Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 179,112,207 Issue: 439 | 16th day of Eating, Y12
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Werelupe Chronicles: The Search - Part One


by dragon_soul__

--------

“Oh Flick, what have you done this time?” sobbed a greying shadow Xweetok sitting at her tiny kitchen table. “First Tioryn, and now you!”

     The Xweetok stood up and went to the window. Looking out, she let her gaze sweep over the dark expanse of Werelupe Forest.

     “I did my best to protect you,” she whispered, as a single tear rolled down her cheek. “Both of you.”

     ***

     “When you said you were going out to find your father,” Marion said angrily, “I didn’t know you meant Werelupe Forest.”

     “The only thing I know was that he was bitten in a village further south, and hasn’t been seen since,” Flick, the young white Lupe, called as he pulled away some branches to let his friend through.

     “Look, Flick. You should have told me we were coming here! In advance!” Marion growled.

     “You said you’d come with me, wherever we’re going!” Flick argued.

     “Well, yeah, I would. I would have still come with you if you had told me we were coming here.”

     “Oh... sorry...” Flick said vaguely.

     “Hmph. Would have put on some more practical clothes if you’d told me we were coming here,” Marion muttered, snatching her blue pleated skirt of another branch. Flick had told her so suddenly that she didn’t even have time to change out of her neoschool uniform.

     “Hey, keep up! We have to find a safe place for the night!” Flick yelled from a clearing ahead. He waited for Marion to catch up, and then continued.

     “So,” she said after a while. “What’s the plan now?”

     “Survive the night. Saying that, I don’t think there’ll be much difference between day and night in here,” Flick said, glancing up at the trees. He’d been in the Haunted Woods many times, especially the places where he was alone with the trees. But here, well... Werelupe Forest was just so different from the Haunted Woods.

     Marion stopped.

     “You mean you have no idea what to do at all?!”

     “Basically, no.” He grinned. “But at least I know what to look out for!”

     Marion groaned. She remembered the time back when she had first met the white Lupe. Flick had insisted that she come with him to explore the Haunted Woods. He had said exactly the same then, and what had happened? She had fallen into a trap and been stuck in the Woods for weeks.

     “We’re both going to die.” Marion sighed dramatically and pushed Flick into a bush.

      ***

     They had been travelling for hours, and it was getting dark. In the already gloomy Werelupe Forest, nightfall meant danger for most of its inhabitants.

     “Can’t we stop for a bit?” Flick complained loudly. “We’ve been going for ages!”

     “No, not until we find a place that isn’t infested with scary, pet-eating petpets,” Marion replied, stopping to wait for her friend once more.

     “Hey! How was I supposed to know about those?” Flick exclaimed, kicking aside a dead branch.

     “You said you knew what to look out for, and you know, the bones were a dead giveaway!”

     “Ha ha, what a pun!” Flick started laughing, but stopped as he saw the look on Marion’s face.

     “Hmph,” was all she said and walked on.

     They had come to a clearing about half an hour ago. I was the perfect place to stay the night; it even had a spring towards the edge of it. Marion hated it as soon as she looked at it, but Flick had insisted that they stay there. Luckily, Marion had stayed awake, and they had managed to get away before the petpets did any serious harm.

     Nothing much had happened that day. Soon after setting off, Flick had managed to lose the path. From then on, Marion had led the way.

     ***

     “Well, can we stop here?” Flick, tired, hungry and wet, moaned as they emerged into a clearing.

     After looking around, Marion sighed and said, “I suppose.”

     “Well then, it’s a shame this place is already taken,” a quiet voice said from above them.

     Both young Lupes spun round, but neither of them found anything.

     “It’s funny,” said the voice, “that no-one can ever find me.”

     Flick looked up. Sitting on a branch high above them was a small starry Pteri.

     “Oh... Er, sorry, but, you see, we’ve got nowhere else to go...”

     Marion also looked up.

     “Yeah, because Flick, here, got us hopelessly lost while he was searching for his father. So, if you don’t mind, we’d like to spend the night here...”

     “Oh, I don’t mind,” the Pteri said in her quiet voice. “But the giant Spyders do. So, you might want to get up a tree, sharp-ish.”

     One crack of a twig behind them sent both Flick and Marion scrambling up a tree.

     “Thanks for the warning.” Marion scowled at the Pteri once they had reached her height.

     “No problem.” She grinned, her voice a lot louder now that they were closer. “I’m Psellia. Nice to meet you!”

     “I’m Flick,” Flick introduced himself. “And that’s Marion! Oh, and despite what she says, I did not lose the path. I got an A+ in navigation, so it must have been the path that lost us...”

     “Yeah, but the only reason you got that A+ was because your leader was directionally challenged himself,” Marion retorted and stuck her tongue out. “And anyway, I got an A+ on my first try, where you had to do the test five times before you even passed.”

     “Sounds like you two have a lot of fun travelling together.” Psellia laughed. “I personally don’t really need to stick to paths, so I don’t have a problem.”

     “Lucky you,” Marion muttered.

     “So, what are you doing in the forest anyway?” Flick asked. “I thought there were only Werelupes and petpets in here,” he asked, leaning against the trunk of his tree.

     “Are you a Werelupe?” Psellia asked. “No, didn’t think so. Well, I was travelling the Lost Desert one day, and I came to this little village. The people there were rather mad, and were convinced I was a witch.”

     Both Marion and Flick burst out laughing.

     “Ha ha, so what did they do then?” Marion asked between giggles.

     “They just chucked me into the forest, and I’ve been here ever since.” Psellia was laughing now, too.

     “So you mean Werelupe Forest goes all the way down to the Lost Desert?” Flick said after they had calmed down.

     “Pretty much, yeah,” Psellia said, settling down onto her branch again.

     “Wow, that’s an awfully big forest,” Marion said.

     “No wonder the path lost us,” Flick said. “Ouch! Hey, stop that!”

     Marion was throwing twigs against Flick’s head. Hard. She did stop, but only as she yawned and leaned her head back against her bag.

     “Trees aren’t the most comfortable place to sleep on when you’re wearing a skirt,” she mumbled before falling into a deep sleep.

     “I suppose we should get some sleep, too.” Psellia yawned.

     Flick nodded, but it was a long time before he finally fell asleep.

     ***

     “Marion... Marion, wake up!...”

     “It’s still too early...” Marion grumbled as someone consistently tapped her shoulder. “...Go away...”

     “I will not go away until you get up. So, you should get up, now.” Psellia kept poking the moaning Lupess.

     “Here, you’ve got to do this,” Flick joined in, and cracked a large branch in half. Marion was so startled that she fell out of the tree.

     “I’m alright!...” Her voice floated up of the forest ground.

     Flick and Psellia laughed so much that they almost fell out of the tree themselves.

     “Hmph,” grumbled Marion as she gingerly rubbed her sore nose. Already she could feel a huge bruise coming on.

     She stopped rubbing her throbbing nose, and looked around. She could hear the steady gurgle of water from somewhere to her left. Marion stood up and walked over to it.

     After drinking her fill, Marion stood up and brushed herself down. The long trek through the forest the day before had left her clothes filthy, and they was ripped quite a bit on the sleeves and skirt. Her hair had managed to collect various leaves and twigs, most of which she managed to untangle. She had never really bothered with her hair.

     Turning back to the clearing, she thought she saw something out of the corner of her eye. After looking at the tree from which it came, Marion shrugged it off and decided it was probably just her imagination.

     This thought, however, didn’t last long.

     “Ah!” She gasped as she had to dodge to the side, and a sudden tremor running along the ground made her fall over and land in a puddle. Where she had been standing a moment before, a large boulder was sitting in the mud. It had splashed her, and now she was even muddier than before.

     Shakily, Marion stood up and walked round the boulder. Someone - or something - hadn’t just aimed it at her, right? No, she was imagining things.

     Marion returned to the clearing and found Flick and Psellia were gone.

     “Trust them to run away when I leave,” Marion said angrily, although she was very worried. She decided to stay in the clearing for a bit longer, to see if any of her friends came back.

     While she waited, she thought about the boulder. Where did it come from? Marion remembered that there had been a tall cliff next to the water. And she was sure that she had heard something coming from up there.

     The Lupess was jolted out of her thoughts when something small and black landed on the floor next to her. Slowly, she bent down to see what it was.

     It was a stone. As she turned around, another stone came hurtling towards her, hitting the royal Lupess on the nose.

     “Ouch! Watch it!” She yelled. She rubbed her nose with one paw while picking up a stone and chucking it into the shrubs with the other.

     “Marion!”

     Marion looked round.

     “Flick!” She stood up. “Where were you?!”

     “Looking for you, of course,” Flick said. “Where have you been? Your nose is bleeding!”

     “Just getting a drink, actually,” Marion growled, but then softened. “And dodging boulders.”

     “Huh?” Flick was always a bit slow at times like this.

     “Someone threw a boulder at you?” Psellia asked in terror as she, too, swooped into the clearing.

     Nodding, Marion pointed back from where she came.

     “I was just walking back here, when it fell down from the sky right next to me,” She said. “And then guess what happens? As I’m standing here, waiting for you, more stones get chucked at me!”

     “Spooky,” Flick said. “But you‘re probably just imagining things!”

     Marion didn’t answer. She was rather annoyed at Flick for not believing her.

     “Well,” Psellia said after everyone had stared at Marion long enough. “Time to be moving on, I suppose.”

     “Yes, it is,” agreed Marion, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her shirt. It should stop bleeding soon, she figured.

     “Well, we came from that way,” Flick said, pointing in the opposite direction to which they actually came, “so we should go that way now.”

     “No way,” Marion said, catching hold of the back of Flick’s coat. “You’re heading the wrong way, again.”

     Grumbling, Flick turned around again.

     “So, what about you, Psellia?” he asked.

     “Me? Oh, I’ll just fly around the woods, as always,” she said rather sadly.

     “Come with us, if you want,” Marian said, glaring at Flick before he could protest.

     “Really?”

     “Of course!” Marion exclaimed, then whispered in the Pteri’s ear. “But don’t expect to be finding anything soon. You’ve seen how bad Flick is with navigating!”

     Both girls laughed and led the way into the forest. Scowling, Flick followed.

     ***

     That day passed with as little happening as the last. As night fell, the three travellers found a small cave to sleep in.

     Marion collected a whole pile of dry wood, and set about trying to light a fire. Flick and Psellia had set off to find some food.

     Eventually, Marion got a spark, and soon, the fire was roaring. Taking a strong branch, Marian set light to it and went to explore the cave.

     Apart from a nest of spyders, Marion found nothing until she returned to the fire. When she got there, she saw a Lupe sitting beside the fire.

     “Flick?” she asked softly. Something was different about this Lupe.

     The Lupe turned round. It wasn’t Flick.

     Marion gasped and stepped back. Standing up, the Lupe was at least twice as big as Flick, and his fur was thick and matted. The Lupe stepped forward and held out his paw. One of his eyes was red, Marion noticed.

     “Y-you want this?” she asked, taking her purse out of her pocket. The Lupe shook his head and gestured at the burning branch in Marion’s paw.

     “O-oh, here y-you go,” she stuttered, handing him the torch. The Lupe stared at Marion for a moment, then dropped a longbow and arrows at her feet. Then, torch held between his teeth, the Lupe bounded off into the darkness.

     Marion stared out long after he was gone. A lone howl rang through the night. Eventually, she jerked back and clutched her head.

     “What in Neopia?!?!”

     ***

     “I can’t believe you made me chuck those berries away!” Flick growled as he stomped back to the cave.

     “They were poisonous!” Psellia yelled back.

     “They were the only thing we could find!”

     “Better to not eat than to get poisoned.”

     Flick just stormed into the cave, where Marion sat with her arms around her knees, watching the flames dancing. Over the fire hung five strips of meat.

     “Find anything?” she asked quietly, still staring at the fire.

     “No,” Flick snorted angrily. “How did you get that?” He pointed at the meat.

     Marion didn’t say anything, but pushed the bow towards Flick and Psellia.

     “And how did you get that?” Flick continued. “It fell out of the rock?”

     Marion looked at him. “No.”

     “Well, where did you get it?”

     “Can’t you see she doesn’t want to talk about it right now?” Psellia argued.

     As the two argued, Marion pulled the meat of the fire and started chewing it. Once Psellia and Flick had calmed down, they had some too.

     “Mm, this tastes good,” Flick munched. “Could have done with some of my berries, though.”

     Psellia returned his glare, but did not argue.

     After eating, Marion went straight to sleep, curled up at the far side of the cave, leaving Flick and Psellia to argue about who would sleep next the entrance. In the end, they too settled down and went to sleep.

     Once again, a long howl rang out through the air.

     ***

     The next morning, Marion was back to usual. Munching on a piece of meat, she told the others about her encounter with the Lupe.

     “And then he just runs away,” she said with a full mouth. After thinking for a moment. “I think he was a Werelupe.”

     Both Flick and Psellia were silent. It wasn’t a good sign that their friend was being followed.

     “What?” Marion asked, swallowing hard.

     “Nothing,” Psellia said quickly.

     “So, anyway, what kind of meat is this? It’s delicious,” Flick said.

     “Promise you won’t freak if I tell you?” Both pets shook their heads. “Then it was a Jinjah.”

     That wasn’t true; it had been the meat of one of the spyders in the back of the cave. And usually, spyders weren’t regarded as edible.

     Once they had packed up their little belongings, Marion slung her new bow over her shoulder and set off once more.

     ***

     They continued to travel through the woods, day after day, spending the nights in caves or trees. Nothing happened, however, until a week after the Werelupe incident.

     “How long have we been in this forest now?” Flick groaned as they set off again one morning.

     “Obviously not as long as I have,” Psellia argued, flying round his head a couple of times. “So I should be the one complaining!”

     “Oh, stop being so pessimistic!” Marion called from further ahead.

     “Well, unlike you, we’re finding it a bit hard being happy in this horrible place,” Flick snapped.

     “I don’t know how she’s kept her spirits up all the time,” Psellia muttered.

     “It’s called optimism, maybe you should try it sometime,” Marion sang back. “You just don’t like it that you haven’t got any freebies or anything.”

     “Speaking of which,” Flick growled. “I still want to know why you have it.”

     “I told you where I got it.” Marion stopped and waited for her friends to catch up.

     Flick just growled, and Psellia let out an annoyed squawk.

     “Hey, what’s this?” Flick bent down as he saw something shine among the leaves. As Marion had stalked off, and Psellia was trying once again to fly above the trees, Flick picked it up.

     It was a bottle. A strange, earthy green light seemed to come from it. When he held it up to his eye, Flick saw that a faerie was trapped inside.

     “Hey, Flick,” Marion yelled. “What have you got there?”

     Without answering, Flick opened the bottle and helped the tiny faerie out. She glowed brightly for a moment, then the light dimmed and Flick could see her properly.

     “Thank you so much, I thought I was never going to get out of here! And you did it right next to my home, wow; I never thought I’d be so lucky...”

     “Um, you’re welcome...?”

     “Oh, it was terrible in that bottle. Terrible. But now I’m out, and that’s all that matters! And it’s all because of you! Oh, I should give you something. But what? Ah, I see. You are looking for your father right? Yeah, I know. This should help -”

     The faerie cleared her throat and said in a serious voice:

     “The one you seek lives far away,

     And you’ll be too late to help,

     Unless you use your precious gift,

     Protect her, Flick, protect her.

     “Deep inside you all may lie

     The answer to your problems,

     All three of you must listen now,

     Listen to your instincts!”

     Psellia and Marion had joined him to hear the faerie speak. He was assuming they had heard only the second bit. Flick was glad about that; it wouldn’t be very nice for him if they were expecting him to protect them...

     “And what does that mean?” Marian asked.

     “Sorry, I can’t tell you that, you have to figure it out yourself! Well, anyway, I’ve got to go now, only I don’t want to leave you, you’ve been such good company...”

     The three could hear her chattering happily to a passing slorg as they continued on their path.

     ***

     That night, they camped in a tree. Marion went out to hunt for petpets, and Flick went to look for water; leaving Psellia to set up the camp.

     Flick was having a hard time finding water. He kept hearing it, but could never see it.

     “Trust your instincts,” he muttered as he remembered the faerie’s words. “Yeah, right!”

     Eventually, after quite a bit of searching, Flick found a small stream running through some rocks. It was little more than a trickle; no where near enough for three pets who had been travelling all day.

     He decided to follow it. After all, he thought, something might have fallen across it, acting like a dam.

     The rocks were wet and slippery, so Flick had to get down on his paws and knees to stop falling over. It was worth it, though; soon he came to a deep pool of water. A land slide had blocked the water’s path, letting only a trickle pass.

     “Great,” Flick said. “Now the only problem is... how do I get it back?”

     After sitting and thinking, Flick finally gave up. There was just no other way to get to it than to actually come here.

     Sighing, Flick stood up and slowly went back to where Psellia and Marion were waiting for him, trying to memorise the way.

     “No petpets?” Flick asked as he saw that Marion had only brought back a bagful of berries.

     “No, it suddenly occurred to me that, with no fire, we wouldn’t be able to cook them,” Marion said and popped some berries into her mouth. “And yes, uncooked meat is as bad as everyone says. I’ve tried it,” she added as Psellia started to ask.

     “Didn’t you find any water?” Psellia asked Flick.

     “Well, I did, but I was kind of stuck on how to get it over here,” Flick said. “I know the way there, though.”

     “Well, how about I come with you, and we take a bag,” Marion said. As they left, Psellia flew up to have a look above the treetops.

     “So,” Marion said after a while of walking. “Where exactly is this water?”

     “We’re almost there,” Flick said. “See that rock over there? Got to climb over it, then there’s a pool of water.”

     Flick started walking towards the rock, Marion following behind him. When they got there, Flick climbed up again, and reached down to help Marion up.

     “Not very clean, is it,” Marion wrinkled her nose at it. Earlier, Flick had been too happy about actually finding anything to notice what it was like.

     “We could always follow the stream up, it might get a bit cleaner there,” Flick suggested. Marion nodded and started walking.

     Soon, they came to a tunnel through which the water ran. It wasn’t tall enough for either of them to stand up straight in, but not low enough for them to have to crawl on their paws and knees, either. To get through, they would have to walk bent nearly in double.

     “We could always go round it,” Flick said after they both stared at it for a while.

     “The stream starts in there; it doesn’t come out the other side,” Marion said after peering through. “And there isn’t enough water out here.”

     “I hate tunnels,” Flick grumbled.

     “I’ll go first, then,” Marion sighed and walked in. After a bit, she noticed that Flick hadn’t come in yet. “You don’t have to come in if you don’t want to!” she called back.

     “Um... Ok then, I’ll just stay outside, then... I’ll be at the other end!”

     Marion shook her head, not that anyone could have seen it in the dark tunnel. She heard Flick’s footsteps as he scrambled across the tunnel's roof. It was a very long tunnel, and after a while her back began to ache. Marion paused for a bit, and could see Flick at the other end of the tunnel. She squinted down at the floor, to just about see water beneath her feet. She continued through the tunnel, and remembered what the faerie had said earlier. Listen to your instincts. Unless she was mistaken, her instincts were telling her that it would be a lot more comfortable to get down and walk on all fours.

     Experimentally, she put her bag in her mouth and placed her paws on the ground. She walked forward a couple of steps, and found it kind of awkward. But after a couple of more steps, it began to get easier. Her back didn’t hurt anymore, and now she could feel the water, which she couldn’t have done through her shoes. I could get used to walking like this, Marion thought to herself.

     Flick, who hadn’t seen what she was doing, but only the dark shape of his friend suddenly dip down, was quite worried.

     “Marion! Are you all right?” he called into the tunnel, trying to see even the tiniest detail.

     “I’m fine! I think I found the spring where the water comes up,” Marion called back.

     She had actually found it; but instead of just a simple spring, it was a deep pool, stretching almost the length of the tunnel.

     “Great,” she muttered to herself. First, she pulled her bag through the water, making sure it was full to the top. Then, after checking it was done up properly, she stepped into the water.

     It was deeper than she expected. Well, she certainly couldn’t stand in it, anyway, and it was ice cold. As she swam across, bag still in her mouth, she thought, The quicker I get out of here, the better.

     Flick, who was starting to get pins and needles in his foot, was even more alarmed when the figure of his friend disappeared all together. He found that for some reason, he couldn’t call out to her. How long it lasted, Flick didn’t know, but eventually, Marion popped up again, and soon she was out of the tunnel, dripping and walking on all for paws.

     “What were you doing?” Flick yelled.

     “My back hurt,” Marion complained as she shook her head and dropped the bag gently on the ground. “So I thought of what the faerie said. You know, about our instincts? And I thought it would be easier to walk on all four paws. Which it was. But then, when I found the spring, it was in the middle of this really deep pool, which was almost as long as the tunnel itself, so I had to swim across that and it was really cold, so now I’m very wet and very cold. Besides, we should get back soon; I think the bag is leaking.” As if to prove her point, Marion shivered and hugged herself to try and warm up.

     Shaking his head, Flick put his coat round Marion’s shoulders, picked up the bag, and headed back to camp.

     ***

     Marion sneezed. At least three weeks had passed since she caught the cold, but so far it had only gotten worse. But then again, it was hard to keep track of time in the endless shadow of Werelupe Forest. At least one good thing had come from swimming in that freezing cold water: Marion had discovered how easy it was to walk on all four paws compared to just two.

     “Bless you,” Psellia called down from above, where she was flying through the branches.

     All of a sudden, Flick, who was leading the way, stopped.

     “Did you hear that?” he asked quietly, staring into the trees to his left. Marion twitched her ears towards where Flick was pointing, and looked too.

     “Actually, I was too busy sneezing,” she said, and sniffed the air. Standing on four paws, she was just about half the size of Flick. “But I can smell something...”

     “What is it?” Psellia landed on the ground next to the two Lupes.

     “I heard something,” Flick said. “Hey, Marion, where are you going?”

     “I want to know what it is,” she said, walking forward. “The smell reminds me of something; I just can’t remember what...”

     Flick followed her. He was sure, somehow, that there was nothing dangerous there, but he didn’t like how she was in front again.

     “Um... I’ll just stay here, you know, in case it’s dangerous over there,” Psellia yelled after them. Flick whipped round, and shouted back.

     “It’s not! Just trust me, ok?” He turned back and ran a couple of steps to catch up with Marion. Frowning, Psellia followed.

     “Sh,” Marion shushed them as they got nearer the source of the noise. Walking forward a couple of more steps, the three pets burst through the trees to find themselves on a cliff top.

     “Wow,” Psellia breathed as she gazed down. There, sprawling out across a massive clearing, were thousands of little huts and shelters.

     “What is it? I can hardly see anything,” Flick asked, squinting into the darkness.

     “It’s full moon,” Marion said quietly. “You should be able to see it in a moment.”

     True enough, seconds later the clouds rolled across, letting them see a full Kreludor. Marion and Flick gasped as they saw what lay beneath them. After a few minutes of silence, Marion sneezed, and the spell was broken. Out of the many buildings below, Lupes were emerging. Just Lupes; no other pets at all. And the strangest thing was that the Lupes were all white. Every single one.

     “Come on,” Psellia said as she took of from the cliff. Marion stepped forwards and looked down, a motion which already set her head spinning. A bit further down from where she stood, she could see a thin ledge, just wide enough for her to stand on. Taking a deep breath, she swung herself down, making sure she had both paws firmly on the ledge.

     “Flick?” She panted. “Flick, you coming?”

     “Look,” he said, pointing across the valley to a huge castle shining in the moonlight. Both Lupes stared at it for a while, but then Flick shook his head and joined Marion on the climb down. Held back by her skirt again, Marion reached the ground after Flick and Psellia, who were looking around curiously.

     “Now what?” Marion asked, dropping back onto her paws, as she preferred to walk.

     “Well, I think we should -” Psellia was cut off by someone grabbing her wing from behind. She gasped and all three pets turned round to see seven white Lupes standing behind them.

     “Who are you?” one of them growled. He had a long scar running down the side of his face.

     “Who are you?” Marion asked in response. She could get a bit snappy with strangers. The white Lupe growled menacingly.

     “I’m Flick,” Flick introduced himself quickly, stepping in front of Marion. “That’s Marion, and that’s Psellia.”

     The Lupe looked him up and down, before grabbing him by the arm.

     “You’re not from here,” he growled as another Lupe grabbed Flick’s other arm. “We’re taking you to the King.”

     Struggling, Flick twisted round to see that another four Lupes had taken Marion and Psellia. Marion seemed to be putting up quite a fight, for one of the guards drew a dagger and rapped her smartly over the head with the handle. Marion went limp and was slung over the Lupe’s shoulder.

     Flick was jerked to the front again, and he looked at the castle on the far side of the valley. It looked like a very long walk.

To be continued...

 
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