The room was round, thirty feet in diameter and had neither doors nor windows. Tristan was sure he had opened a door seconds before, but then he had arrived here. The walls were red and earthen, though they had been shaped by intelligent hands and not through natural means.
Tristan's eyes were drawn toward the pool in the center of the room, a raised well several feet above the floor filled with white water. It radiated warmth, and as he approached the pool he began to sweat. He had never perspired from heat before, and he felt a twinge of fear in his heart nearly stopping him from moving forward.
But something compelled him to take another step. He walked forward until he stood at the edge of the pool and could peer down into the white water. Sweat poured off of his brow and into his eyes, and he reached up and wiped it with his sleeve only to find his sleeve was already drenched with the sweat from his arm.
"This is what you're here for." The voice was distant, though it seemed familiar. Tristan couldn't quite place who it belonged to, but he was sure he had heard it before. He looked around but found no one in the room with him.
"Who are you? Where are you?" Tristan asked the empty room.
"You know who I am." The voice replied. It seemed closer now, and Tristan turned back toward the pool. He blinked as he peered into the surface, seeing a face begin to materialize. He gasped as Kurt stared back at him, his grandfatherly smile taking the edge off of his sudden appearance. "It's good to see you, Tristan." Kurt said. His voice rang loud and clear, though Tristan still found it felt somewhat intangible.
"What? How is this possible?" Tristan asked, leaning toward the pool and resting his hands on the edge of the well wall. "You're dead. How can you be speaking to me?"
"You know Jacob and yet you ask how the dead can speak?" Kurt asked, grinning. "It is not important, Tristan. We have very little time. You have to find this place, Tristan, in the waking world. You can only do what needs to be done if you are here in the flesh, and a dream will not do."
"I'm dreaming?" Tristan asked, reaching down and feeling his body. He felt nothing under his fingertips, and the sensation of heat was beginning to fade. He looked down, but instead of looking at his lower body his vision shifted only slightly, and he was standing on the edge of the room again, staring at the distant pool.
"Tristan, you must reach Avalon," Kurt said, sounding distant again. "You must find us and put an end to everything. Oberon cannot win."
Tristan felt himself slipping out of the dream, and he reached out toward the pool as he fell backward. He fell through blackness as the image of the pool grew further and further away. "Wait!" He cried as he continued to fall until the pool disappeared entirely.
He woke with a start, staring into the darkness of the small storage space. Micah and he had claimed the storage as their sleeping quarters on the aircraft when Max had decided to make a landing in the Alps, a few hours after they had fled the manor house. They had detected roaming Nightshade aircraft on their radar and had decided it would be safer to lay low for a few days rather than attempt to leave Nightshade airspace.
It had been two days since they'd arrived in the shallow Alpine valley, but they were still reeling from what had transpired. Luke, Hayden, and Jacob were dead. Ivan had been captured by Oberon and Nurim had been murdered by Sparrow. Everyone had lost someone important to them, though some, like Micah, hadn't take any time to grieve.
Micah stirred next to him, opening his eyes and blinking up at him before stifling a yawn. "What's wrong, Tris?" he asked, sitting up straight and letting the blanket fall away from him revealing his gorgeous chest and abs. Tristan would never get used to how beautiful his lover was, but he was glad Micah was his and not someone else's.
"I just had a nightmare, nothing else," Tristan replied, leaning forward and gripping his knees through the blanket covering them. "You can go back to sleep."
Micah shifted into a sitting position, pushing the blanket away from his body. Even though Micah's nakedness was on full display to Tristan, there was no lust shared between them in that moment. Tristan hadn't been in the mood for sex since watching Jacob rip soldier after soldier apart, though he knew it was starting to have an effect on Micah. Micah was someone who needed physical release in order to find emotional release, and it was a struggle for him to not be able to achieve it.
"No, you need to talk, I can tell," Micah said sweetly, wrapping his arm around Tristan. Tristan nearly lost control of his emotions as he heard the strain hidden behind the sweetness in Micah's voice. Even though Micah was starving for physical attention, he was still trying to cater to Tristan's needs first.
But this time, Tristan's needs could wait. He was sick of letting Micah take care of him all the time. Without saying anything, he turned to Micah and kissed him hard on the mouth. Micah accepted the kiss with surprise, and when Tristan pulled back for a moment Micah raised a questioning eyebrow.
Tristan didn't want to explain. Not this time. He gripped Micah's shoulders and pushed him down to the floor of the storage room. He let his lips lead him as he explored Micah's body aggressively with his mouth, whilst his hands moved lower. One hand stopped on Micah's chest while the other continued down until they gripped Micah's throbbing shaft.
"Tris, what-" Micah breathed and was cut short as Tristan smothered his mouth with another passionate kiss.
"No talking," Tristan whispered before giving Micah another long kiss. "Enough talking." He added when he pulled off again. "You've done enough for me, it's time I took care of you. I can't afford to be selfish anymore."
Jacob watched from the ether, waiting for Oberon to make a move. All the King of Avalon had done since arriving in the manor was issue simple orders to his soldiers regarding locating and apprehending Tristan and Nevala. Jacob already knew what Oberon wanted with the two phoenixes, but what he couldn't understand was why Oberon was still waiting in the manor house for them to be found.
Whenever Oberon wasn't giving orders he was walking the halls, looking at the portraits which hung at regular intervals, a look of contempt on his face. He seemed oblivious to the blood-stained marble floors, or to the stench of death and battle which permeated the entire building. It was as if he was above it all. If he truly felt that way, Jacob wondered, then why was he still here?
Jacob moved behind him, invisible to the senses of a normal man. He had expected Oberon to have sensed him by now, but as of yet it seemed as if Jacob had managed to remain hidden. It made him wonder if the malevolence he had surging through his being had gifted him additional powers beyond the ability to kill men with the power of his will alone. Ivan, Finn, and Nevala had all been able to sense him even when he was doing his best to mask his presence, was he really so powerful now that he could avoid Oberon's detection?
He doubted it. Ivan and he had conversed shortly before Oberon had arrived in the manor house and after the others had left. He had been trying to observe Ivan then and not make conversation, but Ivan had sensed him immediately and had coaxed him to come out and speak. They had only spoken briefly before Ivan had sent him away, but that conversation had been eye-opening for a number of reasons.
But if Ivan could still sense him, it seemed a guarantee Oberon would be able to perceive him as well. Which meant something else must be stopping Oberon from acting on his presence, and that troubled Jacob more than anything.
He followed Oberon into a room which the elves had converted into an office for their king. Oberon closed the door behind him and walked around to the other side of a large wooden desk to sit in its chair. Doors had little impact on Jacob, who simply moved through the wall as if it were empty space and took up a position at the edge of the desk.
"You can stop trying to hide, Jacob Walker," Oberon said after a moment, turning to stare directly at him. "I've known you were there the entire time."
Jacob remained silent, wondering if it was a ruse. He knew he was invisible to normal eyes, but was it possible Oberon could do more than just feel his presence? "No?" Oberon asked, a small smile crossing his face. "All right then, I suppose I can simply make you apparent." He waved his hand and Jacob felt his form slip from the ether and into the physical realm. He was no longer invisible to anyone.
"How did you do that?" Jacob asked, glaring at Oberon.
"A magic more ancient than anything wielded by Finn Turner," Oberon replied returning the glare with equal intensity. "Did you really think you could evade my senses?"
"So, you've caught me," Jacob replied, dismissing the question, "are you going to get rid of me now?"
"Why would I want to do that?" Oberon asked, leaning back in his chair as his glare faded. "A ghost such as yourself is rather insignificant to me and my plans. You're merely a nuisance."
"I killed Faust," Jacob said through gritted teeth. He felt his malevolence begin to surge and he reached out to Oberon with his mind and tried to grip and still his heart as he had done to the soldiers several days before. "Are you really so eager to disregard me?"
"Making a bold claim such as that implies you're already resorting to intimidation, which means you have nothing." Oberon laughed at him openly and leaned forward again, his armor creaking in protest. "I trust you already tried to still my beating heart and make me go mad with fear? Child's play, Jacob. You should know better than that."
"If you already know that much about me, I'd be surprised if you didn't expect me to try to kill you." Jacob shrugged his shoulders while keeping his arms crossed over his chest as he added pointedly, "It's not like we're friends."
"True," Oberon replied with a nod. "I suppose I can give you some credit for that."
"But you must have some plan for me if you haven't gotten rid of me," Jacob said, cocking his head to the side inquisitively.
"How would you like to replace Sparrow?" Oberon asked. Jacob raised an eyebrow as Oberon continued. "You killed him, and I need a new scout. A ghost of your strength could be useful, even if you're insignificant in the grand scheme of things."
"You really think I would work with you?" Jacob scoffed. "You killed the love of my life. Sparrow forced me to kill two of my closest friends. Why would I help you?"
Oberon smiled slyly. "What if I told you I have to power to reunite you with Kurt sooner rather than later?"
Despite his distrust of Oberon, Jacob found himself considering the proposition. He felt guilt begin to settle in as he said with resignation, "Tell me more."
"That was..." Micah panted, his body covered in sweat and other scents of their intense love-making session. He rose up on his elbows and kissed Tristan on the mouth. "Thank you, Tris."
"No talking," Tristan said as they pulled apart again. "Didn't I say that?"
"Yes, but..." Micah protested but then Tristan cut him off with another kiss and pushed him back to the floor, sliding on top of his chest and wrapping his arms around Micah.
"But nothing," Tristan said as he buried his head in the crook of Micah's arm. "I just want to lie here with you and forget about everything for a moment."
Micah reached up to stroke Tristan's face and said softly, "Okay. No more talking."
It didn't seem to take long before Tristan's breathing became regular again, and he drifted off to sleep. Micah was content to leave him in that position as he ran through everything that had recently happened. There had been so much going on over the past few days, but really it had been that way for as long as Tristan had been part of his life. They had been through a great deal together, but Tristan had always been able to come back from it.
These past few days had been different. They had been harder than all of the others put together. Losing Nevala the first time had been hard on Tristan, and losing Kurt had been even worse, but they had lost three friends in as many hours, and without having a chance to say goodbye to any of them.
And to top it off, Zach had been gravely injured. He'd been shot while possessed by Jacob, and Peter hadn't been sure at first if Zach would be able to recover. As strong as Micah knew Tristan to be, the amount of turmoil they had been through would wear on anyone.
He let his thoughts trail off as he stroked Tristan's skin. Micah had needed the sex to relieve his tension, and was happy Tristan had been willing to cater to his needs, but it did not decrease Micah's worry for his lover. It would take time for Tristan to recover, and Micah would be there to support him the entire time.
A knock on the storage room door brought Micah out of his thoughts as Tristan stirred on top of him. "Boys," Ethan called through the door. "It's time to get up. Zach's conscious and aware."
"Be there in a second," Tristan responded groggily. His sentence ended with a yawn and a stretch, but by the end of it his eyes were alert and anxious. Tristan pulled away from Micah and reached for his underwear.
"I'm glad that he's okay," Micah said, reaching for his own clothing almost as eagerly as Tristan. "I was beginning to worry."
"Me too," Tristan replied as he slipped into his pants and buttoned them. "At least that's one less thing to be concerned about." He smirked and sighed. "Only ten million more to go."
"We'll get through this, Tris," Micah said, reaching to take Tristan's hand in his and gave it a squeeze. Tristan's smile gained some warmth but then lost it almost immediately as he pulled his hand away and picked up his shirt.
Micah sighed and then finished dressing. He watched Tristan out of the corner of his eye as he waited impatiently for Micah to finish getting ready. It wasn't like Tristan to be this anxious, but then again it wasn't every day Tristan's brother had been pulled back from the brink of death, either.
They left the room and walked the short distance to the medical bay where they found everyone else waiting for them. Peter was studying Zach's vitals while Ethan, Finn, Max, and Nevala were conversing in the corner, though they looked up as a group as Micah and Tristan walked into the room.
"Zach!" Tristan said as he moved toward the examination table and took Zach's hand. "Oh, I'm so glad you're okay."
"Tris, what happened?" Zach asked before looking down at Tristan's hand and giving it a weak squeeze. "I had the worst dream I've ever had. Where's Jacob?"
"He's..." Tristan was at a loss for words, looking around the room to the others for help.
"Tris?" Zach asked worriedly.
"He's gone, Zach," Peter said from Zach's shoulder, laying a consoling hand on his shoulder. "He didn't make it out of the manor."
"It wasn't a dream then, was it?" Zach said quietly, looking down as he took the thin sheet covering him in a white-knuckled grip. "Luke? Hayden?"
"I'm sorry, Zach," Tristan said, sniffling. "It's true. They're all gone."
"Shit..." Zach said, blinking back tears.
"We're going to avenge them," Tristan said, wiping away his tears as he continued through clenched teeth. "It wasn't Jacob's fault. Sparrow led him into it, I'm sure."
"Then I'll kill him myself." Zach met Tristan's eyes with determination, and they shared a nod while the rest of the room watched them in uncomfortable silence.
"I'm surprised we haven't seen him yet," Finn interjected, approaching the bed and drawing both Tristan and Zach's attention. Micah noticed a change in his step, and wondered what Finn was holding back. "I would have thought he'd have caught up to us by now," Finn continued, "and I doubt he would have remained hidden for all this time. He's too full of himself to not want to become the center of attention."
"Do you think we've managed to evade him?" Micah asked.
"Doubtful. Something else has to be going on," Finn replied, shaking his head slightly. "Sparrow can find whomever he wants to find, provided he already knows who they are. He's now met all of us."
"How are we going to get through this alive, then?" Zach asked, his determination quickly fading to hopelessness.
"We'll just have to do the best we can," Ethan said, smiling sadly. "We've been through worse."
"People keep saying that," Tristan shook his head and looked down, not wanting to show the fear in his eyes. Micah moved up and put his arm around Tristan, but then let it fall when Tristan tensed up under his touch.
"In this case they'd be right. Things aren't quite as bad as they seem," Finn said, drawing all eyes to him. He met Zach's eyes as he continued in a calm voice, "Nevala already knows this though he has wisely kept silent on it, but Luke and Hayden aren't completely gone yet."
Nevala nodded slowly as if a suspicion had been confirmed, and the gesture was not lost on Micah. Tristan and Zach failed to notice Nevala's actions. "What do you mean?" Tristan asked, meeting Finn's gaze.
"Finn told me he was sending their spirits on to the afterlife, but what he really did was give them a temporary home within his exorcism glove," Nevala explained when Finn didn't immediately answer. He stepped up to stand behind Finn so he could speak with Tristan directly. "I wasn't certain why he was remaining silent at first, but I realized he wanted to give you all a chance to say goodbye. I assume he was waiting for Zach to wake up first."
"They've been trapped in there?" Zach asked, nodding at Finn's gloved hand. "Are they in any pain?"
"No. I've been told it's similar to dreaming for spirits," Finn replied. "Anyway, I think it's time that we all gained some closure."
"Like we didn't get with Jacob?" Zach replied bitterly.
Nevala rose to Finn's defense. "That was a different matter. We had to do what we did."
"Okay," Zach said after a moment of staring down Nevala. "Bring them out. I want to see my friends."
"So, you're saying that you're willing to exorcise me and send me to meet Kurt?" Jacob asked, cocking an eyebrow. "That's hardly a winning position. All I have to do is wait and someone will come along to do that for me. You're going to have to do much better than that."
"I can make sure you end up exactly where Kurt is," Oberon said with a shrug. "How is that a negative?"
"You want me to believe you have power over life and death?" Jacob scoffed. "Just because you're immortal? That's hardly worthy of my consideration. I know what immortality feels like."
"What if I told you I could give Kurt new life," Oberon replied, leaning forward in his chair conspiratorially. "And you as well?"
"Then I wouldn't believe you'd do it," Jacob said, shaking his head solemnly. "You'd know Kurt and I would continue to fight you the next chance we found, and then you'd be back to killing us. Whatever else you are, you're not one to waste time and resources needlessly."
"True," Oberon conceded. "I would likely end up killing you again." He shrugged again and waved his hand dismissively as he settled back into a comfortable position in the chair, crossing his hands over his stomach. "No matter, I have already located your friends and they will be captured soon enough. But I was feeling benevolent enough to provide you with the option." He chuckled dryly and added, "I suppose I didn't give you enough credit, Jacob. I didn't think you'd be stubborn enough to resist the inevitable. Once a ghost, always a ghost, it seems."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jacob asked defensively.
"You're incapable of moving on," Oberon replied, sneering back at Jacob. "It's a wonder you've made it this far."
"As if you're any better at moving on," Jacob snorted. "You're holding onto a hatred from thousands of years ago as your only motivation. You're more malevolent than I'll ever be."
"You know nothing of what I'm doing, Jacob," Oberon said, growling. "I'm trying to create a future for this world."
"By destroying it?" Jacob asked.
Oberon's smile unnerved Jacob more than anything else in the conversation had. "Whatever it takes."
Peter and Zach were the last two out of the aircraft and into the meadow they had landed in. He watched Zach carefully, supporting him when necessary. Now that Zach's wound was healing he would likely be all right, but he was still weak from blood loss and his balance would be compromised. Peter always made sure to take care of his patients until they had made a full recovery.
The group had agreed it would be better to hold their final meeting with Hayden and Luke out in the fresh air. As they had lived in the mountains for years, it seemed the only fitting setting for the memorial service of the two pilots.
Peter could sense his tiger companion out in the forest somewhere. They weren't so far away from each other that Peter was suffering the effects of their separation, but it was close. If the tigress were to go any further Peter would start to get a headache. He hoped she would be considerate enough to wait until after the memorial service.
They stood in a half-circle around Finn who began muttering in Latin as he held his gloved hand out in front of him. The runes on the glove began to glow with a white light and wisps of smoke began to trail off some distance away until they gathered into the forms of two humans. Luke appeared first, followed shortly by Hayden.
Peter remained silent, but several cries of "Luke!" and "Hayden!" were made amongst his friends. He was glad to see them, but he didn't want to steal any of the attention.
"What are we doing here?" Hayden asked, looking at everyone gathered in front of them. He glanced at Luke and then back at the others. "Last I remembered there was a flash of pain, and then darkness... What is going on?"
"I hate to inform you both," Nevala said slowly, "but you're dead. Do you not remember?"
"I remember." Luke said, nodding in acceptance of the news. "And now we're ghosts, like Jacob was, aren't we?"
"Only for a moment, and then I will send you on your way," Finn said solemnly. "I thought it best for the boys if they had a chance to say goodbye."
Hayden took his turn to speak by addressing Zach's wounded shoulder. "Zach, are you okay?"
"No..." Zach said slowly, visibly fighting back a sob. He started to fall over and Peter shifted to support him. "No, I'm not," Zach continued. "I'm sorry about what happened."
"It wasn't your fault. It wasn't Jacob's either, okay?" Hayden replied, smiling sadly. "We know he was no longer in control of his actions." Zach nodded but refused to meet Hayden's eyes, instead looking down to the ground as tears started to fall down his cheeks.
"So, you kept us around," Luke said, turning his attention to Finn and Nevala, "but what happened to our bodies?"
"I cremated you," Nevala replied. "I hope that didn't interfere with your religious beliefs."
"No. Thank you, Nevala," Luke said after sharing a quick look with Hayden. "We appreciate you and Finn taking care of us. I suppose with that out of the way, it's time to focus on other matters. Ethan..." He trailed off as he met eyes with Ethan, his old friend, the picture of composure.
Peter watched Ethan's eyes and saw the acceptance in them. There was no doubt Ethan was affected by this final meeting with his friends, but he had also seen many of his friends pass on before. Peter wasn't surprised when Ethan spoke with a voice as calm and collected as his expression. "Luke."
"You're the leader of the Confederacy now," Luke said, solemnly, including Micah, Peter, and Tristan in his gaze for a moment. "What's left of it, anyway."
"I don't want to be," Ethan replied, smirking as he shook his head. "I'm thinking it's time to disband it."
"The battle's not over yet," Hayden interjected. "There's still evil to fight."
"I know," Ethan said, offering a slight nod. "Would you say 'hi' to Shawn for me?"
"Of course," Hayden said, returning the nod. "I hope you won't see us soon."
A profound silence settled over the group. Peter decided that now was as good a time as any to say what he needed to say, as no one else was taking the opportunity. He took a deep breath and then met Hayden's eyes. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help you."
"Peter, it wouldn't have made a difference this time," Hayden said with obvious emotion. "Don't blame yourself. We're glad to see you're okay. Take care of everyone, okay?"
Peter was unable to suppress his emotions which he had held in check for so long. His voice broke as he looked at Hayden and Luke with pleading eyes. "I can't say goodbye to anymore friends. Please."
"Peter..." Luke said consolingly.
Peter was startled as he felt a hand fall on his shoulder, and he looked up to meet Micah's eyes. "Hey, we need you," Micah said with conviction. "I know it sucks, but we've still got each other."
"That was surprisingly sweet of you, Micah," Hayden said, chuckling.
"Hayden," Micah sighed, turning to face him. "I don't even know where to begin."
"Just tell me what you've always wanted to say," Hayden said with a sly smile.
"I hate you," Micah said immediately.
There were cries of "Micah!" from more than one person, Peter included as they turned to him with scandalized expressions, but Micah was grinning, while Hayden and Luke both laughed heartily. Everyone listened in shock as Micah continued, his grin faltering.
"But I also love you," he said, his voice threatening to break as his eyes grew hard. "I loved you both. You'll be avenged."
"Take care of yourself, all right?" Luke said as Hayden and Micah shared a look of understanding between them. "Try not to hate the world. There's an awful lot of good in it." Micah looked from Hayden to Luke and nodded before giving Peter's shoulder another squeeze and returning to stand beside Tristan.
"Zach, sorry I didn't get a chance to teach you to fly," Hayden said as he returned his gaze to Zach. "I hope you get a chance to learn some day."
"I'm so sorry," Zach muttered again.
"Don't do that to yourself," Luke insisted. "It wasn't you."
"What are we going to do without you?" Tristan interjected.
"You'll fight, Tristan," Hayden said, shrugging. "You know how to fight, and you've got it in you to win. You've proven it to me over and over again." He shared a look with Luke and then continued. "Luke and I, we know you're going to do great things."
"I'm going to miss you guys," Tristan said, sniffling.
"We'll miss you too. All of you," Luke replied, looking around and meeting the gaze of everyone in the group at least once. He finally settled on Finn and Nevala and said, "I feel something pulling me onward. Is that normal?"
"Yes," Finn replied quickly. "What is abnormal is to tarry here longer than one should. It's time for you both to move on."
"Are you ready?" Nevala asked, stepping toward them.
"Is one ever ready to move on?" Hayden asked with a chuckle. His gaze settled on Micah again for a moment before meeting Luke's eyes and nodding.
"It doesn't matter," Luke said, turning from Hayden to Finn. "It's all we can do. Do it, Finn."
"Goodbye, friends," Hayden said. "We will watch over you."
Whispers of farewell rippled through the group as Nevala and Finn moved to stand one on each side of Luke and Hayden. Nevala entered a meditative stance as Finn reached out with his gloved hand and began chanting rhythmically in Latin. Luke's and Hayden's forms slowly began to fade from sight as their friends watched on until they disappeared completely.
Zach began to sob and Peter held him close. Micah and Tristan turned toward each other and held a long and tender embrace. Ethan bowed his head in solemn silence, while Max watched on. Peter watched him closest, realizing that he had been the only one not to say anything to Luke or Hayden.
Peter wondered why Max had chosen to remain silent, but then he realized what it likely was. Max had viewed Luke specifically as a personal hero during his youth, but he still considered himself an outsider to the group. He hadn't wanted to interfere with their last time together, though Max's own cheeks were stained by tears. He felt Peter watching him and turned to meet his eyes, smiling sadly.
They shared a moment of understanding between them until the silence was shattered by Finn turning sharply toward the woods and saying, "Something is out there."
Nevala engulfed his hands in flames as he turned to face the woods, Micah stepped in front of Tristan protectively and Peter felt the hairs raise on the back of his neck. He sensed a change in his tiger companion, a hunting instinct which told him danger was nearby her as well.
A long-haired blonde man walked out of the woods, an armor-plated uniform covering him from the neck down with a matching helmet held under one arm and an automatic rifle held in the other hand. "You must have been emotionally compromised, Turner," The man said with a wide sneer. "I've never been able to sneak up on you before."
"Thor," Finn muttered. "Dammit," he said as he assumed a non-threatening stance. "Stand down, everyone. He wouldn't have come out of hiding until he was sure he had us surrounded. He'd have half of us dead before we made our move."
"Wise words, Finn," Thor replied with a bow. "I'm sorry we had to meet again under these terms, but you and your party are under arrest for trespassing in Nightshade territory. You're coming with us."
Thank you to my Patreon supporters, Scott, Bill, Paul R, Joe, and Jos for helping keep the dream alive.
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