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Title: On the Road Again
Description: tag: welkin (maristheum to kyha)

Galia Baryk - May 5, 2011 08:55 PM (GMT)
The peak of the tallest tower in the city had faded out of sight several hours ago, giving way to the grey-green valley around them. Running through this dip in the mountain range was the main road from capital to port cities. Years of traffic along the path had prevented any life from growing back into the earth underfoot, but the spring rains from the day prior had softened the dirt into a thick mud. While the stormclouds had moved on, a veil of mist still lingered, filtering out the sunlight and keeping the air heavy and damp.

She'd made this trip a hundred times before, but usually alone, or with her equals. Never before had administration seen fit to assign her a gaggle of fresh recruits to escort on the way to Kyha. Even if she'd been told that it was simply a matter of convenience to travel together, she had to wonder if she was actually being tested -- or punished. It was her job to turn green boys into worthy scouts, but they usually came to her, not with her.

Sergeant Baryk was no mother hen to lead a trail of chicklets. Yet there she was, taking point before a band of five, baby-faced bobbling heads, most of them no older than nineteen at the maximum. She couldn't even be certain that all of them were actually even sixteen. A parchment of their names was tucked into her bag, but she hadn't memorized which was which yet. They all looked about the same, save for one wiry looking kid with hair the color of flame, though that trait was the only thing to distinguish him.

For the most part, the journey had been thankfully quiet thus far. A little idle chatter between boys as they marched, but hardly a word or a question asked of her, even though she could feel their eyes pressing on her back the whole way, wanting to know, but rightfully too intimidated to ask. Maybe someone had tipped them off about her reputation before they left the barracks. Either way, Galia was glad to keep their interaction to a minimum, at least until she actually had anything to say to them.

That time had finally come. While she would have normally pushed on ahead another few hours, the voices behind her were growing louder and rowdier. Though no complaint was directed to her, she could feel the tension netting around them, threatening to go from irritation to conflict in a snap. Letting boys fight it out might have proven more entertaining, but explaining why they'd arrived in worse condition than they'd left was just too much work.

A small, sickly looking tree bent over a circle of fallen rocks by the side of the road, a good enough resting place as anything. Turning, she lifted a hand to call for a halt, "Alright. We're taking a break. Empty your bladders. Eat something. Wander. Sit. I don't care. Twenty minutes. Then we keep moving."

Welkin Njordson - May 7, 2011 10:32 PM (GMT)
Ocean ocean ocean!

That was really all Welkin cared about. When he'd learned he was going to Kyha with a batch of other new recruits he was ecstatic. Finally he would see the great expanse of shimmering blue waves, fraught with mystery and danger and beauty.

It also meant the military didn't believe he was a run away risk anymore. He was pretty sure they'd kept him in the capital to make sure he wouldn't scamper off and do illegal things again, but that had never been his inclination to begin with. It was circumstance and survival that forced him to do those things. But in those years he had developed a love of sailing and being on the water.

For however excited he was, he didn't chat with the other boys. They were all near his age, fresh recruits, and he couldn't even remember most of their names. They didn't talk to him, and he didn't talk to them. He wasn't sure if it was because he was a foreigner, or because he beat them all in archery, even the older ones who'd been shooting far longer. Regardless, he had no friends in this troop.

The woman was a surprise. Welkin never expected to have a female soldier tell him what to do. It felt strange, and he knew he wasn't the only one to think so. Some other boys voiced their discontent in breathless whines. Welkin didn't necessarily share those prejudices, but he just wondered how she got where she was, and how difficult it had to have been.

He remembered his mother occasionally, usually because of a dream that brought back memories of his village in Paras. He heard her voice and listened to her sing, and vaguely remembered red hair and green eyes and a silver necklace. After losing her, his only exposure to women were those the pirates captured. Trying to block the sound of their sobs and screams and whimpers was the hardest part of being on that ship.

Part of him wondered if Baryk was actually a woman at all.

Welkin stopped walking with everyone else and relieved himself. Despite the long trek and horrible weather, he was still excited. He wondered if they'd be able to see the ocean at all, if it weren't for the mist covering everything.

He approached the lady with a smile. "Sergeant? How much longer till we get to Kyha?"

Galia Baryk - May 8, 2011 04:41 AM (GMT)
While the boys were milling about, Galia took the opportunity to reexamine her roster. The list meant little to her, though. One of them was marked down as a Refugee, someone to keep an eye out for, but she didn't know which. She still couldn't put names to faces, nor was it easy to speculate based on appearances alone. Furthermore, it didn't even matter what his status was -- if any recruit acted out of line or made any attempt to desert, he wouldn't get very far on her watch.

As she was reading along, one of the youths approached. Galia didn't look up at first, catching a glimpse of his bright hair in the corner of her eye, but not giving her full attention yet. Not until she realized he wasn't complaining. The scout turned her head, looked him up and down.

He barely looked of age to be in service, and he was smiling at her. Whereas the majority of his compatriots looked absolutely miserable in the muck, he had come to her with earnest curiosity.

"How much longer?" she echoed, tilting her head. She didn't smile back, though one corner of her mouth had lifted. "Kid, we're barely halfway there yet."

That would have been a sufficient answer by her standards. But he seemed so eager to know, and it still surprised her a little that he hadn't realized they were still in the vale and not anywhere close to the coast. "By the time we get to Kyha, it'll be well after sundown," she elaborated. "You won't be able to see the water. Not much of it, anyway. Especially not if this fog is cast over the marina, too."

Welkin Njordson - May 8, 2011 05:31 AM (GMT)
Welkin deflated a little and sighed. "Ah, makes sense. Thank you siruhma'am."

Yeesh, this was going to be difficult. He was so used to saying "sir" all the time. Actually, he wondered if she even minded being called "sir". Maybe she was a woman that liked to act like a man and wanted to be thought of as a man. Hard to do when she had an admirable set of knockers. Yes, Welkin noticed those things.

"I haven't been to Kyha in a few months," he prattled, more to hide his flub than because he felt the need to divulge his life history. "I kinda grew up around ships and boats so being stuck in Mari...Maristheum has been a bit like homesickness. There's the river but it's nothing like the ocean, y'know?" He heard snickering behind him from the other boys and knew he sounded like a complete idiot.

"Er...Say how long have you been in the military, ma'am?" He smiled sheepishly. Then, very quietly, "...sir?"

Galia Baryk - May 8, 2011 06:05 AM (GMT)
Frankly, Galia didn't care what people called her, so long as they understood what her role was in the chain of command. Correcting him would have been far less amusing than watching him squirm over it, though. One had to take small pleasures where they were given.

So she said nothing, let his tongue trip over his words as he tried to recover from his error, but was bored quickly. Somehow, answering a very simple question had become an invitation to exchange life stories. Decidedly, this assignment was a punishment by one of the captains.

Pryyo, take me now.

Certainly she could relate to his background; she hated being stuck inland, and it had taken her the better part of a year to adjust to quarters in the capital. But she didn't know this boy, and didn't care to divulge details until she had a better idea of him. She shrugged mildly, "More than half your life, I'd suspect."

Having said that aloud, Galia felt suddenly old. Did she look as half-witted and wet behind the ears as this lot did at their age? She hadn't thought herself a child then, even though she was plenty immature. Half of the boys she'd been recruited with didn't make it out of training, and another half of those that did hadn't survived what followed it. She wondered who among this bunch would be in her place in ten years.

That odd thought compelled to her ask, "What was your name again?"

Welkin Njordson - May 8, 2011 06:03 PM (GMT)
Oh great. Now she was going to call him out whenever she could.

He sighed. "Welkin Njordson, ma'am."

Galia Baryk - May 8, 2011 07:21 PM (GMT)
Ah. The Refugee.

That was one out of four she could remember by more than physical characteristic, then. Things like beak nose, big ears, and ginger kid worked, but now she had one more method to individualize the trainees.

Strange that he was a foreigner, though. Almost as strange as having a female recruit.

"Where did you say you were from, Njordson?"

Welkin Njordson - May 8, 2011 07:48 PM (GMT)
"Oh, uh, I'm from Paras. Well, originally. I haven't been back there in a long time." He shrugged and scratched his head. "Been in Escova for a few months now."

Galia Baryk - May 8, 2011 09:38 PM (GMT)
"That's an island, isn't it?" Geography wasn't her strong suit -- most of the Mainland was just one big, irrelevant lump. Foreigners were foreigners. Since being inducted into the scouts, she hadn't ever really found a need to interact with Refugees, unless the city guard was really short handed.

But she knew islands. She knew what was on the opposite coast. That was about as much as she needed to know. The ginger kid -- Njordson -- said he was used to ships. She could see it now. His freckled arms clinging to lines, scrawny body clambering up masts. She squinted. "Why aren't you in the Navy?"

Welkin Njordson - May 8, 2011 10:58 PM (GMT)
"Yes, it's an island, a very big one," Welkin said. "And for the navy." He shrugged. "I'm good with a bow, so I guess they figured I'd do best as a sco--"

"He's a damn pirate!" one of the other boys shouted.

Welkin winced. "And, uh, that."

Galia Baryk - May 9, 2011 04:05 AM (GMT)
Now things were getting interesting. Njordson didn't appear like the filthy, disease ridden men she'd met on the seas before, though there was no knowing what he looked like before he'd arrived in Escova.

Encounters with black flagged ships while traveling between islands hadn't given her a high opinion of pirates. But she liked gawkers and interlopers almost as little. The sergeant turned her head, face impassive, "And what were you? A shepherd? A stable boy? Chamber pot emptier?" She smirked. "A wet nurse, maybe."

The boy shut his mouth, and his little friends tried to hide their snickers. Galia locked her eyes on each of them, no longer amused. "Gossip's for midwives and court ladies. Do any of you belong in those groups?"

"No, sir."

That drew an exasperated sigh. "Spirits help us all if you were. You," she said to the first boy who'd called out. "Come here." He hesitated, until she waved at him to step forward, drawing an apple from her satchel with her other hand. As he came to a halt nearby, she tossed the piece of fruit. The recruit fumbled with it, but finally held it in his palms, confused. "Stand by that tree."

Apparently, he needed precise direction. Once again, Galia had to gesture at him until he was roughly ten paces away, in the shade of the tree. Its branches loomed overhead, as if reaching for him. "Right there. Put the apple on your head."

He was finally nervous. "W-why--"

"That was an order. Do it," she growled, and obediently, he stood absolutely still with a round, red crown. Her attention returned to Welkin, unstrapping her bow from her back and removing an arrow from her quiver. She handed both to him calmly, "Now, you said you're good with a bow. Let's see if you're right."

Welkin Njordson - May 9, 2011 10:47 PM (GMT)
Welkin watched, silently amused, as the boy placed an apple on his head and stood nervously against a tree. He even allowed himself a little smile as the woman soldier handed him her bow and arrow.

"Yes, ma'am," he said.

With one last smirk at the boy with the apple, Welkin loaded, pulled, and loosed in one fluid motion. He barely paused to aim.

The arrow split the apple in half anyway. The boy underneath it released a long breath.

Galia Baryk - May 10, 2011 04:53 AM (GMT)
It was a big gamble to let a rookie take a shot at another recruit. Had he missed, had he not been as good as his word... She would have had a lot of explaining to do once they got to Kyha. And possibly a body to haul the rest of the way.

But the boy was better than good. He was amazing, in a way that she almost couldn't believe if she hadn't seen it with her own two eyes.

The way he so calmly accepted her weapon without so much as a question or a tremor had mitigated the surprise she might have had otherwise. If he didn't believe in himself, he wouldn't have done it, she knew. Galia took back the bow, allowing just a slip of a smile toward Welkin.

"Show's over, boys," she called to the three remaining trainees, who were collectively incapable of closing their jaws. They would have plenty to talk about after this. The sergeant strode forward, plucking the arrow out of the tree as the other boy ducked out of the way, hands covering a dark stain that ran down one leg of his trousers. She stifled a laugh, suggesting quietly, "You might want to switch into your spares."

He muttered something, then took off behind a thicket. Overhead, a squirrel was already eyeballing the two halves of fruit. Almost a waste, but she left it for the critters and went back to Welkin. "How did you learn to shoot like that?" she asked quietly, trying not to sound overly interested, though she really was curious and slightly in awe.

Welkin Njordson - May 10, 2011 08:55 PM (GMT)
Welkin tried not to smile too widely at the reactions around him. He always enjoyed them, even if his ability was tantamount to cheating.

He wasn't sure how many people knew his sharpshooting was just magic. When he'd been drafted he remembered a Seer pointing him out and telling those assembled about his gift. The only people there at the time where higher ranking officials, at least higher than regular recruits. They'd been debating what to do with him, even if he had won the bet against that one guard. He had a feeling his youth helped save his life.

Some of the other recruits said it was magic, just as a rumor. From then on during practice Welkin occasionally missed dead center on the archery targets. He was still always very close.

So when the woman asked her question Welkin was honestly a bit flummoxed. "Well, most boys know how to shoot a bow," he said with a disarming shrug. He handed the bow back to the woman with a slight bend at the waist. "I guess I just...have a knack for it."

Liar. You lying liar face.

Galia Baryk - May 11, 2011 04:13 AM (GMT)
"Knowing how to shoot isn't the same as being able to do it well," Galia corrected, replacing her weaponry on her back. She didn't like his answer, but she was trying not to wear her mistrust on her face. He hadn't hesitated, barely even paused to weigh the bow in his hands before taking aim. Even at his age, when she was the best sharpshooter in her troop, she wouldn't have done what he did without blinking twice.

That wasn't knack. That wasn't luck. That wasn't even skill.

Njordson had something else to him, whether he wanted to admit it, or even knew it. One thing she absolutely didn't like was being lied to -- she took the Six Declarations to heart -- but there was no consequence for not telling her what he might have known. Not in this life, or under her control, at least. And what did it matter in the end, really?

He was a better shot than everyone else around them at present, possibly better than any of the archers in service of the Queen's Army. Herself included. Humbling as that thought was, he still had a lot of other things to learn. This was just one less skill he needed training in, and ultimately, less work for her.

"We're marching out," announced the sergeant, hardly waiting for the rest to fall into formation before starting forward. She glanced back at Welkin. That he had potential was a good thing, Refugee, pirate, latent mage, or not. But for whom? She asked coolly, "Were you a pirate?"

Welkin Njordson - May 11, 2011 04:23 AM (GMT)
Welkin burbled a few random hems and haws to her comment but didn't say anything real. Instead he just kind of looked around the area and stretched and tried not to squirm under her gaze.

Then they were moving. Welkin jumped to follow, but then began wondering if he should have hovered toward the back. Now she was asking questions.

"Uhm, yeah," he mumbled. "Er, yes ma'am. I was. I'm...not anymore. Obviously."

Galia Baryk - May 11, 2011 04:40 AM (GMT)
"Obviously," she parroted, with a breath that almost sounded like a laugh. Pirates were romanticized in some tales; swashbucklers and adventurers, scavenging for treasure, living the life of a free man on the high seas, no land to tether or bind him. The reality was far more gruesome. He had to have seen it. "Didn't work out well for you, then... Or did it?"

She shrugged, still talking over her shoulder, "After all, you weren't gutted when you were caught. Why was that?"

Maybe because his captors were soft, though she didn't believe in execution without fair judgment. Maybe he was a coward and hid during the fight, and surely with pirates there had to have been some skirmish. Maybe he'd betrayed them, and the fools running the military didn't know better than to put trust in proven turncoats.

Or maybe he was just some kid, far in over his head and treading water.

Welkin Njordson - May 11, 2011 07:43 PM (GMT)
"Uh." Welkin scratched his head. "Well, maybe because of my age. I told them I wasn't doing it voluntarily. I guess the guy who caught me felt sorry for me. He asked why the pirates even wanted me around, and I told him I was a good shot. He wanted proof, and he said if I hit what I was told to hit he'd let me into the military."

He shrugged. "Better than begging for coins in the Refugee Quarter, or dying in a jail cell."

Galia Baryk - May 11, 2011 08:14 PM (GMT)
So survival was his motivation, then. That wasn't entirely reassuring. Neither was the fact that some higher ranking idiot was out there, handing out jobs to prisoners on a whim. Nothing to be done about that, though.

"When was the last time you saw--" Home, she wanted to say, but thought better of it. That would only encourage the idea that he could somehow desert or defect, that he had somewhere else to be. "Paras?"

Welkin Njordson - May 11, 2011 08:18 PM (GMT)
Welkin took a few moments to do math, which was not his strong suit.

"I was ten when I was taken. I'm sixteen now. So...six years."

Right? Yeah that was right.

"They kept me in Maristheum for a few months after they got me to see if I would run away, I think."

Galia Baryk - May 11, 2011 08:38 PM (GMT)
Six years in the hands of pirates, and she was expected to trust him? She'd be amazed if spending his formative years amongst scum hadn't given him some taste for blood or gold. A boy he may have been, and a seemingly dull one at that, but he'd already lived and seen more than some people three times his age. If he hadn't learned something from those experiences, well... Galia would keep an eye on this one.

A few months kept in the city wasn't much of a test. She licked her lips in consideration, "Well, if you'd tried to run, you wouldn't haven gotten very far. Not in Maristheum, anyway. There are guards everywhere. And where would you go, down the river? You'd have to swim through Refugee waste first, before you got out. The countryside's no safer to travel alone, either."

Even in a time of peace such as this, highwaymen and bandits still prowled for easy targets. He wouldn't have anything for them to take but his life, and even that could be enough for some of those men.

"Kyha is on the water and has a lot of boats, though," she mused, eyes flicking back to him again, as if making a suggestion. "Many more places to hide, and many more men willing to take on human cargo. For a fair price." It was unlikely Welkin had the coin for it, though. She watched his face carefully for some kind of reaction.

Welkin Njordson - May 11, 2011 09:39 PM (GMT)
Welkin shrugged. "I guess so. I just miss being on a boat, really. Even in Paras we lived on the shore. I grew up around water, and I like sailing."

Galia Baryk - May 11, 2011 10:18 PM (GMT)
She blinked. He was so...simple. "They should have kept you for the navy. You'd be happier there." Not that happiness mattered. "Scouts set sail, sometimes. Mostly they just stick us out on little rocks in the middle of the sea for months, to be as cold and wet and bored as possible, looking for signs of trouble." Galia wasn't one to glamorize her role.

She shrugged, "It has its occasional moments of excitement, though. Hmm. Sailing and shooting. What else do you know how to do? Or like to do?"

Welkin Njordson - May 12, 2011 01:22 AM (GMT)
"I guess they wanted me as a scout because I'm a good shot," he mumbled.

Her last question left him temporarily speechless. What else did he know how to do? Not much. He knew a bit about sailing, some about navigating, but not much else. He knew how to sew, and fish, and swim, and weave nets.

"Uhm. I like being on the water," he mumbled. "And I like shooting." He slumped a little. "I dunno."

Galia Baryk - May 12, 2011 11:54 AM (GMT)
"Speak up, Njordson," she said crisply; not for inability to hear or understand him, but to instill a little more self-confidence. It was one thing to be able to hit a target without flinching, it was another to make decisions in an instant. He couldn't even answer an easy question with any certainty. It was all 'I think' this or 'I guess' that. That wouldn't do at all.

Galia sighed, "Do you want to know how to do anything else?"

Welkin Njordson - May 13, 2011 02:12 AM (GMT)
Welkin flinched when she snipped at him. It wasn't a sharp retort, but it reminded him he was talking to a superior, even if she was a woman. He stood straighter.

"Yes," he answered. Then, "Like what?"

Galia Baryk - May 13, 2011 02:57 AM (GMT)
"Like...fight. Or hunt." Practical skills, applicable to their field. "I can have a word with the trainers, if you're interested." Galia didn't consider this offer to be a favor to anyone but herself, ultimately. If he was going to be among her division, she only wanted to work with the best.

Still, she wasn't going to seem like she was pushing. Like she cared or something. "Or you could learn to play the lute, paint landscapes, woo women. Doesn't make a difference. The world's your oyster," she said flippantly, shrugging again. A little more seriously, she added, "At some point, you'll want to have a little more ambition than just trying to stay alive. Else what's the use in living?"

Welkin Njordson - May 13, 2011 03:30 AM (GMT)
"Well I can hunt, sorta, y'know because of the shooting thing." He was silent a bit while they marched. None of the suggestions she gave were particularly attractive.

"I never got that 'world is your oyster' thing," he added in a mumble. "The insides of oysters are disgusting. Never cared for the taste either."

He shook his head lightly. "And, aren't we supposed to be learning things about being a scout?"

Galia Baryk - May 13, 2011 03:46 AM (GMT)
He was mumbling again. One step forward, two steps back. But she had to chuckle a little at how literal he was. "They are. But sometimes you can find pearls in 'em." Or so she'd heard. She had never actually found any herself, nor known anyone who had.

She paused in her step, waiting until he had caught up to her, so she could look at him directly. "Is that what you want to learn? How to be a scout?" His answer made a difference, whether he or anyone else thought so or not.

Welkin Njordson - May 13, 2011 06:13 PM (GMT)
He stared at her, thinking of the question. He had a feeling she wasn't going to like his answer.

He shrugged. "I guess so. I...I don't know what I want."

Galia Baryk - May 13, 2011 10:38 PM (GMT)
It was an honest answer, and she couldn't really be mad at him for that. Not yet, anyway. The sergeant dipped her head in a curt nod, "Better start thinking about it, then. It's dangerous to just let other people make decisions about your life for you. Especially out in the field. You have to be quick. You have to sure."

There, he was learning about being a scout. Without another word, Galia picked up her pace again.

Welkin Njordson - May 13, 2011 10:48 PM (GMT)
Welkin picked up his pace too, but didn't draw beside her. She was their leader after all.

"I thought being in the military was all about following orders."

Galia Baryk - May 13, 2011 11:10 PM (GMT)
"Where do you think the orders come from? The Queen?" she said snidely. Galia didn't care a bit about politics, but she wasn't in the military for the sake of the nation's royal overseers. "Every commander starts out on the bottom. The best rise to the top, if they have the skill, and the ambition. You have one of those qualities."

That was praise, in a roundabout way. "And as a scout, if that's where you wind up, you won't have your hand held every step of the way. Orders don't shield you from your enemies. It's not just about being a good shot and having a strong stomach on the waves. We observe, then we stay alive long enough to be able to report back. What we know informs the next set of orders made. Get it?"

Welkin Njordson - May 14, 2011 05:43 AM (GMT)
" it," he replied. He'd been momentarily distracted by her announcement of him having skill or ambition, trying to figure out which. She must have meant skill, with the bow, which wasn't really skill at all. He almost told her, but decided to keep it quiet. If she didn't know, maybe other people were trying to keep it a secret. Or they didn't know.

"Well then I guess I want to learn to be a good scout," he said with a shrug.

Galia Baryk - May 14, 2011 06:14 AM (GMT)
A breakthrough, at last. She smiled. "Good."

He was a bit slow, but it seemed like she might be able to groom at least one successful scout out of this otherwise sorry looking lot. Any idiot with two working hands and a broad sword could be an ordinary foot soldier. Any idiot with uncannily good aim could just be an archer, too.

Was he any idiot, though? He asked enough questions of her and thought carefully enough about his answers to suggest that his brain did work, to a certain capacity. It just needed more pushing and prodding. "I have an exercise for you," she announced. "Describe what you see around you."

Welkin Njordson - May 14, 2011 05:21 PM (GMT)
Welkin blinked at her, then glanced around.

"Uhm...well, there's you. Four other recruits. A dirt road. Muddy. A few trees." He looked up. "Some crows. Or birds like crows." He looked down. " Grass."

He had a feeling he was failing this somehow.

Galia Baryk - May 14, 2011 10:48 PM (GMT)
It was a start, and not a terrible one. The important things had been identified.

"Keep going. What do you notice about the recruits? From sight alone, not what you might know of them or have been told."

Welkin Njordson - May 14, 2011 11:00 PM (GMT)
Welkin frowned, then cautiously peered over his shoulder. The other recruits were frowning.

"They don't look happy to see me," he muttered.

Galia Baryk - May 14, 2011 11:15 PM (GMT)
That wasn't what she'd been going for, but it certainly shed a different light on his thoughts. Galia glanced behind her. Not a happy face to be seen in the bunch.

If they weren't scowling at him, there were at least a couple glaring daggers at her own back. One caught her looking, and seemed to shrink in realization. Was it wrong to be amused by their fear and hatred? She was used to it, and coming from better men.

What they made of her wasn't concerning. But his note was a tangent she was willing to explore. "Does that really matter to you? Their opinions of you. Honest answer."

Welkin Njordson - May 14, 2011 11:56 PM (GMT)
Welkin tried not to slump, but it was difficult. He remembered that boy who'd sneered at him just for being a refugee. "Well...Sometimes. Who wants to be an outcast?"

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