Darkest Days

Facing the Truth

The grey sky that had been threatening all morning finally opened up shortly after midday but Kenshin barely felt the steady rain soaking him from head to toe as he trudged behind Takeda and his white haired accomplice. His head and scar were throbbing so badly that he could barely see straight, narrowing his world to the path beneath his feet.

And to the entity he could feel pressing against his consciousness, trying to push him out.

A sudden sharp pain made him wince and he rubbed his aching brow in a futile attempt to soothe it away. Somehow, there was… something… inside of him. At least a part of it. It was that part that had him following the two mages against his will no matter how hard he fought against it. He had tried several times to go his own way but every time he tried, the thing vying for dominance always forced him back on the path leading south.

South. Towards the manor. The one place he didn’t want to go now. He had no doubt that’s where Tomoe had taken Kaoru and whatever was inside him hated Kaoru beyond reasoning, yet it also had a driving need to possess her. As if it’s very life depended on it.

The pain in his cheek suddenly intensified and Kenshin groaned as white hot fire lanced through the left side of his face again. Stumbling to a stop he clutched his head as images of Kaoru lying mutilated and dying ruthlessly flashed through his mind. Images so lifelike that he could almost smell the blood. Fighting down the sudden surge of panic the vision caused, he pushed back against the entity with all of his might, gritting his teeth with the strain. A vicious roar of rage tore through his mind as he dug his fingers into his skull in an effort to keep himself grounded. He couldn’t lose. He wouldn’t lose! The creature had no hold unless he let it happen and he would die before he’d give in to whatever was inside him.

In the next instant the entity went back to being an aching pain in his cheek and Kenshin sighed in relief as he crumbled to his knees. His vision threatened with grey edges as his head spun. That had been the worst attack yet.

“.. going to make it…”

“… die so easily….“

Snippets of conversation made it past the incessant throbbing in his head and then a hand grabbed his upper arm and hauled him to his feet.

“This would end much faster for you if you’d let him jump you to the Yukishiro manor.”

Kenshin managed to summon enough energy to glare at the black mage sneering in his face. That was the reason behind the attacks. The creature inside him was trying to force itself in far enough to teleport them both, but so far Kenshin had held it off. And he would continue to until the moment he died. He would give Tomoe and Kaoru as much time as he could to figure what was happening and how to overcome it.

An angry growl tore from Kanryuu’s throat and he shoved him back. Kenshin fought to keep his balance and nailed the two with a hate filled glare as he stated flatly. “I have no intention of making this easy for you.”

The white haired mage simply smiled. “Easy or no the outcome will remain the same. My brother will have your body.”

The cold rain trickling down Kenshin’s back made him shiver but he ignored it and met the creature’s smile with one of his own as his eyes dropped to where his katana rested at the mage’s hip. “Not if I’m dead.”

And before the creature could fully comprehend what was said Kenshin shot forward with speed only he could summon and grabbed for the hilt. But what he hadn’t anticipated was the strange man’s own speed. With fluid, almost godlike motion the mage stepped out of his reach a moment before Kenshin’s hand touched the hilt, and then he felt an elbow slam into his back between his shoulder blades. He cried out in agony as his body went limp and he crumbled face first into the mud the path had disintegrated into. A moment later a hand fisted in his hair and hauled his head up.

“I have no intention of letting you die.” The mage growled before he all but shoved his face back into the mud. “Accept it.”

On weak arms Kenshin pushed himself up until he was standing again and wiped mud from his face with a clean part of his sleeve. “Your intentions mean nothing to me. If you continue to hunt Kaoru like this I will not make it easy for you.”

The white haired mage simply stared at him for a long moment before a small smile slowly slid across his bloodless lips. “You love the little Ancient.”

Kenshin stiffened.

The creature suddenly laughed in that strange sonorous voice and Kenshin felt true fear slide through his veins. If they knew…

“This will be more fun than I expected.” The mage noted with a wide, chilling smile. “At least the two of you will die together.”

Then without another word the creature turned and started down the path that would eventually lead them to Kaoru. A fist of lead settled into Kenshin’s gut as he watched him go. Die together? What did that mean?


The steady drum of rain against the two large windows overlooking the manor grounds was the only sound in Tomoe’s otherwise silent study. Yet Kaoru barely heard it as she angrily paced the polished wood floor waiting for some news that Tomoe had finally awakened. The adept mage had passed out as soon as they’d reached the manor courtyard, from the strain of forcing Kaoru’s ability was what Sayo had said. A part of Kaoru was happy that Tomoe had paid a price for what she’d done but the other, larger part still wanted to know exactly why she’d done it and was tired of waiting.

“Kaoru, you’re going to wear a path in the floor if you don‘t stop!“ Misao grouched from where she sat beside Aoshi on one of the enlarged window sills.

Kaoru nailed her with a glare as she turned to make another pass. “I’ll stop when she tells me why she dragged me here!”

Misao winced at the sharp retort but Kaoru barely noticed it thanks to the odd, unwavering stare Aoshi still had fixed on her. With a scowl she tore her attention away from the pair and continued pacing. She’d had to endure that look for the better part of an hour so far. She had no idea what he seemed so interested in and he had yet to say. But what was even stranger was that he had never acted like this before in her presence. Even in Kiyosu he hadn’t look at her like that.

“Kamiya-san?”

Kaoru froze and glanced at the icy-eyed man. Here it comes…

“Have you always had blue eyes?”

Kaoru tensed even more. Oh gods, she’d completely forgotten about her eyes! But… why would Shinomori-san care about that? He wasn’t even a mage! At a loss she hurriedly tried to think of an answer that wouldn’t give too much away when a familiar yet chilly voice answered for her instead.

“Yes Shinomori-san, she is the one you are looking for.”

Startled, Kaoru whirled around to face Tomoe who now stood in the door of her study. Although still looking sickly, she stared at the swordsman with a hard look in her deep brown eyes that said she was more than ready to deal with him if she had to. Kaoru watched in confusion as Tomoe stepped into the study and made her way around the desk situated in front of the second large window.

“However,“ She continued as she took a seat with her back to the rainy sky. “I will not allow you to take this information to the shogun. We have enough to deal with without the regents attempting to kidnap her for their own gain.”

Kaoru nearly took a step back when Tomoe leaned forward, her icy eyes still firmly fixed on Aoshi. “If you do not agree to keep this to yourself Shinomori-san, I will hold you here until you do.”

An angry hiss came from Misao at the undisguised threat and out of the corner of her eye Kaoru saw Aoshi go rigid. But after the briefest of moments the dark haired swordsman glanced to her then gave Tomoe a small nod of agreement. “I will say nothing of this.”

Tomoe visibly relaxed and Kaoru felt herself doing the same as her mentor turned her attention to Misao. “The girls have just woken from their nap. Would you and Aoshi-san please go help Hitomi look after them.”

Misao‘s eyes widened. “But-” she started.

Tomoe shook her head. “There are some things I need to speak to Kaoru about in private.”

Misao scowled. “But-”

Aoshi grasped Misao’s arm and started guiding her to the door. “Yukishiro-san has asked for privacy, Misao.”

Kaoru could only imagine the glare Misao nailed him with because in the next moment he had led her from the study and closed the door firmly behind them. Once the door had closed Kaoru found her aggravation stirring in her chest again and she rounded on Tomoe.

“All right, Tomoe-sama. What’s going on? Why did you drag me away from Kenshin like that?”

With a soft sigh, Tomoe sagged tiredly into the high backed chair. “Sit down, Kaoru, and I promise I will explain everything.”

Kaoru frowned and crossed her arms in defiance. “Just tell me why you did this.”

Tomoe remained silent but Kaoru met her stare for stare. She was in no mood to bow to anyone’s wished, least of all her mentor’s. Kenshin could be hurt or even dead and she’d never know it. It was bad enough that they’d left him in Kanryuu’s hands to begin with!

The thick silence stretched for several tense moments more before Tomoe sighed and rose. Kaoru watched warily as she walked around the desk and pulled the high backed chair that had been sitting in front of her small bookcase over to Kaoru. Without a word she moved to the other side of the room and pulled another chair over in front of the first one and took a seat so they would be facing each other with no desk between them.

“Please sit down, Kaoru.”

Kaoru scowled and dropped onto the edge of the chair. “Now tell me what is going on, Tomoe-sama.”

Tomoe seemed to sag into herself and the distressed look that crossed her face for a brief moment tugged at Kaoru’s heart but she held firm against the feeling.

“How much has Kenshin told you about your eyes and what they mean?”

Kaoru shrugged, “He said something about me being of some different race of people that no longer exists. An Ancient or something, but I don’t belie-”

“He’s right.” Tomoe cut in quietly.

Kaoru froze and simply stared at her teacher as if she’d lost her mind.

A faint smile touched Tomoe‘s lips but it didn‘t quite reach her eyes. “You are a descendant of a race of people that lived on this land over a thousand years ago. We have no idea how you came to be here since you are the first of your kind in all that time but there is no mistaking your heritage.”

“Because of my eyes.“ Kaoru finished for her as she settle more comfortably in the chair.

Tomoe nodded. “Yes. There have been no girls born with your blue eyes since the Ancients vanished shortly after dealing with the gods.”

Kaoru warily rubbed her forehead and frowned, “So he said, but what does this have to do with why you forced me to leave him and come here? I still don‘t see any reason we had to leave him with Kanryuu!”

Tomoe watched her in silence for a moment as if she was weighing something and then she finally replied. “We had to leave him because he is our enemy now just as much as Kanryuu and the creature traveling with him.”

That caught Kaoru completely off guard and she sat bolt upright and simply stared at Tomoe in horrified confusion until the anger that had been simmering all along suddenly exploded into white hot rage. “Our enemy!” She snarled, clenching her hands into fists. “How can he be our enemy?! He helped me escape Kanryuu!”

Seemingly unfazed by her anger, Tomoe smiled sadly. “Yes he did, because even he doesn’t know what is happening to him. He would never do us harm of his own free will Kaoru. But that doesn‘t stop the fact that he is a danger to us all and he has to be dealt with accordingly.”

Kaoru’s heart sank to her gut and she nailed Tomoe with a suspicious glare. “Dealt with?… How?”

Tomoe seemed to shrink even further into herself before she replied in a strained voice, “We have to kill him, Kaoru. It’s the only way to stop Kanryuu.”

For an agonizingly long minute the words hung in the air between them before the reality of them hit Kaoru like a fist. For the briefest of moments her blood turned to ice before a sudden surge of fury heated her to near boiling. “Kill Him?!” She screamed as she shot to her feet. The chair she’d been using tumbled backwards and clattered loudly to the floor. “Are you crazy?! I’m not going to help you kill him! I won’t let you kill him!”

Completely ignoring the stricken look on Tomoe’s face as she rose, Kaoru avoided her outstretched hand and bolted for the door. Slamming it open she rushed out into the hall, nearly knocking over Sayo in her haste, and took off down the empty hall, running for all she was worth.

Kill him?… Why?… He didn’t do anything wrong!… How could Tomoe even say something like that!? She gasped as a fist of iron squeezed her heart tight and she almost stumbled over her own feet as tears slipped from the corner of her eyes. How could she say it? Didn’t she love him once?

The hallways she ran through passed in a blur in her misery until a cool draft of air suddenly brushed her wet cheek and she sniffled and slowed to a walk to see where she’d gone.

The well cared for halls she was used to seeing had already fallen behind to be replaced by a dusty, dank tunnel like walkway that Kaoru immediately recognized. She almost smiled as she wiped her cheeks dry. She hadn’t been in this part of the manor since she’d been a little girl trying to hide to escape punishment.

She continued on being cautious of each step and quickly made her way to her favorite hiding place deep in the warren of hallways. It didn’t take her long to reach the cobweb filled loft that overlooked an equally dusty dining room. According to Tomoe this part of the manor hadn’t been used since her great, great grandfather had built the new section that was now the living quarters of everyone living within the shield. She’d never said why the new section had been built but Kaoru really didn’t care. Not then and not now. She needed to think and this was the perfect place.

Settling into the less dirty corner of the loft, Kaoru tucked her legs up to her chest and tried to calm herself down. But no matter how hard she tried to relax, every time she thought of what Tomoe had said she felt as if she’d been punched in the gut all over again. There had to be a reason why Tomoe had said such a thing and Kaoru was scared to find out what it was, because she knew Tomoe would never say anything like that without good reason.

A faint scuffling sound broke into her thoughts and Kaoru tensed and was just about to rise when Sayo stepped into the loft.

“I knew I would find you here.”

Kaoru settled back down with a sigh, “I thought you were Tomoe-sama.”

Sayo smiled gently. “Tomoe said you were upset.”

Kaoru scowled. “Do you know what she said?” She bit out angrily as Sayo knelt before her on the dusty floor. “She said we have to kill Kenshin. Why would we have to kill him? He didn’t do anything wrong!”

Sayo rested her hands in her lap and sighed. “You didn’t stay to listen to the rest, Kaoru. Tomoe wouldn’t have said such a thing without a reason. You know that.”

Kaoru frowned and did her best to ignore the gentle chastisement.” I know, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let her kill him.”

For a long moment Sayo simply watched her and Kaoru found herself crumbling under that understanding gaze. The dark haired, serene looking master mage was only a handful of years older than she herself but Kaoru still felt like a child under those chestnut eyes. Sayo had seen much with those eyes and understood even more thanks to her ability. And she had suffered far worse with her brother’s death than Kaoru had in her whole life. For the first time since Tomoe had dragged her here Kaoru felt shame for acting like a spoiled child. Shougo and Hachiro had died while chasing Kanryuu to keep the black mage from finding her and here she was throwing a fit because she might lose the man she loved to the very same enemy. But she hadn’t lost him yet, not like Sayo.

Sayo must have seen something in her eyes because the dark haired mage suddenly nodded to herself and smiled. “Tomoe explained to me why she believes he must be killed and I believe she may be right.”

Kaoru stiffened.

“But,” Sayo continued, laying a hand on Kaoru’s knee, “Did you ever think that maybe you could find a way to help him instead of killing him? There is a reason why you are here, Kaoru. It may be true that you have to kill him, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to find a way to save him instead.”

Kaoru’s eyes flew wide and she went rigid. “What do you mean I have to kill him?”

That seemed to catch Sayo off guard and she gave Kaoru an odd look. “Tomoe didn’t explain that to you yet?”

Kaoru swallowed thickly and shook her head as a touch of panic seized her chest. She was supposed to kill him? Didn’t Tomoe say we?

With a soft sigh Sayo rose and motioned for Kaoru to do the same. “It’s time for you let Tomoe finish explaining. There will still be things that will upset you but you must understand, and understanding will help you not give up hope. If you do give up Himura-san will be lost and you may be too.”

Pulling herself together, Kaoru ignored the part of her that still wanted to hide from the truth and rose to follow Sayo as she led the way through the dusty walkways back into the manor proper. Tomoe didn’t really expect her to kill him, did she? A touch of nausea curled in her stomach and she shook her head. She should have waited for the full explanation. Sayo could be mistaken. No, she had to be mistaken…

She was pulled from her thoughts when Sayo turned down a different hall than the one leading to Tomoe’s study.

“Sayo-san, where are we going?”

Sayo glanced over her shoulder with a smile. “Tomoe asked me to bring you to the library.”

Kaoru’s brow creased. “Why?”

Sayo didn’t answer and simply led her into the short hall that ended in a set of carved double doors. Sayo stepped back and motioned Kaoru forward. “She is waiting for you in the back near the oldest tomes.”

Surprised, Kaoru was just about to question why Sayo wasn’t coming when the dark haired mage vanished as if she’d never been there.

Kaoru hissed softly and tried to suppress a shiver. She would never get used to that ability. Projection was a lost art that not even she could do but Sayo had been able to since she was a child. Short distances only but the worst part was that Sayo could actually make herself feel solid, as if she was really there. It was enough to make Kaoru’s skin crawl.

Shaking off her unease, Kaoru took a deep breath and turned her attention back to the double doors carved to represent the tree of knowledge and made her way into the library. Closing the door behind her Kaoru strode to the very back of the room ignoring the shelves upon shelves of books filling the air with their dusty smell. The scent became even stronger though as she came to the section Sayo had indicated. Back here were the tomes that no one save Tomoe dared to read. Kaoru sometimes wondered what secrets could be buried in their fragile shells. But she’d never been brave enough to so much as touch one, not even when she was a child.

She found Tomoe in the very back corner of the library facing an old threadbare tapestry depicting a fierce battle between a mage wielding what looked to be all the elements and a gigantic blue-scaled dragon. Kaoru couldn’t stop the shiver that whispered over her skin at the life like scene. Although threadbare the cloth still held the rich colors depicting the scene and for a brief moment Kaoru felt as if she was being watched. She shivered again as Tomoe turned around.

“Are you ready to listen now?” Her mentor asked calmly.

Kaoru felt her cheeks heat but she refused to give into the embarrassment. “Is it true that you expect me to kill Kenshin?”

Tomoe exhaled softly. “I see Sayo let that slip.” Turning back to the tapestry Tomoe carefully lifted it to the side and tied it to a hook with a cord Kaoru hadn’t seen before. “In here you will find all the answers you need.”

Kaoru was just about to ask in where when Tomoe waved her hand and Kaoru felt a small pulse of power hit the wall. Much to her surprise the wall took on a reddish hue upon contact and continued to get brighter and brighter until a fiery rectangle the size of a door was outlined on the grey stone. Kaoru gasped softly at the sight as Tomoe laid her palm flat in the very center of the glowing door and whispered something Kaoru couldn‘t distinguish. A loud grating sound suddenly filled the library and Kaoru watched wide-eyed in wonder as the wall swung back revealing a room she had never known existed.

Without a backward glance Tomoe stepped through the newly made portal and with a flick of her wrist lit several lanterns Kaoru couldn’t see.

Swallowing around the small knot of fear lodged in her throat, Kaoru followed and was stunned to find the room full of ancient books and age old artifacts. Two shelves, one tucked into each corner of the room held an assortment of old tools that she didn’t recognize and chipped pottery of all colors and sizes that looked to have been crafted centuries ago. And yet that wasn’t what truly caught her attention, what did was the selection of faintly glowing unsheathed blades resting in a wooden rack along the far wall between the shelves. Kaoru shivered as she eyed the blades and absently dropped her hand to the wakizashi still resting in her belt. They were glowing the same color as her own blade when it was near Kenshin.

She swallowed tightly and was just about to shift her attention elsewhere when she caught sight of the blue reptilian-like scale suspended in a small glass jar where it sat just below the rack of blades. Eyeing the blades above she noticed that the blue hue seemed to get brighter the closer they got to the jar.

“That is a scale from the Dragon God Ryujin.”

Kaoru jumped and swung her attention to Tomoe who was standing before a bookcase gently dusting off a book she must have removed from one of the shelves. Shaking off the unease still whispering through her veins, Kaoru watched as Tomoe set the cleaned book on the worn table that dominated the center of the room.

“What do you mean Dragon God?” She asked as Tomoe walked to a bookcase on the opposite side of the room and chose another book. Tomoe simply shook her head as she dusted the slim book off then placed it beside the first.

Laying her hand on the first book she said, “This book explains in detail the race of people you are descended from and the Dragon God you asked about.“ Shifting her hand to the second she continued, “And this one was written by your ancestor before she vanished with the rest of your kind. The last passage explains what is happening to Kenshin and why we have to kill him.”

Kaoru’s eyes narrowed dangerously at the reminder but before she could say anything, Tomoe walked around the table and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I know you won’t believe me if I simply explain so I want you to read the truth for yourself. I will be in the library if you have any questions.”

And with that she was gone. Kaoru’s stomach clenched into a rock hard fist as she eyed the books laying innocently in the center of the worn table. If she didn’t read them she’d never know right? There would be no truth to what Tomoe says, right?

She scowled and forced herself to take a seat in the chair on the other side of the table, putting the strange scale and everything else at her back. She would read this and prove to Tomoe that she was wrong.

With gentle hands she cracked the first untitled book and slowly began to decipher the archaic script describing the race of people Kenshin had spoken of. But as she read she soon realized that Kenshin and Tomoe were right, she was one of them, there was no way she could not be. It was all right here in these faded, fragile pages. Her eyes, her abilities.

Kaoru swallowed thickly and moved to the section about the gods that seemed to be somehow connected to her ancestors, half afraid of what she would find. These pages she soon found were less detailed, an explanation of the entities who had taken care of the people from the shadows until the fateful day that Ryujin, the highest amongst even the gods, declared war against her people.

The last few pages described the war briefly and the end result. The gods had all been destroyed save one. Ryujin himself. He had been too strong for even the strongest of her kind and had been sealed instead, his essence trapped after his body had been destroyed. All except for the single piece that now resided in the jar at her back.

With a soft sigh Kaoru closed the book and rubbed her eyes as a bone deep weariness settled on her like a blanket. Shaking it off the best she could, she turned to the second, far thinner book and lifted it with trembling hands. This one scared her even more than the first had because within these pages she was sure she would find the truth she didn’t want to believe.

Getting control of her hands she gently opened the cover to find Kamiya written in elegant script down the very first page. Fear twisted her belly into a knot again but she ignored it, turned the page and began to read. The first few pages were another, more personal description of what had happened at the end of the war her family had participated in and Kaoru frowned as she turned several more pages to find more of the same. And then she remembered that Tomoe had said the last passage was all she really needed to read. Carefully turning the pages Kaoru soon found the passage Tomoe had mentioned and began to read.

The Dragon God is trapped for now but as long as he still lives behind the seal we have shed our blood to create, he will try to break free. All he needs is a host. The wards on the prison should hold against any attempt he may make to touch the world again but should they fail he will have the ability to create that which he needs and if he does it will only be a matter of time before he breaks free.

I beg you keep close watch on his prison and should the wards weaken or fail, find the host. It will be hard but not impossible. Look for a scar. That will be where Ryujin has made his claim. It will change as the god grows stronger, as will the host’s other features. If this should truly come to pass I pray some power will intervene and call forth one of us by whatever means necessary to vanquish this enemy because we are the only ones who can and we must leave you now to keep the balance.

But know that there is a danger to one of us being born into your world again. It is true she will be able to vanquish the host but she will also be the means to break open the seal completely. This warning I give to you Yukishiro-san. If she is found, guard her well or the world will once again know Ryujin‘s tyranny. The spell I have entrusted to you is the only way to succeed against him.

Guard them both with your life.

A drop of wetness suddenly splashed onto the fragile paper and Kaoru hastily dabbed it away before she rubbed the tears from her cheeks. It didn’t say his name but everything she had witnessed up until now proved the truth.

Kenshin was the host.

Kaoru’s hands started to tremble again as she closed the book. A faint sigh made her glance to the door and she felt tears slip from her eyes when she saw Tomoe leaning in the doorway, the look of sympathy on her face like a knife in the heart.

“I’m sorry, Kaoru.” She murmured as she stepped into the room. “I didn’t know until it was too late.”

Kaoru sniffled and angrily scrubbed at the tears as she rose. “Why does it have to be him?”

A moment later Kaoru felt arms wrap around her and she felt her strength give way as the tears she’d been trying to stop spilled from her eyes. “Why… does it… have to… be him?” She repeated brokenly, as she wrapped her arms around Tomoe and hugged her for all she was worth.

“I don’t know, Kaoru.” Tomoe murmured softly, rubbing her back soothingly. “I don’t know.”

Kaoru had no idea how long she and Tomoe remained that way but once she’d managed to calm herself down she gently tugged from her teacher’s arms and wasn’t surprised to see Tomoe’s cheeks wet.

“I’ll find a way to save him, Tomoe-sama.” Kaoru said remembering Sayo’s words. Wiping her cheeks dry she smiled weakly. “Sayo-san said if anyone can save him I can.”

Tomoe gave her a sad smile. “There is no way, Kaoru. He has to die… and you have to be the one to kill him. You are the only one who can use the spell that has been passed down in my family for this very reason.”

Kaoru shook her head. “I won’t kill him unless I know there is no other way.” She glanced to all the books lining the walls on both sides of the room. “There has to be something here. There has to be!”

Tomoe sighed tiredly and stepped away. “If you wish to stay here and search I will allow it for today but after that I need to teach you the spell so you can practice until you can do it while fighting for your life. Kanryuu and his companion are not going to let Kenshin die easily.”

Kaoru frowned but said nothing as Tomoe left her to her search. Once she was alone in the room again she turned to the shelf on her left and lifted a dusty tome off the shelf. A hearty blow cleared the cover enough for her to read the title.

Alchemy

A Guide for Beginners

Kaoru nearly put the book back until she realized that she had no idea how a host was even created. For all she knew it could have something to do with this archaic type of magic. She couldn’t ignore any possibility. Not with Kenshin’s life at stake.

And her own for that matter, because she would rather die than take his life. Host or not.
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