The Garden of Farore: Chapter Fifteen
PRINCESS Zelda knelt serene, cross-legged, on the cool stone flags of the floor of her room, wearing nothing save for one of Link's spare tunics. Her long hair was loose and bright. Outside the slit window a darkling sky showed faint wisps of cloud and the first delicate sprinklings of stars; two candlesticks set before her on the floor provided light from their golden cups.
The Book of Mudora, squat and mute, lay open at a blank page between the candles. It had been a week since they had returned from the western deserts and neither she, nor Sofia, nor Link, had been able to spend much time relaxing after their adventures together. Sofia roamed the town and the lands around it as she taught herself about the land of Hyrule, while Link, anxious about his failure against the Stalfos chieftain, rode off alone and trained for hours on end in order to build his strength once more. Zelda too had been busy; the past three hours she had spent alone in her room with the Book of Mudora, willing it to give up another of its secrets to her. She needed to find out how to proceed with the quest. She was silent as she sat before the Book, her eyes open yet unseeing, her mind bent wholly on the empty white expanse that was still stubbornly free from the dark purity of the printed word.
Show me something that will help us.
She had worked with the Book of Mudora many times before, and she felt that she knew and understood it as well as any living creature could. Somehow it lived, as if the wisdom of the ancient Sages had given it understanding, and it revealed only what it chose. It delighted in posing riddles concocted from the information it had within it, and a clean white sheet of paper lay beside it, with a quill, ready dipped in ink, in preparation for any clue that might be revealed. So far, after three hours of solid concentration, not a word had come from the book and Zelda was beginning to despair of wresting anything of use from it.
The need was great... neither she nor Zelda nor Sofia had any idea where the Amulets might have been hidden and if others truly were searching for them then some clue needed to be found fast. Zelda knew that, while skilled, none of the Knight-aspirants were truly powerful in battle, and it worried her to think that they would have to face, most likely, many of Ganon's evil creations on the quest. The Stalfos had been just the beginning. Link, the most experienced of the three, was badly weakened from his ordeal in the Spirit Temple; and not just physically. The brush with death had left a mark on the young warrior, and she saw it in his eyes now whenever they spoke; a fear he had never experienced before. Zelda sighed softly. A new discovery was sorely needed, if only to put fresh heart into the Hero of Hyrule.
Suddenly there was a change in the air. The pages of the book rustled softly although there was no wind in the room. The Princess breathed out slowly, feather-light, and watched the ancient tome that lay before her. She had won... she would be shown the way forward. The pages rippled and then turned all by themselves, as if an invisible hand flipped smoothly through the book, and then fell flat and open upon a blank double-page with only a single sentence, emblazoned in black and gold leaf upon the pale creaminess of the paper.
Seek the Hero's Shadow
Zelda's hand shook slightly as she reached for the pen and paper laid ready. Carefully the Princess noted down the book's cryptic message lest it be lost when she closed the book once more, but disappointment was evident in her face. It was not what she had hoped for.
The kitten yawned artistically, stretching her limbs as she purred up at the sky. She had been lounging like a statue atop a tangle of soft warm woolen folds, her outsize paws easy in repose. Now with easy grace she got her feet under her and rose to her full foot-and-a-half of height to shake herself before settling delicately down again.
She and her master were out of doors, atop one of the wind-chafed mounds that filled Hyrule's lonely places. A great single standing stone perched atop the tall round hill, marking the deathplace of a warrior from the Age of Legends. The aged rock was worn and battered from countless years of wind and storms, but in places fragments of flowing Ancient Hyrulian script could still be read. From the top of the barrow, open country could be seen for a score of miles and more, and any approaching creature would be spotted from a long way away against the backdrop of the empty moorland. This was, in part, why Link had chosen it, for he was always concerned about a possible attack by Ganon's evil monsters, especially now when some, at least, were surely risen again.
Then too, if he came here to this lonely place, nobody would be able to see him training. He did not wish it to be discovered that he had been badly injured in the Spirit Temple, especially since there was now a possibility that the information could reach their enemy, and so he worked hard, always alone, building up his strength and retuning his reflexes. Only Prowl was allowed to witness the young warrior's lengthy and solitary pursuit... the feature which most left out of the stories of the Heroes of Hyrule. Hours of practice went into being a Hero; only the Hero of Time had ever fought without the need to train.
Link's sword was in his weakened hand--his right. He was accustomed to being right handed, but his left arm was the cleverer now. He did not believe that he would ever regain much of his old strength in the right; but he worked hard with it anyway. He was terrified that the muscles would waste and leave him permanently disabled on that side.
He ducked an imaginary blow from one of his invisible foes, and then slashed twice forehand and backhand, swinging round through the last attack to jerk his blade forward into where the gut of his enemy would have been, had he been real. Prowl watched calmly, sprawled on the rough blanket that had been given to her, as her young master spun and whirled in the ancient dance of death.
Finally with a groan he flung down the weapon and threw himself to the ground where he began to do energetic push-ups. His right arm trembled with the strain but he did not allow himself to quit until he had reached a count of thirty. The sand cat yawned and gazed at him with her soft golden eyes, then lifted her hindpaw aristocratically to scratch her chin.
"It's no good, Prowl," Link sighed, collapsing on his front on the soft green turf. He propped his own chin in his undamaged hand and scowled, his mind busy. "I need to be stronger before I fight again. If I cannot even beat a simple Stalfos then there is little hope!" His green eyes were worried as he turned to the cat, who looked back at him with perfect unconcern. "What if something nastier than Stalfos attacks us?" he muttered, more to himself than to her. "I would never be able to protect the Princess in this state."
Prowl blinked heavily and stretched once more, then she rolled onto her side and arched her back, inviting him to rub her stomach where the golden-brown spotted fur faded smoothly into white. Link reached out and gave the kit a cursory stroke, but his mind was far from playing with his young pet. "I wish you could talk," he murmured softly. "You might be able to advise me." Prowl, of course, said nothing, merely purring at him and waving her paws in the air as she wriggled onto her back. She had already been fed twice today and so had no concerns upon her simple and pleasure-seeking mind.
With yet another heavy sigh the young warrior got to his feet, ignoring the ache which ran through his muscles as he did so. His fingers closed around the hilt of his discarded serpentine dagger and he assumed a defensive stance, locking his eyes upon the eight-foot standing stone which sat mute and unmoved in front of him. With a mental effort he convinced himself that the unpretentious rock was a Moblin, and he ducked a nonexistent swipe of a nail-studded club, rolling and coming up gracefully upon his feet to slash and stab and duck and dive once more. His muscles were responding... just not as quickly or as strongly as he needed them to.
Finally, his numb fingers loosened of their own accord and dropped the weapon, and he gave up in disgust. His long hair was plastered to his head with sweat and his legs trembled now with exhaustion as he sat down hard on the grassy ground, sheathing the dagger as he did so. His chest heaving, the young warrior collapsed onto his back and stared up at the pale cloud-chased sky. It had been mostly blue when he had set out for the lonely stone that morning, but the darkness had been drawing in and now a thick puffed blanket of grey stretched across most of the cerulean expanse. Link jerked in surprise, still highly alert from his workout, when a heavy growl of thunder sounded from the south. The kitten laid her ears back and snarled at the sky in answer.
"Farore," Link remarked in surprise, looking up. "That storm came over quickly... we'd better get back, don't you think?" Prowl hissed, on her feet now and with her backfur bristling in spikes. The young warrior laughed. "Take it easy, kit! 'Tis only thunder, nothing to be afraid of." Unmoved, Prowl left the blanket and trotted over to her master, moving in a strange stiff-legged stride. Link picked her up and stuffed her in the leather satchel he had carried, and then slung the bag over his back. He could feel the kitten balled up in the bottom of it, crouching angry and afraid in the warm sweet darkness. "Only a storm," he comforted softly, and adjusted the straps over his shoulders. A soft spatter of rain gusted over him, borne ahead of the thunderstorm on the wind's wings, and he sighed, knowing he would be soaked through before he got back to the castle.
Poe flew swiftly to the north, heading on a swift course towards the goal it had been set. It was a creature of single mind: it followed a course as straight as an arrow's flight, deviating neither to the left nor to the right. What it was, few could tell, for it had no visible physical shape. It was winged, surely, for it flew, but no wings could be seen at its passing nor could the wind of a wingbeat be felt. It had no size, nor did it have a scent or anything which could be measured by instruments. Poe's passing was marked by a vague sweeping dread, by angry quarrels between those who had no reason to quarrel and by unnatural ire among peaceful peoples. Tame beasts were made wild and full of terror, fighting to escape their tethers as Poe passed overhead. All this Poe marked well--and enjoyed. It was the embodiment of malicious hatred: it was cruelty for cruelty's sake.
Faster than thought did it speed over the green lands of Hyrule, leaving behind it a trail of fear as it shadowed the sun. Hills and valleys flew past beneath it at incredible speed. Its goal was near and though Poe could feel no sense of urgency, it experienced a kind of eagerness with every traveled mile.
A young storm was brewing upon the ruffled waters of Lake Hylia; the fisherfolk who lived and worked there were just taking in their boats when Poe arrived. Straightaway the villagers felt an inexplicable fear spread through them and some of the hardened fishermen, tough and practical folk though they were, looked at each other with anxiety in their eyes. Poe ignored them, passing right over the village and harbor; its errand was not with these people. It found the storm upon the deep waters and knew instinctively that this was something it could use. Poe took hold of the storm and folded itself into it, becoming a small dark ball at the heart of the turbulence. Instinctively it stirred the forming clouds, creating more disturbances in the whorl of vapour that was forming around it. Clouds piled up on clouds to form a thunderhead in only a few minutes. Now Poe needed movement, and so it began to spin within the storm, forming a vortex. It struck up a breeze as it spun, and then a wind. Sluggishly the clouds began to turn. The villagers saw the darkness out on the lake and locked themselves indoors, some even slamming closed their storm shutters in case the squall came their way.
In the heart of the growing thunderstorm, something special was happening. A cycle of convection had been set up much like that which occurred every so often over the southern seas. Warm air was pulled up from the bottom of the storm and sent to the top, where it cooled and fell back down to be warmed again. Now a circular motion began within the stirring of the air; a gentle wind circled round and round the dark mat of clouds, teasing them into a nub and then a sharply downward pointing spike. Poe, lurking in the center of the storm like the operator of some vast machine, knew that soon the weather would take on a life of its own and so it extended tendrils of its power through the clouds, toying with them, forcing them to speed up or slow down in their spin as it pleased.
The spike that had been forming in the clouds began to stretch. It reached down in a wavering column to kiss the water that now crashed and boomed beneath it; the angry waves mirrored the churning sky as the winds rose further. Above, no blue sky was visible; a dark gray layer of thick cloud covered the entire sky from hemisphere to hemisphere. The winds were very strong now and no creature moved in the deserted village, nor in the tearing winds that hissed through the trees and among the great waves of water upon the lake.
Poe was not satisfied. It could not move its storm the way it wished to, driving it before it at great speed. Something more was needed. Responding to a dark instinct that told it what to do, Poe whipped up the wind still further, flinging it around in a circle to enclose its cloudy heart. The spike elongated, grew fatter at the base as more cloud was drawn into it. Its wavering tip touched the lake and grew foamy white, drawing up water. Now Poe was satisfied. With a flick the winds changed once more; although they now spun wildly about the spike, a prevailing gale came from the south to drive the dark clouds ever northward. The storm began to move.
Link flinched as another ominous rumble rolled lazily out of the south, and Prowl hissed furiously in his backpack. He glanced back in surprise and was met by a gust of driving rain. Behind him he was shocked to see an impenetrable darkness in the sky; a mist seemed to cover the air and the few trees that he saw far behind on the trail were shaking furiously to and fro.
"Farore's Wind!" the young warrior muttered again. "What a storm!" A faint worry awoke in his heart at the sight of the deep black clouds behind him, but he knew that Hyrule Town was not too far ahead. Besides, what could a storm do to him? Get him wet? His lips pressed together firmly and he turned his back on the ominous clouds, speeding his pace in order to get back that much faster.
The rain arrived then, a sheet of pounding, slamming water. Link gasped in shock as he was soaked through instantly; the sheer power of the storm was beginning to reveal itself to him. Determinedly he turned up the collar of his tunic, shouldered the pack within which Prowl was crying piteously, and leaned against the sudden seething wind to run toward the safety he knew awaited him within the town. The rain made it difficult to see what lay ahead; it misted the horizon through its water and bled out all the color from the world.
Within the storm's heart, Poe was aware of the speck of humanity that ran ahead of it. It speeded its winds to catch the living thing, snatch it up and smash it against the ground to dash out its life. It was aware that this was now a race, for it might not have the power to tear buildings to the ground if its quarry reached the goal ahead of it. Yet it was many times faster than the quarry and it was fast making up ground.
Link wiped water from his eyes, gasping heavily as he struggled through the storm. The wind smashed against him with terrible force and he had to lean right into it to maintain forward movement. It was as if he was being pulled back into the storm... He thought suddenly. How could he be being pulled into the storm? Winds blew outwards, not inwards. Though it was difficult to move in the gale, he turned and faced the approaching storm to see exactly what it was.
The next moment he was running for his life. Behind him the black, twisting funnel tore up the ground. It was fueled now only partly by Poe's intervention, for the winds had gathered enough power to maintain the huge storm themselves. Link attempted to shelter his eyes from the lashing rain long enough to see before him, but he could not make out details more than a few feet in front of him. He was barely aware that Prowl was scratching furiously at the lining of his satchel.
And then, suddenly his feet touched something that rang with a hollow sound amongst the screaming of the wind--the bridge that led into the town! He struggled through the wind between the unguarded gates, and hammered on the first door that he found in the pouring dark, clutching at the walls in order to avoid being blown away. Tiles were shattering all around him. The door opened with a jerk and he fell forward into light, the wind roaring in with him in its eager, hungry desire to extinguish the fragile life within. And then the door banged to and Link lay on a warm wooden floor with the screaming of the storm locked outside. He sat up slowly.
His rescuer was a heavyset man, middle-aged with a thatch of blonde hair and deep gray eyes. Link realised he had blundered into someone's living room when he saw the homely surroundings, and the golden-haired woman sitting by the crackling fire with a fretting infant in her lap. "Sorry for the intrusion," he began, flushing.
"Please don't worry about it," the man answered gruffly, offering a callused hand to help him up. "You're welcome in our home anytime, Hero. My name's Curan, and this is my wife Calonna." A credulous smile spread across his features as he went on, "What a storm!"
"It is that," Link said wryly. "I was caught far from shelter when it arrived. It almost had me!"
"Tis no ordinary storm," the woman, Calonna, remarked softly. Her voice was low and mellow, and although she was by no means as stunningly attractive as Zelda, her face was a pretty one and a kind. "I've never heard of one so strong, nor one that came on so fast. I only just got back inside with the laundry."
"Who is it, Daddy?" came a soft, sweet voice. Link turned, as did both the others, to behold a young girl of nine or ten years of age standing at the foot of the staircase that led up to the second floor. She held a much-worn plush toy protectively to her chest and a spill of gleaming auburn hair curled lightly around her shoulders.
"Someone who was lost in the storm," Curan answered quickly, and came forward to hurry the child back up the stairs. "You should have stayed in your room, Bethan love. There's nothing to worry about."
"I was afraid," the child piped. "It's so loud!" Indeed, the howling of the wind was surprising even to Link who had grown up in a land where storms were common. It sounded alive. It sounded hungry. Which reminded him... he shook out his wet hair and then shrugged off the sodden straps of his leather satchel. Prowl mewed angrily as the bag hit the ground. The girl cried out in surprise. "Oh--is it a cat?"
"A young sand cat," Link explained, fumbling with the straps. "They live far to the west, in the desert. Sir, milady, would you mind if I dried her out by your fire? The cold and wet is not good for her. She's trained, I promise."
"You are welcome," Curan said gravely, scooping his daughter into his strong arms. "I'll be right back."
"Daddy, can't I stay?" the child pleaded. "I want to play with his cat."
"Bethan!" Calonna admonished. "Manners!"
Link smiled. "Prowl will not mind!" he suggested, finally managing to open the bag. The kit exploded into his arms with a yowl, burying her head in his wet tunic. Her fur was soaked through and she planted her wet paws all over his face as she purred a feline hello.
"I think she'd better not," Curan said quietly and set his foot on the stair. Link stared at the man's back, not understanding the problem.
Calonna caught his eye. A sad look was in the young woman's face. Silently she mouthed, "Our daughter's blind."
So that was it. They were frightened that he would reject their child. Hylians had strange opinions about people who were physically imperfect: the deformed, the handicapped, the blind. Link frowned. "Please," he said firmly. "Why don't you let her stay? Prowl has no objections, and neither do I."
"Are you sure?" Calonna asked softly.
"I am Calatian," Link answered coolly. It seemed to explain everything.
Bethan had wriggled free from her father's grasp and she trotted lightly towards him, for all the world as if she could see more clearly than he. Only her eyes belied her disability: they floated unfocused, two pools of cloudy blue. "May I hold your cat?" she asked politely, holding out her hands.
Link smiled. "Here," he said. Grasping Prowl firmly by the scruff of her neck he lifted the kit, supporting her rear with his other hand. "She's heavy; make a cradle with your arms so you will be able to take her weight." The girl did as he instructed and gently he dropped Prowl into her eager grasp. A big smile spread across Bethan's face as she felt the living warmth of the young kit and Prowl lifted her head and gently licked the little girl's cheek with her pink tongue, purring all the while.
The storm screamed around the high turrets of the castle, creaking the ancient stone and straining at the mortar bonds which held the minarets and battlements together. Dark clouds bubbled in the sky as foam upon the surface of some huge cauldron.
Feldor shivered just to listen to the sound of the strange winds as they waged war on the castle's aged flanks, though other, older campaigners were less concerned. The young soldier stood nervously by the door he had been set to guard, fingering the hilt of his ceremonial falchion where it hung at his waist. He was alone; the others had run to shutter as many windows as they could. Now Feldor was standing here in case of some sort of attack--the terrible storm seeming unnatural, the King had reason to fear a magical enemy was abroad. Such diversionary tactics had been used before.
...If an enemy did use the storm as cover to mount an attack on Hyrule Town, might he not come in the way nobody was expecting? Would he not want to come in by a little-used side door so that he could pass through the castle unchallenged save for a few barely trained guards? Feldor's eyes slid sideways to the door in front of which he was supposed to be standing. Its plain wooden face, so seeming innocent, might hide a monster hell-bent on the destruction of the Royal Family, and Feldor was the only man who might stand against it. Not even the Hero of Hyrule could stand against such a horrific beast! The young soldier drew himself up to his full five foot nine and saw himself bravely battling the monstrous horned and scaled creature that had come in with the rain. Why, it was fully ten feet tall! No--more like twenty! With a brave and gallant smile the dashing young fighter faces up to its dreadful gaze! Drawing his trusty sword--so!--he charges heroically into battle, unafraid of even the most ferocious and hideous beast! With a great swish of his magical blade he deals a telling blow, masterfully avoiding the foot-long claws and fire breath that the monster pits against him--
There was a banging on the door. Feldor dropped his sword and fell off the table.
He peered out from behind his impromptu sanctuary as the knock came a second time, loudly audible even over the wind and the rain. Trying to control his suddenly shaking hands he crawled out on hands and knees and tiptoed over to the door. All his fantasies of bravery evaporated in thoughts of what might really be out there in the howling storm. For a moment he wondered genuinely whether he ought not to steal away and leave whatever was on the other side of the door, on that side of the door. The bar was strong, it would hold it back long enough for him to effect an escape.
The third knock made up his mind. He was, after all, a soldier, trained to obey. He took a deep breath and grasped the bar, forcing his trembling fingers to close on it. With a desperate heave he threw the bar back, and the door blew inwards in a blast of arctic wind and water. A huddled shape swept in on the crest of the wave; a creature of some sorts, wrapped in a strange loose, shining skin of black. Leon forgot all about closing the door and just backed away as the weird being set its back to the creaking portal and levered it to, shutting out the storm before it could get more than a finger in the door.
The weird creature turned towards him in the comparative quiet that resulted from the door's being shut, and reached up a bedraggled paw to pull the hide from its head. A sodden, rainswept cloak fell back to reveal a wet mass of red-gold hair and beneath it, two amber eyes. "You took your time," the creature said crossly, and shrugged out of the soaking garment. It was the Princess's Gerudo friend, Sofia, who had been muffled in a voluminous woolen hooded cloak. She glared at him from beneath the dripping cap of her hair.
Feldor opened his mouth, then closed it again. His cheeks flamed with embarrassment.
She kicked her sopping cloak out of the way; it lay on the floor in a puddle of water. Her silken Gerudo clothes clung revealingly to her figure but she ignored his wide eyes as she pulled her hair into a ponytail and wrung it out on the floor. A spatter of water hit the damp flagstones, adding to the rain which had blown in with her entrance. "Goddess," the Gerudo girl muttered, shaking water from her eyes, "what a cursed storm! I'm wet from the inside out!" Gingerly she picked at the material of her thin trousers, pulling the soaked and now translucent silk away from her long legs. "Have you a towel?" she demanded, turning to face him.
"Just a minute, my lady," Feldor stammered. "I'll get you one. Would you like anything else? Hot soup? Let me stoke up the fire..." Hurriedly he trotted to the store cupboard at the other end of the little room, and went through it to find a dusty and moth-eaten blanket. When he shook it out a cloud of dust and insectile corpses settled around him. Suppressing a tickly cough, Leon bowed awkwardly and handed the blanket to the girl; she took it with a flashing smile of white teeth in her dusky face, and settled herself by the fire. The young soldier brushed dirt and dead flies off himself and then scooted to the door that led to the kitchens, to find the girl something warm to drink.
He was back in only a few minutes; one of the cooks had taken pity on him and made up a small tray with a mug of soup and some cadged white bread. Gallantly Feldor entered the room and offered his prize to the girl, who was standing by the fire with the blanket around her shoulders. A faint steam was coming off her as the water evaporated in the warmth of the guardroom. She smiled gratefully at him and took the mug lightly from the tray. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Feldor insisted, feeling a warm feeling spread through his own limbs at the sight of her smile. This was almost better than his dream of defeating an evil monster--to be in the service of a beautiful girl! "Would you like to sit down?" he offered, dragging the chair out from its place under the table and shoving it onto the hearth.
"I would, thank you," she said with a little start of surprise, and sat. She wriggled in pleasure at the warmth of the strong log fire, and stretched her legs out. "The wind out there is strong enough to knock you off your feet," she remarked, turning her face towards him. "Goddess! I never saw the like. Pity any poor soul caught out there right now."
"You're all right, though?" Feldor asked hopefully, adding, "Your Highness," as he remembered she was in actual fact a princess.
She laughed. "Sofia is my name. What is yours?"
"Feldor, milady--Feldor Glind." Becoming self-conscious he smoothed back his hair and wished that he had cleaned his ceremonial breastplate earlier, before the storm hit. He was sure that he did not look like the debonair young swashbuckler he wanted to--in fact, he felt more like an embarrassed and tongue-tied boy.
The girl smiled kindly at him. "Hello, Sir Glind. I'm Sofia, and I hope you'll call me that. I am not much of a princess."
"Sofia?" It was another girl's voice. The door to the inside of the castle opened and a stunningly beautiful young woman with pale golden hair appeared. She smiled at him, and then spoke. "Sofia, I've been looking for you. The Book gave me a clue! Thank Nayru you're inside!"
"Thank Sir Glind here," Sofia corrected, standing up and slipping out from underneath the blanket. "I was caught out in the gardens when the storm hit. Crazy things were flying through the air. I nearly had my head stove in by a marble bust! This good knight let me in."
Feldor stared in astonishment at the golden-haired woman; she smiled at him and nodded her head slightly. "Thank you, kind sir." Then, turning back to Sofia she frowned and asked, "Where's Link?"
"Isn't he back yet?" Sofia asked in shock. The young guardsman was forgotten as she came over to the other woman, worry in her eyes. "He went out early, Zel," she explained. "He has been leaving the castle every morning to train. Goddess! -he must still be out there!"
Feldor had heard only one thing in that conversation. "Princess Zelda?" he squeaked, dropping to his knees as if felled by a blow. "Your Royal Highness!"
"At ease, soldier," Zelda said absently, then, "We need to find him, but there's no way we'll do it in this weather."
"You'll have to trust Link to look after himself," Sofia suggested. "There's nothing we can do. What was the clue?"
Zelda coughed and produced a piece of paper. "Seek the hero's shadow," she read out.
"Link's shadow?" Sofia said. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Possibly it means the Shadow Knight," Zelda suggested. She stared down glumly at the paper in her hand. "But it doesn't tell us where, or what, or how. I am not sure. It isn't much to go on."
"We need Amulets, not more Knights."
"This is all I have," Zelda sighed softly.
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