it though would be to brazen it out, as though he was still Governor. He headed for the kitchen, and encountered Tamaz skulking in the back corridor.
"Don't you go terrorising visitors again!" said Hillyard, firmly "Understand?"
Tamaz ran into the kitchen, shrieking that he was treated like a worm by everyone in the house.
"Be quiet, Freaky", said Adam, who was having to cope with an unexpected visit from a spaced-out Jonner.
Tamaz knuckled his eyes emotionally. Jonner was in the process of getting some drawings out of his portfolio.
"I don't mean to be rude, old love", said Adam "But can't this wait til another time?"
"It's all symptomatic of what's been happening in this town", said Jonner, insistently "This one in particular is based on a series of very strange dreams I have been having lately".
"Well it's hardly unusual to be inspired by one's dreams", said Adam, testily "It's all part of the creative process!"
The said drawing depicted an impossibly buxom Gorgon with huge breasts, like two inflated hot-air balloons, lying on the ground giving birth to Tamaz, who hung suspended at the end of a very long umbilical cord, looking like a tiny lump of gristle covered in manure!
"Is that meant to be me?" said Tamaz, indignantly.
"Yes, I don't think babies are your strong point, Jonner", said Adam, wryly.
"It's not meant to be like a photograph!" said Jonner, rattled "This is my interpretation. I am now in the process of another one, again based on my dreams, which shows Kieran riding the Gorgon like a horse".
"Why?" said Hillyard.
"Symbolic", said Jonner, impressively.
"Of what?" said Hillyard.
"Kieran's triumph over demonic forces", said Jonner "I thought they would be good for the morale of the town at this time".
"Can't you do it some other way?" said Tamaz, angrily "Why does it have to be a Gorgon? It's only going to remind everyone what I came from! Why don't you go the whole hog and draw me with snakes in my hair?! Then before you know it I might get lynched and beheaded!"
Adam gripped Tamaz firmly by his shoulders and shushed him gently, in a way that he normally did to Lonts when he got too emotional.
"Show Jonner to the door, Hilly", he said, eventually.
"Come on", said Hillyard to Jonner "I'd change your fags if I were you!"
The Fair was due to arrive in town on the Friday, 3 days hence. In the meantime Hillyard got everyone in the house mobilised, resolutely refusing to take 'no' for an answer, on the grounds that the moment he paused for breath and started dithering, everyone else would start complaining. The idea was that he and Crister would lead the Fair through the town, accompanied by Kieran on a small white pony, which Hillyard had hired especially to accommodate Kieran's small stature. He also decided to get the town dressed up for the occasion and put Julian in charge of organising bunting and flowers.
"Oh don't talk to me, I'm only the flower-arranger!" said Julian, when Adam found him on the back patio the evening before. The table was strewn with richly-coloured dark blue delphiniums, which Julian was twining round the bridle to be put on Kieran's bridle.
"If you object, Jules, you shouldn't have volunteered for the job", said Adam.
"I didn't volunteer for the bloody job!" said Julian "I was half-asleep when Hillyard said 'you're doing the flowers, right?' And then before I know it there's boxes of the damn things turning up in the hall!"
"He didn't want your talent for decorating and designing to go to waste", said Adam, as Julian threaded a flower into his hair.
"We're going to all this trouble just to get this paranoid bunch round here out of their houses!" said Julian "Anyone'd think the Black Death had been at large in the town! Have you sorted Freaky's frock out yet?"
"No, what about it?" said Adam "I thought he was going to wear his ballerina dress".
"Not anymore he's not", said Julian "He was swanning round here in it earlier. He'd hacked at the bodice with a pair of scissors, and was fully intending to appear in it tomorrow with his tits exposed! Said everyone had seen them before anyway, the cheeky little sod!"
"I don't know what comes over him sometimes", Adam sighed "But what am I supposed to do about it?"
"Light the stove with it", said Julian, bluntly "He is not going out in that! He's damn lucky he's going to be allowed out at all, except there'd be nobody left at home to keep an eye on him".
"I expect he's just over-excited about it all", said Adam "Lo-Lo is too".
"It's all going to be a complete nightmare", said Julian "I'll be glad when it's over!"
It stayed dry on the Friday, but the locals still took a long time to come out of doors. As the Fair trundled through the streets, with Kieran, Hillyard and Crister leading the way, some windows were tentatively raised and heads cautiously poked out, blinking in the unaccustomed sunlight and startled by the masses of flowers strung about.
The remaining Indigo-ites followed on foot, and as the locals slowly appeared, Julian hit upon the idea of ordering Bengo to take flowers up to the windows and exchange them for kisses.
"Even the men?" said Bengo, nervously.
"Do not despair", said Julian "I wouldn't hurl you into the lion's den. You're so cute and amiable and altogether harmless, I can't see you getting smacked round the chops somehow. The men of this town aren't the FFF!"
"But what about Bardin?" said Bengo, in despair "You know what he's like!"
"We'll worry about him later", said Julian, dismissively.
"That's easy for you to say!" said Bengo "I'll be the one that suffers, not you!"
"Tell him it's all part of the day job", said Julian "And if he still keeps on later, simply come up to my bed my child!"
Bengo had to restrain himself from getting seriously excited at this thought, and he eagerly went off to perform his flowers and kisses task. Julian then hit upon the idea of sending Lonts to do the same. Adam looked mutinous.
"What can you possibly object to in that?" said Julian, impatiently "He's going to be quite safe, he's built like a JCB! No one in their right mind would give him any trouble!"
At the front of the procession Kieran smiled and waved on the white pony, occasionally pausing to give a scowl in Hillyard's direction for lumbering him with this task. The procession came to a halt on the quayside in front of Persephone's bar, where some of the Fair was to be set up. Kieran jumped off the pony and then loosely tethered her to the hitching-post by the water-trough.
Joby drew up nearby in a cute two-seater dog-cart which had come as part of the fixtures and fittings of the Town House. Tamaz sat beside him, wearing his white petticoat and leopard-print wrap. He looked grumpy and out of sorts, and was given to scowling, which didn't do anything for his looks, making him resemble a particularly venemous snake with thick lips. Tamaz looked his best when his extraordinary face took on an impassive goddess-like expression, like a carving of Cleopatra, or Garbo staring enigmatically into the distance. All-too-human animation didn't suit it.
"We all need the bar", Kieran said to them.
Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea, and a crowd of sales-day proportions began to swarm into Persephone's behind Kieran. Persephone was hardly likely to complain about this, as business had been extremely lean during monsoon season. After twilight, the town really came alive for the first time in weeks. The Fair had been set-up in record-time and business was now swinging. The quayside was awash with fire-eaters, jugglers, musicians, people dancing, and the girls from the Little Theatre, who had all turned up in pierrette costumes to give the proceedings an extra exotic and festive air.
Persephone came out to join Kieran, Joby and Hillyard about halfway through the evening, and went into peals of laughter at the sight of a bullock someone had used to pull their cart to town, and who was now resplendently adorned with garlands of flowers.
"He looks like you, Hillyard", said Joby.
"He does a bit", Persephone giggled.
"Cheers, thanks a lot", said Hillyard.
They sat down on a wooden bench to watch the dancing. Lonts and Tamaz were dancing nearby. Lonts gazing down at Tamaz with rapt adoration, which at least caused Tamaz to look marginally more cheerful.
"You wouldn't believe what it feels like to see this town this lively again at night", said Persephone "Night-times have been the worst".
"They usually are when things have gone wrong", said Joby.
"Yes, but this has been even worse", said Persephone "It's because of this bloodstained ghost everyone's been seeing. She always appears in the streets after dark".
"I don't like the sound of her", said Joby.
"She wears a bloodstained nightgown", said Persephone "And carries a big pair of scissors".
"I like the sound of her even less!" said Kieran.
"What does she do with the scissors?" said Hillyard, warily.
"Don't tell us, Persephone", said Joby "We don't wanna know!"
"Some don't believe she's a ghost at all", said Persephone "But a Ghoomer. It's rumoured that that's why that man over the river shot himself. Because he saw her on the streets one night, and because she's a female Ghoomer, a Gorgon, he thought he was turning to stone from then on, so he killed himself".
Kieran didn't like the sound of any of this. If fanciful tales like this were going the rounds then he feared for Tamaz. He prayed for the end of the monsoon season even more fervently than before.
"That accounts for Jonner's drawings", he said, quietly.
"Pure supposition, the whole lot of it", said Hillyard, robustly "Everyone in this town's too imaginative for their own good sometimes!"
His robust, pragmatic approach to the monsoon madness gave a better indication than ever before as to why he and Julian got on so well! Persephone went back inside soon after, and Adam and Julian came over to join them.
"What's the matter with you three?" said Julian "None of you look too good".
"The same old story", Adam sighed "They've been drinking too much. Mixing the grape with the grain. People have gone insane from doing that".
"Well come to think of it, you don't look none too good either", said Hillyard "You look as white as a sheet in fact".
"I felt a bit queasy on the ghost-train that's all", said Adam.
"He was scared out of his wits!" said Julian "He'll probably have nightmares about it later. You'd think at his age he'd be able to cope with a fairground ride!"
"Some of the exhibits in there took me by surprise that's all", said Adam, hurtfully "Remarkably lifelike. I'm glad Lo-Lo didn't come in with us".
"He would have scared the exhibits!" said Julian.
"What's to get scared of?" said Joby "From what I remember it's just plastic skeletons and wax dummies in open coffins!"
"Well one in particular was extremely realistic", said Adam "Better than anything a wax museum could have done. Some ghastly spectral woman in a bloodstained nightie, with terrible mad staring eyes, like how I imagine the Gorgon must have looked. Her eyes quite seared into one's soul! What's the matter with you all now?"
"Joby, collect Tamaz and take him home", said Kieran.
"But why?" said Adam "It seems a great shame when he's just beginning to enjoy himself".
"Because he's most at risk from this ... this creature", said Kieran "I think I've realised who she is, and if I'm not mistaken we could all soon find ourselves caught up in some Ghoomer warfare! I'm going over to speak to Mieps".
Mieps was on the far side of the quayside, buying a bag of popcorn from a vendor.
"Make sure it's salted popcorn", said Kieran "Salt banishes evil. I've heard it said recently that it can send zombies back into their graves. I wish I'd known that when I was dealing with Father Gabriel!"
"What's happened?" said Mieps, cautiously.
"She's here in this town", said Kieran "Your ex-girlfriend, which sounds an inadequate way of describing her, but it's all I can think of. She's been causing all this monsoon madness. Answer me this Mieps, is her female side stronger than her male, is she a full Gorgon?"
"Yes", said Mieps, in a small voice.
"Terrific", Kieran gave a hefty sigh.
"But she'll only have full pwer at times of menstruation", said Mieps.
"Then let's just hope that's not imminent!" said Kieran "How she survived the Virus epidemic I don't know ..."
"She could survive anything", said Mieps, bitterly "It's hard for you humans to grasp but some Ghoomers are far worse than others. Some kill constantly, purely because they have a compulsion to do it, like urinating. She came from a Ghoomer tribe that shocked even me in their viciousness. I've heard the rest of you talking, you think I'm too harsh with Tamaz sometimes, too brutal. But believe me, I'm a wimp compared to some of them! I lived in her settlement for a while. In the end it got so bad I ran away, literally. You know that, because you picked up the dream I had about it".
"You were there?" said Kieran "In that terrible place?"
"Why do you think I was prepared to live alone for so long afterwards?" said Mieps "Something that is almost unheard of for a Ghoomer. After experiencing all that, I just wanted to be alone for all eternity".
"But you aren't", said Kieran "And this brings me to the rub of the problem. You've done a very human thing. You've fallen in love, and that is why Tamaz is in grave danger from this person. We need to catch her and slay her, before anymore damage is done. If we don't, then fear the worst, Mieps. Fear the very worst!"
There was an unpleasent scene back at the house a short while later when Joby, overwrought by it all, turned on Mieps and accused him of just about every crime he could think of. Only a loud yelling session from Julian stopped the whole thing from turning very nasty indeed. Mieps went to bed, thinking only one thought, that he wanted to be free of the evil she-creature once and for all. Nothing else was important compared to protecting Tamaz.
Joby woke up with a start first thing the following morning and was momentarily horrified to find himself alone in the room. But the door was ajar and he heard Tamaz's unique yodelling laugh coming from the hallway below. He gave a sigh of relief and flopped back against his pillows. Sunshine was streaming through the gap in the curtains, which gave a hopeful promise that the monsoon season may at last be at an end.
Adam came into the room soon after and brutally pulled back the curtains, announcing that he wanted him downstairs to help do the breakfast.
"I've left poor little Toppy in charge of everything", he added.
"Why have we gotta do it all the time?" Joby groaned "Why can't some of those other lazy bastards do their own cooking?"
"Because none of them can", said Adam.
"Ransey can cook", Joby protested.
"He's not in", said Adam "He's gone to see the Town Constable to discuss our bloodstained monster with him".
"We wouldn't have a fucking bloodstained monster if it wasn't for Mieps!" said Joby.
"We had quite enough of this from you last night", said Adam, sternly "Now if you're not out of that bed in 3 seconds I'm going to put you over my knee! Move!"
Joby snarled and reached for his bath-robe.
"I should've spanked you and Patsy back at Henang", said Adam "Then I might not have had anywhere near so much trouble as I've had over the years!"
Joby stormed out onto the landing, where he crashed into Hillyard, who was busy emerging from one of the bathrooms with a damp towel round his waist.
"Don't distract him, Hillyard", said Adam "He's got work to do".
"I need the karsey first", said Joby.
At that moment Mieps came out of his own room, gave an anguished look at Joby and scuttled into the other bathroom.
"I'll be glad when all this is over!" Adam sighed.
Tamaz was lying on his stomach on the sofa in the living-room when Mieps came down, after having safely made sure that Joby had gone down to the kitchen first.
"Tamaz, sit up", said Mieps, sitting in a nearby armchair "I want to talk to you".
"What have I done?" said Tamaz, nervously.
"Nothing", said Mieps "And that is what I want you to carry on doing. I can't stress enough how dangerous she is. Until she is destroyed you have to stay in this house. Don't even go into the garden without taking someone with you".
Tamaz gave a snort of impatience and jumped to his feet.
"This is crazy!" he said, leaning over Mieps "Why are we cowering in here like this? Why don't we go out there and track her down? At the moment she's hunting us! We should be the aggressors!"
"You're not going anywhere", said Julian, who had come into the room to fetch his cigars from the piano-top "You do exactly as Mieps said, and stay here".
"No!" Tamaz cried, flying at Julian in frustration "I won't be hunted by her! I won't!"
Julian caught Tamaz roughly by the arm, and rained down some very hard smacks on his behind. Tamaz wept and pounded his fists on Julian's back, screaming that it wasn't fair. Suddenly he stopped and gave a shrill scream.
The bloodstained woman had emerged from the doorway under the stairs and was advancing towards them, scissors in her hand. Her face was hypnotic in its awfulness, her eyes blazing with viciousness, her lips almost biting into each other with venom. Julian pushed Tamaz behind him protectively, thinking only that he had to keep Tamaz from her at all costs.
Tamaz caught another movement behind her in the hallway, and backed further into the room. It was realised later that he had only done this to decoy the Ghoomer's attention, to prevent her hearing her assailant. By moving he, as her chief prey, was bound to have a hypnotic effect on his predator.
Lonts got his big, powerful hands around the Ghoomer's neck and twisted it almost full-circle, breaking her neck so effectively he almost managed to separate her head from her shoulders. Her long tongue swelled and flapped about. Lonts caught it and wrenched it from her mouth. The Ghoomer fell to the floor, gushing blood. Lonts calmly stepped over her. He picked up Tamaz and sat him on the back of the sofa, kissing his face tenderly.
"I won't let anyone harm you", said Lonts.
"Well", said Hillyard, appearing in the doorway and looking down at the Ghoomer's broken body "Better clean up in here I suppose!"
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