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Phantoms’ Mountain Manor Chapter 9

CSI

Chapter 9 – Beauty’s favor

Secluded, secret, serene lush-green valley; perfect, flawless virgin body, with clear and bright eyes as gentle as ripples of water …

Lu Xiaofeng tried hard to control himself not to think about it; yet he himself knew that this memory would be forever etched at the bottom of his heart.

He walked as fast as he could, as far as he could. He ought to have reached the pathway leading back by now, yet when he stopped, he discovered that he was even deeper into the mountain.

And then he immediately discovered something dreadful: – he was lost.

A more frightening fact was that all around him the fog was getting thicker, a lot thicker than the Mansion of Spirits. It does not matter how good your vision is, you simply can’t see past two zhang [approx. 6m/20ft] in all direction. No matter which way he took, there was a good possibility that he may be even farther away from the Mansion of Spirits.

But Lu Xiaofeng still wanted to try. He was not the kind of person who would simply sit down, waiting for the cloud to clear, or the fog to disperse.

After walking far way, he still could not find the road. In this unfamiliar forest in the mountain, the most frustrating thing was that in this thick fog, how much longer did he have to walk before he could find his way home?

When he started to feel hungry and tired, when he started to feel anxious, he suddenly smelled something, a breath of life.

Although the aroma was very weak, he could instantly tell that it was the aroma of roasted hare.

Way back when he was a boy, he had established himself as a capable hunter. Even after he grew up, his interest in hunting was still very strong.

Rabbits cannot roast themselves, so where the rabbits are roasted, there must be people around, and the only place with people in that vicinity was the Mansion of Spirits.

He swallowed his own saliva. Although he felt hungrier than ever, his spirit was boosted. After holding his breath for a moment, he took a very deep breath, and immediately decided that the aroma came from somewhere west of here.

His judgment was obviously correct, because after walking along a small path for a while, the aroma was growing thicker and thicker.

The terrain ahead seemed to be even more rugged, and the path seemed to be heading down. The aroma of roasted hare seemed to blend with some kind of rotten stink that only a swamp could produce.

Even if there were people around, this place was definitely not the Mansion of Spirits.

Lu Xiaofeng’s heart sank again. What kind of people would live in this kind of place? He simply could not imagine it.

Right this moment, suddenly there was strange noise ahead. He quickened his pace, and soon saw strange shadow in the midst of thick fog.

He could see that it was in no way a man’s shadow, but it did not look like any beast either; he could not even describe the shadow’s shape.

One thing that he did know was that when he saw the shadow, there was unspeakable dread and nauseating feeling creeping up in his heart, something that made him nearly vomited.

The shadow ahead did not seem to be at peace, it seemed to be twisting and turning continuously. By the time Lu Xiaofeng braced himself and rushed forward, the shadow suddenly disappeared. It disappeared completely, as if it never existed.

Lu Xiaofeng could not help shivering. He stood unmoving, staring blankly for a long time. Suddenly he smelled a whiff of burning charcoal carried by the wind. This must be the place where the rabbit was roasted!

He believed his intuition was correct, yet all around him he did not see any trace of human.

If it were someone else, he would have left early on; perhaps he would have run away as fast as he could.

But Lu Xiaofeng never gave up.

First, he made a mental circle, surrounding the area about ten zhang [1 zhang is approx. 10ft/3m] with an invisible rope. And then he scoured the area just like someone unfolding a roll of rug.

The dirt and dead leaves on the ground was damp, typical of an area around a swamp. Only a piece of ground was unusually dry, it was obvious that the dead leaves covering it were just moved over.

He stooped down and pushed the leaves aside, just like a hunting dog he sniffed the dirt; he even picked up a bit of dirt and tasted it.

Sure enough, the dirt had a flavor of burnt charcoal, with a hint of hare fat. He dug the ground, and found some dried branches, several gnawed pieces of bones, and a Y-shaped piece of branch that was used as roasting fork. There was even a little bit of rabbit meat left on the fork, the cut on the skin was clean and tidy.

Only human’s hands could make such a roasting fork, only human teeth could gnaw the bones and clean the meat on them, moreover, only human cook his meal.

This place must be inhabited.

Not only this person had very skillful hands, he did everything very carefully; if it was not Lu Xiaofeng, others might find it very difficult to find any sign that someone had roasted a rabbit over here.

Who was this person? Why did he come here? Was he also running away from someone else’s hunt? What was that twisting and turning shadow he had just seen?

Lu Xiaofeng was completely at a loss. But precisely because he was at a loss that he got even more curious.

In his mind right now, whether he was able to find his way back or not has become a less important matter; because he was determined to find the answer to these questions.

The answer must be around here. Yet clearly there wasn’t any clue around here.

Lu Xiaofeng sat down. First he cleaned up the dirt from the rabbit meat, and then tearing it piece by piece, he slowly chewed.

There was no salt, the meat was burnt, plus it had been buried in the dirt; naturally the rabbit meat was tasteless, practically it was inedible.

But he forced himself to finish it.

No matter what he wanted to do, he had to have strength, and hunger was his fatal weakness.

After having something in his stomach, indeed he felt a bit better. He lay down, thinking that he would rest on this pile of soft leaves for a moment before continuing searching around.

Naturally he did not know that as he lay down this time, he nearly could not stand up again, forever.

Like drifting clouds, the fog was floating between the leaves of the trees. As Lu Xiaofeng was lying down, he did feel that the mist was far away like floating clouds in the sky, and he felt that everything was floating farther and farther away from him.

His entire being felt like it suddenly sunk into a soft and sweet, yet bottomless hole. It was as if everything in the world had become distant, become beautiful, and even the most important thing has become insignificant, all the pain and suffering had gone away.

This kind of relaxed and sweet feeling was exactly what everybody was looking for, yet Lu Xiaofeng was feeling a kind of unspeakable dread.

He knew that he was not supposed to feel this way, that he should not feel this way, that his anxiety and burdens should not be put down like this. His greater fear was that when he tried to get up, he found that all muscles and joints in his body felt so relaxed without any strength left.

Just then, he saw the strange shadow again.

In the fog, the twisting shadow looked like a rag doll that have been twisted by a naughty child; it did not look like a human at all.

Because ‘his’ entire body was flexible, every part could be distorted.

Humans have bones, humans have joints. Humans can’t be like that, ‘he’ was definitely not human!

Lu Xiaofeng opened his eyes wide, trying to focus his vision. When he looked clearly enough, he heard the shadow talked.

“You are Lu Xiaofeng?”

The voice was strange, incomprehensible and sounded slow-witted, yet it was definitely a human’s voice.

Not only this shadow was a human, he was a human who knew Lu Xiaofeng!

Fortunately, by this time Lu Xiaofeng had no more shock or dread in his mind, otherwise he might be so scared that he went crazy.

Unexpectedly the shadow was laughing, a ‘chi, chi’ kind of laughter; he said, “I heard Lu Xiaofeng has never been poisoned, yet now you are being poisoned?”

Lu Xiaofeng has been wondering about that. Whenever there was a tiny bit of poison in his food and drink, no matter which kind, he could always detect it.

The shadow laughed again and said, “Let me tell you, this is cannabis leaf, I like to use it to roast my food. When I eat it I can feel happy like immortals, but when you ate it you became like a dead dog.”

He went on to explain, “Just now when you smelled the aroma of roasted meat, you have already breathed the poison a little bit, that’s the reason why by the time you ate the meat, you could not detect it.”

“You intentionally lured me here?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

The shadow shook his head, “I intentionally left that piece of meat in here, otherwise, even an entire horse, I could eat it all.”

He seemed to enjoy of what he had just said very much.

— Only people who have been alone for a long time would have the habit of mumbling to themselves like that. Only this kind of people would enjoy his own voice like that.

He laughed his ‘chi, chi’ laughter for half a day before continuing, “If you did not find that piece of meat, I would have let you go, unfortunately, you did find it.”

“Unfortunately?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

The shadow said, “Because I can’t let anybody know that I am here.”

Suddenly, using some kind of indescribable, bizarre technique he jumped over toward Lu Xiaofeng, and sealed several of his acupoints.

His hand looked like a rotten snake skin gloves, but his movement was absolutely accurate and was very effective.

Compared to the rest of his body, this hand seemed easier to bear.

No one could describe his appearance. No one could, no one dared, but also no one could bear to describe.

Although Lu Xiaofeng’s mind was completely blank and he was delirious, seeing this man, he still could not refrain from shuddering and wanting to vomit.

The shadow laughed coldly and said, “Now that you’ve seen me, you think that I am very ugly, don’t you?”

Lu Xiaofeng could not deny.

The shadow said, “If you have been pushed down from a cliff hundreds of zhang high, and soaked down in the mud for dozens of days, you’d have become like this too.”

His laughter was more sorrowful than crying, “Formerly, not only I was not as ugly as you are, I could be considered a handsome man.”

Lu Xiaofeng did not pay attention to his last sentence; his question was, “You have been pushed down from a cliff hundreds of zhang high, and soaked down in the mud for dozens of days, yet you did not die?”

With a miserable laugh the shadow said, “I don’t know either how I survived, it was as if God was helping me, yet God has also deliberately trying to torment me.”

This man could live until now, it was indeed a miracle; yet this miracle was just brought about by some rotten leaves.

The rotting leaves on the swamp produced some kind of exotic fungus; it was as if this special fungus could miraculously heal human’s festering wound.

The shadow said, “I depended on things that had not been rotting in the mud to fill my stomach; after dozens of day I was finally able to crawl out. Afterwards I realized that the mud seems to be beneficial to my injury; hence every time my wound started to turn into festering boil, I dipped myself into the mud. Over the years, it had become a habit.”

Finally Lu Xiaofeng understood why this man’s body could easily twist and turn like a snake.

The shadow continued, “But this condition was really unbearable to me; fortunately later on I accidentally discovered that cannabis leaves can help me forget my many sufferings. That’s the reason I can still be alive until now.”

The amazing resilience power of life, the way all living things fit fantastically, beyond anything humanity are capable to imagine.

Lu Xiaofeng heaved a deep sigh; the shadow in front of him gradually return to its original shape. All along he willed himself to concentrate; it’s a pity that although by now the effect of the drug has gradually disappeared, his acupoints were sealed.

Suddenly he asked, “You knew that I am Lu Xiaofeng; did you recognize me?”

“I did not,” the shadow replied, “But I have seen you.”

“When did you see me?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“A moment ago,” the shadow replied.

“You saw me a moment ago?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

The shadow said, “You have discovered my secret, I should have killed you to close your mouth; it was precisely because I have seen you that you are still alive until now.”

Lu Xiaofeng was even more confused. “Why?” he asked.

The shadow said, “Because all in all you are not a bad person; you did not seize the opportunity to bully Ah Xue.”

His voice suddenly became emotional, “Ah Xue has always been a good child, I don’t want her to be bullied.”

Lu Xiaofeng was shocked. “What are you to her?” he asked.

The shadow was unwilling to answer this question; he asked instead, “Why did Ximen Chuixue want to kill you? What kind of enmity do you have against him?”

Lu Xiaofeng hesitated, but in the end he decided to tell the truth, “He saw me sleeping in the same bed with his wife.”

The shadow did not say anything; he stared at Lu Xiaofeng for a long time. Suddenly he let out a strange laughter and said, “Now I understand why you are coming to Mansion of Spirits.”

“I came to escape disaster,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“No you don’t,” the shadow said.

“Even you did not want to die,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “Naturally I don’t want to die either.”

The shadow said, “You are not afraid to die; you came here just because you wanted to unearth the secret of this place.”

His voice was brimming with confidence, “Even a woman like Ah Xue failed to tempt you, how could you steal Ximen Chuixue’s wife?”

Lu Xiaofeng sighed. “I just want to ask you one thing,” he said.

“Go ahead,” the shadow said.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “If I were a spy, how could Old Sabre Honcho let me live till now? He is such a formidable character, you should know it better than I do.”

The shadow suddenly shook, his body suddenly curled up into a ball, immediately his eyes were brimming with grief and indignation, with hatred and fear.

Lu Xiaofeng slowly said, “Of course you do, because the person who pushed you down from the high cliff was precisely him!”

The shadow was shaking even harder.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said, “But don’t worry, I will never reveal this secret.”

“Why?” the shadow could not help asking.

“Because I really like Ye Xue,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “I will never harm her father.”

The shadow cowered and took a step back; his voice was hoarse, “Who’s her father?” he asked.

“You are,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

The shadow suddenly dropped down, lying on the ground; even his breathing had stopped.

But he was not dead; after a long time he sighed and said, “You are right, I am. Everybody thought I was dead, even they, the two sisters, thought I was dead.”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “At least you have to tell them that you are still alive.”

The shadow sprang up and said, “You must never tell them; never!”

“Why?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

The shadow said, “Because no matter what I can’t let them see me like this. I would rather …”

Suddenly he stopped. Pressing his ear to the ground, he listened for a long time, and then he said in a low voice, “You must never tell anyone that you have seen me, please, I beg you.”

By the time he said the last three words, he had already disappeared. With these three words he was indeed pleading earnestly.

Then, after a long time Lu Xiaofeng finally heard footsteps, someone was coming, treading on dead leaves.

Lu Xiaofeng only hoped that it would be Ye Xue.

But the incoming person was not Ye Xue, it was Ye Ling.

When she saw Lu Xiaofeng, she was shocked as well, but soon she calmed down.

Apparently this little Miss was a lot more cool-headed than anyone gave her credit for; she was a lot more experienced. She asked, “Just now I heard people talking, whom did you talk to?”

“No one,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “I was talking to myself.”

Ye Ling laughed. She winked and laughed and said, “Since when do you like to talk to yourself?”

“When I found out that friends are not very reliable,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

“Then why did you lie down in here alone?” Ye Ling asked.

“Because I like to,” Lu Xiaofeng replied.

Ye Ling laughed again. With hands behind her back, she walked around Lu Xiaofeng, twice. Suddenly she said, “You sealed your own acupoints, it must be because you also like to do it.”

Lu Xiaofeng could only laugh bitterly. He was forced to admit that this little Miss’ eyesight was also a lot keener than people gave her credit for. But he was also confident that he could still deal with her.

For people like him, lying to a little girl like her was not too difficult to do.

“Most of the leaves and wild mushrooms around here are poisonous, I ate some by accident, hence I was forced to seal a couple of my own acupoints, so that the poison would not attack my heart.”

He suddenly found out that lying was not too difficult to do.

Ye Ling stared at him; she seemed to believe him, yet she said nothing.

Lu Xiaofeng sighed and said, “Only after I sealed my acupoints did I realize a grave problem: I couldn’t unseal it myself. Luckily you are here now; indeed I must thank the Heaven and thank the Earth.”

Ye Ling was still staring at him without saying anything.

Lu Xiaofeng said, “I know you can unseal the acupoints for me, you have always been a very resourceful person.”

Ye Ling suddenly said, “You wait here, I’ll be right back.”

Finished speaking, she flew away without even looking back.

Lu Xiaofeng was dumbfounded.

Fortunately as soon as Ye Ling left, the shadow suddenly appeared.

Lu Xiaofeng was relieved. He said, “Whatever you want to do, I’ll do it. I promise. Now can you let me go?”

The shadow’s answer was very blunt, “Cannot.”

“Why?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Because I really want to see how Ah Ling is going to deal with you,” the shadow replied.

There was a hint of laughter in his voice, “That little girl has always been mischievous; the tricks she played, sometimes even caught me by surprise.”

Lu Xiaofeng wanted to laugh, but he simply could not, because in truth he also could not guess how Ye Ling would deal with him. He only knew that this crafty girl was capable of doing anything.

He was going to talk it out with the shadow, but the shadow disappeared once more. And then he heard footsteps on the dead leaves again.

This time the footsteps sounded heavier, Ye Ling also arrived a lot quicker than the last time. In her hand she had some unknown herbs; evidently she has just picked it. As soon as she stopped and caught her breath, she said, “Eat it!”

Lu Xiaofeng was shocked, “You want me to eat this crap weeds?”

With a straight face Ye Ling said, “This is not weeds, this is a life-saving medicine, that I worked so hard to find for you.”

She went on to explain, “Unsealing your acupoints is so easy, but after the acupoints are unsealed, if by any chance the poison attack your heart, won’t I be harming you instead? Therefore, I must find you the antidote first.”

“Right now the poison in my body seems to be dissipating,” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“It doesn’t seem like it,” Ye Ling said, “We must completely eradicate the poison from your system; besides, this kind of medicinal herb is beneficial to your body anyway, eating a bit more won’t do you any harm.”

While her mouth was busy talking, Lu Xiaofeng’s mouth could not speak at all, because it was being stuffed with herbs.

He suddenly found out that the saying ‘good medicine tastes bitter’ made a lot of sense. It doesn’t matter if this herbs was very beneficial to him, he simply did not wish to try it the second time.

With so much difficulty he was finally able to swallow the grass into his stomach. Ye Ling was visibly relieved; she blinked and asked, “How are you feeling? Did it taste good?”

Lu Xiaofeng said, “Baa, baa …”

“What is that?” Ye Ling asked.

“That’s sheep,” Lu Xiaofeng said, “I suddenly feel that I have turned into a sheep.”

Ye Ling laughed; she said sweetly, “I love little sheep. Come, let me carry you.”

Unexpectedly she really carried Lu Xiaofeng; her strength was indeed not small.

Lu Xiaofeng was shocked, “What are you holding me for? Why haven’t you unseal my acupoints?”

“Right now the poison has not been completely eradicated,” Ye Ling said, “This is not a good place to linger, I must carry you someplace else.”

“Where are you carrying me?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Naturally to a good place,” Ye Ling replied, “A very, very good place.”

Lu Xiaofeng could only smile wryly.

Being carried away by a young girl who was young enough to be his own daughter, naturally the feeling was not too pleasant.

But this young girl’s breasts were obviously very mature, her body also smelled so good. Lu Xiaofeng had no choice but to close his eyes; he wanted to meditate like an old monk; but Ye Ling suddenly sang:

“Little girl carrying a clay doll,
Came to the garden to admire the flowers,

I told the doll to listen to me,

The doll calls me little mama.”

Half of this song was sung by Lu Xiaofeng, she made up the other half, but it was very fitting. Listening to the song, it was only natural that Lu Xiaofeng did not know whether he should laugh or he should cry. And at that moment, he suddenly discover another matter that he did not know whether he should laugh or cry.

He suddenly felt something was not right. At first he still did not know what went wrong. And it would be better if he did not know, because as soon as he found out, he felt even worse.

— He suddenly discovered that unexpectedly he had become a cat on a hot tin roof. [alright, alright, the original text does not have the word ‘tin’ …] A male cat.

If he were really on a hot roof, it would be a bit better. But the fact was that he was in the embrace of a young woman, a soft and sweet-smelling young woman. And this young woman was clearly someone that he must not let his heart be moved by.

He repeatedly warned himself, “She is just a little kid, I must not think about this kind of things; I absolutely must not …”

Too bad that there are certain things that even if you don’t want to think about, you will find that you are fighting a losing battle. Just like ‘it is going to rain, wifey wants to cheat on you’. Nothing you can do about it. [Translator’s note: I am not sure about this, perhaps some Chinese saying.]

Lu Xiaofeng knew that a certain part of his body has changed, a change that a healthy man in the prime of his life is absolutely helpless to prevent.

His only hope was that Ye Ling would not notice.

He did not dare to look at Ye Ling, not even a single glance.

Yet obviously Ye Ling was looking at him. She suddenly said, “Why is your face red? Are you having a fever?”

Lu Xiaofeng did not have any choice but mumbling some obscure reply, something that even he himself did not know what he was talking about.

Luckily Ye Ling did not ask further; luckier still, he was basically unable to move at all.

If his acupoints were not sealed, what could he possibly do?

He did not even dare to think about it.

Ye Ling suddenly said, “Looks like the herbs is finally working.”

Lu Xiaofeng could not help asking, “What kind of herb was that? Was if a life-saving [救命 – jiuming], or life-killing [要命 – yaoming, could also mean annoying, desperate, awful, terrible, etc.]?”

“Life-killing,” Ye Ling replied.

She suddenly stopped, put down Lu Xiaofeng, and lay him down on a pile of soft leaves and grass.

When Lu Xiaofeng opened his eyes, he found out that they were in a cave. With arms akimbo, Ye Ling was standing in front of him, and grinning wickedly like a little demon.

“Don’t you feel terrible [see above] right now?” she asked.

With a bitter laugh Lu Xiaofeng replied, “Practically I feel damn desperately terrible.”

Ye Ling said, “I know what kind of medicine can cure you.”

“What medicine?” Lu Xiaofeng asked.

“Me,” Ye Ling replied, while pointing at her own nose, “Only I can cure you.”

Lu Xiaofeng stared at her.

She was not a little girl anymore; the parts of her body that were supposed to be big were already big.

Clenching his teeth, Lu Xiaofeng said bitterly, “You ask for it, don’t blame me.”

“I won’t blame you,” Ye Ling said, “What are you going to do?”

Nothing. Lu Xiaofeng could not do anything, because he could not even move.

— A moment ago he felt so fortunate, but now it has become a misfortune.

He just felt that he was about to burst any time.

Ye Ling looked at him. She giggled and said, “Do you know that sometimes a time like this could make you desperate?”

Lu Xiaofeng knew.

He believed that right now no one else in the world could know it better than he did.

Worse yet, he had seen her legs. Nobody knew since when did this little demon’s leg was suddenly exposed outside her clothes.

Her leg was curvaceous, slender, and firm.

Lu Xiaofeng’s voice became a moan, “Why do you have to kill me?”

Ye Ling replied in tender voice, “I really want to help you. I really like you, too bad …”

She ran a finger along Lu Xiaofeng’s body, “I am also a virgin, no man has ever touched me.”

It was precisely what her older sister has just said; she even imitated the tone of her voice.

Suddenly Lu Xiaofeng understood. Ye Xue’s secret little world was not as secret as she imagined it would be.

Suddenly Ye Ling let out a cold laugh and said, “To tell you the truth, I have seen everything that the two of you did over there, I have seen everything clearly.”

“She is your [older] sister …” Lu Xiaofeng said.

“She is not my sister!” Ye Ling said in a loud voice, “She is my natural enemy, everything that I liked, she always wanted to snatch it away from me.”

“I …” Lu Xiaofeng started, but Ye Ling cut him off, “She clearly knew I saw you first, yet she still wanted to snatch you. But this time I will not let her, you are mine, I want to marry you.”

Suddenly she broke into laughter, a very sweet, and tender laughter, “Actually, if you say it is you who wanted to marry me, I am fine with it. Either way, I agree.”

Things have come to this, what else could Lu Xiaofeng say?

The cave was dark and quiet, twilight drew near.

After a moment of quietness, Ye Ling suddenly broke into crying. But it was not clear whether she cried of excessive grief, or because she had suffered enough injustice.

“You bullied me; how could you bully me like that? You ruined my life forever.”

Actually, who bullied who? Who harmed who?

Lu Xiaofeng only smiled wryly; he did not dare to laugh. No matter what, she was a little girl; not only that, she was a little girl who has never let a man touch her.

If a man had done something to a little girl like he had just done to her, what else could the man say?

“That thing that you promised just now, do you already have regret?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You really don’t have regret?”

“Really.”

She laughed. And she laughed as if she was really a little girl.

“Let’s go, we are going home.” She grabbed his hand, “From now on, you are a married man. As long as you don’t go looking for other women, I will definitely wait on you like I am waiting upon the Emperor.”

The sun set in the west, twilight covered the mountain.

Lu Xiaofeng suddenly felt very tired. In all his life, he has never felt this tired.

It was not because of that life-killing grass, and it was not because of that ‘terrible thing’ either. This kind of tiredness seemed to stem from his own mind.

When in his heart a man is prepared to abandon everything, he would feel this kind of tiredness.

— Perhaps I really should be a ‘married man’.

Under this kind of beautiful sunset, looking at Ye Ling’s child-like smile on her face, in his heart he indeed had a thought.

— No matter what she did, she did it all because she liked me.

Her smile was even sweeter. He could not help pulling her hand.

Right this moment they heard the bell tolling in the distance, it seemed like Mansion of Spirits was going to have another banquet tonight.

Could it be that the Old Sabre Honcho has already prepared a wedding feast for them?

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