The Demon Sword Asperides


By Sarah Jean Horwitz

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$22.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 11, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A scheming demon sword and a wannabe knight band together on a (possibly wicked) quest in this fantasy, perfect for fans of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett.

For the past two hundred years, the demon sword Asperides has led a quiet life. While his physical form has been tasked with guarding the body of an evil sorcerer, the rest of his consciousness has taken a well-earned vacation. That constant need to trick humans into wielding him (at the price of their very souls, of course) was rather draining.

Nack Furnival, on the other hand, is far from satisfied with his existence. Nack has trained since birth to be a brave and noble knight—but, unfortunately, he isn’t especially good at it. Determined to prove his worth, Nack needs a quest. And to complete that quest, he’ll need the one thing no knight can do without: a sword.

When an attempt to resurrect the evil sorcerer throws Asperides into Nack’s path, the demon sword can’t help but trick the boy into making a contract to become his new owner. And with the newly undead (and very, very angry) sorcerer on their trail, Asperides and Nack find themselves swept up in a bigger adventure than either of them bargained for: saving the world.


A Nack for Trouble

T he sounds of the battle rang in Nack Furnival's ears. Swords clanging and scraping. People yelling and grunting—sometimes in anger, sometimes in fear, and sometimes in pain. It was hard to tell which in the heat of the moment. Even the sounds of the nearby sea permeated the battle. Somehow, the crashing of waves echoed in Nack's head just as loudly as the violent din around him.

Or perhaps that was just the blood pounding in his ears.

He'd run inside Castle Clyffidil with the rest of the knights, encased in a protective crush of bodies. But now they had separated, the knight in front of him gone to fight one of Lord Solonos's men, the knight to the side of him to ward off the blow of another, until it seemed that only Nack was left, clutching his sword and running down a darkened stone hall without the slightest idea of where he was going.

Time sped up—or maybe slowed down?—and suddenly the boy was in front of Nack in the small courtyard. His lip quivered and his eyes were wide but defiant. He was barely Nack's age, if that. He had no sword of his own.

"Stop him!" cried a voice from somewhere above Nack's head. He turned and saw Declan, armor glistening and face scowling, on a balcony a few floors above them. Declan turned, perhaps to fight an enemy of his own, and Nack faced the boy again.

The boy stood, frozen with fear, perhaps not even realizing he could have taken advantage of Nack's distraction.

"S-surrender," Nack stuttered. His sword shook in his hand as he pointed it. He never imagined he'd be pointing this sword—this sword that was destined to become an angel blade—at another person. "Surrender and come with me, and you'll be taken prisoner with the others."

"Just kill him, Nack!" Declan's voice came again over the balcony, this time hoarse with exertion. "Do it now!"

"What?" Nack nearly choked in surprise, spinning toward the sound of Declan's voice. This time, the boy seized his opportunity. He rushed Nack, ducking under Nack's sword and sending them both crashing to the ground. For a moment, they were nothing but a confusing tangle of limbs—a pile of boy, thrown elbows and jabbing knees and scratching fingers. A few grunts and curses. Nack's face pressed into stone and bits of dirt and straw; he spat some out and almost laughed when the boy made a noise that sounded suspiciously like, "Yuck!" And in the heat of the tussle, he quietly let the sword slip from his fingers, praying that neither of them would be so unfortunate as to fall on it.

He gave it a swift kick for good measure.

The boy paused above Nack, his fist raised, looking like he didn't quite know what to do with himself.

"NACK!" Declan shouted.

"Go," Nack whispered.

The boy's eyes widened, but after one last shove that rattled Nack's teeth, he clambered over Nack's bruised body—none too gently, considering his life had just been saved, Nack thought—and ran pell-mell into the corridor beyond.

Nack closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath that turned into a cough. He groaned, opened his eyes, and looked straight up at Declan glowering down at him.

He had never seen his older brother look more furious.


The shout jolted Nack awake. His heart pounded in his chest as if his body still thought he was back in the heat of the battle, still running along the battlements of Castle Clyffidil. He wasn't sure where he was . . . until the smell of horse dung gave him a swift reminder.

"What part of 'we ain't got no rooms to let' told you, 'go ahead and make your own room, then'?" The burly innkeeper stood in the stable doorway, his stocky figure silhouetted by sunlight. He held a rake in one hand, and it didn't look like he was preparing to use it on the hay.

Nack rubbed the sleep from his eyes, wincing as he poked himself in the face with the hay that had stuck to his palms . . . and every inch of him, apparently. He spat some out and tried to brush the rest off his front, but it was a lost cause.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I didn't have—"

"Does this look like a room for rent?" demanded the innkeeper. "Or perhaps a charity hostel, considering you haven't paid?"

Nack stood quickly but kept his head down, unable to meet the man's eyes. He knew the only reason the innkeeper wasn't being even harsher was because Nack was still in the clothes of a young nobleman—a young nobleman down on his luck, perhaps, but a nobleman all the same. It wasn't so long ago that if Sir Declan Furnival, Nack, and their retinue—and he'd definitely have had a retinue—had entered this inn, they'd have been given the finest rooms, perhaps even free of charge, if the owner noticed the knights' angel blades.

But those days were behind Nack now. He was quickly running out of the small amount of money he'd been given, and he had no horse. Last night, he'd faced the choice of either sneaking into the stable for the night or being stuck out on the roads after dark. Even under the light of the two moons, he'd have been mad to travel along the wooded roads alone. If stray spirits or other creatures weren't about—and that was unlikely—chances were, knights and soldiers involved with the interclan fighting were. And a warm bed of hay had seemed like the most comfortable mattress in the world after the past few days.

"I-I'm sorry, sir," said Nack to the innkeeper. "I won't trouble you anymore. I'm leaving right now. I just need to . . ." Nack glanced around his sleeping spot. His scabbard must be right there . . .

But the only thing in his dirty corner of the stable was a Nack-shaped indent in the hay.

"What you need is to leave my property before I set the dogs on you, boy!" threatened the innkeeper. He took a step forward and shook the rake in his hand.

"Sorry, I just . . . it must be here . . ." A cold, heavy feeling settled in Nack's gut. He fell to his knees, feeling desperately in the hay for his sword. The sword his father had given him on his twelfth birthday. The sword he had sworn to protect House Furnival with. The sword that had been the only thing he was allowed to keep other than the clothes on his back. The sword that was his only hope of salvation if he wanted to regain his honor and return to his family.

His fingers met only dirt and more hay. It wasn't until he felt the poke of the rake in his backside that he realized the innkeeper was still shouting at him.


"Wait—ouch—no, I'm going, I just—"

Another shove. Nack was about to protest when he heard the unmistakable clang of steel on steel outside. He ducked out from under the reach of the innkeeper's rake and made a beeline for the door.

"And may that be the last of you!" said the innkeeper behind him, but Nack was hardly listening. He had stopped short just outside the doorway of the stables. There in the yard was a group of older boys—locals, it looked like, and none wearing clan colors. They shoved each other, horsing around and laughing. In one of their hands was a sword that was unmistakably Nack's.

Nack groaned, gripping the sides of his head with his hands.

"No," he breathed. They must have taken it while he was sleeping. Some future knight he was, that his weapon could be snatched out from under him while he drooled on his pillow! "No, no, no."

Though they were far across the busy yard of the inn, one or two of the boys must have noticed Nack watching them, judging by the snickering and pointing.

The boy with the sword, tall and blond and pimply and at least fifteen, brandished it in the air. Nack, who was no great swordsman himself, cringed at the boy's form. At this rate, the sword's new owner was more likely to take his own eye out than anything else.

"Missing something, young sir?" asked the boy, putting on a horrendous imitation of a posh accent that Nack fervently hoped sounded nothing like his own. The other boys laughed, and another one with a blade made a feint for Pimply Blond, who was forced to pause in his taunting of Nack to block the halfhearted strike. The rest of the servants and townspeople bustled along their business in the yard and in the street beyond, thoroughly ignoring the group, which Nack admitted was probably wise. There wasn't much worth antagonizing a gang of miscreants waving around naked steel.

Except regaining one's honor, family, and place in the world.

Nack took a step forward, ready to . . . well, do something, and was surprised to feel a hand clamp down firmly on his shoulder.

The innkeeper stood next to him, scowling at someone other than Nack for a change. He shook his head at the boys.

"I'd leave it be, if I were you, son," said the innkeeper. "There's more where that lot came from, and you . . . well . . ." He looked Nack up and down, taking in Nack's skinny frame and half-ruined clothes.

"If you want it, come and get it!" taunted one of the boys.

"I need my sword," Nack said. He shrugged off the innkeeper's grip but stayed where he was. There were at least six boys—young men, really—and two of them had swords. Nack didn't stand a chance.

There was no retinue traveling with him now.

"I'm not a charity," repeated the innkeeper. He looked at the boys again and then back at Nack. Poking Nack in the chest with the handle of the rake, he warned, "And I'm not a mortuary, either." He patted Nack's shoulder and tottered back into his stables, leaving Nack alone in the doorway.

"There's a copper piece and a bowl of soup for you if you help me with the one that kicks," called the innkeeper from the back of the barn. Nack stood still, gritting his teeth against the tears rising in his eyes. There were too many of them. If he were injured—or worse—in a fight with some stupid bullies, he might never be able to fulfill his bigger mission. He might never be able to complete a quest grand enough to gain reentry into the Furnival clan.

The mocking didn't even last very long. The boys never came any closer—perhaps the innkeeper's prowess with the rake was a well-known deterrent of mischief on his own doorstep—and soon, another party passing by in the road caught their attention. They ambled away, lightly terrorizing everyone they passed. Nack didn't miss the last, smug look from Pimply Blond, though, and he didn't think he'd ever forget it.

"Once a coward, always a coward," it seemed to say.

Nack turned back to the stables with his ears burning, thankful for the innkeeper's kindness and resenting the fact he'd needed it in the first place. As he mucked out the stables in exchange for his breakfast, he took his frustration out on the hay, stabbing at it until he worked himself up into a sweat.

He didn't need his sword. It wasn't even an angel blade yet—just plain steel. He would get another someday, and that sword would be the sword he was known for. He still wore his bandolier full of candles that the thieves had left surprisingly untouched—probably because they hadn't realized its value.

He could still find a quest.

He would still find a quest. He would prove himself worthy of being a Furnival. He'd put the events at Castle Clyffidil behind him and rejoin the fight against the evil House Solonos. Even Declan would welcome him back with open arms, after all the very heroic things he would certainly do. Slaying monsters. Exorcizing demons. Gallantly saving maidens from . . . whatever unspecified supernatural dangers happened to be lurking about at the time. Whatever it was, he'd do it.

It must be said that even a Nack in high dudgeon was not a very fearsome sight, and so even the nervous horse did not deem him enough of a threat to kick out as she usually would. She even treated him to an affectionate snort in the face.

"I think she likes you," said the innkeeper, patting the horse as Nack finished cleaning her stall.

At least someone does, thought Nack.

The Prophecy

Asperides was not sure how much time had passed since he'd first sensed Amyral's attempted resurrection. The tingling sensations were gone—departed with that small piece of soul, most likely—and now he only felt a sense of impending doom. Though only slightly different from his usual grim outlook on life, it was a distracting feeling. He decided to seek out company to distract himself from his distraction.

And so Asperides found himself floating toward a not-quite-so-dark corner of the Wet Fang, as opposed to his usual lonely haunt. He let the chatter of the pub—demon and human languages mixing with the strange squelching, screeching, or hissing sounds only the residents of the underworld could make—ebb and flow around him like a tide. He didn't even protest when a couple of ghosts glided right through him by accident; judging by their shudders at making contact with his blade, it was the ghosts who got the rawer deal. He simply sat, aware of his drink—something green apple–flavored, Thom said; Asperides would have to take his word for it—shooting off small sparks on the table in front of him. He tried to lose himself in the problems of two goblins attempting to resolve a gambling debt; a vengeful spirit who couldn't seem to scare her murderer no matter how much she shrieked at him; a mid-level demon who was excited for a delivery of new torture instruments.

This was how Asperides first learned of the prophecy.

"The Missing Moon, that's right" came a voice to his left. Two hags were shuffling to the other end of the long table where Asperides had parked himself. He couldn't exactly sit, but he always made sure to float at chair height, so as not to make people nervous. Nobody, even the technically immortal or already deceased, liked a sword floating above their heads (or below anywhere else). The hags lowered themselves to the benches with much sighing and creaking of their ancient bones. Once they were settled, the one with scraggly blue-black hair and a hood that might have once been velvet, cleared her throat. The sound was like frogs dying.

"There's a prophecy and everything," said the hag in a stage-whisper. She took a great gulp of her drink and smacked her lips. "I heard it came from the priestesses themselves!"

"Could be a bit of wishful thinking though, couldn't it just?" asked the other hag, steepling her long yellow fingernails together. "'The Mission of the Missing Moon' . . . isn't that their whole schtick? Waiting around for the Missing Moon to return? Not a very solid foundation for a faith tradition, if you ask me—"

"Well, they'd be the ones to know then, wouldn't they? If the prophecy were real?" asked the blue-haired hag testily.

"Maybe they got tired of all the missing. Wanted something else to entertain themselves with."

"Oh, don't be such a spoilsport," said the first hag with a huff. "If it were true . . . think what it would mean. For the daylighters. For us. For magic."

Asperides kept himself very still while the hags continued their gossip. He knew very well the seriousness of anything to do with the daylight world's mysterious third moon. Their planet had been orbited by only two moons for so long that most of its inhabitants thought the third moon a myth. The Mission of the Missing Moon, however, believed otherwise. The order dedicated themselves to the magic of the third moon and the hope that one day, it might return to their skies. For most of his existence, Asperides had assumed their hope foolish at best and suicidal at worst. If the Missing Moon ever did return, it would upend the world as they knew it.

But he was getting ahead of himself. The hags hadn't said anything specific about the return of the Missing Moon—merely that there had been a prophecy concerning it. For all he knew, that prophecy could very well be, "No need to worry, the Missing Moon is going to keep floating around outer space all by itself for another twenty thousand years. Just checking in! Have a nice day."

Yet Asperides had his doubts.

The hags' conversation quickly strayed to other topics while they drained their drinks. Asperides quietly slipped away from the table.

He would have liked to ignore the hags' words, just as he'd tried to ignore the tingling feelings that preceded Amyral's attempted resurrection. He could have gone back to his dark corner of the Wet Fang and let another fifty years pass him by before he deigned to move again. Time passed differently for him, especially the last three hundred years or so, what with his physical form trapped in the land of the living. He had grown accustomed to being almost as much a ghost as the spirits that had passed through him earlier.

But news of the Missing Moon required investigation. That, combined with Amyral's stolen soul fragment, was too much of a coincidence for a demon sword worth his edge to ignore.

He started in the upper levels of the underworld first. He glided through the most crowded pubs—Bloody Mary's, Jack O'Lantern's, the Last Chance—and then the less crowded ones. He floated in the darkest corners of the darkest corners and up and down the main thoroughfares, listening. As he made his way downward, as the pubs and converted fairy-ring ruins and goblin markets gave way to the more industrial parts of the underworld, where down-on-their-luck demons and captured spirits worked in indentured servitude or punishment or simple captivity, he heard less and less chatter, but he still heard whispers.

"I heard the prophecy said the Missing Moon will return . . ."

There went that faint glimmer of hope, then.

"I heard the Missing Moon will raise all the dead . . ."

"I heard the Missing Moon will flip the worlds! Hope you're not allergic to sunlight!"

Each theory was more fanciful than the last, but the whispers persisted. They grew louder. And judging by the number of demons and spirits Asperides saw passing through the worlds, some of the rumors were true. He heard boasting from lesser demons who'd possessed new victims, and vengeful spirits who'd finally manifested after years of being nothing but a menacing aura or a cold spot in the daylight world. The barriers that kept them in the underworld were getting thinner, or moving, or both.

He eventually returned to the Wet Fang, turning over the various rumors in his mind. He hovered at the bar, hoping to hear more gossip, but the seats on either side of him stayed empty. It wasn't long before Thom the barkeep plopped a drink in front of him. The half-demon barman waved a thick and leathery hand through the wisps of black smoke emanating from Asperides and grimaced.

"You're scarin' away my customers with your . . . miasma of darkness, or whatever that is," Thom groused, shaking the black smoke from his sausage-like fingers. Some tendrils lingered, clinging to his fingers like sticky taffy, before he managed to wave them off. "Paying customers, I might add."

Most of the pubs in the underworld did not charge Asperides for his drinks. Firstly, because he was a demon sword. Secondly, because he didn't actually drink them, and they could then be served to less picky customers. Thirdly, because most proprietors seemed disturbed when Asperides offered payment in the form of free labor from some of the souls trapped inside of him. He could not imagine why.


Thom shook his head a little at the effect of Asperides's voice reverberating inside his skull and frowned, presumably at Asperides's use of the word "hell." It was the word many daylighters used to describe the underworld, and not one the underworld's original demonic inhabitants were very fond of. Despite what the humans thought, the underworld was not primarily in the business of being a human afterlife. With a few notable exceptions, only human souls with unfinished business when they died, or who died particularly violent deaths, became spirits in the underworld. The fate of the majority of daylighters' souls was as much of a mystery to the denizens of the underworld as anyone else.

The demons the humans feared were real enough, though, and so Asperides had never thought the label "hell" entirely inaccurate.


The barkeep huffed.


"Point taken, point taken," said Thom. "Stinkin' salt, I think that's the most I've ever heard you speak, old friend."


Thom held up his hands in a small gesture of surrender and turned to "cleaning" his bar with a rag. Asperides was fairly sure he'd been using that same rag for about two hundred years.

"Did you find what you were lookin' for?" asked Thom as he wiped, his tone light.

Asperides let another tendril of smoke drift over in Thom's direction and settle down upon the spot he'd just cleaned. Apparently, despite his attempts at being as inconspicuous as possible, Asperides's wanderings had not gone unnoticed.

"All right, all right," said Thom, re-wiping the spot Asperides had just blackened with soot. "How much can I pay you not to sit here anymore?"

Asperides did not dignify him with an answer.

"Just heard you were hankerin' after the Missing Moon rumors, is all," continued Thom with a shrug. "Believe you me, you're not the only one who wants to know exactly what that prophecy says."

SO THERE IS A PROPHECY. Asperides cursed himself for falling for the barkeep's bait so quickly, but he didn't have the luxury of feigning disinterest anymore. If the beams of the Missing Moon were to once again light the night sky . . .

TELL ME WHAT YOU KNOW OF IT, Asperides demanded.

Thom snorted and scratched at one of his horns.

"Gee, you're a friendly sort, aren't you?" the barkeep asked, chuckling. "What a wonder no one felt like spillin' their secrets with you lurkin' about!"


Thom raised a furry red eyebrow.


Thom stashed his rag and flashed a brief look around the pub before lowering his voice.

"I'm only tellin' you this because I am a friendly sort," said Thom. "And I don't know much, mind, but I have heard this: the Seer who made the prophecy is a novitiate with the Mission of the Missing Moon. Just a scrap of a girl, by the sound of it. But she's caused quite a stir, even in the daylight world."

Asperides didn't doubt it.

"Word is, the Mission's tryin' to keep it quiet," continued Thom. "Well, some of 'em. And that's the problem. Half of 'em want to lock her up for heresy, and the other half want to ready the sacrifices for the moon's 'glorious return,' and a goodly portion of both want to sacrifice her to the highest bidder. You know how much a genuine prophecy can sell for. I almost feel sorry for the poor girl."

Asperides was itching to ask about the contents of the prophecy, but despite Thom's teasing about his eavesdropping skills, Asperides had many years of gossip-gathering under his hilt, and so he kept silent. In his experience, once you got them going, people—including demons—loved to talk. Hold a silence for just long enough, and they'd say something to fill it. Thom was no exception.

"This is all hearsay from outside the Mission, of course. Those folk may worship the Missing Moon, but they've got plenty of moon magic from the other two to keep their convent well-warded against our kind—hence the lack of specifics on the prophecy." He winked. "But if the rumors are true, and the third moon really is returnin' . . . well, that'll be somethin', won't it?"

Now it was Thom the barkeep's turn to look expectant. Everyone knew the myths about demon swords being forged in the light of the Missing Moon—that only a handful had been made with its magic, and after its disappearance, none could ever be made again. That the power of the demon swords, as fearsome as it was, was only a fraction of what it could be should the moon return and shine its light again. That just as these swords had been made in the light of the third moon, so too could they be unmade.

It was this last myth that concerned Asperides the most.

Thom, unfortunately, would have to learn to live with his curiosity. Asperides gave him no answer, but the demon sword did rein in his various smoking bits for the few remaining minutes he stayed at the bar and attempted to make his gleaming black blade look a little less threatening. It was not nearly as successful as some of the glamours he could cast on himself in the daylight world, but Thom seemed to take it as the kindness as it was meant.


  • ★ "The rollicking story is endlessly inventive and terrifically funny, and the chatty text is suffused with sarcasm and silliness, though kindness beats at the heart of it all…. Fantasy fans will adore the hilarious but incredibly heartfelt adventure."

     —Booklist, starred review
  • ★ "Horwitz’s middle-grade fantasy is quirky and fun but also nuanced and complex. Chapters shift in point of view as the narrative threads are woven together with masterful dexterity. Readers are clued in before the characters, and the journeys to their various places of self-discovery are wholly enjoyable. Asperides is delightful, imbued with hilarious snark and a gray moral compass…. An exciting and well-wrought romp."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • "Employing thoughtful subversions of classic fantasy tropes to explore themes of good vs. evil and the power of change, Horwitz (The Dark Lord Clementine) crafts a clever adventure that is at once humorous, thrilling, and touching."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Perfect for fans of Howl's Moving Castle. . . A perfect first step into fantasy for any reader, big or small."—Young Adult Books Central
  • “Horwitz gives us a narrative with well-written characters, dialogue, and action, all packaged in a neat story of honor, good vs. evil, and doing the right thing.”—Youth Services Book Review
  • Praise for The Dark Lord Clementine:
  • “A hilariously heartwarming magical adventure . . . Clementine [is] a remarkably three-dimensional character. Her imperfections, many failures and constant letdowns make her likable and relatable. Her ridiculous antics…will charm and delight young readers. . . The Dark Lord Clementine is infused with humor and adventure, but the foundation of the story—friendship, loyalty and compassion—never wavers. . . This clever, inventive novel knows the value of a good-versus-evil story that is served fresh, yet familiar.”—The New York Times Book Review
  • "Chock-full of the cheerfully macabre . . . This quirky novel stands out from the crowd in its hilarity and its compelling premise; give it to readers who like villains who aren’t, really."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
  • "Horwitz has created a perfect blend of wit and heart in this fresh fantasy adventure . . . Highly recommended, this title will keep a wide variety of readers entertained with its compelling characters and witty twists on the fairy-tale universe."—School Library Journal
  • "Horwitz primes readers to expect the unexpected—and delivers. . . .Horwitz’s ingenuity for bizarre enchantment and characterization proves boundless . . . In a wry, satisfying ending, Clementine hints at future enchantments ahead.”—Publishers Weekly
  • “The castle is full of sorcery and cleverly devised magical objects, and the legends about the mountains surrounding it give Horwitz’s imagined world a unique history. The story has plenty of heart and charm. Themes of trust, forgiveness, and belonging deepen this enjoyable fantasy.”—The Horn Book
  • “The descriptions of magical beings are fittingly awe-inspiring. . . This inventive fantasy twists conventions while involving readers through good storytelling laced with irony and wit."—Booklist
  • “After luring readers in with wordplay and tongue-in-cheek, genre-savvy humor, the plot takes an emotionally rich thematic turn, dwelling on community and forgiveness—all the while building toward a mythical, mystical arc involving the unicorn. The few action sequences are mined for utmost impact, as are the slice-of-life scenes and flashback vignettes. . . Absolutely delightful.”—Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
Jul 11, 2023
Page Count
352 pages

Sarah Jean Horwitz

About the Author

Sarah Jean Horwitz was raised in suburban New Jersey, where she lived next door to a cemetery and down the street from an abandoned fairy tale theme park, which probably explains a lot. Her love of storytelling grew from listening to her mother’s original “fractured” fairy tales, a childhood spent in community theater, and far too many rereads of her favorite fantasy books. She now lives with her spouse in Massachusetts, where she somehow ended up down the street from a cemetery again. (No knights in shining armor or wizards' towers in sight this time, though.) Find Sarah Jean online at

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