Annalise Noctuna – A Druid’s Backstory

A/N – This piece of writing is the backstory for my character in a homebrew game of DnD I play with my friends.

Chapter One

Annalise Noctuna was born to high nobility, specifically the reigning monarchs of the huge and prosperous kingdom of Axix. Axix was a verdant land ruled and farmed mostly by humans. Acres and acres of its farmland were tended by healthy and hard-working folk with diverse crafts and trades. There was much cattle for leather, sheep for wool and grain for bread. Anything the land naturally lacked could be easily traded in for plenteous freshwater fish or timber from the endless forests. Few went hungry in the kingdom of Axix and the nobility were respected among the people for largely successful leadership and protection.

The cities of Axix were well-built by capable architects with solid materials and then well-kept for intergenerational use by its residents. In the capital, for instance, many of its stone buildings had stood unchanged since the birth of the Axixan Kingdom with Queen Axila I.

However, despite the incredible fortune of Annalise’ birth – a princess in a mighty castle in a peaceful realm – there was one disadvantage that could not be easily overcome with any amount of wealth. She emerged from the womb with milky white eyes. The disadvantage of blindness meant that she was sheltered beyond even the norm of princesses. The King and Queen Noctuna guarded her jealously, even when she yearned to experience the outside.

Since her birth, many physicians had offered remedies to her parents in return for gold coin and every single one of them had failed to heal Annalise’ sightless eyes. The new parents were more destroyed with every crushed hope. Eventually, however, one group did offer their assistance free of charge. These were the large population of druids native to Axix’ endless forests.

The King and Queen had no reason not to try, even if they did have their doubts about success. The druids were a peaceful people and trustworthy. Annalise was taken at the fresh age of four to undergo a mysterious ceremony where she sat in tall waving grass where she couldn’t see the secret things the druids did around her. But unfortunately this too did not work. Ready to take their daughter from the trees and back to the palace as soon as the failure was apparent, the druids quickly made a second offer: They could teach her to see without sight; to sense the world through the thrum of life in every tree and blade of grass. She could become a drui

d – a rare offer in itself – as she had a natural affinity to the wilds.

The parents of the princess agreed because the craft of the druids were well-respected in the kingdom, along with their continual work keeping the land that sustained them bountiful and strong. They were also happy for anything that would give their little gemstone an advantage to balance her cruel lack of sight. As such, Annalise Noctuna spent many years with her toes tucked into the earth and her palms pressed on the trunk of mighty trees as she listened to the whispers of the land. Unable to see an inch in front of her face, the young woman was able to hear of things happening many leagues away. Even rumours from across the ocea

n of strange lands with bright people who lived under the care of living gods. Not only were the monarchs proud of their daughter’s quickly growing skill, the kingdom’s people took it as a sign that she was a blessed and wise ruler-to-be for them.

At twelve years of age, a wild cat with bright red fur matching to the girl’s long thick mane came to the lands of the Axixan druids. The small beast had silver streaks across her bright body, long sensitive ears and a streamlined form for sprinting down prey. She was a lone huntress travelled from a far-off land that she declined to name when asked. With no others of its kind to be found in Axix and apparently none to return to from whence she came, the feline was drawn to the druids for companionship and shelter from even larger predators that often savely drove her from their territory.

The cat told Annalise many tales of the world far and wide, taking particular care to explain the details of it’s sharp cat-vision to the human. Annalise in turn taught the cat secrets of the druids and brought her home to the palace on many occasions. As a “pet” of the princess, the cat was near-revered and treated to many gifts of fish and boar flesh. It was another symbol that their princess was a master and equal of the great wilds they called home. When asked what the name of her cat was, Annalise had to pass along the question with some embarrassment.

“Cats have no need for names.” Purred the clawed creature directly into her mind, “But you may give me one if it helps you to identify me with such a poor human nose.”

Annalise thought that her friend was precious and wanted to give her a name to match. She asked some servants to show the red cat different jewels and metals before asking which the feline liked the most.

“None of them. I like fish and fresh air.” The cat laughed.

“Then which is your favourite fish?” Annalise persisted.

“I enjoy white bream.” She licked between her razor claws, “among many others.”

One of the servants requested shyly to speak with a soft cough. “Your highness?”

“Yes?”

“White bream are a silver colour with red fins, much like your friend is a gorgeous red with silver stripes.”

“Silver is a precious metal, the colour of good bream and m

y friend…” Annalise turned to the lithe cat, “May I call you Silver?”

The animal dipped her head and flicked her long ears in reply. It was decided and Silver became much of a mascot back at the palace; exotic, beautiful and powerful to match Annalise. Silver appreciated the attention but never lowered herself to require the approval or pandering of humans. Meanwhile among the druids, Silver was respected as a powerful huntress with knowledge of far places and unrivalled instinct. As the suspected last of her kind, they granted her unlimited access to their protected lands as her home.

As a feline, Silver was aloof and superior, silent and sinuous, fleet-footed and fatal; however she was also unexpectedly giving. She shared her broad knowledge and her catches and allowed Annalise to curl into her soft fur at night. Furthermore, one solstice she offered to give the greatest gift of all. It was rare that any creature, let alone an animal as noble and free as a wild cat, would offer to selflessly tie itself to another for life but Silver did, so that Annalise might have the chance to finally see the world through her own bright eyes.

The ensuing pact made between Annalise and Silver was different from a marriage but no less serious. Supervised by high druids, both promised to stay with, share with and protect the other for as long as they would breathe. They were to share one sight between them and Silver’s lifespan would be extended by sharing in Annalise’ human life force. Should the two be separated, the vitality of both would diminish swiftly, and Annalise would be blind once more. The princess couldn’t believe it even as it happened, her eyes opening to actually see for the first time. The first thing she saw was her own face through the eyes of her partner. She saw herself cry for joy. Soon after she saw her mother cry for joy at the knowledge that her daughter finally saw her and her father declared a holiday for all in the kingdom.

Silver was appointed a member of the royal family and her human kin rained her with endless thanks, not that the cat cared for such things. The Queen passed peacefully into the next life only a few months later, released from long standing suffering from an ailment that no physician nor druid could identify. Her father told Annalise that her mother was being escorted to heaven by hoards of angels; that she was happy and beyond proud of everything her daughter had become.

As a young druid in training, Annalise suspected that perhaps the spirit of her mother was a little closer to earth than heaven; in the wildlands she had come to call her home. She spoke to the wind softly and said she was proud of her mother’s benevolent legacy just as much as she loved her kind soul. Silver agreed that death was unlikely to stop the spirit of such a good and wise woman as Queen Axila the II.

 

Chapter Two

One of the oldest trees in the westen region of Axix’ forests was being strangled by clinging vines, along with many of the surrounding trees and plants. The creeping parasite that covered them was a thick and fast-growing stem which squeezed the life out of anything it grew on and had stretched to block the light from even the canopy leaves. The health of the overall area was declining as a result. Aware of the growing wound, the druids deliberated over many days before assigning the fifteen year old Annalise to travel there and heal the imbalance.

At first the training druid questioned why she, with so little experience and limited ability, should be chosen for the task. But the elders insisted that this was exactly the kind of experience she needed to gain in order to progress.

“The world is not always about power and force,” Rowan, one of the oldest teachers said, “Sometimes softer touches, done in the right way, can make an even larger impact. Use your inner wisdom and kindness to make up for a lack of powerful spells.”

“Yes Elder.” Annalise bowed her head with respect, “I will do my best to heal the forest and save the oldest westen tree.”

“I know you will do well, Annalise.” Rowan’s voice was like the rustling of dry leaves.

“Thank you.”

Annalise and Silver were of course to make the journey together. They had not parted once since the binding ceremony when she was twelve. It had taken some time to adjust to seeing the world at all, let alone to see it move whenever her companion turned her head. But over the years the two had worked out a fluid symbiosis of doing everything together and Annalise could interpret the signals sent from the cat’s eyes very well. Silver was proud and curious, content to follow the human druid through forests or cities alike. Seeing new things seemed to please the feline – she liked to watch silently and let Annalise interact with people. There was a quiet judgement always in her gaze but never a word on her tongue. Even if she was inclined to speak, it was only Annalise who could hear her anyway.

Back in the capital city, Annalise informed her father the King that she was taking a trip to the western forests. Naturally he insisted she took guards while his daughter disagreed willfully. Much negotiation ensued before they agreed on a minimum of two of their most trusted armed escorts which Annalise could command to give her distance when she needed solitude to tune into the spirit of the forest. It was also agreed that they would not tell the people that the princess was leaving the city until she had returned, for her own safety.

Being royalty, the servants packed her bag with many fine dresses encrusted with gems and her father gifted her an exquisite blue gown lined with gold thread for the occasion of her departure. Annalise was too kind to explain that these clothes would not be convenient for her work in the wilds so she asked the palace tailor to make her a cloak which would cover the sparkling detailing of her garment from prying eyes as she set out and swapped some of the other dresses for simpler items when nobody was looking. She also wore thick boots and declined to bring many more items; just a few changes of clothes, a hairbrush and basic provisions for nourishment were all she needed.

Setting out was incredibly exciting. Silver was also bristling with anticipation – her primal instincts wired with the promise of new lands, new prey, new scents, sights and challenges. Annalise and her guards rode horses bred for speed and hardiness but only asked them to canter a portion of the journey as well as stopping several times a day for stretching, resting and feeding. Silver was happy to walk or sprint along besides.

The entire journey was estimated to take just less than a week; however, the weather was fair and the small party made it in four and a half days. At the edge of the western forest, Annalise dismounted and sat on the earth with her hands stretched to touch a near tree. The guards didn’t question it although the action must have confused them. They knew the association the princess had with the druids and respected it. Even if they did ask, druidic lore and magic was arcane and secret so they didn’t expect their questions to be answered even if they did voice them.

Annalise stood after some minutes and lowered her hood. “I know the way now. You may follow a little behind me.”

The guards nodded and took her horse to lead through the trees as well as their own. They progressed through near-untrodden pathways forged only by scurrying animals. The going was slow on account of their mounts – the guards cut away thorns that might hurt the large creatures and Annalise was happy to wait to save any animal pain. Meanwhile, Silver was completely unseen amongst the undergrowth except when she emerged to show her blind human the obstacles in her path. For a creature with such a bright colour, she was more than capable of stealth. Annalise was able to sense her surroundings and had naturally steady feet from years of practice. With the aid of Silver’s eyes she was able to avoid any major problems such as roots or thorns that might trip or bite her skin.

Finally the fresh trees and ferns began to dwindle, replaced by grey-brown tendrils that slithered over everything in an insidious choke-hold. It was a dull plant with few leaves to be seen except near the canopy where it sprouted to selfishly steal the sun from everything else.

Annalise found the great western tree at last, completely invisible under the vines that clung to it. She decided the best thing to do would be to meditate. Silver hunted her evening meal; a small bird. The young woman said a quick prayer for the eaten animal and pondered on the state of the forest and how it should best be healed.

 

 

Several weeks passed and Annalise had torn many of her dresses, muddied her hands and tangled her wild hair with the branches on many occasions. Her horse’s mains were no longer trimmed to perfection, the guards had removed their armour and set up a friendly camp near (but not too near) to where she worked and Silver had familiarised herself with every nook and path for a league in all directions. It was interesting how quickly a new place could feel like home, especially if it was in nature.

Most importantly of all, the forest was slowly healing under the care of the princess. She spent hours and hours carefully cutting the vines that ran up the great tree. Without nutrients from its roots, the vines withered and Annalise was able to pull them away without damaging the tree’s bark and give the stiff stalks to her guards to burn at night for warmth. She also weaved much of it into beautiful knots and intricate ropes which she arranged into stunning arches, wreaths, and cords that delicately marked the end of a life.

Not until the vines were almost fully removed did Annalise even begin to use magic to slowly feed the trees with life and love and encouragement to try again. Speeding up the growth process meant the local flora could photosynthesize and drink water in much less time to make energy for repair and renewal. Weeks might have seemed a long time to Annalise before when she thought about magic. But now she knew magic could be gentle touches and care just as much as it could be power, just as elder Rowan had said.

Annalise didn’t just serve the great western tree, of course. She also dedicated much time and energy into the healing and preservation of the surrounding area, curbing the vines and turning them into woven art. She even built nests up in the trees and huts on the ground out of the woven material, hoping that a bird or fox would be able to take shelter and also find peace after the tangled disease had passed from their forest.

She was a little sad when it was time to go. However, it would also be nice to change scenery again, take a hot bath and see her fellows and peers. Annalise and her guards once more mounted their shaggy steeds and rode for home.

At the palace there were indeed hot baths and banquets. The royal court offered to clean and trim Silver too, but of course the wild cat declined. She was perfectly happy with her naturally long fur and tongue for grooming.

With the druids, the reunion was much more quiet but no less happy. She hugged her close friends in the circle and hugged the familiar trees she had missed. Then when it was time she sat before the elders.

“We are very happy with your work in the western region, Annalise.” Rowan began, “We have heard from the animals that you spared no effort and worked hard with body and spirit both. We commend your use of the vines to create art and shelter for the native animals and we respect your patience and careful attitude.”

“Thank you, Elder.”

“We would also like to thank you, Silver. Although you are not a druid, we are blessed to shelter you in our lands and Annalise is lucky to share your wisdom and support.”

Silver ducked her head in acknowledgement. She was thankful for the shelter the druids had given her and therefore indulged their customs and formality.

“I’m unsure if you know this, dear.” Another elder named Rey turned back to Annalise, “But the task given to you was in part a test.” He paused to gauge her reaction. Annalise shook her head – she had not guessed such a thing. He continued, “You have passed the test Annalise. We would like to initiate you as a full druid with all of the rights and privileges of the position. You will have access to all our secret knowledge and the care of any druid clan you come across. Are you willing?”

Momentarily speechless, Annalise couldn’t believe her ears. With a little processing, however, she was eventually able to nod while grinning from ear to ear. “It would be my honour, Elders.”

Thus the ceremony was set for the next day. Annalise arrived in a plain green dress, freshly sewn at the palace especially for the occasion. It had no gems and no gold thread. It didn’t even have a petticoat. What it did have, however, was a beautiful feminine shape, a skirt that reached her knees and green stitching to resemble grass and ferns all along the hem. She wore her wavy red hair in a ponytail for convenience and somehow looked both regal and wild at the same time.

There was a stone circle at the top of a hill where the most important ceremonies of the Axixian druids were held. Here Annalise stood in bare feet with her brethren surrounding her and changing strange and magical words. Annalise could mostly understand them due to her studies of the druidic language but they were still ethereal to her ears – ancient and hinted with old power.

A green paste was gently pressed into the skin at the back of Annalise’s neck. She knew they would be drawing a Celtic knot – a symbol of the interconnectedness of life and growth, both physical and spiritual. This was how druids knew each other and her personal key to the full wealth of knowledge they possessed. The mark would fade and disappear with time. But with the touch of a druid; herself or another, it would reappear as a sign to recognise other servants of the earth.

Annalise said her own sacred words and reached for the sun, asking its blessing. In the following days, she asked for the blessing of the moon too, and the trees and the flowers and the creatures. It took several days in all, sitting in the middle of her stone circle and eating only what was brought to her in kindness.

Once it was done, the new druid was exhausted and shivering. But she was happy. She held Silver in her arms and thanked all those who had trained and supported her since she was but a tiny child with no hope or purpose.

The future looked bright as Annalise ate a hot meal with the others and listened to stories of far lands. Silver’s fur was prickling with curiosity again, her claws kneading the ground beneath her paws. Annalise felt the cat’s yearn to see new far places again and considered perhaps more travel could be a good thing for them. Visiting the westen forests had been a favourable adventure and valuable experience before. If Silver enjoyed traveling so much and it gave her the opportunity to do good in more places, then why not?

For now however, it was not time for travel. It was time for rest. Even Silver was feeling the tiredness in her bones from just watching Annalise undertake the ceremony for multiple days without sleep. With Silver at her side, Annalise travelled back to the palace to rest and share the good news.

 

Chapter Three

Since Annalise’ journey to the western region of Axix and her initiation as a full druid, the princess and her companion began to make more regular trips across the Kingdom. This way she could check in on the wild-lands to ensure its health, visit the people to establish relations and widen her knowledge of the lands she would one day inherit.

It was strange how the Druids nor her family had ever challenged the divide of her loyalties between nobility and the arcane knowledge the druids kept safe. She was grateful to have been loved and supported throughout her life by such a diverse kind of people, as well as the gift Silver had offered within their union. All in all, Annalise was aware she had been privileged both in birth and fortune and wished to give as much good to the world as had been given to her. On the whole, the young woman was successful. Her people respected her and the druids approved of her diligent work.

Over two years Annalise saw every region and visited every major city in their land. And having seen so much, the girl thirsted to know and see more. It was almost as if she was absorbing Silver’s innate curiosity through her view of the world. On her 17th Birthday, the princess asked the King for his blessing to travel outside of Axix altogether. By now the King had learned to respect both the ability and the will of his only daughter and did not deny her. He sent messages to the neighbouring land of Marthus to request they grant her safe passage and welcome her to their capital as a guest.

The warlord who ruled Marthus, Kree the Left-Handed, agreed readily. There had been peace between Axix and Marthus for two decades apart from the Skirmish of Belam and both sides appeared ready to accept that Belam had simply been… unfortunate. Kree was far too busy warring with his brother and the Kloan Empire to the North to want to aggress on Axix. Furthermore – and much to King Noctuna’s dismay – the older warrior was recently in need of a new wife. He had expressed how a marital consolidation of their alliance would be mutually beneficial many a time.

Annalise was aware of this but knew no fear of the ageing leader. He was stretched thin and fighting two battles with other factions. He would not risk a conflict with Axix by harming her. If anything, he would be a dog at her heels. Silver confirmed she would be happy to eat the heart of any human who harmed her friend, which the princess heartily appreciated.

Soon everything was made ready and the teenage noble set out with her customary trusted guards, horses and provisions. She left at dawn before it was even fully light, covering her fine clothes with a warm cloak and shielding her face with its hood. As usual, her departure was not to be made public knowledge for a few days extra to ensure her safely.

Despite being keen to see more, Annalise doubted any land could be as beautiful as her home in Axix. Rolling hills covered in fields of corn, vast forests that stretched as far as the eye could see, fresh rivers running from small mountains into lakes as still as mirrors. Annalise passed it all on her journey and she adored it with every beat of her heart.

 

 

Given this journey was to be the furthest she had ever ventured, naturally it was also due to take the longest. One week into the journey blended into two and they were nearing the edge of Axixian land. They stopped to camp as was normal in the evenings and Annalise stretched out under the stars and counted the eternity they represented.

A noise alerted the guards to something nearby. One took a torch and cautiously explored outside the camp. Silver also woke from her half-slumber to peer into the darkness for any suspicious movement. Her cat eyes picked out several human forms skulking and Annalise warned the guard so he could find and shine his light on them as quickly as possible.

A small band of travellers with a cart full of items pulled by two horses looked up and blinked owlishly, as though they were surprised to have been discovered.

“Hullo,” one dirty man said while scratching his ear awkwardly, “Just humble traders here, sir. Where you headed?”

“We’re heading towards Kree’s land, Marthus.” The guard replied. Annalise stood and made her way over curiously, “Why are you travelling in the dark? It’s dangerous and bad for your horses to overwork them.”

The man didn’t reply. None of his group did for an uncomfortable minute while they looked at each other. Finally an equally dirty woman who looked like she could have been the man’s sister for their resemblance spoke: “Late for a delivery – embarrassing to admit really. But not trying to spook no one.”

Annalise had to admit, these were strange people. There were maybe six in all. She felt it best if they left. “What city are you trading with? Don’t let us hold you up. You best go.”

Her guard frowned and she wondered if he disliked her sending these people away. The people, on the other hand, looked relieved.

“Yes, m’lady.” The dirty man bowed and the woman curtseyed. “Very kind. We’ll bother you no more.” At his use of “lady” as a title, Annalise remembered that she wore nice clothes even when they weren’t jewel-covered and she had forgotten her cloak back where she slept by the fire. Similarly, her guards wore polished armour with the crest of the royal guard upon the shoulder protector.

No soon as the realisation had come, Annalise felt her feet leaving the ground and her breath forced up and out her mouth in a painful rush. Something sharp pressed at her neck and a sickening stench filled her nostrils. Muscled arms around her middle pinned her smaller arms to her sides. Sudden shouts and screams pierced the night.

Silver was sprinting. Jumping. Burying her teeth into the meaty neck of the man who held Annalise while raking her claws down his arms. Annalise felt hot wet ooze against her skin. Bloody wounds filled her vision – Silver’s vision – there was something pulsing. It was like when she saw Silver killing prey except this was larger and not dead. The sharpness against her throat only pressed harder and a yowl erupted from somewhere to her left as another human attacked with an object and sent the cat flying. Trying to scream hurt where the dagger was threatening her life but she cried out anyway: “Silver!”

One of the guards lay wounded in the grass and the other was putting up a valiant effort against four of the six travellers with their crude weapons of axe and club. It was a nightmare. The knife on her throat was replaced with a hand, squeezing and squeezing until she heard her pulse thrumming in her ears and her head was light and then went dark.

Cold, hard wood with splinters that pricked her skin eventually woke the princess. Something had crusted dry in her hair. A faint vision of a makeshift hut settlement flickered in her vision… Silver. The wild cat was somewhere near still.

When Annalise tried to stand, her skull crashed into something almost immediately, making her head pound. Water. How long had it been? She reached out her hands to carefully trace over the floor and then the walls. All of it was unsanded wood: A small box. Claustrophobia overwhelmed the druid and she could only hear her own panicked gasps for air. Her cheeks were wet with tears and a whimper barely escaped her lips in between breaths.

“Help…”

The second time Annalise woke up, she did her best to stay calm. She pressed against the wooden slats that caged her with raw palms, then kicked with stiff legs and shouted with dry throat. There was no reply. It appeared there were no allies nor enemies to help nor hinder her. Being so alone made it feel even more stifling. If it was just herself in the darkness with not even enough room to uncurl from her fetal ball, was it possible she was left to die like this?

It felt like something was crawling up her throat. It made it hard to breathe. She sucked down more air to compensate and felt the restriction in her ribcage.

“Not like this…”

Small gaps between the planks of wood that formed her prison were a torturous tease. She poked her fingers through the small gap and wished with all her being she could squeeze her whole self through. Perhaps if she were a little rat she could gnaw on the wood and scramble to freedom. To be free was a necessity; in the grass running or in the sky stretching. Her mind was a dreamlike haze – perhaps she was passing out again – imagining growing smaller and smaller, wriggling more and more of her fingers passed the gap. Then her arm and her nose with little ratty whiskers. Her furry white head with soft pink ears. Soft flexible body.

Outside the box, the world was a land for giants. Crates just like the one that caged her stood as tall as buildings in a dusky room. Annalise scampered across the vast space, kicking up a trail of grey particles in her wake until she arrived at the door. Wooden also, there was space for her small body to slip under. The moon was the biggest she had ever seen it, the grass as tall as small trees.

“Silver?” She squeaked, and jumped at the sound of herself. That was not her own voice. Looking down, these were not her own paws, this was not her own sight, nor Silvers. She must be dreaming…

A sound caught her attention, prey instincts overriding her confusion to impell her to scurry away and hide near a wall. Hadn’t she hated closed spaces before? Now the comfort of small things seemed desirable. No matter! A predator! A huge lion with hungry eyes and a mouth that would lead straight to the afterlife. She froze, small heart beating far faster than any humans’ should.

It was Silver! Why was silver so large? Why was anything? How could she talk to Silver without risking herself as a meal.

“Silver,” She cried – only in her mind this time, “What’s happening to me! I want to go home.”

“Annalise?” Came back Silver’s telepathic voice, smooth as silk. A river surely carving its way to the sea, “Where are you?”

“I’m… I’ve transformed…”

“Transformed?”

“I think I’m a rat. Don’t eat me please.”

“You, a small delicious rat? As much of a treat as you might taste, I would not eat you.” At that moment Silver’s piercing gaze locked onto Annalise’s trembling furry body as it hugged the wall. “You have performed a wild-shape. A difficult feat. You are to be commended.”

“Where are we?”

“Some leagues from where they captured you. I trailed them all the way here and watched and waited for you to wake up. Currently the brutes are eating over that way.” She nodded her head to where one of the huts glowed with orange light. “I hope the one I savaged dies of an infection.”

Annalise could hardly disagree. “What of the guards? What about you?”

“Just a bruise on me. The guards were not so lucky. One wounded, the other dead. We should make our way back to them now and then return home. It is not worth continuing to Marthus. You may ride me until you feel you are able to turn back into your human form.”
So the small black and white rat gently climbed onto the back of the fire-red cat when Silver crouched down on her haunches. She wrapped her little paws into the long fur of her companion and clung on as Silver began to run the several Leagues back to the camp where the attack had been sprung.

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