Chapter 33: Coup de Force

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The failed messengers were quickly ushered back into the Scissortail den late in the afternoon when they had arrived back sooner than expected, and were taken immediately to the Elders. Piram gave his report succinctly and the cubs waited patiently behind him, half fearing a reprimand for failing in their mission. The council was rather intrigued with the news of a rebellion forming amongst the Fernwick and did not take the time to be upset that an unauthorized visit had been made to the Weolcen.

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"Do you still keep company with gryphons?" Niranjan asked Shanku.

"Yessir," Shanku answered quickly with eyes averted.

"We may need you to ask them for their assistance then," Niranjan stated.

"Sir?" Shanku asked and raised her head to him, quite confused.

"A gryphon has sufficient speed to make for a nice messenger," Niranjan continued. "It would blend in with the other gryphons and not get chased from the sky like we presently are. With the size of the clans' territories, it is rather slow and awkward to meet between the elders regularly, and even our own messengers do not move quickly enough to relay messages. And with each clan having their own signalling system, it would take too long to train each other. So, we need something more quick and direct."

"The gryphons were a bit hostile the last time I saw them," Shanku cautioned. "They may not be willing to work with us."

"Then arrange a meeting with those willing. We shall see to it they are fairly compensated," Niranjan finished. "You lot may go now."

A rather baffled set of three cubs and one elite guard respectfully dismissed themselves and went their separate ways. Zanzen and Nari were quite relieved when their cubs returned home, and Nari fussed over them for the rest of the evening as they told about their trip to visit the Fernwick clan.

"Niranjan requested aid from gryphons?" Zanzen asked again.

"Considering he made more fuss about me befriending the gryphon than the dragon when he was hammering down my sentence, yeah, I did a double-take on that part too," Shanku said as she propped up on the table. "Now that they want me to go chit chat with the befeathered kittens, I don't want to. They're just a touch hostile right now."

"You got away with only a few cuts from a yamaer, you'll do fine with gryphons," Hilael remarked as he gently stroked Innugati's back. The little fairy dragon's eyes were closed in content and she was trilling softly.

Zanzen smiled. His second cub was finally returning to his calm and factual nature, and less of the withdrawn and nervous perosn he had been for years. "Perhaps we should send you with her in case she is not so fortunate? Every warrior needs a good medic in tow."

"A good warrior doesn't get hurt in the first place," Shanku groaned and let her head hit the table with an audible thunk. "Pluck, that was so careless... I'd been dead if I'd been on my own at the time."

"You should be dead asleep soon," Nari interjected. "A yamaer is a frightening opponent, but you protected your charges, and lived. It's time for sleep and confronting your next challenge."

Shanku didn't argue with her mother and gratefully retired for the night. Nari roused her early the following morning and set her out on her task when the forest was still misty and dim.

It shouldn't be that hard to find gryphons, what with them guarding the air ways and all, Shanku thought. With a few forceful wingbeats and quickly scaling the tree trunks, she was airborn and scanning the treetops for other large flyers. She wasn't above the canopy long before a suspecting gryphon began to circle.

"Howdy, there! Wanna land a moment?" Shanku called out to it cheerfully. The gryphon eyed her incredulously but followed her to the ground.

"Speak, kurach," the gryphon hissed as she nervously kneaded the ground.

"I know the gryphons are about as tired of us squabbling Sylvans as we are, and we may have an avenue to advancing peace," Shanku began. "However, we need to act quickly and we don't have a good way of getting word to each other. The Scissortails are very humbly requesting assistance, and promising ample compensation for the troubles of any gryphon willing to help us out."

"What kind of 'compensation'?" the gryphon asked as she continued to bob her head warily.

"Presumably, a good meal," Shanku shrugged. "After all, a hard flight burns a lot of energy. I wasn't given the specifics. I was just told to invite some gryphons in to discuss it with the Elders, and they're even willing to meet you above ground about it."

"I shall mention it to the flock," the gryphon said cautiously. "Return here tomorrow and I shall have an answer for your Scissortails."

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"Thank ye, ma'am," Shanku nodded. The gryphon was nervously chirping and sidestepping as she impatiently waited for the young kurach to leave the area before she sought out her kin. As soon as the black-winged devil was gone, she launched herself through the air in a hurry to find the others of her flock. She called and cried until curious gryphons began to gather around her.

"You're as noisy as a jay, what's happened?" asked Kris.

"Some crow-winged pup came to me and said the Scissortails want us to be carrier pigeons!" Zyzy cried.

"After how long they've been scaring our game, spooking our nests, and disrupting our courtships? How arrogant!" hissed Liss.

"They have promised 'compensation'," continued Zyzy. "Pfah! What compensation could bring our nestlings back?"

"We should be stealing their nestlings instead," threatened Theda. "A feather for a feather, and egg for an egg."

"I want to know what we're promised," said Mrin. "I will meet with them. If it is unsatisfactory, we shall fall on them."

The flock bobbed their heads in agreement and Zyzy said she would take him with her tomorrow to meet with the Scissortail inquirer. Passing gryphons relayed that the kurach had camped out in a nearby tree and had appeared relaxed throughout the day. The feathers along Mrin's neck fluffed up. "No respect! No fear! We should nip it." Mrin took flight and Zyzy struggled to overtake him so she might lead him to the meeting point. Mrin landed with a grand display of his wings flared about him and his chest puffed up like a strutting cock.

"Greetings, master gryphon!" Shanku called cheerily.

Mrin clacked his beak and tilted his head to the side. Her eyes were bright and innocent, nothing like the other kurach he had been chasing. "I will meet with your Elders, here, safely between our two roosts."

"Glad to hear it! For your trouble," Shanku said cheerily and presented a few fat squirrels. Mrin blinked several times and twisted his head to look them over with one eye. "A gift for your consideration. I shall return tomorrow with the Elders." Shanku bowed to the gryphons and walked away. When she was a safe distance away, she peeked over her shoulder and smiled when she saw the squirrels being gobbled up.

The Scissortail Elders weren't happy to have to work on such short notice and hastily ordered an offering prepared for tomorrow's request for aid. Piram was chosen to personally guard the offering as the Elders proceeded to the meeting place. A fine young ram had been dressed and Piram made sure it was laid out in an appetizing manner as they waited for the gryphons to arrive. Mrin landed at high noon with Zyzy and handful of others who were curious or vengeful. Shanku made herself scarce at the back of the pack of Scissortails, and would have left altogether if it had been allowed.

"Dear brothers of the sky, we humbly beg your forgiveness at the grave transgressions our kind have committed recently," Niranjan said and extended an arm toward the ram. "Please accept this as a small token of apology and gratitude we wish to extend if you come to our aid."

"We will not fight for you," hissed Theda.

"No, this is our fight and our honor in the balance, we will not ask that of you," Niranjan stated. "We simply ask that you deliver our messages to our allies. You may stay as far from the skirmishes as you are comfortable."

"Meat will keep us aloft as we fly for you, but what if we are sick? Or injured? Will you discard us like old nesting?" asked Mrin through narrow eyes.

"Bring us your sick and injured. Our healers would be glad to assist your flock while you assist us," Niranjan promised.

"What of our nests? We were driven from our nesting grounds farther north by the fighting kurach. We lost many chicks too small to fly and too small to flee," demanded Mrin. "We lost even more in this unprotected part of the forest that's lacking proper cliffs."

"Our architects are quite skilled, and will help you fortify your nests to protect your nestlings," Niranjan promised.

"Many promises, many opportunities for failure," hissed Theda.

"Many opportunities to right many wrongs and work toward a better future," Niranjan said.

"Betray us, hairless dog," Mrin started darkly, "and we shall exact a toll for every perished chick."

Niranjan nodded and the gryphons agreed to work out the details of their arrangement with the Scissortails. Only a small handful of messengers were required, but the Scissortail Elders would provide care to the whole flock as they raised the remainder of this year's brood.

Zyzy had lost her chick when she had been forced to abandon the Fernwick and Blade border and was the first to volunteer to aid the Scissortails. As the fastest of her flock, she requested to return to the Weolcen and Blade clans to deliver scrolls, and to seek out the Fernwick guard who would be plotting the rebellion. Zyzy was eager to start and had to be persuaded to wait long enough for the Scissortails to inscribe the scrolls and let the ink dry before she took off. She was fitted with a light and comfortable harness that fit snuggly between her wings and around her chest. The scroll was affixed and she bolted. The Scissortails called out well wishes to her as she quickly vanished from sight.

Rebellious kurach captured her interest the most and Zyzy beat her wings as hard as she could to find the Weolcen clan. Piram had given her the best instructions he could to identify the Weolcen den. When she saw what appeared to be the gardens he had spoken of, she tucked her wings for a dive. Alarmed kurach scattered as a gryphon suddenly appeared on the stone-paved walkways.

"Scissortails! Scissortail scroll!" Zyzy called out and looked around for any brave enough to approach her. "Scissortail news!"

A cautious guard approached her and she began to nibble at the harness on her chest. Baffled, he crept closer, half expecting a trap and to get flogged by an angry hen. Zyzy impatiently stepped forward to have the scroll removed faster. The guard managed to retrieve the scroll and saw it was addressed to the Weolcen council. He thanked the gryphon and ordered a meal brought to her as he relayed the information. Zyzy tore into her reward and relished every strip she ripped from it. After she had finished and sprawled out in a sunbeam to rest, the guard who had originally approached her came to her again.

"Your assistance is greatly appreciated. Please, stay the night with us, and if we could bother you further, please take a scroll from us to the Blade clan before you return to the Scissortails," he said.

"I shan't return south until I've met the Fernwick traitor," Zyzy declared.

"It shall be so," the guard nodded and ordered for her to be made comfortable as their guest. Satisfied with herself, Zyzy stretched back out in the delightfully warm sunshine as she rested her tired wings. A new scroll was made and after Zyzy had been given a few days to rest she was aloft again. The fierce Blade clan received her with the same apprehension and praise, provided a hefty meal, and released her to her own wants. The Weolcen were not as suspicious of her when she landed again.

"Ah, you've returned! Do you have a message from the Blade clan?" a guard called cheerily to her. Zyzy held still so he could check the pouch on her chest and pass off the scroll that was to be delivered.

"A lighter meal this time, if you please. I wish to find the traitor," Zyzy insisted.

"We have yet to meet him ourselves, but you are welcome to join our hunters sent out to meet him," the guard informed her. Satisfied, and fed once more, she joined the hunting party.

"The goal is to downplay suspicion, not raise it," muttered one of the hunters.

"Then I shall fly out," Zyzy said with a bob of her head. "I have sharp eyes. I can scout for game and for kurach."

"It will be a night meeting. Will you be able to see?" Vyoh asked.

"About as well as you," Zyzy said and fluffed her feathers. "I will be nearby in the day and the shadows at night. Gryphons can be sneaky too." Without another word she slipped into the underbrush and the hunting party lost sight of her.

"I'm not sure if I feel safer or more threatened with such a large predatory bird nearby," Vyoh commented to his comrades.

"Be thankful this one is friendly," remarked Qitu.

The night on the Weolcen and Fernwick border was a tense one. As instructed, they lit a campfire, and huddled around it for warmth and comfort as they roasted a young pig that Zyzy had been kind enough to strike for them.

"Smells delicious," said an unknown and hesitant voice. The hunters looked around to see who was speaking to them. An azure-winged kurach in clear Fernwick uniform approached them uneasily. "I only have a candlemark until I'm missed."

"We were told a knight with blue feathers would approach us," Qitu said slowly.

"What else were you told?" Ryan asked cautiously.

"You would have a way to bring this to a close faster and help us end the bloodshed," Vyoh replied. "The Weolcen have no desire to invade or dominate the Fernwick. We just wish to be left alone."

"And many of us would rather leave you be," Ryan nodded. "Or at least, see an end of the fighting and go back to peaceful trade and other things. Word will travel slowly meeting like this, but it's progress."

"Word travels faster in the air."

Ryan visibly flinched and spun around to see who had spoken to him. Zyzy appeared behind him. "A gryphon?"

"Courtesy of the Scissortails," Vyoh gestured. "Their diplomatic skills are such to charm our feathered neighbors into relaying communications. If they couldn't convince the Imperials to cease the raids, what hope does your plan have?"

"The knights are privy to the raiding schedules," Ryan said and turned to face the hunters again. "There are many who want an end to the raiding as well. The glory isn't what it was and commerce would be more profitable. Alone, we cannot overthrow the Fernwick Elders and subdue the guard, but with aid from the Ferals, we can. It's a gamble for us, but we're hoping that the Ferals' distate for conquest doesn't mean I'm delivering my people into your rule."

"The Weolcen are busy enough keeping their own line without having to manage yours as well, and the Blade are equally disinterested in expanding territory at this time," Qitu said. "To coordinate such a thing..."

"Well depend on us gryphons," Zyzy said with sharply narrowed eyes. "And satisfying our desires."

"What is it you desire?" Ryan asked as she came to stand in the circle by the fire.

"Never set foot in our nesting grounds again," Zyzy hissed. "Our flock has suffered greatly and I will never forgive the loss of my nestling."

"I will use the fullest extent of my influence to see it done," Ryan said with a low bow. "You have my deepest condolences for your loss."

Satisfied, Zyzy clacked her beak and settled herself down by the fire. "I will speak to other flocks in the area. Carrier gryphons will need to be changed regularly. This is too hard a flight for one and will become too suspicious for the same to appear frequently."

"Agreed," Ryan said and sat down as well.

"We and the Scissortails are feeding them well as immediate compensation for their time and energy, and the Scissortails are providing care to their sick, injured, young, and old while they are partnered together. The Weolcen intend to offer the same. What of the Fernwick?"

"I fear we must go further into your debt, unless we can establish points to meet with the messengers," Ryan said uneasily.

"We have long sight. Meet us in copses and brambles, away from prying kurach, and we can receive your offerings and scrolls," Zyzy suggested.

Ryan nodded his head and stood. "I daren't stay longer. I can return near here in another two weeks, unless I'm found before then."

Zyzy and the Weolcen hunters nodded, and Ryan returned to his patrols.

"And so, it begins," Vyoh said nervously.

"And so, it ends," Zyzy said firmly and began to preen herself.

The gryphons could travel much more quickly than the grounded Sylvans, and by the time Ryan's patrol was due again, answers and plans were awaiting him. Zyzy had managed to capture the interest of local gryphons and multiple flocks had established a network amongst themselves to shorten their distances and speed communications. Within a short six weeks, the Sylvans had gone from a deadlock to a primed and ready coup d'état.

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"The people have been restless lately," Gerard commented to Michael, his fellow Elder. "It's been a good season since the last excursion. Perhaps a good, strong venture will set them at ease."

"The dwarves of the Eor recently unearthed a good haul for the lowland giants, the humans have had time to restock their monasteries and are off playing their war games, and we could use some more bison leather while the plains kurach are distracted with their courtships," agreed Michael. "Let's organize a strong party to send to the Waebre at once. Those lacklustre Ferals have never tried to cross our borders and will surely grow lazy during the respite. Perhaps we should take them next."

The summons were also welcome among the warriors, who gladly oiled their weapons and armour in preparation. They were revelling in the streets that night to receive well wishes from the villages and on the wing by first light. Ryan Chase Stormer was one of several left behind to help lead the militia should anything befall the clan while so many of the warriors were away. What they didn't know was that Ryan and the others were sympathizers of the ones deemed grumbling drunkards. Having been on a few raids himself, when an appropriate number of days had passed and he knew it would be hard to recall the raiding parties, he gave the signal for the overthrow to begin.

Gryphons scattered throughout the skies and barked out strange cries. The Fernwick villages and capital had little time to wonder over their strange behaviour as waves of Blade and Weolcen warriors aided by traitorous Fernwick militia overwhelmed and quickly subdued the loyalists. The capital was the hardest to fall and more blood was spilled as Ryan lived up to his surname and lead a flank against the defenders. The door to the central chamber of the council burst open and Ryan strode quickly into the room, covered in blood but sporting nothing worse than a few bruises.

"What insolence is this? How dare you betray your people!" spat Gerard as the rebels spilled into the council chambers.

"You are leading us to ruin!" declared Ryan as the Elders were surrounded. "Open your eyes, old fool. Our enemies are at the gate and ready to crush us, and they used to be our allies! We have alienated our closest comrades nearly to our doom. If you will not protect us, then we must protect ourselves."

"You are the enemies at our gate. Our closest comrades are our kin in the Eor, and they will not stand for this mutiny," growled Kelton, the eldest. "You have sealed your fate, fallen knight."

Ryan motioned for them to be restrained and taken away, and gave strict instructions that none were to be harmed. "Thitala, will you see to it they are safely taken to the Weolcen until all this is settled?"

The commander of the Weolcen warriors nodded. "We've had the holding cells prepared and ready. We've come this far, we will stand by the rebellious Fernwick until this is resolved."

"Or rather, we shall stand by the Ferals until our people are either united or brought under control again," Ryan said grimly.

Thitala shook his head sadly and called for one of the gryphons to send word back to the other clans of the Nyre. When that had been dealt with, he returned to Ryan as he was trying to guide the makeshift commanders and captains of the Fernwick militia.

"This is beyond the capability of a knight. You need new leaders," Thitala commented.

"Who could be qualified?" Ryan sighed. "This is not in my skillset."

"Trust your people," Thitala suggested. "You said many of the civilians were unhappy and wishing for change. Surely a new set of Elders can be established from them? They can manage the daily affairs while the rebellion handles the military matters."

Ryan nodded and sent orders to find those who were willing to help them protect their people and continue establishing a new order. The Imperial villagers of the Nyre were uneasy and reluctant to step forward when the guards they had previously trusted came to their town centers and requested volunteers.

"What of our families when the raiding parties return? Who will protect us from them?"

"We don't wish to uproot and distress our people more than necessary. Those who are most worried may go to the quieter villages deeper in the Nyre. We encourage you all to stay, and will give our lives to protect you," one of the guards said. "We only want the survival of our people."

"The raids bring us resources! How are we to survive if we can no longer get what we need?" asked a different villager.

"There are other ways and other methods to obtain our resources," the guard began before he was interrupted by another villager.

"How can you be so cowardly to have given in to two lower Feral clans? Life was prosperous and smooth, they were of no threat to us! Why did you side with them?"

"There were many things beyond our borders that are guaranteed to end our way of life that we didn't stand a chance against," the guard explained. "A wise warrior knows when to adjust his strategy and does not needlessly throw his life away."

"I don't think you know much about our way of life, so if you need somebody that badly to patch up your shortcomings, I'll step up," said a crotchety old dame. "I've been around these trees for forty and a hundred years and I'm not about to see them fall now due to a bunch of foolhardy young pups."

Others slowly began to join her and within a week the Fernwick had a functioning set of Elders on their new council to keep the villages running smoothly while the rebels prepared for the loyal warriors' return. Yoline made it clear she was a loyalist to the core and did not approve of the actions of the rebels, but her primary interest was the well-being and safety of her clan, and quickly restored structure and order to the fearful and uncertain villagers. She kept them busy with daily work to keep the needs of food, medicine, and shelter met.

"You've made your nest, now you're going to wallow in it," Yoline snarled when Ryan tried to pay her a visit after the villages were running smoothly. "I've got the Fernwick under control, but don't expect any cooperation out of me to boost your treasonist numbers."

"Dear lady, I just wanted to make sure you were well and your needs were met," Ryan said gracefully.

"I need you to come to your senses so we don't have more bodies to bury when the raiding parties return home!" Yoline snapped. "Out with you, buck. I can handle what I need, you go focus on your misguided quest for glory and sabotage."

Ryan bowed to her and quietly left the room. He returned to his new quarters and paced worriedly. All he had wanted to do was help nudge the rebellion a little. Not only had he encouraged it, he somehow got put almost to the head of it! He found himself relying more and more on the Feral commanders. It was more than a single knight could handle. Ryan stopped pacing and stared out the window. "I need a master," he whispered. But all of them were away on the raids and the militia was grossly unqualified. Ryan was one of a handful left behind to help keep order and direct the militia if trouble arose. Little did they know that I'd be the trouble. "As she said, it's my nest," Ryan muttered and went out into the capital once more. He began to turn his attention to bringing what stability he could to their part of the Nyre before the warriors returned from the raiding parties further north.

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The most disruptive of the loyalists were kept under lock and guard, and they voiced their opinions quite loudly to their wardens.

"You are a traitor. How could you turn on your own kind and side with those lowly Ferals? What's next, the Prairie?" growled one captive.

"We even intend to go so far as to fix the relationship with mankind that you lot fouled up," taunted a guard.

"How could you!?" demanded the flabbergasted captive. "Where is your loyalty? Your pride? Your good sense?"

"Your 'good' sense was leading us to the brink of death," grumbled the guard. "Angering all our neighbors and they were developing their own loyalties because of it. 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'."

"But we kept proudly to our traditions. What is this blasphemy you now do?"

"Actually, I am more traditional than you. A long time ago, it was tradition to visit with and renew friendships with the other kurach tribes. I don't know why we strayed from that, but it is our intention to fix it. The other species are getting more organized and more populated. I want to see our kind survive as a whole, not trampled under and forgotten due to division."

"They were too weak to be our allies."

"A water drop is weak. A storm is not."

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"What are we going to do with these rays of sunshine after everything is all done and settled?" one guard asked another.

"Not my problem. We'll let the new clan Elders figure something out," he laughed. "Ol' Ryan is having a time with Yoline. No telling who she'll order released and locked up if she ever deigns to work with the military."

"I wouldn't mind giving them the boot to the Eor. Not as much sunshine there as here. It'd match their disposition perfectly," she grumbled.

"Pot and kettle, eh?" he grinned mischievously. She gave him a shove and mumbled a string of indiscernible things under her breath. He chuckled and began his walk around the chambers as part of his duties.

"Just how long are you going to keep us locked up in these cages anyway?" growled one prisoner.

"Until we're given orders to let you out, of course," the guard replied.

"Aside from the obvious," the prisoner sighed.

"I don't know. Quit your grumbling. It's not like you have it bad in there. Two good meals a day, all the chance for sleep you want, no interrogations or torture," the guard nodded. "You have the easy end of the deal."

"What, to waste away in here without any proper chance to stretch my legs or wings?" the prisoner asked bitterly.

"It's not permanent," the guard shrugged. "It'll be over before you know it."

⁂

"That was it?" Shanku asked, puzzled. "One good tussle and the Fernwick are completely restructured?"

"It's not always that simple, but never underestimate the efficiency of the Imperials. For all their philosophical flaws, they exceed in precision," Bibot said uneasily to his granddaughter. He had dropped by Zanzen's den for an evening to share news of the battlefront with them. "The Fernwick are just one Imperial clan, and there will be skirmishes in several of the villages. What we should be concerned with now is whether or not the rebels will be able to stably hold their position during both the transition and during any backlash from the other four Imperial clans."

"I'd almost forgotten about them," Shanku muttered. "I stayed close to Highland land when I passed through."

"And while I'm sure the other Ferals would happily stand by the Fernwick rebels, there are only so many nearby crops, game, and foraging to support troops from all seven of the clans in the Nyre, much less if all eleven Sylvan clans concentrate to one area."

"Dragons are good at moving large quantities of things," Shanku said devilishly. "We could start a nice supply line with their help."

"No, no," Bibot shook his head. "Enlisting the aid of gryphons was a daring enough move. I don't want to think about getting involved with dragons!" Shanku giggled and helped Nari serve supper to the family. "It smells delicious, but I must be returning to Ysu." Bibot said his farewells and left.

"I guess that means the gryphons will have to keep relaying scrolls for a while longer, huh?" Shanku asked over supper.

"Gettin' tired of brushing baby bird-kits?" Muso teased.

"You kiddin'? I'm having a field day!" Shanku beamed. "Fat, roly-poly, utterly adorable, and I like the way those little cold birdie feet feel on my arms. Well, except for the talons, of course."

"I do not like the talons either," Hilael said flatly. Shanku was routinely scratched while helping care for gryph chicks, and while they were minor injuries, Hilael was spending a lot of time helping her keep them clean and free of infection.

"You really should be more careful," Zanzen agreed. "Perhaps you should invest in good pair of arm guards."

"Oh, like some of those falconers I heard about in Bhadarukia!" Shanku exclaimed. "Great idea, Da!"

Zanzen just shook his head and sighed.


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