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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|"Everyone wanted to join the Dry Warriors, and Kaito was leading the largest organization in the Water Tribe. But, soon, the Great Battle of Omashu unfolded, and Kaito went to help Avatar Mikio in the fight. While injured during the battle, Kaito sat in a healing house of Omashu. When he finally was almost ready for battle again, a fire blast from Mikio in the fight accidentally hit a part of my grandfather's house. When he tried to Waterbend it out, Kaito grew weak and was left in the burning house to his doom. The Dry Warriors, my only hope, it was ruined. No one could lead them the way Kaito did. When I came of joining age, the Dry Warriors had disbanded. With three brothers and a sister who were all Waterbenders, I was soon forgotten by my parents, enveloped in a world of royalty. The Avatar, an overly publicized freak who can bend all the elements ruined the life I never had."|
|— Shirou from The Stranger|
|""I only edited the first four, sadly. I was planning on revising the Fifth Scroll of Kaito after your grandfather finished writing it in The Great Battle of Omashu, but, then it-" |
"Then the Avatar had to kill him and his scroll."''"
|— Shirou and Akio in The Third Seminar|
|""Your past life, Avatar Mikio, is available for you at any time. And I know how you can contact him. You see, there is a place in the mountains above Ba Sing Se, an Avatar Temple where all the Avatars from the Earth Kingdom are left and their spirits are awake. This place is in a fortress known as the Northeastern Earth Mound. Next week, I am hoping for you to visit there. I think it will be eye-opening for you, in more ways than one.""|
|— Daiki to Hotaru in The Peak of Power|
June 23, 2012
This is Chapter 40 of The Avatar Rhythm Series
Hotaru looked up. Hot, tired, and sore, she smiled, staring at her destination. After miles of backpacking, she was finally here, at a huge building carved out of the top of a mountain, with a green temple sitting at its top.
The Northeastern Earth Mound, Avatar Temple of the Earth Kingdom.
She walked up its huge stairs, and then towards the temple door. Hesitantly, she put her hands on the doorknob, and then, looked back at what Daiki said to her before she left.
"Whatever you find in the shrine of Avatar Mikio," he said, "Do not be scared to accept it, for it is your duty to learn. As the Avatar, you have the wisdom of whether or not the secrets of the world you are about to learn should be shared, so I can only tell you to think about it. Just remember, none of this should be feared."
Back in reality, Hotaru opened up the doors of the temple. Stepping inside the darkness of the round room in front of her, she looked around. Paintings on walls of Avatar after Avatar, dressed in traditional Earth Kingdom garb and balancing on stone pillars jutting out of the clouds. Staffs, armor, hammers, and swords balanced on walls, and scrolls filled bookshelves beside them. Hotaru walked over to the center of the room, where a circular stone platform stuck out of the wooden floor. On it, the picture of a yin yang was carved. She walked over to it, drawn by an unknown force. She sat on the raised platform, put her hands on her knees, and closed her eyes. In meditation in this sanctuary, a new part of her awakened.
When she opened her eyes, a man stood in front of her. Underneath a black robe he wore green and gold armor, and he had a thick black beard.
"Are you... Avatar... Mikio?" Hotaru asked, somewhat startled.
"That I am," the man said in a deep, rough voice. "In reality, we are one and the same, for I and all our past lives reside in you."
That freaked her out a little. "What do have for me?" she asked.
"What do you wish to learn?"
Hotaru pondered his question for a minute. Daiki had told her to learn the Avatar State, and how the Avatar Cycle worked and rotated through time. But now that the question was asked, she wondered if that was really what she wanted to take from her meeting with her past life. "I want to learn how to keep balance in the world as an Avatar, and I want to learn how I can change the chaos that is unfolding in my life between Shirou, Shinji, The Procession, and The Quadrination Bandits. I need to know how I can stop this, as it is my duty."
Mikio nodded. "Living the life on Avatar is a challenge, and many face with huge forces that must test everything they have in them. You are facing this now, this war unfolding within your own past friendships. I do not know the details of it, as I cannot see all that you do in your life, however, I think that you may learn from the largest hardship of my life, ending the Great Battle of Omashu."
Hotaru gasped. That was the battle Shirou always talked about, the battle in which Mikio apparently killed his grandfather in. "I think I would benefit from that story."
"A story?" Mikio asked. "Why tell you a story when you could see the war for yourself?"
A deep wind seemed to flow from and through Hotaru and everything she saw was enveloped in darkness besides for herself and Avatar Mikio.
When light reappeared, Hotaru and Mikio were standing in a rectangular stone room and a meeting appeared to be in progress. A large council of large men in uniforms sat around and looked at a teenager in royal clothes at the head of the table.
"Where are we?" Hotaru whispered to her past life, still dazed from everything.
"There's no need to whisper," Mikio said. "We don't exist to any of them. And we are currently in the King of Omashu's private meeting room, over twenty years into the past."
"Has Shirou's grandfather died yet?"
"No, in fact, The Great Battle of Omashu has barely even begun. But it's about to get much worse, very quickly. Listen to what they are saying."
Hotaru leaned forward, ears open.
"I don't know what to do!" exclaimed the boy everyone was focused on. He seemed as if on the brink of tears. "How many are really after me?"
"Many," said a general with a long beard. "You do realize that just last night we stopped an assassination attempt aimed towards you, and it's only been three days since the tragic speech made by your father?"
"Who planned the attack?" asked the boy.
The same general looked over to him. "I'm not sure if you are exactly up to date with your city's current politics, but the assassins we found in the palace yesterday were traced back to the agent squad of Lower Omashu's General Hironori."
"Hironori!" another man across the table spat. "Damn, I should have suspected he was a traitor."
An older man looked down. "We can never trust him or anyone affiliated with his quadrant of our army anymore."
"Guys," the child said. "Can you please just help me? You can deal with military operations later, but now I want to know whether or not to hide or fight, to lead or to have one of you lead. Does that look like I have been defeated already? On the other hand, I'm not a very good ruler, and barely know earthbending."
"Yes, my King."
Hotaru looked over to her past life. "What are they talking about? And that boy can't be the King, can he?"
"That child, Isamu," Mikio said, "Was just brought into power in Omashu, because of his arrogant fool of father's mistakes."
"Who was his father?" asked Hotaru.
"He was the most proud person I knew - the worst ruler for this place. Everything he did, he did for himself. He made himself a god in this city. And he never taught his only son a thing about ruling a kingdom because he didn't want to waste his time."
"Did he start the Great Battle of Omashu?"
"Not directly. You heard that general say something about a tragic speech made by him, right? Three days ago, Isamu's father decided he would show everyone how brave and powerful he was by making a speech from the top of the palace at the very tip of the mountain Omashu is constructed around. All the community got from that was the King's stupidity - halfway through his glorious talk he lost his footing and slipped backwards off the palace and a hundred feet down into the city streets."
Hotaru snorted out a chuckle.
"It's okay to laugh. He made a fool of himself in front of the whole world, and now his inexperienced son who isn't even eighteen yet has to face the consequences."
"How did that create a war?"
"The highest military officers in Omashu decided that they had a chance at power at this opportune moment, when the King was faulty and young, when political struggles turned into chaos. They thought it would be easy to take down Isamu and claim the throne for themselves. That is how the battle began."
Hotaru nodded, deep in thought. She listened back in on the meeting at hand.
"Hironori's forces may very well outnumber your remaining protectors, Isamu," a man with a thick notebook said. "It may be hard to win this battle."
"It's not just Hironori's forces. It's disappointing to see everyone who has became opposed to their government since the King died. From his personal advisors to ordinary citizens, everyone is after this throne."
"We will have the aid of the Northern Water Tribe, won't we?" asked a young captain. "Chief Kaito has agreed to help and have his men aid us in battle."
"We need to think," said the man with the notebook. "We need a secret weapon. He turned to the Military Weapons Officer of Omashu beside him. "Do you have any ideas?"
Isamu spoke up. "Can we use the Avatar?"
The various officers and consultants looked around and murmured to each other. "Do you have anything opposed to that?" one of them said. "I think the Avatar has just finished his training, he'll be at his prime."
"I'll send out a letter to his current home in the South Pole immediately," a messenger on the sidelines said, turning around and leaving.
Mikio looked down at Hotaru. "What do you think?"
"It's interesting. All of this past that I've heard Shirou mention - It's real. May I see more?"
Mikio nodded, and darkness once again enveloped them.
This time, they reappeared in a round icy room with an elderly waterbending instructor, and in front of him was a younger Mikio, with a shorter beard and less scars on his face, wearing a blue tunic.
"Is that you?" Hotaru asked, even though she knew.
"Yes, and I'm just finishing my waterbending training."
The young Mikio looked at his instructor and pulled out a letter. "So, Makoto," he said. "I got this letter from Isamu and the the Generals of Omashu the other day - you have heard about what's happening there, right?"
"Yes," said his master, Makoto, a rougher voice than Hotaru expected. "And I assume they want your help protecting the young king in times of war."
"Well," he gave Makoto a blank look. "Yes, yes they do. I think it is my duty to help the world in times of need, do you not agree?"
"I agree when you have completed your forms and are strong enough to get out there in the field as a fully realized Avatar - which you have not!"
"Strong?" asked young Mikio. "I can bend all four elements at once! Beat that, anyone! I'm as strong as anyone will ever be!"
"And your ignorant confidence in winning is your downfall."
"Omashu will fall if I do not help. I'll finish my training afterwards, but the world is in need of me now."
Makoto shook his head in disappointment. "You need discipline! By no means will I give you permission to leave this place until you have mastered waterbending."
"Then I won't need your permission." Mikio blew a gust of wind at his master, pushing him into a wall, and froze him against it, then, with the time left, smashed through the walls and ran outside, quickly disappearing in the ongoing raging blizzard.
Hotaru gasped, and looked over to her past life. "You... really did that?"
Mikio's hand was over his head. "Don't judge me. I usually wasn't like that."
"In the end," he continued. "I still think I made the right decision."
"I think I made the right decision. I shouldn't have pulled it off the way I did, but I do think that what my future actions in the Great Battle of Omashu were more important that me learning my final waterbending form."
Hotaru looked at him, thinking everything through. "Did you ever even come back to learn waterbending?"
"Did that ever prove to be a problem for you?"
"Just remember," Mikio said. "Your fate is never more important than the fate of the rest of the world, and sometimes you have to do what you need to do in order to change the fate of the rest of the world, even if it means to sacrifice your power or your potential power. That is what it means to be a true hero, Avatar or not."
Hotaru nodded. "Lets see more."
A week later, young Mikio was walking down the bridge to Omashu's front gate, two bodyguards behind him. At the door stood three men, the young Isamu, a large man in a military uniform covered in medals, and an elderly man in a blue Water Tribe robe.
"King Isamu of Omashu," said the Avatar, shaking his hand, "I am at your service."
He moved down the line to the man in the uniform. "And you are?"
"I am General Hideo, Executive Chief of Omashu Military Operations and long-time friend and ally of Isamu."
"Good to know." He moved down to the Water Tribe man, his wrinkled face sparkling with life.
"I am Chief Kaito of the Water Tribe," the man said proudly, "My men are here to aid you in defending our king in this war."
Mikio nodded. "Lets get going, then."
As they turned around and began to speak, Hotaru and older Mikio watched from atop one of the towers over the front gate in Omashu.
"So that's Kaito," Hotaru mumbled to herself. "That's the man," she hesitated about going about this, "We killed."
"That's what they say, isn't it? I never meant to do anything to him, whatever happened."
"You mean you didn't kill him?"
"We'll just have to see for ourselves," Mikio said as their visions once again turned dark.
The next thing they saw was a stone room with a large table, where young Mikio, King Isamu, and Kaito sat around, looking at an extensive map of Omashu with clay figures on it that represented where the armies of each commander in the ongoing war were.
"Are you sure that Hironori's men are in the Upper Omashu already?" the Avatar asked. "The last time we heard from Kauru he was still at the bottom of the city."
Kaito nodded. "And we last spoke with Kauru three days ago."
"Didn't we have a line of guards surrounding this section of the city?" Isamu asked. "I watched them the other day."
"Yes," Kaito said, "But when the army wants your throne too, it doesn't do much."
"The army is against us too?" Mikio asked.
"Yesterday they were with Hironori's men attacking the police headquarters. Everyone is tearing down this city until they get to you, Isamu."
"We should just like," Isamu thought for a second, chuckling, "Make an earthquake and throw all of those men off the city."
Mikio frowned. "Come on, be serious."
"It's alright," Kaito said, shaking the map on the table so all the figures on it fell over. "Boom!"
They all laughed, even Hotaru in the background.
"But yeah," Mikio said. "Lets be serious."
Isamu nodded. "Are we allowed to wage war on our own army?"
"We have to do whatever it takes to bring justice to Omashu," Kaito replied. "If that means destroy Hironori's forces, even though it's a section of the Omashu military, we have to do it anyway. This is for the people."
"The people would probably be better off without me as their leader," Isamu said. "Look at how well I'm doing so far! I don't know a thing."
Mikio looked at the boy. "It doesn't have to be like that. We can train you. I promise that after this battle I will teach you what I know and make you a better king - as the rightful king of this city."
"Well then," Kaito said. "We need to strike. And I think the only way we can do it is up front. Mikio, you are our secret weapon. You, my army, and the last standing of our allies from Omashu will go straight up and battle. It will be costly, but may be the only way."
"I understand. We should get moving, then."
The trio looked around at each other.
"This may be the last time we all meet like this again," Kaito said. "I hope the best for everyone."
As they got ready to leave for the battle, Hotaru looked up at her past life.
"Kaito was right," the older Mikio said to her. "We never did all see each other again at the same time. It all happened so fast."
"I want to see how it happened," Hotaru said. "I want to see how Kaito died. I want to see it for myself."
They came back at a brick plaza in Upper Omashu not too far away from the royal palace. On one side were a group of Omashu rebels from Hironori's forces, on the other side Water Tribe fighters and a few Omashu citizens also allied with Isamu, led by Kaito, ready to battle. Hotaru and Mikio watched the past from atop a nearby building.
"Watch," said Mikio. "Keep an eye on Kaito during this fight."
Hotaru scanned the crowd of clashing forces, blood splattering, and bashing of steel against steel for the old Water Tribe chief, and discovered him close enough to the building they were sitting on that she could hear his duel with an earthbender.
His opponent kept throwing rock after rock at him, but every time Kaito swung out the metal staff of his and smashed them to bits with incredible accuracy and strength for someone his age. The earthbender, in a last ditch effort to win, lifted a huge mound of bricks from the ground over the chief's head, and prepared to drop them. "Smash this, old man."
Chuckling, Kaito quickly opened the pouches on his belt and drew the water out of them, splashing it up and freezing it around the ball of bricks. Now covered in a substance he could bend, Kaito lifted the bricks over the earthbender's head and dropped them, with a smash. "I try my best."
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, Hotaru spotted a rebel of high rank charging at Kaito from behind. She screamed, even though she knew it would do nothing to change what was about to happen in the past. Before Kaito had time to react, the man behind flung a rapid stream of stones at his back, and the last thing Mikio showed her before they drifted off into another scene was Kaito falling over in pain.
When the blackness faded and the Avatars reappeared, they were watching Kaito lying down in small hospital bed, in pain but still smiling. One on side of him was young Mikio, on the other stood a Water Tribe healer.
"Is he going to be okay?" Mikio asked desperately, looking at his good friend.
Kaito choked out a laugh. "I'm going to be fine."
The healer looked up. "I'm sorry, chief, but your state is very hard to heal. The attacks in the last battle fractured two ribs, tore open the tissue on your back and cracked your spine. My healing is supporting your back right now and your brain is still functioning, but I'm afraid that I was never trained to the highest level of healing-"
"Is he going to be okay?" Mikio asked.
The healer shook her head. "He will still live as long as a healer can actively stand by his side, but in order to permanently help, or at least, do keep him alive by himself for more than a couple days, he will need to undergo serious surgery - something that isn't available outside of the Northern Water Tribe and the richest communities of Ba Sing Se. It would take too long and be too difficult to transport him that far and keep him alive at the same time."
"I want to get out of this bed before I die," Kaito said. "I want to live. I want to see my home and my grandson who was born just a few days after I left for this city."
"You're a good man," Mikio said.
"Miss, may I see the Avatar alone for a minute?"
The healer nodded. "I'll come back in five to reapply water to your wound."
Kaito smiled as she left. "Thank you."
Once they were sure she was gone, Mikio asked, "What do you need me for?"
Kaito reached to his bedside table and handed him a scroll with the Water Tribe insignia on it.
"Is this? No, it can't be? Is it finished?"
"I've spent the past five years of my life researching, contacting sages and meditating in the Spirit Oasis in the North Pole for this. I've been writing it for the past three days straight in this bed. It's finished."
Mikio slid his finger along the side of the parchment scroll. "The Fifth Scroll of Kaito. The legendary final piece in the set. Am I the first one besides you to have seen it?"
Kaito nodded, his withering face full of joy.
"May I ask, what is this one on? I know the first four were on the main elements and their cultures, I actually read the second scroll in my airbending training, but what is left for the last one and why did it take so long?"
"The first was on fire, the second on air, the third on water, and the fourth on earth," the chief said, his voice crumbling from his age and condition. "The final scroll is on the void in between them that connects them all. On raw energy, the Spirit World, the reasons why life exists and dies, why suffering is brought and stopped, how everything works from the inside - secrets I wish even I did not ever have to know."
"Why are you telling me this?" Mikio asked.
Kaito shivered. "I can feel it coming over my body already. It's tearing me down. Unless some miracle occurs, I'll be dead by the time I get out of this house. If I do pass, take this scroll. Take it from the dresser beside my bed and bring it back to the North Pole. Give it to my godson Akio, who always edits my work. Then, I want you to read the final thing before anyone else. It's my final wish."
The Avatar nodded. "Please don't die now."
"I try my best."
Mikio stared at Kaito. In that frail body there was a spirit that just completely dumbfounded him. He always smiled, always chuckled, always looked up even on the brink of death. It was the willingness to stay up and keep strong, the willingness to live. He wanted to live. And even though they both knew that he was going to pass away in weeks, maybe days, they smiled at each other anyway. "I better get going then. We have a war to win and a king to save."
"Come back soon."
"I will. I promise."
Their vision faded as Hotaru stared at older Mikio. There were tears building up around his eyes, and she knew that he was having a hard time rewatching such an emotional time of his life. "You never did come back, did you?"
A week later in the past, young Mikio was chasing down a group of rebels in the back streets of Omashu, sending fireball after fireball, stone after stone, wave after wave and gale after gale. As one of them turned a corner into a sidestreet, he sent a huge blast of flames at the building on the corner, which toppled right onto the enemy, instantly killing him.
Next up was a young woman rebel armed with knives, that jumped down from the tower on the other side of the alley, throwing a small dagger at the Avatar. Mikio quickly looked up, shot his wrist upwards, and twisted a gust of air around the knife, turning it around and whipping it back at the rebel. Once he heard the scream, he kept on going.
There was one more left to bring down and he had run up to the courtyard in front of the gate to Upper Omashu. Mikio sprinted that way, jumped up the flight of stairs with a gale of wind, and landed in the cobblestone path, where his final opponent stood.
Not just any opponent, though. It was General Hironori's right-hand man - the same officer that had injured Kaito. The man had crippled his friend and now was making him slowly die. He looked frightened at the sight of Mikio catching up to him. That's what the Avatar wanted. Mikio stared at him, his eyes grew white, and he created a colossal inferno that he threw over the rebel, instantly incinerating him and engulfing everything in its path, including the buildings around it. Dropping back to the ground, Mikio smiled, knowing that the man that had put Kaito in the hospital was now dead.
The older Mikio, watching it all in the background with Hotaru, looked down.
"What just happened?"
"If I could only go back and change what I did," he said. "But it's too late."
At the same time Hotaru did, young Mikio in the vision realized what the building behind where the final rebel used to be was, the building that he had just burst into flames along with the ones around it. The hospital. Mikio, in insane fear, ran through the flames and into the burning hospital, smashing through the wall and into the main hall, now filled with smoke, he sprinted through crowds of screaming nurses and broke down the locked door leading into Kaito's room. The walls were charred, the roof had flaming holes in it, and the window was shattered.
Hotaru, watching in fright, gasped.
The bed in the room was empty. There was no skeleton, no flesh or ashes. Mikio frantically looked around the room. Kaito couldn't be dead. It didn't make sense. But his body was gone, and the room he was staying in was crumbling due to the fire that the he, the Avatar created. There was no way of telling what had happened.
"The scroll," Mikio muttered to himself, and suddenly ran to the dresser beside the bed, which still was in one piece. He checked the first drawer, throwing out all the clothes - nothing. The second was empty. The bottom one had a few pieces of paper and notices in it, but that was all. "Where is the Fifth Scroll of Kaito?" he shouted, breathing fire up at the sky in anger, breaking down. "I promised..."
Before he could do anything, there was already doctors, officers, and people from the media crowding around him, looking at the Avatar, Kaito missing from his room, and the fire he created.
"What happened?" Hotaru asked her past life, who looked distraught watching all of this again.
"To this day, I don't know," Mikio stated solemnly. "And it only got worse."
"What do you mean?"
"What they accuse me of. The word that traveled across the world. That I killed the Avatar that day. I'll show you one last piece of my past."
They were at a court this time, and a large crowd of people were watching a judge, young Mikio, Kaito's nurse, and a few lawyers speaking to each other. Hotaru and Mikio watched from the back. "And you say you're not guilty?" the judge asked.
"I didn't kill Kaito," young Mikio said. "I started that fire but I did, in no way try to kill Kaito."
"You didn't try to, eh?" one old man shouted out from the crowds. "That's too bad, you did!"
"I don't know what happened to Kaito, alright. How can you say he's dead? There are no bones or blood at the hospital site. He couldn't have just burned!"
"That's not true," one of the lawyers said. "You say that you completely burned that officer of Hironori's, and we have no evidence of his body!"
Mikio sighed, angry. "That's because I burned him in the Avatar State - I was unnaturally powerful."
"We have no proof you weren't in the Avatar State when you came into Kaito's room." He paused. "And, if we may, turn the attention to Kaito's nurse, what were you doing at this time?"
The healer looked terrified. "Kaito was falling asleep and I had just applied my powers to his wound, so like I had did many times in the past weeks, I decided he was able to stay in the room by himself for a half hour while I helped other patients. I figured if anything major happened, we had other nurses to take care of him. Anything could have happened in those thirty minutes."
"Anything! See, Avatar? You could have killed him."
"I was Kaito's best friend! I would never kill him!"
Isamu spoke up from his seat. "He and Kaito were very good friends. I would never have seen them do anything like this."
The judge frowned. "Many people were after that Fifth Scroll of Kaito, my lord. Sometimes greed is stronger than friendship, as all evidence points to in this case. I hereby accuse Avatar Mikio for destruction of a public building and the murder of the Water Tribe Chief, and hold all charges against him."
When Hotaru and Mikio next saw light, they were back in the Northeastern Earth Mound sanctuary, where they had started.
"That was... interesting," Hotaru muttered, trying to think everything over. "Does that mean that the Avatar didn't really kill Shirou's grandfather - that everything claimed is false?"
"I don't know what happened," Mikio said. "But I know I didn't kill him. I couldn't have."
They paused for a second.
"Avatar Mikio, my earthbending teacher is probably going to get mad if I didn't learn anything about going into the Avatar State or something like that."
"Well, have you ever went into the Avatar State before?"
"Twice, once I was put into it by someone else, the other was when I was about to be killed by the Fire Lord in Agni-Kai."
"That sounds fun," Mikio said. "But on a more serious note, you know how it feels, then. I have no secret in how to enter the state. It's always there - my power and the power of all of our past lives. When you sat in this room, and awakened me to learn my past, you used a certain power that you can access anywhere. Use that power that you unlocked today. I'm always here and so is your true Avatar power. The thing that has always troubled us is how to find power inside. Search yourself, locate that energy, and then use it whenever you need."
Hotaru smiled. "Thank you, Mikio."
"It's nothing. I'm always here if you need me."
They gave each other a final nod, Hotaru stood up from her meditative seat on the pedestal in the sanctuary, and her past life faded from her vision.
Everything was different now. What if everything Shirou claimed about the Avatar, Kaito, and the Great Battle of Omashu was false? One thing was certain - she knew the truth and had to use it. It was time to go back to the rising conflict. It had to all fit in somewhere, the story she had just heard, Shirou, Shinji, Kaito, the Quadrination Bandits. It was time for her big Avatar moment. Every one in the past had theirs.
Hotaru looked within herself, and saw the spirit that she had always struggled to reach before. Her eyes light up white and she ran out the door of the sanctuary.
It was time.
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