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28 – In Which Vivian Tastes the Forbidden Fruit
The halls were quiet, her siblings were quiet, and the snow outside the arched windows fell in a silent storm. But inside, Vivian’s mind raged.
Thoughts and visions whirled around, a calamity of fear and desperation. That being…that celestial cloud that lived inside the castle, it had given her hope and ripped it away in the span of minutes.
What good was an impossible cure? They would never be able to steal Archpriestess Kassandra’s staff, let alone find some fabled weapon capable of breaking it.
She would lose herself to the monster clawing at her from the inside out before they even got a single finger on that damned god-made staff.
Tears threatened to cloud her vision, but she angrily blinked them away. She followed behind her siblings and Khalid as they snuck through the dark hallways of the Academy. There was no one in sight; everyone must still be enjoying the party. After the celestial being had told them its conditions, they had left shortly after. What else was there to hear?
The being could save her if they freed it. But they needed time.
And the only thing that would buy her that was feasting on a mortal’s blood.
She dug her nails into the palms of her hands. It was the one thing she couldn’t do. Even if such an act wouldn’t kill a person, what would become of her humanity?
What would become of Vivian Greywick, the girl who loved to paint, who used to dance between lavender flowers with her brother and sister and no worries at all? The girl who dreamt of love and princes when they were nothing but a fairytale?
There was still a piece of her left, one that kept pushing those horrid bone spurs back between her shoulder blades. She wouldn’t lose that piece.
“In here.” Timothée motioned for them to follow him down a dark alcove. A portrait of her brother—her older brother, said to be a monster of a different ilk—stared at her with frightening familiarity.
The Greywicks and Khalid gathered in a circle.
Vivian knew them too well—her siblings, that was. It was the benefit of being the quiet one. While Marion and Timothée would talk and act and do, she would watch. It was how she always knew when Marion’s teasing went a little too far as to hurt Timothée’s feelings. Or how much grief Marion truly was in the three years after Father died.
Now, she read every thought just by the tremble in Timothée’s hand, the gleam in Marion’s eyes. Timothée was optimistic, holding onto that thread of hope like a puppy with a stick. He bit his lip, holding back what she knew was a flood of ideas on how they could get the staff.
And Marion…pure, unadulterated fury blazed in her gaze. A gaze directed straight at Khalid.
Ah. So, he was a good secret-keeper. He never told Marion that he had offered his own blood.
“Alright,” Timothée said, unable to contain himself anymore. “Time to make a plan. Khalid, you said you’d heard of a sword. I think I know what you’re talking about. I…I saw it. The castle showed me…an image of it. It must exist. You and I can find out more information, and Marion can—”
“You lied to me,” Marion snarled.
Khalid looked around, as if she was talking to someone else. “Me?”
Marion looked like a cat, lip pulled back over what should be fangs. “Don’t play dumb with me. You’re a liar, Khalid.”
“I never lied to you! I never lied to you.” Khalid held his arms wide. “Did you ever ask me if I offered up my blood to your vampiric sister? Did you? No!”
She stabbed his chest with her finger. “You told me to trust you!” Tears welled in Marion’s eyes. “It’s my fault that I did.”
Vivian’s head felt full, fuzzy. She drifted away from the circle and over to the portrait of Noctis. She couldn’t listen to Marion fight with Khalid. Instead, she let her mind float further away, distancing herself from the conflict.
This was her fault, after all. Khalid had been trying to help her. Just as her siblings had years ago, when Marion bled Timothée’s wrist over a bowl. Something about her siblings’ blood made her sick. Animal blood did little to satiate her hunger. Marion had figured out the leech shoppe after that.
Khalid may have been trying to help, but he didn’t understand. Not like Marion.
Blood may make her better.
But blood would never make her whole.
Voices, voices, voices: Marion and Khalid snapping back and forth, Timothée urging them to stop.
Vivian focused on Noctis’s painted face. Reached up and stroked his black hair, his pale cheeks. Were you always a monster, brother? Or did the world turn you into one?
Everyone said he looked so much like Timothée. But she could see herself in this painting too: the sharp cheekbones, the wave of his hair.
Vivian turned and stared at Marion. Tears fell down her sister’s face. Khalid had his hands dug in his hair, urgently pleading his case.
Her sister disliked everyone and everything on sight. But not him. Marion lit up when Khalid was around: laughed louder, dreamt bigger.
And Vivian was driving them apart.
Maybe Noctis hadn’t wanted to be a monster, but he’d turned into one anyway. And he’d decided to take the whole world with him.
She couldn’t do that. Couldn’t let one more person be hurt because of her.
“Marion!” Khalid’s voice broke in a way Vivian had never heard before. “What are you saying?”
“You deliberately kept your plan from me.” Marion’s firebird dress flickered in the torchlight. “I’m saying I was a fool to believe in you. A fool to—”
“Enough.” Vivian walked between them. “If you’re angry with anyone, sister, be angry with me. I kept this from you, too. But I’m too tired for fighting.” She looked at Timothée. “Or plotting. Let me rest and think on all we have seen tonight.” She turned once more to Marion. “Please, go easy on Khalid. He was trying to help.”
Marion wiped her running nose, looked down. Khalid gave what could only be a grateful smile.
Vivian turned and started down the hallway. Her little brother loped at her heels. “I’ll walk you to the Den.”
“That’s perfectly alright, Timothée. I want to be alone.” She stopped and sighed when a look of hurt flashed across his face. She pressed a cold hand to his cheek and said in a softer tone, “Thank you, Tim. Truly. You’ve risked so much to help me.”
He held her hand against his face. “Of course, Viv. And I won’t stop. Not for anything.”
That’s what I’m afraid of.
What would become of the Dark Star who stole the Archpriestess’s staff?
Vivian left her brother and disappeared into the dark hallways.
That was the thing about being a monster. She was used to lurking in the shadows.
Vivian wandered toward the Yuletide party. She didn’t want to go back to the Den quite yet, wasn’t ready to face the quiet of her bedroom. Instead of taking the inside halls, she walked outside, feet dragging in the snow, so as not to draw notice from any of her peers. She wanted to hear music, see people dancing, feel the twinkling lights on her skin. Pretend she was a part of it.
One last time.
Tomorrow, she would request a ground pass. And she wouldn’t come back.
Father had hidden from the Celestial Church for years. She could do it too. Not that she had years left, before she was no better than the creatures wrapped in their own wings in the alleys of Wolfhelm.
Maybe she’d find a new path. A voice drifted into her mind: You don’t have to live like this. I know what it’s like. The pain. The hunger. Come with us. I’ll help you.
The vampire named Allistar had said those words to her. Maybe she’d find him and discover just what he meant.
Regardless of her future, Vivian Greywick knew what she needed to do. If she didn’t do this thing, people would keep getting hurt. People like her Father. People like Marion and Timothée. People like Khalid. People like—
She stumbled to a stop, because there he was, bathed in the orange light spilling out from the ballroom. He stood on the edge of the balcony that led down to the Tealight Gardens, face tilted up to the sky, snowflakes frosting his golden hair.
Darius wore a fitted blue tunic with silver star edges, a heavy navy cloak, and tall black boots. She could have been staring at a portrait: the beautiful prince, a Starling, regal in everything he did.
He belonged here.
He belongs with me. She closed her eyes, shutting out the thought.
She knew leaving him was far worse than losing her status as a Starling, her place at the Celestial Academy.
She would see Marion and Timothée again, of that she was certain. Even if a cure was never found, she would see her siblings again. But Darius…if she truly had to survive as a vampire, that was something she could never tie him to.
Warmth flowed through her, and she looked up to find his gaze settled on her. “Vivian,” he said, then straightened. “I thought you turned in.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I needed some air.”
He glanced back through the window at the Yuletide ball, then slowly, cautiously, descended the steps. “Did you enjoy the party?”
“Indeed.” She wasn’t sure what to say, but she didn’t want to leave. She wanted to look at him, commit as many details of his face as she could to memory. His smile…she wished she could see his smile one last time. But he wasn’t smiling now. “Though I didn’t seem to find time for a dance.”
“Neither did I.” He stopped before her, loose strands of gold falling across his face.
She remembered the first day they meet, dancing around her little candle shoppe. How she pressed up against him as he held her. It was the first time in three years she had felt like a girl and not a monster.
She held onto her elbows. “I should head back.”
“Would you like me to escort you to the Den?”
She smiled softly. He was ever the gentleman. “I’ll be alright but thank you.”
“Have a lovely night, Vivian, and a most joyous Yuletide.” His gaze lingered on her before he turned to leave.
She noticed a tiny bit of blue fabric peeking out from underneath his sleeve. She clasped his wrist. He stilled and she felt the shock roll through him. He slowly turned to her.
“You still have this.” She ran a thumb over the blue fabric ribbon tied around his wrist.
“Of course I do.” His voice was calm, but she heard the uptick of his heartbeat in her ears.
Delicately, she moved her fingers down and brushed the fabric. The edges loosened, the ribbon ends fluttering out to catch in the breeze.
“Perhaps you could use it.” Gently, he pushed the stray hairs away from her face. The feel of his skin over hers was electric. “Turn around.”
She did so, and he gathered her hair, rough fingers brushing the exposed skin on her shoulders. He tied her hair back and stepped away. She lightly touched the bow at the nape of her neck.
He’s giving it back? Her chest shuddered. He’s ready to let go of me.
She knew this was for the best, but it didn’t stop her heart from bleeding. She turned with a smile. “How did you learn to tie such a perfect bow, Prince Störmberg?”
“Celeste recruited me to tie many a bow on her stuffed animals and in her hair.” And then there it was: a genuine smile.
She’d missed that, missed him. She let her hand drop from the bow. “I suppose I should let you get back to the ball.”
“Yes, I…” He shook his head. “Though, I would be remiss to leave without telling you how startlingly beautiful you look tonight. Please stop me if I am speaking out of turn.”
“Darius.” She held his gaze, desperate for every last moment with him before she left the Isle forever.
“You look like—” Darius widened his blue eyes. “I was going to say a goddess, but that seems redundant.”
A god. That was so far from what she felt like.
“Perhaps it is more accurate to say that you are how I envisioned a goddess when I looked up at the sky as a little boy. So beautiful, they put the stars to shame.” He stepped closer to her. “It is said one of my ancestors ran away for the love of a god, and I can see why when I gaze upon your beauty.”
She stood stunned. Her dress was beautiful, her curled hair was beautiful, perhaps even the layered makeup Marion had applied was beautiful.
Inside she was rotting away, a monster clawing to get out.
But moments like this, moments with him…he made her believe his words.
She let herself forget that he didn’t know what she was. Lost herself in the cadence of his voice until she believed him too.
Perhaps that was why she had clung to him for so long, unable to let go.
“Ahh.” Darius ran his hand through his hair, face flushed with cold or embarrassment. “I have spoken out of turn. Please excuse me.”
He turned and she stood there in the snow, flakes melting on her shoulders. Then she dashed forward, arms wrapping around his waist.
He stilled, and she pressed her cheek against his back. Heard the strong beat of his heart.
“What is this?” he murmured.
Vivian stepped around him, ducking underneath his arms until they were facing each other. “A dance. You owe me one.”
He rose a brow, careful consideration in his gaze. “I do?”
“Yes. The dance in the candle shoppe was only practice.”
A tentative smile crossed his face. He stepped back, placing her hands in the proper positions. “We have danced since then.”
“I know,” she said, taking his hand. “This is me claiming it. Officially.”
“I am a man of my word.” Snowflakes fell on his long, dark lashes. “One dance, until the song ends.”
“One song,” she whispered as they stepped into the warm light that poured from the glass ballroom doors. “I can hear the music.”
“Me too.” He pulled her into a waltz, their feet drifting over the snow.
I shouldn’t be doing this. But she closed her eyes, letting him guide her movements. And she realized that for this moment, the ache in her body, the fog in her mind, was gone.
And she was here, only here, a shivering snowflake in his arms. Blond hair fell across his face, starlight reflecting the silver of his clothes.
The song ended.
He didn’t let her go.
She knew he wouldn’t.
“Vivian,” he whispered. His hands lightly brushed the snow from her face. “Say you have longed for this as I have.”
“You know I have.” Her heart tumbled, and she placed her hands flat on his chest. “Stay.”
He dropped his forehead to hers. “Wherever you are is where I will be, if you let me.”
One more moment of this.
One more night of being human.
She had that much in her.
Vivian lifted on her toes, placing a kiss upon his mouth. He melted into her, and she into him. One of his hands cupped the back of her neck, the other wrapped around her waist. She sighed, knees buckling. They broke apart, gasping in air before coming together again. Each press of his lips was sweet and soft.
And when they pulled apart, her kept her close, so close their noses were brushing, as if he could not bare to let her slip any further away.
“I suppose I am not very good at letting you go,” she whispered.
He traced the lines of her face. “Then the gods have answered my prayers.”
And she realized she’d never left him for what he’d done.
It had always been about who she was.
And she could hide that part for one more night.
Fresh undisturbed snow lined the paths of Selene Crescent. Shoppe windows were dark, the merchants long returned to their homes to celebrate Yuletide.
Vivian and Darius walked hand and hand down the street, snow parting beneath their feet. She glanced up at him, his smile lit by starlight.
Was it wrong of her to kiss him, to share this happiness, when tomorrow she planned to leave?
The thought swept from her mind as he leaned down and pressed his mouth over hers. The act brought her back to the present, feeling as if there was some magic in Yuletide.
“Are you going to tell me where you’re taking me?” she mumbled against his lips.
“Be patient.” He wrapped an arm around her.
“I’m just curious.”
“You are always curious.” The snow had stopped falling for a moment, and the late-night sky was filled with crystal specks. “I haven’t been able to sleep lately, so I’ve taken to exploring the Isle during the day. That’s when I found it, and I thought of you.”
They passed through the shoppes, and trailed over the Meadow of Shattered Stars, until Darius led her to the very edge of the Isle of Argos.
Around the Academy and Selene Crescent, the edge of the Isle was lined with white stone walls and fences. But here, on the wild side, there was nothing between them and the edge.
Freezing atmospheric air whipped at her, tugging at her hair. Below, waterfalls roared, careening down the side of the floating island from one of the many underground lakes. She stopped, too afraid to go closer to the edge.
“Leave your fears behind.” He held out his hand. “I’ll always keep you safe.”
She studied him for a moment, then grasped his hand. Darius wrapped her in his arms, and she shut her eyes as he guided her forward.
“Open your eyes, Vivian,” he whispered.
She looked down at their feet, toes just over the lip of the Isle. Below was Thraina: the jagged edges of a mountain and the tossing dark waves of the ocean below. She trembled, clutching the fabric of his shirt.
“Don’t be afraid.” Darius placed his thumb under her chin. “Look up, my darling.”
She did. The breath caught in her throat.
The clouds had parted and now shimmering light radiated from the sky, shining colours down upon them like rain. Lights sat suspended as a rainbow against a navy backdrop. Like curtains folding in and out, they glowed every shade of red, green, yellow, and blue.
“Have you seen a Sunvero before?” Darius asked.
Vivian shook her head. “I’ve read about them, but Father never wanted us to go out at night.”
“They say it’s the dance of the gods, that the lights welcome those who die. And the gods rejoice when you come to live with them among the stars.”
“It is a beautiful thought.” Achingly unhurried, she leaned against Darius and squeezed his hand. “Do you think those we loved are up there now? Sometimes it’s strange, but when I look at the stars and the sky, it’s like I feel my father.”
“I’d like to think so.” Darius interlaced his fingers with hers. “Though I’m sure Celeste would watch me with some annoyance. She used to scrunch up her face and stick her tongue out at me.”
“You must really miss her.”
“She most of all,” Darius said. “I mourn my mother and father, but Celeste…I should have been there to protect her.”
There were no words for such grief, so Vivian lay her head along his chest, felt his arms pull her close. The world beyond him was cold and dark, but here together, they made their own light. I love you. I love you, Darius.
“Come on,” Darius said. “I haven’t shown you what I found yet.”
Vivian furrowed her brow. “It wasn’t this?”
“Indeed not. Now, do you trust me?”
Vivian looked up at him skeptically, then looped her arms around his neck.
Darius lifted her slightly so her feet rested on his boots. “I’m going to step off the cliff now.”
“What? You can’t just say something like that!”
“Don’t worry. I’ve done this before.”
She eyed the sharp drop off. “But—"
“Trust me.” He kissed her cheek.
“I trust you, Darius.” Only because if you fall, I fall too.
There was the crackle of starcraft, the faintest blue glow around them. “I always feel more powerful when I’m around you.” Darius gave her a rueful grin then stepped off the edge.
Her stomach lurched as they fell, cold wind rising around him. She yelped, tightening her grip on his cloak. But the sensation stopped as the air wrapped around them like a net, holding them as they slowly descended the side of the mountain.
“Are we…are we flying?”
“Hardly,” Darius said. “I’m just changing the density of the air around us. Think of it as controlled falling.”
She’d known he was powerful with starcraft, but this was staggering. “And how will we get back up?”
“Assisted jumping.” He smirked.
They hovered down the cliff, the cold spray of one of the waterfalls dusting against them.
“You’re not even using your hands,” she said.
“Gestures are a common way to learn to control the powers, to help connect with the world,” Darius said. “But I’ve been practicing without using them. The magic comes from within us. And besides, I’d rather hold on to you.”
Would she ever be able to use starcraft this way? Clinging to Darius, heart racing, it felt preposterous, but perhaps…perhaps one day if she could get better. If they could find a cure.
The thought was impossible.
But here she was, a student at the Celestial Academy for Fallen Stars, flying. Flying in the arms of a prince.
A few months ago, she would have thought that was impossible.
And maybe that was one of things she loved about Darius. He made her believe in impossible things.
“Almost there,” Darius said softly. The wind slowed as they glided down to a small outcropping of rock sticking out from the Isle.
His boots landed on solid stone, but she didn’t let go. Behind them was a small opening in the rock.
“I suppose this adventure continues,” she said.
Tentatively she stepped off his boots, but he kept hold of her hand as they walked into the small cave.
For a moment, she was surrounded by grey rock, but then light began to flutter on the stone. They turned a corner, and she was stunned still.
Light and colours bounced off the walls, and she realized they’d stepped into a cavern made of… “Ice.”
“Yes.” Darius gently touched the small of her back. “The water from the falls runs through here, but it freezes in the winter.”
Vivian stepped into the cavern, trailing a hand along the smooth surface. The ice was thinnest along the far side, letting in the colourful light of the Sunvero. The frosted floor reflected a pattern of twisting elegant ribbons.
“How did you even find this place?”
Darius smiled broadly. “Like I said, I couldn’t sleep, so I wandered, practiced Starcraft.”
“Threw yourself off the Isle?” Vivian raised a brow.
“I am not quite so reckless. I did practice over the meadow first.” Darius grinned. “And then with Khalid and his sky skiff.”
“Well,” she said softly, “I love it.”
Darius was so tall he had to duck in places. “During the day, the sunlight illuminates the most brilliant colours of grey. It reminded me of your eyes.”
She fell into him, knowing all the wonders of this place could not compare to him, to the beauty of his blue eyes.
And she wondered at the threads of the world that had brought her here, beside him. Beyond this, everything felt too big, too impossible. A future of lingering shadows. But in here, she was safe. Here, she could forget all her problems. “I wish I could stay in this place with you forever.”
“Then I shall learn to stop the world from spinning.” He captured her mouth in a soft kiss. “Whatever you ask of me, I will give to you.”
“Darius,” she said his name like a prayer, “do you love me?”
“You know I do.”
“Then tell me. Please.” Desperate urgency crawled into her voice.
“I love you, Vivian Greywick.” Darius gripped her shoulders, blue eyes wild. “And may my greatest failure be ever giving you reason to doubt it. I love you, in all and everything you are. I love your spirit. I love how you crinkle your nose when you’re concentrating, how you make the expressions of your drawings as you sketch. I love your kindness. I love your quiet bravery.”
“Shall I continue?” He smiled. “The shine in your hair when it catches the sunlight, the faraway look you get when you’re dreaming, the cadence of your laugh, the face you make after I kiss you…although, I think I need to remind myself of that one.”
And he pulled her against him. She arched her back and marveled at the feeling his kiss brought into her, a clarity of her vision. The ache in her stomach subsided; she felt surprisingly in control of herself in a way she hadn’t in months.
“There it is.” Darius gently ran a thumb over her swollen lips. “There are not enough stars in the sky for me to tell you all the ways in which I love you.”
Being close to him brings me strength too.
If this had been any other illness, she did not doubt that he would travel beyond the edge of the horizon to cure her. But for this…this he would not.
So, she would pretend to be the girl worthy of his love.
For one more day.
And maybe a bit of the dawn.
“There is something I want to ask of you,” she said.
“I want…I want all of you.”
“You have all of me.”
“No.” Her hand slid down his chest. She tried to imagine what it would be like to be someone like Carmilla, who could walk into a room and capture everyone’s attention with a single raised brow. But she wasn’t Carmilla. She was Vivian, so she stumbled as she said, “I want us to be together, with nothing between us.”
Darius stiffened. She heard his heart lurch to a stop, and his face flushed.
“Vivian,” Darius said, voice rough. “Holding you is enough for me. A single kiss from you would last me a hundred years. I do not need any more from you.”
His refusal cut more than it should have, as the ache in her body morphed from ever-drumming pain to desire. If he didn’t want her… “But—”
“There is a respite in the spring.” He dropped his forehead to hers, kissed her cheek. “Let me fly you to our summer palace in Medihsa. We can lie upon the warm sand, bathe in the hot springs, and spend all day in a featherbed together. How does that sound, my love?”
It sounded magical. It sounded enchanting. It sounded like a future she could never have.
By the spring, she would be a monster.
She only had tonight.
Darius furrowed his brow. “This displeases you?”
Tears pricked her vision. She was so stupid. She had ended things with him, and then expected him to just want her as much as she wanted him after only a few kisses?
“No, I...” She pushed away. Her desperation was wild, frantic as a living thing, but she would not have him if he did not want her back.
It was for the best. She needed to get to her room.
She needed to leave.
Darius gripped her wrist, and something sparked in his blue fire gaze. “Do not mistake my hesitation for lack of desire.”
She whirled, hair falling in her face.
“Tell me what you’re thinking, Vivian.”
“I—” Her voice trembled. “I don’t want to wait for the spring, or the sands, or the palace. I want you here, on the ice, under the stars and the lights. And I need to know if you want me too.”
He dropped her hand, lips parting as he took her in. She trembled in anticipation at the lights wove ribbons over her skin.
Darius finally spoke, voice low and rasping. “You desire to know if I want you?”
“There is no part of me that does not ache for you.” He crossed to her in two steps, lifting her in his arms. She wrapped her legs around his waist.
A cold chill ran down her back as he pressed her against the ice wall of the cavern. Their heavy breath clouded together. As he looked down at her, his pupils darkened and dilated. “You truly want this?”
“Yes,” she whispered, knowing she could have asked for the stars, and he would have faced the gods to bring her one. “Yes, Darius.”
This scene has an extended NSFW version that is available to Celestial Light Tier patrons.
He kissed her softly on the mouth. “Vivian.”
“I love you too,” she whispered against his lips. “I know it sounds foolish, but I’ve loved you since the moment you found me in the candle shoppe.”
“It’s not foolish.” His blue eyes glistened. “I felt the same. My heart never truly beat until I met you.”
She sighed, feeling the hard press of his body against her, how right their closeness was. That delicious beat of that heart. “I’m ready now.”
Then she gave herself to him; his touch was nothing short of magical. Nothing between them. Just the warm touch of skin against skin. And she was just a girl crashing on his shore, again and again and again.
Pleasure like she had never felt before flowed through, igniting her body, spilling down her throat.
They burst together like a dying star.
Her hand slipped across his chest. Her body hummed in thanks.
Then they were falling, colliding through space and time, and fell together to the icy ground. She collapsed on top of him.
Slowly, she came back to herself, moving up and down with the rise and fall of his chest.
“I love you,” she murmured again.
Her body still rippled with pleasure; she licked her lips.
“Vivian?” Darius’s hand fell from her back. “I feel—”
She pushed herself up but slipped.
Her palm was covered in blood.
Darius’s chest was covered in blood.
Icy terror spread through her.
He was trying to raise onto his elbows, but his gaze was faraway, pale, ice-frosted. And his naked body was splattered with blood, blood that dripped from his neck. She looked down at herself, covered with red.
He stared at her, but it was not a look he had ever given her before.
She clamped a hand over her blood-soaked lips. But it was too late. She felt her fangs, long and sharp and covered in his blood.
He pressed a shaky palm to his neck. “You’re a…” His voice wavered, his body shook, and she realized how pale he was. “You’re a vampire.”
Darius’s eyes rolled back, and he collapsed to the ground.
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