Hunt: 8.4

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All in all, Cody took the knowledge of there being monsters in the world relatively well. That didn’t mean the silence that resulted wasn’t awkward. James tried to give him some time to get used to the idea, pulling out his phone and dialing Finch’s number.

Two rings. Three rings-

“Hi, James,” Finch murmured. “What’s up?”

“I caught the lake thing,” he said. “I’m putting it somewhere safe while I figure out what to do with it. Figured you’d wanna know.”

A brief hesitation on Finch’s side of the line, then:

“Were you seen?”

“No, no,” James half-lied, his tone a mite too casual. “… I mean, there was one guy who probably saw it, but it was kind of attacking him before I even got here, so…”

“Right,” Finch murmured. “And you’re sure no one else saw? It’s a big lake, James. Lots of angles to be seen from.”

“We were below the surface,” he replied. “Kinda hard to spot when you’re under forty feet of water.”

“Is the witness okay?”

“Yeah. Some kinda mage, I think. He was doing practice underwater when it started chasing him.”

“Who is it?”

“That kid from the diner.”

“The one who was macking on you?”

James glanced back at Cody, his cheeks a little pink. He couldn’t help but notice that his prior assessment had been wrong. The guy was pretty ripped without a shirt.

“… Yeah, him.”

Finch snickered on the other end of the line.

“Good luck with that. I’m on my way.”

He hung up.

James pocketed his phone.

Right. Okay. That was that done. Now he just had to find some way of getting the creature out of the lake without alerting everyone in Rockford of what was happening. He had a few ideas.

Then he just had to handle Cody. Great.

He took a deep breath.

“… Okay, so, promise you won’t be mad at me,” he tried. “But I maybe kinda lied a little bit. This,-” he gestured at the monster. “-isn’t really Bigfoot.”

The punchline fell about as flat with Cody as was possible. The boy gazed up at him from his position on the soaked-silt floor.

“No shit, James.”

James winced. Okay. Ouch.

An uncomfortably long silence, then:

“… So what is it?”

James shrugged, glancing briefly over his shoulder at the webbed humanoid still scrabbling at its bubble.

“No idea. Maybe a grindylow? A redcap? A kappa that’s lost its shell? There’s like, a hundred different kinds of water monsters. I haven’t got ‘em memorized. Probably just got washed into the lake by all the rain.”

Cody swallowed.

“So there’s more of them out there?” he asked, his voice just a little shaky.

James didn’t bother trying to lie. It’d probably do more harm than good at this point.

“Oh, yeah. Loads. I mean, it’s a wildlife reserve. Where else are they gonna live?”

“Anywhere that isn’t where I live!” Cody snapped. James adjusted his assessment. The other boy might be taking this kinda badly. “And who the fuck are you, huh!? Some random kid and an asshole in a suit, trying to act all cool while you bend the fucking water!”

“Hey!” James protested, ruffled. “Don’t call me a kid! I’m thirteen. And a half!”

“I don’t give a crap!” Cody yelled. “You’re a kid, James! Your shirt has a fucking Gundam on it!”

James let out an aggravated groan.

“Would you please. Stop. Swearing?”

At that, Cody simply stared at him. James glared back as forcefully as he could manage. It undercut him a bit when Cody started giggling.


“… Stop it,” he muttered. Cody laughed even harder. “I’m serious.”

The other boy rolled onto his back, clutching at his knees as he cackled himself senseless.

… Well, you have fun with that.

He turned his attention back to the water beast. It shied away from him as he approached, resting his hand against the surface of the bubble, before pushing it through into the water.

It attacked him, claws scrabbling and snatching at the skin of his hand and wrist, his shield sparking faintly beneath the blows. He let his fingers rest against its chest.

It hadn’t hurt anybody yet, he told himself. It was just scared because it couldn’t find its home. He smiled at it.

“I’m gonna put you somewhere safe, okay?” he murmured. “Try not to fight too hard.”

He dug into his spellbook, humming the intro to Uptown Funk to help him focus while he tracked down the magic he was after.

He muttered a few words under his breath, and inside its bubble, the lake monster began to glow, a soft, tourmaline light flowing out from around his fingertips. Soon, the entire creature was encased within his energy. Then, with a deal more effort than he was proud of, he began to pull it in, the monster slowly shrinking down about his fingers, before discorporating, and flowing as lines of light across his skin.

When the glow of the spell began to fade, it left behind an intricate web of faintly aquatic seeming inkwork spreading from the tips of his fingers and all the way up along his arm. He imagined this was what Pokemon training felt like.

He checked under his shirt, curious to see exactly how much of him the familiar spell was covering. Quite a lot, as it turned out, the seaweed and vine-like decorations of his forearm slowly fading into a sheen of fish-scales that went almost to his belly.

“Dude, I look freaking rad,” he muttered. He turned to Cody. Noticing now that the boy was no longer laughing. “What do you think? Tattoos or no tattoos? Pretty sure I’m now officially a badass.”

In response, Cody simply gazed at him.

“… What the hell is with you people?”

“You know, we weren’t really lying all that much,” James muttered, spearing a piece of breakfast bacon with his fork, and pairing it with a chunk of pancake. “Finch said he was working for the government when we got here. He just didn’t bother saying that I was too.”

“That’s because you aren’t,” Finch pointed out from the next table over. He’d insisted on being present on the off chance that James said something wrong. “Not yet.” He turned his gaze to Cody. “He’s working with me on a trial basis. Taking the lead under my supervision. Like a driving test.”

“Sure, fine,” James muttered. “Point is, we said we were here to deal with the monster problem, and we are. I don’t get what you’re so upset about.” He popped the fork into his mouth. “These pancakes are awesome.” He gave Cody’s mom a thumbs up as she passed the table, earning himself a smile.

Cody glared at him for a moment, before glancing at Finch, and letting out a sigh.

“Does he have to be here for this?”

“Yes,” replied Finch before James could answer.

Cody scowled at the table.

“… It’s not fair, okay?”

“What?” James asked, one eyebrow raised.

Cody didn’t look at him, his expression darkening.

“Magic was my thing, okay? It was mine. I wasn’t gonna have a bunch of friends. I’m not gonna get a boyfriend at least until I get to college. But I can do this.” He held up the plastic box he’d been clutching since the lake. “And then some random prettyboy waltzes in from the city to show me just how bad I suck.”

James… didn’t know what to say to that. It was a lot to unpack.

“… You think I’m pretty?” he asked.

Cody groaned. “Is that really the thing you focus on?”

“Well, I mean, what am I supposed to say to the other stuff?” he asked, giving the other boy a helpless kind of shrug. “I’m sorry I saved your life?”

“No,” Cody groaned. “That makes me sound like a dick. Thank you for that. Honestly. I’m really glad you saved my life… But did you have to be so much better than me while you did it?”

James leaned back in his seat, stung, and not a hundred percent sure as to why.

“I’m not better than you,” he said, a little defensive.

Cody laughed. “Dude, you turned a lake monster into a fucking sleeve tattoo. I can’t do that.”

“And I can’t make boxes that let you breathe underwater,” James countered. “That doesn’t make me better. I’m just better in a fight.”

“Fine,” Cody muttered. “You’re stronger than me. Happy?”

James honestly didn’t know what to say to that. It hurt a touch more than he was comfortable with.

“Don’t compare yourself to me that way,” he muttered. “It’s not fair to you or me.”

“Why not?” Cody grumbled. “You’re my age. You’re a mage. Why shouldn’t I measure up to you?”

“… Cuz you’re never gonna be as strong as me.”

He said the words fully expecting to regret them. He said them anyway. They were the truth.

Cody folded his arms.

“See?” he said quietly. “That’s the problem.”

James sat there for a minute, gazing at the other boy in something that felt a lot like anger. Then, another point occurred to him.

He pushed the barely touched plate of pancakes to the side, and leaned forward on the table, one arm extended.

“Arm wrestle me.”

“What?” Cody asked. “What’s that got to-”

“Just do it,” he said flatly.

A moment’s scowling, then Cody leaned forward, one arm resting on the table, his hand clasping James’ own.

“Three,” James muttered. “Two, one. Go.” He pushed against Cody’s hand as hard as he could. His arm was flat against the table in under a second.

“Again,” he said.

Cody raised an eyebrow, but complied.

“Three, two, one. Go.” Another almost instantaneous loss.

Cody looked irritated now.

“You could at least push back a little harder before you let me win.”

“I am,” James said bluntly. “I’m pushing as hard as I can. That’s how weak I am. Wanna go again?”

Cody groaned.

“Come on, dude. No one’s that weak-”

“I am,” said James. “Ever since I got my powers, I’ve been weaker than my own kid sister. It’s been like that for a year now. She’s six.”

Cody opened his mouth, James cut him off.

“See that plate?” he gestured to his pancakes. “It’s honestly kinda hard for me to lift. It’s a freakin’ plate. When I go to school, I have to use my powers just so I can carry my bag around. I can’t even go to gym class anymore. I had to get a doctors’ note saying I had a bone disorder. If I ever get in a fight, I’m screwed. What am I s’posed to do? Use my superpowers to stop a bully? If I ever go out with anyone, I’m gonna have to accept that they’re always, always, always gonna be stronger than me. Even if I worked out six hours every day.” He leaned back in his seat again, arms folding once more. “Sure. I’ve got bigger superpowers than you. You kinda have to take what you get.”

The two scowled at one another for a time, before the older boy relented.

“Okay, okay. Fine. I was being an ass. I’m sorry.”

James nodded.

“It’s fine,” he muttered. Then, a point of frustration floated back to him. “You really think I’m pretty?”

James wasn’t fixating.

He really wasn’t. He was just glaring into the motel room mirror as if it had personally wronged him. That was not fixating.

“I’m not pretty,” he muttered. “I’m manly. Stupid, angsty, whiney little-” He stopped messing with his hair, giving up on trying to find a way to make it any more unkempt than it already was. He stomped over to his travel case, and started rummaging inside it. “Come on. I know you’re- Yes!”

He stood back up, the article of clothing he’d been looking for clutched between his hands, the vinyl skull leering back at him from the t-shirt’s front.


He tugged his shirt off, and put the new one on, before returning to the mirror. He examined the result. Yes. The jeans and shirt paired well. He could do to show a little more of the tattoo, though. He tried rolling the sleeves up to show his shoulders. Looked himself over.

Yes. He was now sufficiently manly. Good. Cody had better not make that mistake aga-

There was a knock at the door.

“Hey, James?” called Cody’s voice from outside. “Are you in? Mrs Green told me this was your room. Can I come in? It’s really wet out here.”

Perfect timing.

James squared his shoulders.

He gets one chance to fix this. One.

“Just a second!”

He made one last check in the mirror. Yes. His outfit was still there.

He stepped over to the door, and pulled it open.

“Hey-” Cody started, before James cut him off.

“How do I look?”

Cody blinked, rain sploshing gently on his hair.


“You heard me,” James snapped. “How do I look? Easy question. No wrong answer.”

Cody looked him up and down, a bit nonplussed.

“Uh. Really cute, I guess. I like the cuddly emo look. Why, though?”

God damn it.

James’ shoulders slumped.

“… What do you want, Cody?”

Cody shook his head, perplexed, but continued.

“Look, you said you were trying to find whatever’s causing all the rain, yeah?”

James shrugged.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Well, what if it’s not in town?” Cody asked. He fumbled in a pocket for his phone, stepping a foot or so inside the doorway to show James the screen. “It’s a rain map of the last couple weeks. And if you look at the one for today, the middle of it isn’t in Rockford anymore. It’s in the reserve.”

James peered at the screen.

“… Huh,” he murmured. “Yeah. You’re right. It’s like, half a mile out of town. Guess it moved right after me and Finch showed up. That’s an awesome lead. Thank yo-”

“I could take you out there, if you want,” Cody offered. “I go out there all the time when it’s not raining. I know where all the caves and landmarks are.”

“… You get that I’m hunting a monster, right?”

Cody shrugged.

“Yeah. But I can stay back if we find whatever’s doing it.”

James snickered. “Dude. You’re a kid. It’s dangerous.”

“I’m older than you!”

James snickered even harder. “Okay. Tell you what. There’s a baseball bat in the closet. I think the last guy left it here before I got the room. If you can hurt me with it even a little bit, I’ll let you come along.”

“What?!” Cody blanched. “No! I’m not gonna hit you with a baseball bat!”

James smirked.

“I can make forcefields, Cody. You couldn’t hurt me if you wanted to. You’re too squishy.”

Cody scowled.

“Come on, dude. It’s not like I’m gonna go near whatever the monster is. I’m just gonna show you where the paths are and how to get to places. Then you can go back later and explore it all yourself.”

James hesitated. That was… actually a lot more reasonable.

“You sure?” he asked. “It might still be kinda dangerous. Even if you’ve got me there looking out for you.”

Cody grinned.

“Yeah. I’m sure. I’ve got all day free tomorrow. Wanna do it then?”

James shrugged.

“I mean, sure, I guess. Head out after breakfast?”

“Sounds good.” Cody nodded, then, with a touch of hesitation. “So… It’s a date, then?”

Something clicked in James’ head.

“Oh!” he realized. “Right. That’s what this is. Uh-” he laughed, a bit higher pitched than normal. “You, uh. You kinda made a bad call on that.”

“What?” Cody asked, his shoulders slumping. “You mean you’re straight?”

“No,” James muttered, awkwardly scratching at his hair. “It’s just. Well. We’re going looking for monsters, and you totally can’t protect yourself… We’re gonna be taking Finch along.”

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Hunt: 8.3

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“You told him it was Bigfoot?” James asked as they climbed back inside the car. “Why?”

“It’s easier that way, trust me,” Finch replied. “No way was I going to convince him he was hallucinating. Easier to just tell him something no-one will believe. You let a guy go around with a story about how he found a monster in the lake, and people pay attention. Not much, but some. But if you let him go around saying his boat got spooked by Bigfoot? No-one cares. Everyone’s seen Bigfoot.”

James shrugged.

“Makes sense, I guess.”

His phone pinged from his pocket. He glanced down at it.

‘You have a friend request from: Cody Turner.’

He snickered. The other boy’s crush had been fairly obvious. It felt better than he’d thought it would. Cody’s friend request had come before they’d even left the parking lot.

You’re supposed to wait a while, dude. Make ‘em think you’re not too keen.

He flicked the screen.

‘Congratulations! You are now friends with Cody Turner.’

He put the phone back down, and tried to turn his mind back to the conversation at hand. It didn’t work. There was a buzzing in his brain. He found he couldn’t focus for more than a word or two at once.

“Can you let me out here?” he asked, cutting off his companion mid-word. “I gotta go clear my head.”

To his credit, Finch didn’t waste time informing him that it was late, or that he couldn’t go out alone in the rain.

“You know where the motel is?” he asked.

“Yeah,” James lied. It couldn’t be too hard to find.

Finch nodded, then pulled the car over, and let James out into the rain.

For a couple minutes, he just stood there and let himself be drenched. It wasn’t like the cold bothered him at all. Then, he stepped off the street, and began walking the few hundred yards toward the Rockford treeline.

He felt weird; really weird, and the why was hard to get a handle on.

This was it, wasn’t it? His first mission. Helping people for real, just like his grandparents did.

And Cody was cute. He wasn’t super lean and muscly, like Caleb was, nor did he put butterflies in James’ stomach the way that Charlie had-

James put that thought on hold, and made himself step back. No thinking about that right now.

Cody was cute, in a goofball sort of way. There had been a warmth to hanging out with him. So why did the aftermath feel so melancholy?

He sloshed through the last deep puddle to the tree-line, and allowed himself to drift upwards a few inches off the ground. He should be able to fly fully once he was out of town.

He floated down into the depths, then up into the sky.

There was something unique about flying through clouds, especially in the rain. Like swimming through thick mist, or maybe showering in fog. He closed his eyes.

He could see Charlie’s face against his eyelids. He didn’t allow himself to look away.

“Hey, man,” he murmured. “Been a while.”

It had been, too. The memories had been coming less and less of late, a bit less painful every time.

“I met a boy today. He’s pretty cute. Bet you’d be jealous,” he snickered at himself. “Who am I kidding? You’d have probably found a girl by now. Maybe Nailah? Nah. She’s too cool for you.”

He smiled at that, unsure whether he was forcing it or not. He opened his eyes, then floated up above the storm clouds. Charlie’s image stayed with him, even after he let the rest of the world return.

“I got my first big mission,” he said. “Whole town’s been getting rained on for weeks. Plus, there’s a monster in the lake.”

He raised his arm, a few loose tendrils of his power stretching out to sweep a momentary hole through the cloudbank, carving a line through which to see.

Rockford looked so small from here. He wondered if he could be bigger than it was if he transformed. He remembered Charlie teasing him.

“I wanna believe you’re doing okay out there,” he said. “I wanna believe you’re still alive.”

He could have sworn the image shrugged at that.

James gazed down at the town for what felt like hours. When he touched the ground again, he felt empty.

He tracked down his room in Rockford’s sole motel, and sat on a corner of the bed, uncomfortably alone.

Cody Turner, 5:58 A.M:

Cody tapped the off button on his alarm clock two minutes before it was set to go off. He was already dressed and ready. The cutie had said he was coming to the diner again today. Therefore, to Cody’s masterful reasoning, he had to get the rest of his day out the way as early as possible to free himself up for Pretty Boy. Or James. Nah. Pretty Boy felt better in his head.

He picked the wire-box off his desk, and pried it open. Cool. Everything still looked fine. He slipped the box into a pocket of his swim-trunks. He glanced back at the alarm clock. 6:02. He really should get moving if he wanted to be back before the breakfast rush. He grabbed his rain jacket -he didn’t bother to check if it was still raining outside, of course it would be- off the hook on his door, and set off.

Honestly, Cody found he didn’t didn’t mind the morning rain. It brought a kind of clarity to the early morning; all fresh earth smells and bracing early winter chills, just refreshing enough to stop a workout from becoming draining. It was just a shame the water made it so hard to bring a sketchbook out here. He’d have loved the chance to draw some of the scenery when it was waterlo-

His train of thought was interrupted at one of the town’s two intersections when a passing truck gave him a facefull of the nearest puddle.

There were drawbacks.

… Nope. He wasn’t gonna let it dampen his spirits. Today would be awesome, and there would be no caveats. He wondered if Pretty Boy liked the rain? Cody was pretty sure it made for better snuggling…

He shook the distraction from his mind. Whether Pretty Boy was an active snuggler was neither here nor there. For now. He resumed his path toward the lake, a few dozen yards of sodden grass and a thinning line of trees between him and his destination.

When he’d passed the tree-line, he pulled the wire-box back out of his pocket, checking stupidly around him for observers as he did so. There was no-one around. Not that it would have mattered if there was. Nothing wrong with a local kid going swimming in the lake, even if he was carrying a weird box made of munted wire and plastic.

He was actually pretty proud of that. The wire strips had been his sister Lisa’s idea. Back when she’d first started helping him learn his magic. Small, cheap, easily disposable objects, perfect for an amateur enchanter. It made for better practice material than the random crap around his house. At least, it did after he ran out of pencils to render perma-sharp.

The box had been his idea, though. And it was a good one. As it turned out, enchanting, or, at least, his particular kind of enchanting, made it stupidly hard to put different spells together in a single object. You either had to be ridiculously good at it, or magically jacked up enough that you could put in all the enchantments at once.

Cody had solved this issue.

With a glue gun.

He flipped open the plastic casing for what had to be the third time, and once again individually checked that each and every one of the thirty six strips of enchanted copper wire was properly adhered to the sides of the container. If one of them broke off while he was under water… well, so far, it hadn’t done worse than scald his tongue, but still.

He pulled his shirt off over his head, and wrapped it up inside his jacket, before quickly checking his phone to see the time. Nearly six twenty-

A message pinged up on the screen.

‘Hey. It’s James, from last night. You around? I thought I’d come by for breakfast if you’re free. I could sorta use the company.’

Cody grinned, a surge of yesterday’s unusual warmth tingling down his spine once more.

‘Sure thing!’ he texted back. ‘I’m at the lake right now, but I’ll be back in twenty minutes, max. Try the pancakes.’

It took more effort than he was proud of not to add a smiley face.

He stowed his phone in the folds of his jacket, grasped the wire-box tightly in his hand, and charged face first into the lake.

The water was cold. Freezing, really; full of the early morning chill from the spill of rain. It was murky, too, loose soil and grit, algae and who knew what else stirred up by the constant downpour. Cody shuddered as it hit him, almost but not quite enough to dispel the warmth of his looming not-quite-date with the potentially heterosexual Mr. Pretty Boy.

Right, time to test out those enchantments. He exhaled what breath he had in a calm and unhurried manner, then, only a little bit praying that it would work this time, sucked in a teaspoonful of water.

A momentary rush of heat in his mouth, then a chill, then the taste of stale oxygen on his tongue.

Right. Awesome. He tried again, a bigger drag this time. The same process, a warmth, a chill, a rush of faintly musty air. Enough of it this time that some had to be expelled, pushing harmlessly out between his lips like he’d been trying for.

Cody hardly dared to believe it. He’d done it. It had worked.

I, Cody Turner, by the power of human genius and the might of crazy glue, have learned to breathe in lakes!

He pumped his fist in a furious but silent subaquatic celebration.

This was just the start. Sure. The start was basically just Aquaman, but from there, the sky was the fucken’ limit.

Plus, Aquaman’s hot now!

It would do. He was content.

It was maybe Cody’s fault what happened in the next few minutes. In his jubilation, he managed to momentarily forget the date with Pretty Boy, lost in the thrill of swimming without having to come up for air. Even the weird taste of it wasn’t so bad after a while. He wound up trying to swim a lap of the thing, pushing through the water with all the energy he could spend. He felt like he had tons of it to spare.

He made it all the way out to the middle before the danger became apparent. More specifically, before he realized he wasn’t alone.

He was down in the depths, a solid forty or so feet below the water’s surface, sifting through lake rocks and more than a few discarded beer cans for something that’d make a good memento. Then he saw it; a shape in the water to the side, half-visible in the murk, distinguished from the rest only by a momentary movement. He jerked his head towards it, and it vanished, but not quite fast enough to stop him catching a glimpse.

It looked human. It looked webbed.


To his extraordinary Darwinian credit, Cody Turner did not wait to see what the thing had been before he fled.

Fitness was a survival trait in Rockford. Not because it was a cruel or unreasonable place to live. Simply because it was small. There was no local game shop. There were no drama clubs. There were only eleven other kids. To survive in Rockford, you had to either learn to be lonely, or get used to having fun outside.

Cody was fit. He was healthy. He exercised a lot. He was also a really solid swimmer.

The creature reached him before he made it halfway back to shore. Holy hell, the thing could swim. In Cody’s few, panic stricken glances behind himself so as to keep his heading pointed away from it, he got a better view, rubbery grey skin, dozens of fish-like fins sprouting from every inch of its form. Bloated, leering.

He knew he wouldn’t make it. He just wasn’t fast enough. He heard a crash behind him, let out a bubbled scream as the water bowled him over, then realized he was still alive.

He turned around, his breathing heavy, his heart churning madly in his chest.

The thing was gone.

Well, no. Not quite gone. It was still there. Just sorta… trapped. In a bubble, clawing madly at the walls as it tried to climb back into the lake around it. That wasn’t the surprising thing, though.

No, the surprise was floating in the water some four feet off to the side of it.

It was Pretty Boy; submerged in the middle of the lake, just as Cody was, dark hair flaring dramatically about him in the water as though he were about to call tsunamis from his palms.

Pretty Boy waved, gestured over at him, and began to speak.

Several bubbles escaped his lips, along with some unintelligible sound.

Cody stared.

Pretty Boy let out his best aquatic approximation of a groan, put a hand to his forehead, then raised a finger to the surface of the water. As Cody watched, the surface -still almost forty feet above them- began to dip.

It was like a fingertip. Like if God himself had waited for Pretty Boy to give the order, and was personally poking some oxygen down towards them. The dip deepened, stretched down further, further, and finally broke, the surface slapping firmly back into place above them and leaving a fifteen foot bubble of air behind. At Pretty Boy’s gestured command, the bubble drifted the final stretch, and slapped itself down around them.

Cody found himself sitting, wet, perplexed, and terrified, at the bottom of a lake, with a probable water demon and a cute boy who could apparently bend the fucking sky.

“So…” Pretty Boy said awkwardly, “You, uh. You’re magic too, hu-”

Cody cut him off.

“W-what the fuck is that thing!?” he asked, gesturing madly at the water monster.

Pretty Boy winced.

“Well… I mean… Would you believe me if I said it was Bigfoot?”

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