Skirminoan Religion

Skirminoan Religion

A Story by StarNinja
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A primer on the spiritual and ritual practices of the Skirminoan People

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There are few subjects more complex than the myth cycles, stories and cultural transmissions of the Skirminoans. As they are one of the oldest races to walk the face of Deseray (or swim as the case may be) it is no surprise that their long history has made for a rich backdrop upon which their religion draws. Perhaps I should mention that there is no one single religion which they all share. The Skirminoans are a diverse lot and much like humanity have spread across the world occupying every climate and adapting to every environment imaginable. This diversity is reflected in their spiritual and religious beliefs. The ocean dwelling Skirminoans are the most numerous and represent the most common variant that humans are likely to encounter. As the ocean Skirminoans are the more familiar type to us, we shall begin with them.

Skirminoans, like all races, tell tales of their origins. The origins are told in widely different manners depending on where in the world you look, but they all share similarities. Their story always begins deep in the ocean depths. Before dry land, before the parting of the waters, there was an ocean that covered the world. Beneath these formless depths, the goddess whose name roughly translates to the Mother of the Sea, saw that the waters were cold and dark and empty. In her loneliness, she made everything that swims and floats and she was no longer lonely. For eons she was content to watch her children swim, but she once again grew lonely because she had no one to talk to. So the Mother of the Sea made the great beasts that she may speak and reason with them. This satisfied her for a time, but great Mother Ocean was a capricious one and she soon yearned for more than talk.

She saw that her creations had something she did not, mates. She went to wise Methuk’whe, the Churner of the Deep, and took him as her consort. From their union, many awesome and terrible beasts were birthed which would terrorize the seas for ages. She was happy for a time, but she soon grew bored again and yearned for more. She wanted a companion equal to her endless power and though Methuk’whe was a generous lover, he was but a mote of sand in the tide compared to her. So the Mother of the Sea went searching for one who could match her. She first courted Kelo the Sun King, but he was distant and wandered constantly. Next she courted Uran the Sky Chief, but he was temperamental and she did not care for his stormy blustering. Sick of what the surface had to offer, she dove down and down and down and down beneath the waves until there was no light left to bother her. When she reached the bottom of the depths she found Terra the Earth Goddess.

Terra was sad, for she had never seen the light. Great Mother Ocean comforted her and told her that she wasn’t missing much, for the surface was a place where fools dwelt. Terra continued her soft questioning and Mother Ocean obliged her. They talked for a long time, longer than Mother Ocean had ever talked with anyone. She realized that she had found her companion at last. They were a match of opposites, patient Terra and fickle Mother Ocean, and their natures so complimented each other so that soon Mother Ocean could think of nothing else but pleasing Terra. She asked Terra to wish for anything she wanted. Terra considered for a long moment and asked for the chance to see the light that Mother Ocean had described for so long. Mother Ocean grew sad, for she thought that Terra would be wooed by Kelo or Uran and taken away. Ever patient Terra waited while Mother Ocean wailed, begging Terra to wish for anything else. Finally, Terra offered a compromise. She promised that Earth and Water would be tied forevermore, for where there was no water, earth would dry and wither and no life would grow there and where there was no earth, water would be empty and still and no life would swim there. Mother Ocean agreed and she and Terra formed their union, splitting the waters and making Deseray as it appears today.

When Mother Ocean and Terra consummated their friendship turned love, the first Skirminoan was born and to their progeny they bequeathed the features of land and sea. From Terra, Skirminoans received legs to stand, fingers to grab, a lung to breathe, and eyes to see. From Mother Ocean they received fins to swim, gills to breathe, a melon to speak and ears to hear. And so, the Skirminoans represent the union of earth and water, land and sea. Every Skirminoan polity from tribe to empire tells a version of this story but to the oceanic Skirminoans it is central to their place in creation to care for the wild places where earth and water meet. Some, like jungle river Skirminoans, take this responsibility to the extreme by killing any and all that dare approach their sacred home while others like the mysterious Deep Skirminoans care little for the surface world and keep to the rifts and trenches of the depths.

The earliest forms of Skirminoan religion center on the sea and the dichotomy of the Skirminoans amphibious nature played an important role in the development of their theology. The Skirminoans believe that they must always balance their two natures, lest they grow ill in body and mind. When Skirminoan civilization was at the height of its splendor, a time when man had only just mastered walking upright, Skirminoan culture went through its flowering period. Great thinkers were born and lived during these ancient times and the study of the Twin Soul, as it was called, was of central importance to any serious theologian. Many great works now considered the holiest of Skirminoan religious texts were penned during this time. Consider the Epic of Uaku, the legendary priest king who brought learning to his people and was the first to encode laws that every Skirminoan should follow. Though extremely old and in some cases outdated, Uaku’s Laws are still followed by some ascetics to this day.

But Uaku wasn’t just a law-giver. He was also a slayer of great beasts. His legendary exploits are hailed even today and a great many Skirminoans strive to exemplify his heroic deeds. Skirminoan theologians believe that Uaku was the first heroic figure to emerge in the literary tradition, but many human scholars dispute this claim. It is possible that Uaku was based on an actual ancient king, or an amalgamation of several, but whatever the case, he is credited with many mythical feats such as killing the dreaded Vampire Squid with his bare hands and hunting the fabled White Sealion to the ends of Deseray.

Joining him on his quests was his noble seahorse, Irimir. Like most seahorses, Irimir could carry his master on both land and sea, but unlike most seahorses Irimir was intelligent and could speak. Probably the most famous of the stories in Uaku’s Epic was the story of the Great Journey from Ocean to Ocean. In this story, Uaku has reached the age of 82, roughly middle age for Skirminoans, and decided that despite all his great accomplishments he has yet to do the one great thing that would define his life. And so he departed from his kingdom and went on what he thought would be his last grand adventure. His goal was to reach the other ocean by trekking over land, a feat that had never been accomplished by any Skirminoan.

This journey takes up 500,000 verses of the epic and documents his trials through the wastes, the conquering of the glass titan, the bridging of the Ferminon, the death of faithful Irimir, his victory over three different gods (two in combat and one in skill), his year of solitude, and the slaying of Ujinama the Fire Serpent. By his journey’s end Uaku feels a sense of unfulfillment, for even though he has done what no Skirminoan has ever done he still has not found what it was he set out to find. The meaning of his life still eluded him. The rest of the epic details his journey home and his musings on life. The epic ends with Uaku’s final thought, which is that he has finally discovered the meaning of his life and the discovery brings him such joy that it matters not that it came to him moments before the end of his life. That meaning was to share what he had lived.

Such meaning can only come with acceptance of finality and so it is a message of hope to the aimless who know not what to do with their life. Many cults and small ritual circles believe that Uaku’s Epic hides many mystical truths and indeed there are sections which speak to hidden mysteries that require much reflection on one’s self and the universe to appreciate. The most substantial of these mystery cults was able to gain prominence in the highest circles of Skirminoan society and so its interpretation of the mysteries of the universe has become the standard by which all other aspects of Uaku’s Epic have been judged. You may have heard of this mystery cult. Yes it is Principles of the Way, the root from which many Southern religions have grown from. Beloved Saint Nerissa was a disciple of the principles before she decided to make her own spiritual path, but we’ll get to her in a moment.

The Principles of the Way were developed by Human the Hermit. Human was a Skirminoan from the lake city of Wanama in the heart of what would later be the Kingdom of Veris. By this time, Skirminoan civilization had begun to wane as Deseray’s warming temperatures made for a more difficult surface life and the slow retreat back to the sea had already begun. Human was named after the peculiar tribes that fished on the lake’s shores. He was born to a poor family on the surface. The social structure of Wanama was highly stratified so that the richest Skirminoans lived at the bottom of the lake where it was coolest, while the poorest were consigned to the pontoon towns on the surface where one could not hide from the sun. They were given the nickname “floaters” as a result. Life as a floater was tough for Human, but he managed to see the brighter side of things. Other floaters would often ask him why he always seemed so happy and he never had an answer.

One day, Human decided to find the key to happiness. Some Skirminoans were destitute and happy, while others were obscenely rich and miserable. Human thought for a long time, but he never quite figured out why this was. Finally, he decided to ask the human tribes that lived on the shores of the lake. He ended up living among them for a year, learning why a people even more destitute then the floaters seemed to be living fulfilling lives. After a year and a day had passed, Human finally understood. Happiness was relative. A human fisherman could be happy, happier than even a Lake Bottom noble, because he judged his happiness based on his circumstances. If a floater compared his life to the Skirminoan noble, he would surely be unhappy, but a human did not covet life at the bottom of a lake so they did not envy.

From that day forward, Human journeyed across the lands sharing what he had learned from the fishermen of the lake. The Principles of the Way were simple to understand and easy to impart on others, and this simplicity led to its rapid propagation even across racial barriers. Relativity was the key. But the true resilience of the Way was its versatility as a lens through which to view life. The Epic of Uaku took on new meaning with the Principles in mind. Secondary lessons and deeper mysteries were contemplated by Human’s disciples, but always there were deeper mysteries, reflecting the Skirminoan paradigm of life as an ocean. In less than a century, cults sprang up across the declining Skirminoan world, contending with the old religions. The kingdoms of Nos Velopa, sometimes called the First World by some scholars, were taken by storm and some even adopted the Principles as official state religions in short order.

Many religious vanguards fought fiercely to preserve the old ways against Human’s disciples, but before long they faded away as it became clear that the old teachings would not disappear but simply be coopted. The schisms that formed across Nos Velopa as a result of the Principles started many wars and ended a number of rulerships. By the time Human died, the known world had become a very different place. Many proud Skirminoan kingdoms, already straining against universal Skirminoan decline, buckled as paper fans when disciples of the Way overturned the old order. Those that survived did so with greatly diminished power as few Skirminoan states had the resources to quell this new religious view. Centuries after Human’s death, the faith’s many permutations continued to spread across the southern reaches of Nos Velopa, while the human dominated north saw little ground gained.

Shortly after Human’s death and fall of several ancient dynasties and kingdoms, the first human cities were built. The timeline is imprecise as few records survive from that period, but it was clear that Skirminoans had long since reached their zenith and humanity was on the rise. It did not take long for the first human empires to emerge from the smoking wreckage of the Skirminoan kingdoms. Skirminoan religion changed little during this time, as preservation and mere survival had become more important than theological or philosophical innovation. Still, as human culture matured and flourished, Skirminoan culture began to change as well.

Though it was still true that Skirminoans are amphibious entities, the warming and drying of Deseray had forced them more and more to rely on the sea as well as lakes and rivers to survive so that increasingly Skirminoans could not venture far from major sources of water. The age of Skirminoan dominion over the land was over. No more the gleaming cities, the engineering marvels of the Skirminoans. Though Skirminoan towers didn’t reach as high as human towers (They could never figure out why humans were so obsessed with heights), one could never say their buildings were not magnificent.

For as long as there has been Skirminoan civilization, there have been spiritual caretakers guiding their “schools” along the path to fulfillment. For the oceanic Skirminoans, this normally took the form of a priesthood. When the Principles of the Way flowered into a full blown religion, the priestly class melted away to be replaced by a new wrinkle in Skirminoan fabric; the monastics.  More often than not, the new monastics came from the poorest classes. Though they were largely uneducated, it was the monastics who preserved the greatest works of the past, like Uaku’s Epic for instance. As Skirminoan civilization collapsed, the monastics ensured that their legacy would survive in the new human dominated world.

The human empires fought constantly and their growing borders soon clashed with the shrinking spheres of Skirminoan influence. These wars were often the final straw that pushed the last of the great Skirminoan kingdoms to oblivion. But the Skirminoans did not disappear from history. Instead they persevered, stubbornly holding on to the great rivers and harbors of Nos Velopa. It is a testament to the strength and will of the Skirminoan people that even in the face of the vigorous young human empires, they were able to hold their own and drive the fighting to a standstill.

After the major wars had ended and the fighting had died down to the occasional border skirmish, Skirminoan religion went through a revival. The Principles of the Way had become the most popular religion by this time and the revival reflected this. Human’s disciples spread among the courts of the human nobility and soon humanity became the second most numerous practitioners of the Way, though the most powerful magical kingdoms shunned the teachings. It was and still is a common thing for Kingdoms of Magic to discourage Skirminoan religious practice as they contain many antithetical ideas to the most basic magic philosophy.

It was in this epoch of general peace that the one we call Saint Nerissa was born. On the eve of her birth, great portents were seen. A blood tide had come in, and the stars seemed to bend and warp in the sky. Great calamity would be seen in her lifetime but none could have predicted what was to come. Nerissa grew up the daughter of a statesman. Though his office was low, her father still had some authority and he used it to oppress his fellow Skirminoans. Nerissa loved her father, but she could see that he bent the Principles’ meaning to justify his greed. At the age of twelve, she left her family’s estate near Bore Reef and joined a small order of monastics.

As she learned more and more about the Way through the years, she soon realized that the Way had been perverted from its original form under Human the hermit. She soon decided to make her own Way, one that more closely followed Human’s ideas. Later theologians would term this “Nerissa’s Way”, better known as the “Path”. In its simplest form, the Path represents the journey from birth to death. Just as Uaku’s Epic is symbolic of the Skirminoan life cycle, so does the Path mirror one’s life. The purpose of one’s life is to find one’s ideal “Current”, so that one’s path may be in harmony with the universe. However, life is chaotic, and there are many currents which can throw one far from their ideal, just as there can be no currents in sight in which case one must swim harder to find the path again. The monastic elders discouraged Nerissa from pursuing such radical beliefs as they believed Human’s Principles were fine enough on their own, but Nerissa was unperturbed. It would be the sudden eruption of the War with Heaven which would change her life forever.

The Titan Somorat returned to Deseray when Nerissa had reached the age of thirty two, barely an adolescent in Skirminoan years. It is a well-known story, so for brevity’s sake we shall say that the Titan was not pleased. The hubristic magical kingdoms of man spit in the face of the Titan’s kind offering and war began soon thereafter. The forces of the Titan descended from the sky, wiping out human resistance wherever it could be found. Many Skirminoans fought alongside humanity against the shared threat of the Titan, but many more simply hid and waited. It was not until the Titan’s intention to wipe out all life on Deseray became clear that the great undersea kingdoms of the Skirminoans, who had only just begun their long recovery from the last few centuries’ dark age, decided to join the fight.

The War with Heaven was costly, and only through many heroic sacrifices were the peoples of Nos Velopa able to keep the Titan at bay. Nerissa, as wary of magic as any of her race, decided that her new path would be to find a way to fight the Titan without resorting to the terrible sky-rending spells of her human counterparts. She joined the navy of the great undersea kingdom of Necht as a chaplain. She had a natural talent for battlefield sermons and she soon began to gather a school of her own. She advanced through the ranks of the Navy and soon found herself as head of all chaplains in Necht. Her fiery oratory and preternatural strategic skill made her one of the more popular figures of the war and she used her popularity to rally Necht’s beleaguered forces in its darkest hours.

It became known by the soothseers that the Titan would soon make a final strike against the united forces of Deseray. It was then discovered that the Titan controlled its forces through a network of nodes which spread across the entire planet. This network was not magical in nature, and Nerissa saw an opportunity to strike at the Titan where it would be most effective. While the generals and admirals of Necht were looking to defense, Nerissa decided to organize a final strike of her own. Going against the orders of her superiors, Nerissa called for all willing men and women to follow her to the heart of the Titan’s control network, a powerful node of energy where many theorized that the Titan itself was located.

With a force a hundred thousand strong, Nerissa assaulted the Titan’s control node off the Coast of Remore Island. The fighting was fierce and it became clear the Titan’s superior numbers would eventually wipe out Nerissa’s own forces. In a last desperate gambit, Nerissa and a hundred of her finest warriors found a weak point the battle lines and forced their way through the dead zone outside the Titan’s fortress.  Only twenty made it inside the fortress, the rest had been target practice for the fortress’ cannons and snipers. No one truly knows what occurred within the force walls of that fortress, but what can be said is that Nerissa eventually found the Titan’s control node and by sacrificing her life, she destroyed it. All around the world, the Titan’s forces fell dead or disappeared, finally ending the threat of Somorat.

Nerissa’s heroic sacrifice is forever remembered on Remembrance Day and the calendar was changed to reflect her noble deed. Her philosophy on life, the Path, spread like wildfire across the intellectual landscape after the Titan’s defeat. Many of the soldiers who’d fought beside her became her loving devotees after her death and spread her teachings across land and sea. Within a decade, Nerissa became a saint in the new religious order. Interestingly, the human based Church of Science would borrow heavily from the Path, even putting Saint Nerissa in their list of Saints, though that would come centuries later. Followers of the Path rejected the magical teachings of the missionary mages that championed the cause of magic and decided to forge their own path instead. It would take a century before the damage of the War with Heaven could be repaired and by then only the Skirminoans had any living memory of it. Though it was forbidden, many of the Deep Skirminoans began to experiment with the wreckage of the Titan’s war machines which laid broken on the sea bottom and this in turn would affect their religious views as we’ll see in a moment.

Almost a thousand years after the War, a new religious sensibility began to form. Heretical though it sounded, the new doctrines coming from the Northwestern human kingdoms and empires of Nos Velopa made Somorat the object of their worship. They hold that the Titan had been testing us and because we had turned to magic, we had failed that test. The War with Heaven was punishment for our sins but rather than accept it, Deseray fought against it and so we have sealed our fate as evildoers in the eye of Somorat. Paradoxical though it may seem, the Church owed much of their achievement to Nerissa’s teachings and used her as a founding pillar from which their institution stands. It is a great irony that the church that reveres Somorat as a firm but benevolent creator would make one of Somorat’s most hated enemies their patron saint. What started as a rationalist rejection of the Path, the Church of Science is now one of the biggest religious institutions in the world. Thus we have a basic outline of oceanic Skirminoan religion through time.

The Deep Skirminoans, while similar, have a different account of the beginning. For them it was the Mother Ocean who created Skirminoans from the parts of the creatures she had already birthed. At first, the Skirminoan form was perfect, and Mother Ocean was pleased. But curiosity got the better of the first Sea People, as Deep ones call the Skirminoan race, and they longed to know what things like light and air was. Mother Ocean forbade the Sea People from venturing to the surface, for such things were not good for a Skirminoan to see and touch. This, they say, was when the Sea People fell from their Mother’s Grace.

When they swam upwards, they saw that the water was not so dark or as cold. The unfamiliar sensations were pleasing, so they continued upwards.  Soon they gazed upon the face of Kelo himself as he sailed through the sky. The sight was blinding, and the first Sea People could not stand to look. The air was dry and suffocating, and it gave those curious few a fit that almost killed them. Their curiosity justly rewarded, the Sea People returned to the depths, where an angry Mother Ocean waited for them. She knew what her children had done, and in her anger she cursed them with legs that yearn to walk and a lung that covets air. So even though the Skirminoans can live indefinitely beneath the waves, their dual nature would forever burden them, tugging at their psyche, tempting them with what they could never have. It is interesting to note that Deep Skirminoans have more developed fins on their arms and feet as well as keener eyes and brighter chromatic displays than their surface kin. It is theorized that this is closer to what the original Skirminoans looked like before they migrated to the surface, thus lending historical weight to Deep Skirminoan religious views.

There is little room for love or compassion on the sea floor, and this reflects itself in the religious and social practices of the Deep ones. Many Deep Skirminoan legends are cruel tales of betrayal. It is a common theme to see the Deep Gods backstabbing each other constantly through the myth cycles. Days are not counted where there is no light, and so time is chronicled by the fluctuations of the sea vents, around which the little life there is crowds itself. When a massive whale or serpent carcass descends from above, a feast is called by the oldest among the Deep Clans and they will celebrate whatever holy day is next in line. On especially fortuitous occasions when a dozen or so carcasses descend in a given area to due to some titanic battle from above, an entire year’s worth of holy days will speed by in an orgy of feasting.

Clans never number more than thirty in a given region due to the lack of food that is normally available. Thus, when a mother gives birth to more than a clan can handle, another of the wholesome Deep traditions is observed; infant cannibalism. Skirminoan young are born in groups of tiny see-through sacs so it is more delicacy than nutrition. It may seem savage and barbaric to us surface folk, but it is a necessary survival strategy for the Skirminoan that lives in that deep dark world beneath the waves. Grievous sins are punished severely by the Deep Skirminoans. Most punishments amount to being sacrificed and eaten by the clan. Other punishments include exile and forced starvation, but taboos are strictly enforced and so the Deep Clans find many opportunities to keep their numbers down.

The stories and legends of the Deep ones were not chronicled until recently, and so we do not have a record of the changes and developments that occurred. Their history is an oral one, but as we’ve seen it is not one that is easily understood by surface folk. The Deep Skirminoans believe that the surface is an evil corrupting place. It is said that when a Deep one dies, its soul will be judged by the Deep Gods. If it committed many taboos in its lifetime, its lungs will fill with empty, poisonous air and carry it upward to their version of the underworld. If it did not commit many taboos, the soul will drift down to the sediment and settle with the remains of its ancestors where it will feed the microorganisms of the hereafter.

Deep Skirminoans were long believed to be old wives tales; scary stories told to little schools of Ocean Skirminoans to keep them from swimming too far down. Their existence was only recently confirmed when human and Skirminoan naturalists ventured to the rifts and canyons of the ocean floor some two centuries ago in metal spheres of marvelous design. Since then, the Ocean Skirminoans have reestablished ancient trade agreements between themselves and the Deep ones.

River Skirminoans are a category in and of themselves and it would be folly to think that one could record every permutation of River beliefs across Deseray. Instead we will examine a case study to understand the diversity of Skirminoan belief in general. Here then are the Skirminoans of Tamano River. They say that when their ancestors first swam from the depths, some consigned themselves to the beaches and traveled no further. There they would grow fat and happy from the prosperity that mining coral gave them. The others continued their journey inland. Though the River folk of Tamano do not know of Uaku the hero, they do have their own tragic figure known only as Clibontu. Clibontu was strong and led his people upstream, fighting the current for weeks as they traveled further inwards. He slew a mighty creature; a strange mythological beast called a dolphin, and finally settled in the deep jungles of Kezonia, where their descendants live to this day.

A River Skirminoan is defined by his or her passion and for the Tamano, like many River folk, that passion is the protection of the river and the land around it. To some it is simply a matter of caretaking. To the Tamano, it is a sacred duty which calls for the death of any who would despoil the waters. For centuries, legends of intelligent beasts that killed any who would travel up the river kept Kezonia from being colonized and exploited by the Major Powers. The efforts of the Tamano were very successful until the coming of Pilboro Duplitch, the famed pioneer. He and his men fought bitterly against the Tamano for months until finally the Great Chief of the River approached Duplitch and offered him river rights, the first that had ever been given to a human. Though he was angered by the toll these savage Skirminoans had taken on his men, he admired their warrior spirits and accepted rather than call for retribution. He was later killed in the name of revenge by the sister of one of the slain expedition men, but that is a story for another time.

The Tamano Skirminoans believe in the Stream of Life. Much like Nerissa and Human the Hermit, the Tamano see the course of life as a flow of events from past to future but unlike them, it is a test of will to swim up Life’s stream. Every year, a ceremonial race from the mouth of the mighty Tamano River to the heart of the Kezonian jungle is undertaken by the strongest of the families in honor of Clibontu’s own journey. The winner is named Great Chief of the River until the start of the next race. As expected, these races take weeks to complete and often times are never completed at all.

The dead are given special rites by the holy seers and sent downriver to join with the ancestors of all Skirminoans. In this way, they connect themselves to their ocean brethren over time and distance, never forgetting where they came from. An especially noteworthy or brave Tamano will even be stuffed with special spices, foods and gifts to accompany him to the beyond. The dead of non Tamano are viewed with little interest and usually disposed of by tossing the remains in piles outside their territories.

This was just a small sample of Tamano beliefs and as we have seen, they are very different from the “standard” Ocean Skirminoan. Every major river and waterway has or used to have a similar group of River folk that called it home and every one of them is as different from each other as the Tamano are to the Deep ones. I hope this primer on Skirminoan religion has been of great help to you on your journey to enlightenment. Peace be with you brothers, sisters, and others in between.

© 2014 StarNinja


Author's Note

StarNinja
I hope to continue my research into the wonderful world of Skirminoan religious practice, but for now this will do. I hope there is something for you here, a nugget to take and share with others.

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Added on February 23, 2014
Last Updated on April 25, 2014
Tags: history, sea, ocean, mother, Nerissa, Skirminoan, Deseray, religion, religious, belief, spiritual

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StarNinja
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