I wake up with familiar hands caressing my wings. And there’s only one person whose touch brings me so much pleasure. Am I still dreaming? But then Erik’s mind hits me and I gobble it like an addict. Which I am.
“Coming out of your cute cocoon anytime soon?” he tickles me under my feathers.
I open myself but only to envelop him as well and clutch him tight.
“I’m sorry,” I murmur apologetically and aloud because it feels more real than using telepathy. “I’m selfish and never consider your feelings. I’ll understand if you want to leave.”
“Stupid!” Erik pokes my ribs. “Don’t say things like that so easily. I just needed some time to think out of your influence, that’s all.”
“A-and?” I’m afraid to ask.
“I talked to Zetraya,” he says as if I should know that name.
“That psychologist Liana hired,” he explains. “I had a long session with him in the evening and that’s why I came so late.”
“And?” I’m still afraid of his answer even though I feel that he’s regained his balance.
“Well, we just talked,” he wraps his free arm around my back and finds my sweet spot between the wings. He starts rubbing it gently to relax me, not arouse.
“Did he help you?” I moan because his touch gives me pleasure nonetheless.
“He’s also Celestial so he provided me with his point of view. While I do have your point of view all the time, you have to admit that you’re not a typical representative of your species.”
“Right,” I reluctantly second that. “And?”
“At first, he was taken aback that Celestials will most probably live as long as your lore states but he came to terms with it quickly. Then we talked about my human feelings concerning that my boyfriend is almost immortal while I’ll age and die normally. For a Celestial, he was very understanding. I guess he developed some level of detachment thanks to his profession.”
“I should definitely make an appointment if he’s so good,” I nod.
“I already made one for you actually. Tomorrow at five,” Erik announced nonchalantly. “I didn’t want to do it without you but now I’m glad I did. You had another panic attack episode while I was away, right?”
“Ehm…,” I don’t want to admit it but since we’re connected, he just knows.
“We seriously have to do something about it,” he says softly. “We can’t have the Emperor panicking when his Royal Consort isn’t by his side, can we?”
“Y-you!” now I poke him.
“I’m not joking, though,” he objects. “You do fully realise that all races have been acknowledged as nations, right? I wasn’t present at the conference but everyone I met today was overly eager to tell me the happy news. Which means that you officially are the Celestial Emperor. Which also means that I officially am the Royal Consort.”
“Do you hate it?” my voice fails me because I catch several conflicting emotions within him.
“Well… not really,” he shakes his head. “It’s obviously a game changer to date royalty and I won’t say that I’m all confident about it but my love for you isn’t any different because of that.”
I answer him with a kiss. He answers back by caressing the spot between my wings harder so we’re both really annoyed when someone urgently knocks on the door.
“Come in,” Erik allows with a sigh but isn’t willing to change his position into a more decent one. He only slips his hand out of my robe.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Luviael peeks inside and turns red when she sees us cuddling. “But His Majesty didn’t eat his dinner. I’m afraid we have to insist he does.”
“You didn’t?” Erik raises his eyebrow at me. “It’s nine already.”
“Not hungry,” I look sideways.
“We reheated the food for you,” Luviael presses on. “Please?”
Erik tickles me under my feathers so I sit up with a growl. Part of the reason why I’m not hungry is because I lose appetite when stressed and the prospect of losing my boyfriend stressed me to astronomical heights. I relaxed a bit when he turned up but I still don’t feel like eating. Should I talk about this with that psychologist as well?
In the end, Erik persuades me to eat at least half of my dinner but I can tell that Luviael isn’t happy about it and will probably report it to Julia. Will they terrorise me with it from now on? I guess keeping their Emperor healthy should be a state priority or something. I’m not looking forward to that. We don’t feel like having sex tonight so we just cuddle a bit and fall asleep under my wings.
“Why the hell are they here?” I say immediately after I open my eyes in the morning.
“Whooo?” Erik yawns.
“There’re people in our living room,” I say, irritated. “I feel Vermiel, Luviael and two others. What the hell?”
“Seriously?” Erik frowns, fully awake now and also annoyed.
I quickly put on a light kimono over my nightrobe and discover that I feel strong enough to finally walk without support. I slowly move all my weight on my feet and devote a few moments getting used to my wings which got bigger again overnight.
“Are you okay?” Erik asks because he can see I’m struggling a bit.
My wings now reach all the way to my knees and they aren’t as light as they might seem. There’re strong bones, muscles, arteries and skin under all those fluffy feathers.
“I think my back will hurt if I don’t exercise daily,” I say with a worry. “And by exercise, I mean flying.”
“Makes sense,” he nods and is also worried. “How will we ensure your safety in the air?”
“No idea,” I sigh and finally open the door. There’s Vermiel and one other Celestial I know only by his face standing in front.
“Good morning Your Majesty, Royal Consort,” they beam at us which is too much energy so early in the morning.
“Did something happen? Why aren’t you standing in front of our apartment?” Erik asks, maddened that we don’t have any privacy in our own living room.
“Lord Fefnir was concerned for your safety after that incident with intrusion so he had us posted closer,” Vermiel explains. “Should we call for breakfast right away?”
I stare at him for a moment. He’s behaving exactly as the Celestial royal guard should in the game but this isn’t our game anymore and he isn’t role-playing. I analyse his feelings and he isn’t pushing himself either—this is simply natural behaviour of someone who takes pride in his job.
“Maybe you would like to visit Her Excellency first? I got a message that she woke up an hour ago and is feeling much better,” Luviael speaks up, sitting on our sofa with a laptop open. “We can go through your today’s agenda a bit later. I’m sure you’re concerned about our Viceroy’s health.”
“That I am,” I admit, uneasy about everything that’s unfolding in front of me. It seems everyone is really comfortable with their new roles and they don’t question the new order of things. Or maybe they do but they don’t care as much as me.
“You can go right away then,” Luviael says and nods at a Celestial woman I’ve seen before helping moving our stuff. She comes to us and puts an ornamented cloak on me and a light housecoat on Erik. We also get warm slippers.
I frown because we’re both capable of doing that ourselves but nobody else seems to think it’s weird that we got a personal maid. But I let it go for now because I do feel worried about Liana. I can tell she’s okay but her mental state is quite disarrayed.
We leave our apartment only to find more guards patrolling the corridor. Fefnir did tighten the security. The guards standing in front of Liana’s door bow to us and let us in. I expect to find Liana in her bedroom but she’s sitting on the sofa, discussing something with Ingri.
“Li, you should be resting,” I berate her instead of greeting because no one else has the courage to do so. Not even Julia.
“Oh, Aefener, good morning,” she waves at me. “Good to see you walking on your own. I still can’t but otherwise I feel okay today.”
She nervously flutters her so much bigger black wings as if she doesn’t know what to do with them all of a sudden. I can relate—our feathered limbs tend to be cumbersome on the ground and their size is problematic, especially when it comes to human furniture.
“I overslept establishing our embassy!” she cries. “I’m sorry I couldn’t have been there to support you. Bennett is a nasty politician even if one knows how to deal with him and you have no experience. He toyed with you, didn’t he?”
“I’m afraid he did,” I sigh and sit down on a stool. There’re several armchairs but I wouldn’t fit into them.
“But we got our embassy,” Ingri says positively. “We’re officially nations.”
“Which means even more work awaits us,” Liana cools down her enthusiasm. “And not only paperwork and organisation, we’ll be making laws for our people from now on.”
My heart sinks. Making laws. Draconian governments aren’t democratic, the rulers hold all powers: legislative, executive and judicial. We can transfer some of that power to officials we appoint, of course, but something tells me that even if we made a referendum, Draconians wouldn’t want to establish real democracy. It simply isn’t in our nature. We don’t think human anymore to want human things.
“Thank God the Draconian rulers are reasonable people then,” Erik stands behind me and starts massaging my shoulders.
“Don’t you think it’s weird? We live in the 22nd century,” I mumble but enjoy his handiwork. It seems my back will become stiff easily, the wings are quite heavy.
“I do but those are my human standards,” he says. “You’re not human and the world has to get used to that.”
Breakfast for all of us arrives so we eat it in Liana’s apartment. Julia comes to check up on her and I’m glad that she forbids my Viceroy to work. It means more tasks for me but I don’t mind. She was doing my work when I was indisposed so now’s my turn.
“Oh, you think we will?” she’s genuinely astonished when I tell her about the possible longevity of Draconian races.
“Only time will tell for sure but I can feel mana repairing my body,” I say and look at my boyfriend. He somehow came to terms with this new discovery but that doesn’t mean he’s happy about it.
“Which will be problematic for intermixed couples, I see,” Liana catches why I’m staring at Erik.
“One breaking news after another,” Julia says, packing her medical suitcase after Liana’s examination. “It doesn’t surprise me as much, though, considering how different your bodies are now.”
Because it’s only our gang present, I also tell Liana about my Mom conditioning me not to inquire about my father. And the dread just thinking about him is causing me.
“Damn, Aefener,” Liana bites her lip. “It seems your mother was desperately trying to hide you from him. She must have had a very good reason.”
“Maybe he’s an evil scientist who wouldn’t think twice about dissecting his own son,” Erik thinks out loud. “Maybe he’s part of the equation why you’re a telepath in the first place.”
“So… should we look for him?” Ingri asks carefully.
“N-no!” I cry out, acting on pure instinct.
“Ryuu,” Erik hugs me from behind. “It’s okay, Liana can protect you.”
“I… I wanted to say yes but…,” I mumble and my wings shiver.
“Instilling such strong fear in a small child had to be done with a very good reason,” Liana repeats. “But we have to crack it, Aefener, your origin might be somehow connected to the Great Evolution.”
“I know,” I admit, “but how do we go about it without everyone finding out?”
“Simple, we do the investigation ourselves,” Liana says self-assuredly. “Vermiel and Miruel can help as well. And you’d be surprised how resourceful Hana is. Calling her a housekeeper isn’t doing her justice, she’s literally my Alfred.”
A knocking at the door and Luviael emerges, looking nervous.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Your Majesty, but you should have been in your office twenty minutes ago,” she says. “We wanted to give you a bit more time to talk to the Viceroy and eat breakfast in peace but several people are waiting for you and we can’t proceed without you.”
It’s funny how one can get used to crazy stuff happening. Just a few weeks ago I would be scared shitless that something so important is depending on me—and we’re talking about global politics here—but while I still feel nervous because I don’t have any experience, I’m managing. This is my reality now and there’s nothing I can do to change that so I might as well just accept it.
Two Celestial women, who are introduced to me as my personal maids, dress me when we return to our apartment to get out of our pyjamas. It’s strange to think of them as servants and not employees. And it’s even stranger that they don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that. Just as Vermiel, they take pride in their newly assigned jobs.
“It seems to me,” Erik tells me on the way to the conference room, “that they don’t listen to you much, even though you’re their Emperor and they clearly adore you.”
“The Celestial Emperor decides matters concerning the state and magic,” I say with a deep sigh. “I can’t influence things that concern my care and safety.”
“So they can dictate anything to you?” Erik raises his eyebrow. “I don’t think I like that.”
“Everything we do is to protect our Emperor,” Luviael answers because she can hear us, walking just a few steps behind. “You don’t have to worry, Royal Consort, His Majesty’s wellbeing is the official state concern. Naturally, that includes you as well.”
I don’t know if I should be relieved or not, Erik switches to telepathy because he’s holding my hand.
We probably changed more than you think… more than anyone presumes, I say. They don’t pretend, Erik, it’s no role-play. They believe every word they’re saying.
Which is even scarier. Is Liana like that as well? She seems rather normal to me.
She’s just more subtle about it. And her position allows her to be informal with me, I explain.
They really do respect you deeply, huh? he nudges me teasingly. They do treat you royally.
Yeah, and it’s unnerving, to be honest.
Emi, Fefnir and Liana don’t mind, though, he ponders. Is it only you retaining somehow a detached perspective? Because you’re a telepath I guess?
We arrive to the conference room. Fefnir and Emi are already here and already in a full debate with Ms Ortega and an unknown man. Is that the other EU delegate Bennett mentioned? They sure didn’t lose any time.
“Great, Aefener’s here,” Emi is relieved and I notice the table in front of her is slightly scratched. She’s not feeling angry so I bet her claws were scratching the table out of nervousness without her even realising it. Fefnir appears calm and collected but he’s also nervous inside.
“Your Majesty,” the new EU delegate ceremonially bows.
Unexpectedly, there’s no cringe. He’s really good at it, does he have experience with European royalty? When he straightens again, I can finally study his face. He’s surprisingly handsome with his well-kept beard and could be in his late thirties. While his suit isn’t more expensive than Erik’s, he’s wearing it so confidently that he could have been born in it.
He’s definitely gay, Erik says dryly and clutches my hand more tightly. And he’s right. Sometimes it’s easy for me to tell one’s sexuality and in this case it’s super easy. It’s blatantly obvious from the way he’s looking at me.
“You’re even more beautiful than in the videos,” the delegate cleverly uses the fact that Erik is holding my left hand and takes my right one to kiss it before I can even react.
And it’s not just an air kiss, his lips do touch the back of my palm! I turn red and his emotions hit me. I don’t have to go deep to discover that Bennett chose him especially to soften me—make me more susceptible to their suggestions.
Seriously, what kind of dinosaur is he? Thinking he can just send me a handsome man and I’ll fall for him just because we’re both gay. Bennett might be a ruthless politician but he must have a very low opinion of queer people. I hope Bauerova knows about it and hates Bennett’s guts so that we can unite against him.
“My name is Claude Debois,” the delegate introduces himself and almost unrecognisably smirks at Erik who’s killing him with his gaze and would go to wash my hand immediately if he could.
I hate the guy! Erik’s shouting in his mind. He’s doing it on purpose, Ryuu.
I know, I assure him.
We finally sit down and I devote a whole minute finding a comfortable position for my wings. Debois is watching me with an amused expression. I don’t feel anything particularly bad from him but it’s clear that his intentions are far from being innocent. He might act like a flirt but I don’t doubt he’s really good at politics and will report everything to his superiors.
“So,” Miss Ortega coughs when I stop fluttering my wings. “The EU decided that our first priority should be setting up a strict training programme for Draconians. We can’t let such dangerous abilities go unchecked. We also have to agree on penalties when those abilities are used against humans and it’s not self-defence.”
“Yes, I agree,” I say, trying to sound confident.
“Starting with you, Your Majesty,” Ms Ortega coughs again, evidently nervous. “Your abilities seem to be potentially the most dangerous. And most spontaneous.”
“S-sure?” I say, less confident now. “I mean… we have to train, obviously. And I should lead by example.”
Dubois grins, no doubt enjoying the fact that I barely know what I’m doing. But when I look him in the eye, he doesn’t withstand my golden eyes and averts his gaze. I sense a hint of embarrassment. It’s really subtle, though, so I bet he doesn’t realise it himself. Maybe I can yet to gain an upper hand with him.
“Thankfully,” Ortega continues, “while Draconians are delighted with their new abilities, they got used to them miraculously quickly.”
“Meaning?” Fefnir asks, not quite sure what’s her point.
“Meaning that Draconians don’t walk the streets doing magic just because they can,” she explains.
“Our abilities aren’t as effortless as they might seem,” Fefnir shrugs. “Mana or stamina aren’t just indicators here but real energy that comes from food and rest.”
“Especially for Celestials,” I second. “While our bodies do produce mana, it gets created out of food. We can say that spells cost calories in real life. The governments can be at ease, we literally can’t go out casting like crazy for hours on end.”
“Not even you?” Dubois narrows his eyes.
“Not even me,” I say firmly. “Sure, my mana capacity and spell casting are probably superior to others, I won’t deny that, but I’m limited by my own body.”
“You’re still special, though,” Dubois won’t let it go.
“All race rulers are,” I say.
“You know what I mean, Your Majesty,” he thumbs against the table. “Your transformation progresses much more quickly, even when compared to other rulers. Your abilities also surpass everyone else. And you were the first to change. Do I have to continue?”
“I will train,” I insist. “I’m going to prove that I’m no threat.”
“I’m not talking about that, actually. Is there any way we could convince you to participate in the research?” he asks nonchalantly. “Our scientists think your case could shed some light on why the Great Evolution happened in the first place. Examining patient zero is…”
“You’re NOT seriously suggesting that!” Emi scratches the table in front of her, now voluntarily and with full realisation how unpleasant the sound is.
“I’m simply imploring His Majesty to consider it,” Dubois isn’t backing off. “It can happen here if we bring some equipment and His Majesty will be treated with utmost care. If you really want to help…”
“We’re sorry but we can’t help in this area,” Erik clicks his tongue. “Don’t you ever bring it up again.”
“It would be just a few blood tests, DNA sampling and…,” Dubois murmurs under his breath.
Oh, so the EU probably didn’t steal my feather or they would have already claimed a sample for DNA analysis. But who did then? Some independent pharmaceutical company? A third party? I look straight at Dubois to better assess his emotions. He does have ulterior motives but I’m pretty sure he’s not involved in the theft of my feather.
“The answer is no, Mr Dubois,” I say because I can tell he’s frantically thinking of other arguments to persuade me.
I decide to be a bit theatrical and pass myself a glass of water using telekinesis just to impress him. The demonstration does the trick, he’s astonished. He knows what Celestials can do but it’s evidently his first time seeing our abilities so up close.
“Let’s proceed then,” Luviael takes the initiative and I’m really grateful for her being my adjutant. “We need to decide on training regimen and laws restricting usage of Draconian abilities among humans. We also have to…”
She skilfully stirs the meeting in the right direction which I truly appreciate. Liana couldn’t have chosen me a better adjutant. Luvi is my age so I’m not shy around her and she really knows her stuff.
“His Majesty’s first official training session is after lunch,” Luviael assures Dubois after she describes to the delegates how levelling worked in Draconia and how it’ll work probably even here.
“It is?” I blink.
Damn, is my timetable totally out of my hands? As I was trying to explain to Erik earlier, being the Celestial Emperor isn’t as cool as it sounds. I’m not a master of my own time anymore, my subjects have seemingly more power over me than I have over them. I don’t even want to think about the life that awaits me. But then I look at Erik and think that it might not be all bad.
“Your Majesty, it’s good to be finally here,” a Celestial with grey wings and black pattern greets me when I appear in the fitness suite just as Luviael promised the delegates. Erik went to the Royal Office to work on his own tasks so that we can also train to be separate from each other.
“You’re…,” I study his wings. The face is also familiar because I was talking to a lot of my former guild mates through video calls. “Taranah?!”
“Yep, that’s me,” he smiles and happily flutters his wings. They’re much smaller than mine but he was level 80 in the game and his VR combability must have been high so I guess it’s only a matter of time before his growing spur comes.
He’s not wearing a Celestial robe and I realise how strange it is to see a winged person in casual clothes. Did my perception of fashion change without me knowing again? As much as I was initially against wearing ‘cosplay,’ I think I wouldn’t be able to switch back to human clothes again.
“You don’t have to address me so politely, you know,” I say quickly because we were quite close ingame. Not as close as with the gang but we frequently played together and went for countless raids. Besides, he looks at least ten years older than me.
“I know but it just feels weird not to,” he shrugs. “This isn’t a game anymore and you’re our Emperor. And I can feel your mana which makes it super hard to address you casually, Your Majesty.”
“Is it that defining?” I doubt. I try focusing on my mana circuit but I don’t feel anything especially formidable. I feel completely normal, to be honest.
“You have no idea,” he laughs. “Anyway, I hope you have nothing against me reassuming my former position of the magic development head?”
“Oh… I… of course not,” I nod. Right, training spellcasting in the real world also means researching it while doing so because we still don’t know how everything’s going to work.
“We lost the system’s assistance, obviously,” Taranah says. “Which means that we’ll have to learn everything by heart and seriously train mana channelling. I think spellcasting in real life is so much easier for you because you never relied on the system’s assist.”
“I think so, too,” I confirm, not wanting to admit to myself that it might be connected to my weird telepathic brain.
“Which spells have to tried so far?”
“With Liana, we managed spells up to level 3 so far,” I reveal.
“It wouldn’t sound like much if the rest of us weren’t still struggling with level 1 spells,” Taranah sighs. “But you also did that healing spell, right? I saw the video. And that’s level 10.”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to recreate it anytime soon, though,” I shake my head. “I’m not sure how I’ve managed it in the first place, to be honest. It must have been adrenalin or something.”
“Noted,” Taranah nods. “It could have been adrenaline combined with pure luck but it still shows that you’re certainly our Emperor.”
“So… how do we go about it?” I’m curious because it’s clear Taranah has a plan in mind.
“We’ll train spellcasting for two hours each day,” he says. “Every time we make a breakthrough, we’ll post it for all Celestials. Hopefully, people experimenting on their own will be also eager to share their discoveries. The IT team is already working on a platform where we could safely share our knowledge. Of course, safeguarding comes first.”
“That should make the EU and the rest of the world happy,” I’m glad. “Still, don’t you think it odd that we’re not as eager to use magic all the time? Even if mana equals calories here.”
“Not really,” he shrugs. “I was eager in the beginning, trying out all sorts of level 1 spells. After I ended hypoglycaemic and my family found me collapsed on the floor, I reconsidered and became much more careful. Besides, we have modern technology which wasn’t in the game so we don’t have to rely on our abilities that much.”
“I guess that’s a serious thing to watch out for,” I agree. “Aren’t two hours a day too much then?”
“We’ll be training mana channelling and focus in the beginning so we should be fine,” he assures me. “It often takes many attempts to even do the spell unsuccessfully. You, Her Excellency and me will be training every day from three to five. Do I have your permission to create other teams and assign them time slots here?”
“Sure, go ahead,” I allow, wondering if Celestials will be asking me about every little thing from now on. I hope not.
“Levelling in real life will be rather tricky without system windows and charts,” Taranah recalls nostalgically. “But I guess we can safely claim that whoever mastered spells of a certain level attained that level. Can you show me some level 2 spells, Your Majesty? I’d really appreciate your guidance.”
I show him three basic elemental spells we’ve mastered together with Liana and he should work on. As one of the best players, Taranah has no problem gasping concepts that come with spellcasting but he struggles with mana channelling which is something that was done automatically in the game. Basically, you did a spell and it took some mana points. No such luck here in real life.
“Can you tell how much mana I have?” Taranah asks me resignedly after half an hour without any results.
“Lots, trust me,” I assure him. “You’re just struggling with getting it out of your body.”
Somebody coughing makes me flinch. I was so absorbed in teaching Taranah that I didn’t notice that the guards let a person in. I turn around and spot Dubois standing at the door. What the hell is he doing here?
“Oh, don’t mind me,” he says in a honeyed voice. “I’m here to just watch your progress.”
“And report it to the EU no doubt,” Taranah mutters with badly hidden aversion.
“Naturally,” Dubois doesn’t deny it and sits on the bench in the corner, in a safe distance away from us.
What should I do? Pretend I’m struggling or impress him? I decide to do nothing for now and continue instructing Taranah who seems to be set on impressing the EU delegate. Because we’ve already covered preparatory mana channelling exercises before Dubois showed up, Taranah manages to cast a level 2 flame after five more attempts.
“Oh, dammit!” he cries because he made the same mistake as me the first time—forgetting that he can’t produce it on his skin even though I did warn him beforehand.
I don’t have time to think about how it’ll look and instinctively put out the flame with the water from the nearby containers that was meant for our water magic practice. Then I quickly freeze some of that water to relieve the pain in Taranah’s burnt hand.
“No way!” Dubois finally loses his confidence and almost drops the tablet he’s holding for taking notes. “You’re that far ahead?”
“We’re posting everything online. It was no secret,” I set the record straight.
“But seeing it with my own eyes…,” Dubois is still taken aback and forgets his overly pleasant conduct. “And that’s only around level three? What kind of monster are you going to become?”
A monster? He calls me a monster? I feel my anger rising and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I was concerned about my humanity before, thinking that my telepathy makes me a freak, but I’m no monster. And now I don’t even consider myself a freak anymore either.
I step closer to Dubois to properly face him. I don’t know if it’s Erik’s absence or the fact that I’ve managed to impress this pompous douche but for once I feel confident. Powerful even. And for once I don’t want to be toyed with or offended—that’s unbecoming for the Celestial Emperor.
I’m a bit smaller and much thinner than him but when I fluff my huge wings that are getting bigger and bigger by each passing day, I can sense from him that he sees me as truly impressive. I pierce him with my golden eyes and this time I don’t hide my aversion towards him. I leak my mana and even though he can’t perceive it directly, it gives him goosebumps nonetheless.
“Well, good for you that I want peace then?” I say darkly and it’s my pure Celestial nature speaking, looking down at him. This puny human.
Something within me curls when I say those words. I really meant them and I didn’t at the same time. Because for a second I feel that conquest would be much more fun than this political bullshit.
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