The Seven Hunters

Chapter 10 The Lost Children

“At the temple there is a poem called "Loss" carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it.” ― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

"Come on, Chomper!" Ruby pleaded mournfully.

She and the other fastbiters had escaped through the cave and had exited the other side through the waterfall, only to discover that Chomper had not been able to keep up with them. She and the others had begun to head back to the waterfall when Littlefoot stopped the group and told them to keep on moving. He would go into the cave and make sure that Chomper had made it. Thus began the anxious wait of the gang for any news, good or bad.

I should have followed behind him! Ruby berated herself, Instead I ran without thinking about anything else.

Cera looked up at Ruby's pained expression. She was not happy about the situation herself, but she could notice that the waiting was especially hard on the rose-colored fastbiter. She decided to offer some words of comfort.

"I am sure that Chomper is okay," Cera began, "He is slower than us now, but surely he could outrun our parents."

"This is all my fault," Ruby stated, "I should have trailed behind him and made sure that he made it!"

Cera frowned. She was blaming herself for this mess. She had to get her away from this line of thinking.

"You can't go around blaming yourself, Ruby. We were all trying to get away from our folks."

Ruby looked down, but did not say anything. The minutes of waiting dragged on with still no news from the young sharptooth.

Suddenly they heard splashing from the waterfall and could see the emergence of a brown fastbiter's head.

Littlefoot is back! Ruby thought with some excitement. However, he stopped for a few moments and no purple sharptooth emerged from the watery stream. Oh no, don't tell me that he didn't make it! Ruby thought with extreme concern.

Splash!

The young sharptooth suddenly emerged from the waterfall. He had some difficulty in finding a good platform from which to jump into the stream below, but he had finally found one. He prevented himself from falling face-first into the stream by using his tiny forelimbs to catch himself, and then he looked up at the gang.

He is alright! Ruby thought with delight. Then, without a moment's hesitation, she charged at the tardy sharptooth and embraced him.

"You're okay, Chomper! Chomper, you're okay!" the fastbiter exclaimed happily.

Chomper was surprised by the sudden physical contact but did not struggle as he immediately recognized his assailant. He giggled a bit in relief at the calamity that he had just escaped from.

"Yes, Ruby, I am fine!" Chomper replied happily, "It was close though! Mr. Threehorn almost got me!"

Cera recoiled slightly at Chomper's words and looked down sadly.

My daddy probably thinks that I am dead right now, and the Chomper was the cause, she reflected sadly, If only we had been able to leave undetected. I'm so sorry, daddy. We should have listened to our parents. We should have left the stone alone.

Littlefoot did not see Cera's sudden change in demeanor but instead was focused on the happy reunion of Ruby and Chomper. He was glad that the little biter had made it through all of this safely. He considered him almost like a little brother, and now that he was a fastbiter that description seemed even more apt. He still had so many things that he needed to talk to Chomper about, from the horrific dreams that came before, to the ramifications of their change, and many other subjects. But for now, he was simply glad that Chomper was back with them, safe and sound.

"I guess that we need to get going now," Littlefoot said with restrained emotion. He was happy that Chomper had made it through their ordeal, but now they had to get going. "The adults might still go after us. We need to get away from the valley quickly," he finished assertively.

Ruby ended her embrace of Chomper but continued to look upon him with a joyous expression for some moments. She eventually turned towards the others when she fully processed what Littlefoot had just said.

"I do not want to be chased by my mommy again. Oh, no, no, no!" Ducky said.

"She was so angry and so sad," Spike added with obvious emotion, "I never wanted to see her like that."

The others looked at the former hadrosaur and stegosaurus with sad expressions. Not only had they all had to deal with potentially leaving the Great Valley for the last time, but they also had to go through the trauma of having their own parents chase after them with murderous intent. It was a horrific situation for everyone involved.

"I don't know what my dad will do now." Cera looked up sadly. "He thinks that he has lost me. He only has Tria and Tricia now."

"My grandparents lost their daughter to sharpteeth, and now they probably think that I am gone too," Littlefoot added.

"They all think that I betrayed them," Chomper stated, "But I would never do that! I wish that I could explain that to them. I wish there was a way..." The young sharptooth trailed off. He had tried to convince everyone that he was a nice sharptooth, and it had taken seasons for his reputation as a trustworthy kid to be established. Now all of that was in ruins. But, to a much greater extent than his self-pity, he felt great sadness for the adults. He couldn't begin to imagine the amount of pain that being betrayed by someone you trusted would cause. Especially if you thought that the children you loved were now gone forever...

Petrie finally broke through the melancholy that had descended upon the group.

"What do we do now, Littlefoot?" he asked, "We can't go back."

The other dinosaurs were brought back into the present with Petrie's question. They couldn't change the past, but they could determine their own futures. Now they had to focus on the reality that faced them.

"We need to go to Hanging Rock, just like we decided," Littlefoot affirmed, "Maybe Ruby's parents could help us?"

Ruby looked at Littlefoot with a concerned expression as he gave his answer. There was an important consideration that he was not aware of.

"But we took the wrong pass, Littlefoot!" Ruby exclaimed, "It will take us many days to reach Hanging Rock now."

Littlefoot looked surprised at this revelation.

"Many days? I thought it was only a one day journey. That is how long it took us the last time we went there."

Ruby frowned at Littlefoot's incomprehension.

"We took the north pass back then, Littlefoot," Ruby explained, "It led straight to Hanging Rock. This path does not."

Littlefoot now looked concerned at this new information. How would they be able to survive on a multi-day journey? Before, they could have eaten the various plants that they could find, but now...

Chomper finally broke the silence.

"We can't go back into the valley and take the right path," he exclaimed in a near panic.

Littlefoot agreed with a nod, "No, we can't do that. It is far too dangerous."

Silence fell upon the group again.

"We will get hungry during that time," Chomper stated matter-of-factly, "And since all of you can't eat plants now..." He trailed off for am moment as he thought about a way to put it tactfully, "You will need to find meat." he finally concluded.

Littlefoot had already thought about this possibility moments earlier, and as a result he did not recoil at Chomper putting his thoughts out there for the others to hear. Many of the others had not considered the possibility like Littlefoot had and as a result they had a less receptive reaction.

"I will not eat others! Oh no, no, no! I do not care! Even if I starve," Ducky stated with assertiveness. Spike nodded in agreement. He did not feel the need to add any words from his new-found ability to speak. Ducky had summed up his opinion on the matter quite nicely.

Cera frowned and struck a more hopeful note.

"Well, perhaps we will get this reversed later. We do not need to start... doing that," she asserted.

Littlefoot frowned in concentration. "I don't think Chomper is suggesting that we... um... hunt," he said uncertainly, "But we will need to eat during our journey..."

Trying to convince himself more than anything else, he then added hopefully, "Maybe we can find enough buzzers to keep us fed?"

Ruby looked at Littlefoot, but then began to shake her head sadly. "I don't think that we will find enough food. Enough food we will find," she cautioned, "This part of the Mysterious Beyond is barren."

"Well then we will just have to go hungry for awhile, won't we?" Cera stated with some annoyance. Why were they insinuating that they would have to hunt? Surely the gang would not descend to that level of barbarity? They may have had the bodies of sharpteeth, but that did not mean that they had to start acting like it. These were some of the thoughts rushing through the former threehorn's head.

"Um... guys?" Chomper asked uncertainly. He didn't quite know how to put what he was able to say into words that wouldn't scare the others. "When sharpteeth become hungry, they can become... unpleasant."

"Yeah. Like they are pleasant when they aren't hungry!" Cera interrupted in a mocking manner.

Chomper frowned at her response. "This is important!" He replied in annoyance. "When they become hungry they can begin to lose control. They can become violent. We will need to eat! We can't let that happen to us!"

"I think that we have enough self-control, Chomper. Not all of us begin to bite other people's tails when we begin to get hungry," she finished with a dig at the time that he bit her tail when he was still a baby.

"It was an accident..." Chomper began to reply at her insinuation.

"Guys, calm down," Littlefoot replied in agitation, "We can discuss this more in the morning."

Ducky then yawned, which Littlefoot noticed immediately.

"Right now we need to get some distance between us and the valley," Littlefoot continued as he looked back to the entrance of his former home, "Then we need to get some rest."

"Fine! But if you think I am going to start munching on others, you have another thing coming," Cera spoke in Chomper's direction.

Chomper looked in the former threehorn's direction with a somewhat dejected look upon his face. How was he going to explain to his friends that they had no choice in the manner anymore? They would eventually either have to eat meat or starve.

He looked in Ruby's direction, who gave him a knowing look. She was an omnivore and did not share the same level of revulsion at the idea as the others. She knew all too well what hunger could do to people, and that frightened her deeply. She was concerned about the food situation as well, although she kept her thoughts to herself for the moment.

"Let's get moving," Littlefoot commanded with obvious annoyance in his voice.

The gang then continued their journey away from the valley.

......

Oh, Petrie! Please tell me that you have made it!

Volant was flying high above the valley in a desperate attempt to find any sign of the younglings. The darkness of the night made her scouting attempts all the more hopeless, despite the light of the night circle.

She had awoken earlier that night to the alarm call...

......

Earlier that night:

Volant was having the most horrific nightmare. She had just seen Petrie be chased by sharptooth flyers into a cave. He had just encountered Chomper and a bunch of fastbiters when an unexpected noise interrupted her slumber.

Caw! Caw! Caw!

She awoke with a start.

She immediately looked about her. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary in the nest from her vantage point. Her children were awake at the sudden sound and appeared to be as startled as she was.

An alarm call at this time of night? she thought to herself, This must be serious!

"Stay calm, children! Stay at the nest," she stated authoritatively, "I need to see what is going on."

Before leaving she took a brief headcount to make sure that everyone was accounted for. One... Two... Three... Occasionally flyer children would leave the nest to relieve themselves so she wanted to make sure they were at the safety of the nest. Four... Five... Six... Also there was Petrie, who would often go off on adventures with his friends, so she definitely had to make sure that he was accounted for. Seven... Eight... Nine...

Only Nine?!

"Petrie!"

......

Moments later:

She had arrived at the usual meeting place only to find it empty. She then began a long flight across the valley in order to find anyone who could tell her what was going on. She eventually found the other residents of the valley congregated at the northwestern pass. She flew down cautiously beside Grandma and Grandpa Longneck.

Surely they could tell me what is going on, she thought to herself.

However, it was then that she took a closer look at the two giant longnecks. Grandma longneck was resting her neck upon her mate's and was utterly lost in grief, whereas the male looked on in a state of shock. The two had obviously just suffered a great loss. It did not take a genius to figure out what that meant. Littlefoot had gotten out of hard spots before and consequently the two had never lost hope even when he sought out incredibly dangerous situations. To have them react like this... It appeared that the little longneck's luck had finally run out. What did this mean for Petrie? She was afraid to ask, but she knew that she must.

"Mr. Longneck?" Volant asked in a soft voice.

At first she was uncertain if the two great dinosaurs had heard her query, but then the massive head of Grandpa Longneck turned ever so slightly in her direction. The two longnecks shared a knowing look. After a few moments, which seemed like an eternity to the concerned flyer, Grandma Longneck removed her neck from her mate's. The look that she gave Volant frightened her more than anything that she had ever seen. It was a look of understanding and compassion. Why would she be giving her that look when she was the one who obviously had just suffered a great loss, unless... No...

"Mrs. Flyer... Volant..." Grandpa Longneck began, "Chomper betrayed us." The words were spit out as if they were bitter leaves. She had never heard hatred in Grandpa Longneck's voice and hoped never to hear it again. "He let fastbiters into the valley..."

Volant could feel extreme agitation at his words. If Chomper betrayed them and let other sharpteeth into the valley, then what could this mean for the children?

"We chased them out..." he continued, but then he choked back a sob, "But there is no sign of the children." He looked at her with a compassionate look that only partially masked his own pain.

Volant collapsed to the ground. How could this happen? She had feared Petrie gone back during the great earthshake, but he had miraculously found the valley with his friends. Ever since then, he had constantly found trouble but had managed to elude death at every turn. Was this the end? What would she tell his siblings? But wait...

"So... There have been no signs of their..." She almost couldn't choke out the words. "bodies?"

The longnecks looked at her with a taken back expression, but simply shook their heads.

"Then, there is a possibility, right?" Volant said as she began to set up again, "There is a chance that they could have escaped? Somehow?"

The male longneck looked upon her with sadness. He could not discount the ever so slight possibility, but he knew that it was over at this point. All of the signs, from their betrayal by Chomper, the absence of their children, and the entry and escape of the fastbiters all pointed to one outcome. He did not hold out hope for another miraculous rescue. He knew that his grandson was gone.

Nonetheless, Volant took off to the skies. She had to try to find the children. She owed it to them. She owed it to Petrie.

......

Back to the Present:

But now the truth was dawning on the flyer. There was no sign of the children anywhere in the valley. She would not find Petrie on this night, nor any other night. He had met his doom with his other friends.

"At least he didn't die alone!" she sobbed into the night, "At least he was shown that small kindness."

She then flew down and landed on her nest with a soft thud.

She could hear the soft padding of flyer feet on the rocky ledge she considered home. However, she did not dare look up. She had no idea how she was going to break the news to the other children. How was she supposed to tell them that their brother Petrie was never coming back... and that Chomper was the cause? The situation was almost too horrific to imagine.

"Mommy?" It was Pterana, one of Petrie's sisters. "What's wrong?"

Volant looked up in sadness at her nine remaining children. She knew that she had to give them an answer, even if that would break their hearts.

"Children..." she choked in sadness, "Petrie... Petrie is gone!"

From a distance, all that an observer could have heard emerging from the flyer nest was the mournful cries of a family that had just experienced the most painful of losses. They would be haunted for quite some time by the memory of a brother who would never fly back to the nest. The memory of a flyer that flew away and never returned.

......

As the flyers were mourning their lost brother, Mr. Threehorn was heading back to his nest for one of the most painful conversations he would ever have to make. The entire situation brought back unpleasant memories from many years ago...

......

Six Years Ago in the Mysterious Beyond:

He couldn't believe the imprudence of that longneck. Join together as one herd? Ha! How dare he suggest such a thing? Everyone knew that each herd stuck to its own kind. Each kind had its own ways of dealing with things and each had their own strengths and weaknesses. To place all of them together would only spell trouble. Besides, the threehorns were the best and brightest of them all, and to invite others along would simply slow the threehorns down.

Additionally, agreeing would threaten my leadership of the herd, a more pragmatic part of his mind added, Changes embolden the young to challenge the old. And heavens know I am getting older.

But of course he couldn't voice his actual reasons for rejecting the offer from the longnecks, flyers, and swimmers. For one, he wouldn't dare admit that he had done something out of weakness. But more importantly, a leader never voiced his personal misgivings in threehorn society. As a leader, he had to be the face of assertiveness and be the dinosaur that always had a plan. That was what his father taught him in the hopes that he would rise above his father's status as a deputy, and that was what eventually allowed him to achieve that dream. He wouldn't dream of abandoning his words of wisdom now.

Nonetheless, part of him wished them well. He had to admit that those three herds sticking together was probably their best hope at this point. Although he wondered how they would get along without a single leader...

Well, who ever said that swimmers or flyers had any sense anyway! he thought sarcastically.

He looked around him at the gorge that his herd now found itself in. He noted that it was utterly devoid of vegetation, but there was a small stream with water. Well, it looks like this place has water, anyway. I suppose that this would be as good of a place to rest as any, he thought to himself.

"Alright!" he commanded authoritatively, "We stop here for the night. See to it that the children get water first. The others can drink their fill afterwards."

He would, of course, drink last. He could very well have had the first sip of water, but that would go against everything that he thought about leadership. He always believed that if he were to ask his subjects to face adversity then he should do the same. He then stepped up in front of the herd and bellowed:

"Deputies!"

Four sturdy young threehorns stepped in front of their leader. Many of the older members of the herd had died in their three seasons of journeying, including his father. Now it was just him and these four ambitious adolescents in the leadership of the herd. He noted that these four would have been considered emaciated during times of plenty, but in these hard times they were the hardiest of the bunch. I wonder how I look to the others, he thought to himself, I have not eaten any better than the others in this journey. He then put his thoughts aside for a moment and addressed the four.

"Watch the other side of the gorge. Make sure that our children are safe while they drink," he commanded before quickly adding, "You may drink second, after they have had their fill." He needed to placate the most ambitious of the herd in order to keep challenges at bay. He was not in danger of a serious challenge, but the deputies might very well fight amongst themselves at the slightest provocation. The behavioral changes that came with the Time of Great Growing were a formidable thing indeed. A dominance fight in good times was a dangerous proposition as it was, but to have one out here away from food, water, and healing plants... Well, that would be a good way to lose some of his most valuable herd members, and he had to avoid that at all costs.

As the deputies fanned out around the stream, he watched the children walk over and begin eagerly drinking the precious water. He was stabbed with sudden pain as he thought back to his daughter, their sister, Cera. She was always so bold, so brave. She was a lot like him when he was her age. But now she was gone... Just like many others in the herd. He was only able to claim leadership over twenty herd members after their previous leader fell, but the herd had initially set off with over sixty. He couldn't give in to despair, as he had to lead the others to the Great Valley. He owed it to all of them. He owed it to the memory of Cera.

"You are thinking about her, aren't you?" came a soft voice from beside him.

He looked over at the lovely sight of his mate, the mother of his four children. He smiled at her. He may have to put on a tough face for the others, but he knew not to bother when it came to her.

"Yeah..." he affirmed.

"I am sure that she would be happy that we are still going to the valley," she affirmed, "She loved her sisters very much and would want the best for them."

"And they aren't going to find the best in this gorge," he added sardonically.

"I am sure that we will find it one day, dear," she added softly, "You have never led us astray."

She always knows the right thing to say at the right moment, he reflected, I wonder what the herd would think if they knew I got most of my confidence from her.

The two nuzzled for a moment, each being grateful for the momentary respite.

"Sharpteeth!" the panicked yell of a young threehorn echoed across the gorge.

He looked over in the direction of the panicked yell, to see a large fastbiter advance towards the herd from the direction they originally came. It seemed to be moving intentionally slow, but he did not waste much time considering why that may be the case.

"Quick dear! Watch the kids!" he called to his mate as he took on a defensive stance.

"Defensive positions! Block the gorge! Do not let it near the children!" he yelled at the herd.

He and most of the other adults formed a defensive line around the entrance into the gorge. If the fastbiter wanted to enter into their territory then it would have to scale a wall of horns.

"Get lost! You coward!" Mr. Threehorn yelled at the fastbiter.

But the fastbiter did not move. Instead it seemed to simply be looking from side to side, as if it were sizing up the herd. Mr. Threehorn had seen nothing like this, and he had seen some rather weird things in the wasteland that was the Mysterious Beyond. That was when the fastbiter did something that was even more unexpected.

Click! Click! Click! Hiss!

The fastbiter emitted a series of clicks and hisses. If sharpteeth were capable of communication, he might have thought that it were speaking to someone else, but Mr. Threehorn knew that sharpteeth were too stupid for anything like that. What is this fastbiter up to? he thought to himself.

He then noticed that three of the deputies that he had commanded to watch the children were now part of the defensive line. Why weren't they with the children?

"Why are you three not watching the children?" he demanded.

The largest of the three responded, "You called everyone up here!"

"I didn't mean you three!" he replied, noting that this situation represented an error on his part, "Go back and watch the kids!"

Suddenly, however, the situation took a turn for the worse.

"Help!" He paled when he heard the panicked scream of his mate. I am coming, dear! Hang on!

"You!" he yelled at the eldest deputy, "Lead the line!" At his concerned nod, he looked at the other two. "You two, with me!"

The three then began to sprint into the gorge in order to help his mate and the children. However, the sight that greeted them when they reached the stream filled them with grief and disgust.

They could see the disemboweled form of a young male threehorn. It was the youngest of the four deputies. Apparently staying behind when the others left was a fatal decision for the poor threehorn.

As he continued to look at the scene, however, an even more disturbing sight left him seeing red. He saw a bloody mass in the distance, well behind the slaughtered deputy. He could see a fastbiter drag off the bloody torso of a young threehorn into a cave in the rock face of the gorge. Pounce! No! he thought in anguish as it was obvious that his daughter was dead.

He looked around in a panicked state. Where are the other children! But there was nothing to be seen in the immediate area besides blood and gore from the massacred child. That was when he heard the sound of groaning coming from behind a bend in the gorge.

"Hang on! We're coming!" he yelled at the unknown party. He had never run so fast in his life. Was it coming from his mate? Or one of his children? Either way, he had to help them. He had already failed so many today.

He ran around the bend in the gorge in the direction of the sound and found a terrible sight.

"Dear!" he roared in concern and grief.

She was lying on her side. A large pool of blood had begun to accumulate beside her neck. As he advanced towards her, he could see that she had large lacerations on her throat as blood flowed steadily from her wounds. He looked into her eyes with a mournful expression on his face, as he knew that these wounds were mortal. He was about to lose his mate.

She gave him a mournful look and spoke in a barely audible voice.

"I... couldn't save the kids..."

His view of her was getting hazy. That was when he realized that he was crying, as he couldn't take his eyes off of her face.

"At least... We will be with Cera now... She won't be alone."

He broke down at these words and nuzzled her gently. He decided to make his final words to her count.

"I am sorry... I failed you... I can't go on without you or the girls."

She coughed, sending a torrent of blood out of her mouth. She knew she only had moments left. She couldn't save herself, or her kids, but she could ensure that Topps would go on. She wouldn't let him throw his life away due to grief. She resolved to save him from himself with all of her remaining strength.

"Promise me... You will not give up." she demanded.

"But, without you nothing matters," he spoke in his despair.

"Life always matters," she said as her voice began to fail her, "Protect the herd and live a good life, Topps. Promise me that."

He looked upon her with sadness and some degree of incomprehension. He knew that he would never be happy again with her out of his life. He had failed to protect his children, and now he had failed his mate as well. But he would keep this final promise, he resolved, he at the very least owed his mate that.

"I promise," he replied softly.

She gave her beloved mate a sad smile as she took a final, shuddering breath.

Silence then fell upon the scene. After a few moments the horrifying realization came to the threehorn. She was gone forever.

He did not know how long he lay there, crying and nuzzling his dead mate's body. But after quite some time he heard someone clear their throat behind him. Topps slowly turned and looked in the direction of the stranger.

It was the eldest of the three deputies, "We killed one of the fest biters, sir," he spoke with some hesitation. "But the others appear to have gotten away. The herd is safe again."

Topps looked back at his dead mate for several moments, and he could hear the deputy begin to walk away. He decided that it was time for him to keep his promise to his mate and to be a leader again. He would swallow his pride and do what was necessary for its survival. No matter how distasteful or threatening that may be.

"We leave the gorge tomorrow," he stated assertively. His tone of voice even surprised him as he did not think that he had anything left. "We need to catch up with that mixed herd."

The deputy looked at him with a perplexed expression but did not object. Instead he simply asked a question.

"Yes, sir. What will we do then?"

Topps looked at the deputy with an unreadable expression.

"The herd must survive at all costs," he spoke with resolve, "If we go it alone then how many of us will be left in the end? Ten? Five? None? We need to join with the others because there is safety in large numbers. And large numbers we no longer have." As he said the last sentence he looked back towards his dead mate. The deputy took the hint and decided to give the grieving threehorn some privacy.

"I will do as you asked, dear," he spoke softly to her, "No matter the cost, I will keep my promise."

He rose from his prone position.

"Goodbye, my love."

With a heavy heart, he turned around and returned to the herd that he had promised to save.

......

Back to the Present:

As he shook those memories from his mind, he reflected on final words of his first mate. He supposed that his first family really was together now in the Great Beyond. At least they wouldn't be alone, like he was.

He then looked up at the threehorn sleeping area. It was within sight now, which meant that he would soon have to break the news to his family. I guess that I am not alone after all, he reflected, But this is going to hurt them deeply. It has already destroyed me.

Tria ran up to meet Topps as he advanced towards the nest. She had a frightened look on her face.

"Goodness, Topsy! Your horn!" She had noticed his broken horn. "Are you alright?"

He didn't reply but instead looked up at his mate with a sad expression.

"Dear?" she asked, concerned at his lack of response.

"Tria... I have some very bad news."

As Littlefoot's grandparents began to head back towards their nesting area, still mourning their incalculable loss, they heard the mournful wail of a threehorn. It seemed that Tria had finally discovered the fate of her beloved step-daughter. The two longnecks nuzzled one another in their grief.

The residents of the valley all knew that changes would have to come in the morning in order to confront the new threat that faced the valley. The threat from Chomper and his fastbiter minions. But for now they had a moment to take stock of what they had lost. As the waning hours of night began to wind down, the valley was immersed in grief.


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