Dark Fate

*FIRST AND VERY IMPORTANTLY, THIS IS NOT CANON.  THIS IS COMPLETELY UNSANCTIONED (okay, not completely.  Larry said I could do this for you guys without his ripping my head off) MHI FANFIC.
Good, now that we got that out of the way, why am I doing this?  Both Grant and Fado Negro (Portuguese Monster Hunters) have minuscule parts in Guardian, the MHI book I’m collaborating with Larry Correia on.  However, obviously the Portugal of Monster Hunter is not the real Portugal (Really, no arcane creatures come stumbling out of the undergrowth there.  If there were arcane creatures, the country would be chock-a-block in them, when you take in account the continuous human occupation since… well, forever.)  And this story gives me more of an opportunity to firm the worldbuilding.  (Yes, it would be MUCH easier to do this with a notebook and noting things down, but that’s not how my mind works, d*mn it.)
Okay, that’s the rational excuse.  The real reason is that d*mn Grant Jefferson won’t leave me alone.  (Always had a thing for men from Patrician New England families.  Ask my husband.)  So I’m torturing him.  Also Guardian won’t come out until I do this more or less at same time (I’ll be sending first chapter of that to Larry soon.)
Will this ever be a book?  Don’t know.  First Guardian will get delivered.  Then, this being finished, I throw it at Larry.  And then it’s his SOLE DECISION. (Which means, don’t you monkeys hassle him.)  It’s his world and his character.  I’m just grateful he lets me play in it in Guardian and here for your amusement.*


There are all sorts of rules on foreign travel when you’re a federal agent.  When you’re my kind of federal agent, working for an agency no government would admit to, battling things far more dangerous than terrorists, and more slippery than communism, there are even more rules for foreign travel.

In the end, they all boil down to “If we want you to go abroad, we’ll send you there.”

Which is why I was several kinds of dead.  My first and most likely cause of death would be that my partner, Agent Franks, would rip my head off and beat me to death with it.

I thought I was prepared for it.  But when I took my phone off airplane mode, as we taxied under the rain in the airport of Sa Carneiro in, of all places, Porto, Portugal, it beeped with a text: Jefferson, where in hell are you?  and I realized my entire body clenched.

My name is Grant Jefferson, and I’m many things, starting with a damn fool, but I’m not a coward.  For many years I made my living fighting werewolves, vampires, zombies, and the eldritch horrors of a million deranged nightmares.  And now I did the same for the feds.

But Franks, technically my partner, actually my boss, was something else.  Something that gave the eldritch horrors nightmares.

I tried to compose an answer in my head, as we filed out of the plane and out the jetway.  But none of them would work.  Called to Portugal because of monsters was kind of sort of true, but if I told Franks that, he would know I was lying.  If I’d been sent to Portugal because of monster attacks and some cooperation agreement he’d be right here with me.  I briefly considered Going to grandma’s funeral, only Franks would know that I didn’t have a grandma in Portugal.  Lists of my actual relations were all on file in federal archives.  I briefly considered My grandmother turned into a monster in Portugal, but the thing is, even before typing it in, I could hear Franks’ growl in response.  That was one of his most unnerving habits.  The way he growled.  Made worse if you’d ever seen him fight.

The one thing I couldn’t tell him was the simple truth.  I’m in Portugal because Julie Schakleford is in Portugal and might need my help.  Frankly, that didn’t even convince me as a reason. Julie was a grownup, and she was perfectly able to take care of herself.  Plus she was married, and the last thing she wanted was her old boyfriend meddling in her affairs.

More important, from Franks perspective, Julie was part-owner of Monster Hunter International a monster hunting organization that had given the feds headaches for years by hunting monsters and sticking to just the edge of the law.  Monster hunting was no business for civilians.  That’s what Frank would say.  Before or after levitating across the ocean in a wave of fury to beat me to death with his bare hands was the only question.

So I didn’t say anything as I took the escalator, facing a banner saying “Welcome to Portugal” in a dozen languages.  Big tourist area.

Going through passport control was boring but uneventful, which means my bosses hadn’t figured out where I was, yet.  Of course, I wasn’t travelling in my official capacity.  Which meant I felt naked without a protective vest, and without a gun.  I did have a knife set, in my checked luggage.  Which meant I half expected to be asked but about those.  But I wasn’t.  The middle aged lady in passport control just smiled at me and said, “Welcome to Portugal.”  The guy leaning against a wall, scanning the new arrivals as they filed past in the “nothing to declare” line did single me out, to the extent he grunted at me something I could interpret as “Reason for visit?” in English.  But when I blurted “Tourism” he let me through.

Baggage claim was a mess, thronged with people, a babel of what seemed like every language on Earth, and confused to boot.  Part of the confusion came because no one seemed to know what luggage was coming out where. The central board had no carousel numbers.  I decided I’d be methodical, and walked back, reading the signs on every carousel.  I knew mine would be all the way at the back before I got there, though, because I could see a white cowboy hat near it, and that cowboy hat had been on my flight from Denver, about eight seats ahead.

Up close, the guy wearing it was probably in his thirties, with a well trimmed beard, wearing a t-shirt with a picture of the Gipper on a red, white and blue background and under it, in big white letters I ❤ Reagan.  “Denver?” I asked him, because the sign wasn’t on.  “That’s what information told me,” he said.  I was a little shocked he didn’t have a deep Texas accent.  “Oh, look, the carousel is starting.”

It was indeed, and as it lurched into movement, a bunch of people approached, including a family with four little girls ranging from about 6 to one, all chattering at each other in Portuguese, which sounds sort of like Spanish but with a Russian accent.

But as something on the carousel pushed through the curtain of rubber strips at one end, it wasn’t luggage.

They looked like…  Well, they looked sort of like elves, if elves had been sculpted entirely of stone.  And if you’re from the US I don’t mean the sort of tame elves who take welfare and live in trailer parks.  I mean those things the Celts feared and worshiped long before Tolkien made them pretty-pretty celebrities.

Take Tolkien’s elves and squish them down.  Then add about 200 pounds to each of them, mostly slabbed muscle.  Then make their pallor something distinctly greenish and unhealthy, that looks like corpses in the early stages of decomposition.  And make sure their clothes and bodies look… not so much dirty but partway calcified.

Then get a group of about fifty of them on an airport baggage carousel.  Now you have the right idea. And the right idea should make you run for your life.  Except I couldn’t.

Other people did, trampling each other on the way to the doors, not only from our carousel but from every carousel near it.

But I couldn’t, because the creatures had leaped from the moving belt, and were chasing people.  And because, near me, with four little girls standing on a luggage cart, were the Portuguese family I’d noticed before.

One of the brutes made for the, grinning.  I swear its massive, sharp teeth glistened with blood and that it had bits of flesh stuck between them.

I didn’t have anything I could fight with.  No guns.  No knives.  The only thing I had was my carry on and my toiletries.

The creature made to grab one of the little girls, all of which were screaming.  The mother got in the way and was swatted by a massive paw, which sent her careening across the area.  I’d not been noticed, probably because I’d stood still and silent.  Now, as the monster lurched towards the little girl, I grabbed my shoulder bag by the handle.  It was only the allowed 16 lbs, so I had to twirl it with some force, before I could hit the massive skull of the creature and scream, “Pick on someone your own size, ugly.”

It turned and growled at me.  Yeah.  Okay.  He wasn’t half as scary as Franks.  And I’d had time to think.  You know what I had in my hand luggage?  I had a several metal tooth picks of the sort that dentists use to determine if you have cavities.  It’s a thing with me.  I like to stay on top of these things.  While ugly was spending time growling, I’d unzipped my bag, and had got the picks, leaving half of my toiletries strewn all over the fake marble floor.  If they were fairies — and I suspected they were the kind identified as “giants” or “trolls” throughout most European legends, which were neither giant nor trolls, who were something quite different — steel should hurt them.

I got to test my theory as the beast came towards me, at a run, and grabbed at my arm, probably intending to spin me around and throw me.  Before he could do so, I’d stuck a pick in his arm, bull matador style.  He made a sound between a growl and a shriek, and a puff of flame, like when oil falls on fire, surged.  He let me go as he tried to pull the pick out of his arm.

I had momentum and went some ways before I could stand, and turn around.  And damn it if there weren’t another two critters trying to get at the little girls.  What is it with monsters and innocence?  I get very tired of the cliched obsession.

I started to run towards them, but Reagan-lover was there.  He’d found his own weapons, seemingly having broken apart one of the chairs.  The connectors were plastic and my guess is he’d smashed it over the head of one of the monsters and it had come apart in component parts.  I was glad it had, as I grabbed one of the tubes, and used it to club one of the critters, while Reagan-lover clobbered the other.  The little girl’s father had grabbed a piece of chair, too, and stood behind us, ready to die heroically, if something got near his daughters.

There was an alarm going on over head, but I didn’t understand it, partly because it was babbled in at least ten languages.  From the few words I got, it might have been something about terrorists.  I could smell fresh blood, and something that was almost like swamp gas and that I imagined was the smell of these creatures.

But I didn’t have time for anything, as a seemingly unending tide of them came out of the hole on the wall at us.

Reagan-lover fell at some point.  I don’t know when.  I don’t think he was dead, just wounded and probably exhausted.  I wasn’t doing so well myself. I didn’t remember my right arm being bitten, but it was a useless mass of ripped flesh, with white bone protruding.

The mother of the family must have got back because some woman was praying loudly in Portuguese between me and the kids.

And yet the monsters kept coming.  My left arm was getting tired of swinging that iron, tired of the smell of singed flesh when it hit.  And I suspected they were coming back to the battle, because I wasn’t leaving the metal stuck in them.

The floor was slick with blood.  I just wanted to pass out.

This is when the jokers in black cloaks arrived.  Yelling at each other in Portuguese, they surged in.  They looked like kids.  I turned to tell them to get away. The thing I’d been fighting grabbed me.  I screamed, as I flailed with the iron.  The thing dropped me.

I must have fallen on my head.  Next thing I knew, someone was pouring water over me, and someone else was saying, “Why did it have to be a damn tourist/”

As I managed to get one eye open, I realized I was in a stone cell of some sort.  Wait, had I checked to make sure they’d disbanded the inquisition?



188 thoughts on “Dark Fate

  1. Alright, now that the snippets have begun, we’re expecting a trilogy written in 2 weeks, then delivered to Larry for editing . . .

    I kid, I kid!

      1. Well, I was just teasing, but I have no objection to you writing a new book every two weeks.

                    1. Now them’s fightin’ words! Seriously, I have not the words to adequately express the Stygian waves of despair that engulfed me watching the first fifteen minutes of that movie, after literally envisioning that movie for decades before it was so butchered.

                      I hope someday it can be remade, but as of now, the stench of that rotting corpse will keep producers from it for at least a few more decades.

                    2. Naw. Fighting words would be saying it was better than the book.

                      And I come to movies expecting garbage.

                    3. The movie entitled “Starship Troopers” was a semi-decent action flick that happened to share the same name as a completely-unrelated Heinlein novel of the same name. 😉

                    4. An unrelated (other than title!) movie that tuned the MI from one-man-armies wearing seven-league boots and armored like a battleship to packs of woefully under-armed and vulnerable wearing Viet Nam era armor and using using Rev. War tactics (stand in groups in the open and shooting en masse). As icing on the cake, completely ignore, or maybe mock the central moral message of the book, that is, that the franchise is to be earned by altruistic service to the nation-state, proving your dedication to the Greater Good,

                      I can’t IMAGINE why book fans felt like they were abused by the false advertising of the movie title hijacked and applied to a below-mediocre action flick with cliched plot, stilted dialog, and early 60’s cartoonish SFX.

                      Worst Movie. EVAH.

    1. Guardian is Julie Shackleford’s book, which Larry and I are collaborating on. this is sort of a twin to that book. It is not related to Grunge, which is what I think you’re asking.

              1. There’s a Diana Tregarde short story where she has to have a Jewish friend exorcise a dybuk that someone accidentally summoned (they thought they were getting a minor imp. Oops.)

  2. I grew to enjoy Grant in Nemesis. I didn’t say I liked him, but I did enjoy him. I like where this is going, keep up the good work.

    1. I really liked how Nemesis was in large part a redemption of the MCB characters. Sure, we’d rather hang out with the freewheeling bounty hunters, but the guys facing down the unnatural without the incentive of a payday are also heroic.
      Even if they’ve got a stick up their fundament.

      1. A redemption of some. There is a reason they do what they do but gun toting bureaucracy is always hard to humanize. Especially when license to kill.

        1. but gun toting bureaucracy is always hard to humanize. Especially when license to kill.

          Bond, James Bond.

          Fortunately (?), we shall never see an official JB/MHI crossover. But we can dream, can’t we?

            1. Bond driving up to the trailer park to visit the elf queen… And, oh, the quips when he does in monsters… Susan could be the (literally!) femme fatale… How is it nobody’s done fanfic of this before?!

          1. Bond is actually a Fae. It’s how he is so lucky, changes form every few years and lives so long.

            And Bond at least doesn’t kill civies to keep hidden

            1. Well, yes, Bond’s a Fae defector. The double-0 program is basically the Crown’s witness protection program for beings who change sides from the Fae world, with a built in job assignment for Queen and Country. All the national intelligence agencies have one.

              1. The U.S. equivalent is the Impossble Missions Force, hiding in plain sight in the basement of the International Monetary Fund HQ, since they share it’s acronym.

                1. You know, a quarter-century ago I *worked* in the basement of the International Monetary Fund. (Yes, really.) At the time, it’s where their library was.

                  Hmmm. But this could very well explain why they suddenly moved us into leased office space in another building entirely, which they did. You could be on to something here.

          2. Chad does visit England in Grunge. It would be verry interesting if Barbara Everett met Team Happy Face. Don’t know if Ringo is going to write another Special Circumstances book.

            1. In the Grunge intro John called Princess/Queen of wands his worst selling series. Based on that I doubt he ever plans to write one. OTOH his muse might not give him a choice.

              1. Special Circumstances was a problematic series for John. He had a first book and a last book but couldn’t find a way to build up Barbara from the first to the last, especially as Princess tanked like Lady Ghostbustiers. Queen of Wands was an attempt to cross that bridge, but I suspect it was artistically unsatisfying.

                Mind, “worst-selling” John Ringo series does not mean it sells poorly. If John’s muse decides he needs to write another book in that, John will. And Baen will probably publish it.

            2. John called Special Circumstances his worst selling series in his intro to Grunge. Under those circumstances I doubt he’s planning to write in it again. OTOH his muse might force the issue for him.

            1. Possibly not Bond (else why would he need a license to kill?) but assuredly Steed & Peel were MHQ (Monster Hunters to the Queen.) Mock the idea if you wish, but are you sure that tip on Steed’s bumbershoot wasn’t silver?

              1. The Soviet Union’s small arms ammunition was almost all iron core. Sometimes with a copper jacket, sometimes just plated with copper.

                Sure, they *said* it was to conserve lead, which is a “strategic metal” in wartime… but some Things are a lot more allergic to iron than lead.

                Note the Russian Federation *still* makes iron core ammunition…

                “Nothing to see here, move along…”

  3. Wheee! *in the background, imagining feisty Portugese grandma ramming one of those evil luggage carts into monster ankles and telling them how badly brought-up they are*

      1. Of course. I was imagining the movie version for my own amusement. So when you guys *do* the movie, I want credit for “Feisty Grandma in the deep background of intro luggage scene”, OK? Or a ticket to the premiere 😀

        1. You know, I never gave much thought to the reasons (quality) umbrellas tend to have pointy steel tips in lengths exceeding the minimal requirement …

              1. And now I ponder a combination grenade with iron, silver, and wooden splinters/shrapnel.

        1. It’s changed COMPLETELY since I was there 5 years ago. I mean, I was jaw-dropped. Easily compares to say the Colorado Springs airport, which for what and where it is, is a huge compliment.

      1. … the third best in Europe ….

        While that sounds drastically akin to “tallest building in Topeka” I have no desire to leap to the defense of American airports, nor those in any other part of the world. TSA is itself sufficient to discourage my visiting such facilities, and the actual transport leaves me aghast.

        I won’t fly, don’t ask me.
        I won’t fly, don’t ask me.
        I won’t fly, madame, to you.

  4. “…with four little girls standing on a luggage cart, were the Portuguese family I’d noticed before.”

    WAS the Portuguese family…

    Conan the Grammarian (will grammar check foe food)

      1. I offered to do a full copy edit, but no, Sarah insisted that her peeps needed a fix today instead of a couple days from now.
        She really does spoil you ungrateful lot.

      1. “completely unspell-checked”? Enchanting.

        There is a joke about a magician’s consultant, Mr. Bezděcký, who reviews spells for accuracy, but I won’t be the one to tell it.

          1. Right, let the chick write the chick book. Does that mean we can push MHI: Guardian in the ChickLit polls?

            1. Well, Grrrrrlllll Power is still A Thing, apparently, so why not? It sure as heck can’t be worse than some of the stuff I’ve skimmed the back-matter on in the past 12 months. There was one that sounded sooooo promising, with a really intriguing magic premise, and then the PC lit’rary, wymyn’s ways of knowing, down with the patriarchy kicked in.

          2. I feel like a creep for saying this but, I don’t like Grant. I don’t want to read anything from Franks’ POV either.

            1. YMMV of course, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the parts of Nemesis that were from Franks POV. 😀

              1. When Larry initially described Nemesis, I was afraid I wasn’t going to like it. Then I warily began reading the sample chapters from Baen, and enjoyed it enough to shell out cash for it

                1. “Destroy Him… Oh Sh*t It’s Franks!” (Last words of a minor demon)

              2. Well, from Michael’s edited version of Franks’s POV. Toned down for language, and so on.

              1. From what we see of him in Nemesis he is good compared to MHB. He just has a more ‘good of the many’ mindset and justifies more than MHI prefers.

                I’ll admit I’m looking forward to fallout from Alpha. Only concern is not taking too much from Larry as I rewrite.

    1. Conan the Grammarian (will grammar check foe food)

      Don’t you mean “for food”? 👿 👿 👿 👿

      1. I farm out the spellchecxk. 🙂

        PS – I always have wondered. Do witches, wizards, and other magic-casty things have spell checkers that automagically fix their spells as they cast them?

        If so, I sure as hell hope that autocorrect works a damn sight better than the mundane versions, lest hell be unwittingly released.

        1. They should.

          There’s a story about some cultists who wanted a “god of sex” but messed up the Greek so badly that they got Artemis, virgin goddess of the hunt.

          She was not pleased. 😈 😈 😈 😈

          1. My mistake.

            They messed up the Latin and got Diana with the “not pleased” result.

            Oh, it was a L. Sprague De Camp story titled “Priapus”. 😉

        2. Try Rick Cook’s “Wizard’s Bane” from 1989 for exactly that. Complete with Dragon Book and spell checker…

          “This spell multiplies a mass times a length and divides it by time. I’ve got to get the units exactly right or we won’t get the output we need. So the pentagram has to be just the right diameter.”

          “Forgive me, my Lord, but that is a circle, not a pentagram.”

          “Special kind of pentagram,” Jerry grunted.

          “It is not a pentagram. It is a circle.”

          “A pentagram approaches a circle for sufficiently large values of five.”

          [that’s actually from a later volume, but I always liked that scene…]

        3. I saw cartoon where a wizard was angry because the cursive spellbook, having summoned a lemon instead a demon.

        4. I just took delivery of my S&W M&P .40 semiautomagic, to put the hoodoo on burglars, trespasssers and other stray voodoo.

    2. What is best in life?

      To format paragraphs, correct spelling and hear the lamentations of proper sentence structure?

  5. I don’t care if it’s cannon or not. That looks like it’s going to be at least 3 kinds of awesome! Do-want-read-NOW!!!

    or… ya know… whenever you get around to writing more…

    (or NOW!!!)

    I’ve really enjoyed the Grant character arch, and what you have here hits pretty close to where I think the character would be (as a person) at this point.

    Most excellent!

  6. Grant?

    Well, if he’s in your head, you’ve got to get him out.

    Who am I kidding? Take more of my money, please!

  7. It’s his world and his character. I’m just grateful he lets me play in it in Guardian and here for your amusement.

    Fanfic unless (not until) ruled otherwise by the Lord of MHI Domain. Got it.

    1. Yes, but we all saw what happened the last time someone wrote MHI fanfic. So here’s hoping-!

          1. Oh that exists. She just hasn’t agreed to publish it yet. That was the concussion novel, IIRC.

              1. It is said that “everybody has his/her price” but sometimes the “price” is more than the buyer wants to pay. 👿 👿 👿 👿

  8. Write faster, ma’am. Please.

    PS – The Goog translates “fado” as lot, doom, fortune, or star, and fado negro as “black fado”. Thanks, machine learning!

  9. Absolutely off topic, but the dentist has cleared me to eat people food again! For the first time since 2014 I can eat nuts, and chips, and crackers, and taffy (OK, probably not smart), and popcorn and other kibble-type food! Yeah!

    1. I am glad the Dentist has granted approval, but my gracious, when you said “cleared me to eat people food” couldn’t you have started the list with something other than “nuts”?

      You know how the minds of Huns work and that is too likely to make some of the gentler men uneasy.

      1. We gotta toughen them up *somehow*… Then we give them a certificate and a patch that can be affixed on any uniform velcro patch that says “Tested Hun”.

                  1. ha! here it’s “Never ask a question you don’t want 5 different answers for, ten snarky responses and two off topic mentions”
                    Sometimes it is only one person supplying all the above in a single reply.

            1. Yes, for certain values of function.

              For example, they are much better than the standard issue at clanking.

    2. Hurrah! That’s great news. Sandwiches without chips, and movies without popcorn, just aren’t the same.

      1. Yep. I’m cleared for everything but c0rn-nuts. Saltwater taffy’s probably not smart, either. I don’t want to know what it feels like to pull off a crown, given the pain (literal) of having them put on.

        1. Based on (semi) youthful experience with crown removal involving experiments with chewy licorice, jujubes and similar devices, the pain of removing a crown in such manner is trivial, and they can be reattached simply and easily by your dentist.

          This assumes, of course, you haven’t damaged the crown by chewing it in the confection.

          The inconvenience is, however, non-trivial as such things rarely occur when a dentist visit is already on the books for the next day. (More typically, they occur Friday evening of a four-day weekend.)

  10. Considering the difference between these elves and the American sort, it occurs to me that Larry might consider a MHI card deck, such as was issued by our military after the fall of Saddam’s government. Each card would depict some monster, PUFF bounty range and brief description of the strengths/weaknesses.

    Assuming an agreeable artist can be found and production costs kept reasonable I suspect these could be a right popular item.

    Going full baseball card with them, complete with gum and “silver” foil wrap would just be silly.

  11. If there were arcane creatures, the country would be chock-a-block in them, when you take in account the continuous human occupation since… well, forever.

    If the guys in black spoke Latin, and turned out to be Templars (the Order of Christ having been to serve as a distraction), since Portugal was chock-a-block with arcane creatures which Denis I wanted thinned out, then you have your explanation of why Portugal isn’t overrun by arcane critters today.

    For some reason I imagined all that metal would be wielded against the eyes, with a description of them going off like napalm grapes. And if he had a metal pen, he could make a comment about dotting the eyes.

    Or if the men in black are Templars, they could be the ones with the all metal pens. Cross, of course.

    1. OK, there’s something there about the Templars crossing the t’s, but I can’t quite get my brain around it, so I thought I’d throw it out to the Huns as a sort of “exercize for the reader” pun…

        1. OK, so that means there’s another inserted-in-the-middle Sharpe book/movie called Sharpe’s Monsters, where Sharpe and a small band of survivors of the 95th Rifles latest escapades, trapped behind enemy lines during the Peninsula Campaign, meet up with the founders of the Negro Fado…

            1. Think of Sgt. Harper’s trauma having to shoot seven silver musket balls at a time from his melee gun. God Save Ireland.

            1. That is utterly and completely evil… and awesome… and now you just need to sell Bernard Cornwell on it. 😛

    2. Maybe because they’re busy running Portugal? 😉

      Thanks for posting this, Sarah.

      1. Templars owned big chunks of the Christan bits of Spain and Portugal, where they (or lay knight associate members) ran farms that helped fund (and horse) the war effort in Palestine. But that did not leave much time for fighting Paynims in Spain or Portugal, hence all the in-country military orders.

  12. Excellent! I hate to nitpick your dream accuracy, but I’m surprised Grant wouldn’t have thought ahead about using the picks as weapons and placed them where he could get to them quickly. Pppppp and all that.

  13. An excellent trailer, spoilt only by the fact I cannot go immediately to buy the book. 🙂

  14. “And then it’s his SOLE DECISION.”
    SOLE DECISION sounds like an espionage thriller set in the high stakes world of shoe making. You know, Blurb Havington was a simple shoemaker. Until one day his new buckle design was stolen by Russian agents. Blurb is plunged into a world of spies, intrigue, and hobnails where nothing is as it seems. Or isn’t it????

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