Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War Reread: Chapter Twenty-Five

and

Good morning, Cosmere Chickens! This week’s chapter might be a little triggering for anyone who suffers from depression or has been “treated” for a mental illness (I put this in quotes because of stories shared with me from friends that were institutionalized, which even today can be shockingly similar to the treatment plan the ardents use here). Please be aware of this and proceed accordingly.

The Stormlight Archive in general does a lot of work in regards to representation of those who are neurodivergent, and this chapter is a very good example of such. We’ll be discussing some pretty heavy topics with historical precedent, the echoes of which resonate through the real world even today.

Reminder: We’ll be discussing spoilers for the entirety of the series up until now. If you haven’t read ALL of the published entries of the Stormlight Archive (this includes Edgedancer and Dawnshard as well as the entirety of Rhythm of War), best to wait to join us until you’re done.

No Cosmere spoilers in this chapter, surprisingly. You’re safe!

Heralds: Vedeledev (Vedel), Loving/Healing. Edgedancers. Role: Healer.

Ishar (Ishi), Pious/Guiding. Bondsmiths. Role: Priest

A: It seems fairly obvious that Vedel reflects Kaladin’s new role as healer/surgeon, as well as his new mission to help those in mental distress of various sorts—beginning, naturally, with depression. Ishar, I can only assume, is here due to the prominence of the ardentia in this chapter.

L: Ishar could also be there because Kaladin is leading the change in treatment technique.

Icon: Banner and Spears, indicating a Kaladin POV chapter

Epigraph:

Whimsy was not terribly useful, and Mercy worries me. I do think that Valor is reasonable, and suggest you approach her again. It has been too long, in her estimation, since your last conversation.

A: More new Shard identities! In a recent livestream, Brandon mentioned that up until now, he had been pretty stingy with the remaining names, mostly because he hadn’t settled on what to call them. Now that he has all but two of them nailed down, and as we’re getting more Cosmere-aware with each book, he felt it was appropriate to just give them to us; there’s just no reason to be coy about it at this stage. Personally, this makes me very happy.

These three are very interesting. While we don’t know exactly what Harmony sought in his contact with them, it’s clearly connected to the other letters in which Hoid is attempting to gain the cooperation of other Shards to further contain Odium. While Harmony apparently agrees with Hoid that Odium is a danger to the others, the rest don’t seem very concerned.

Whimsy was not terribly useful: Somehow, the idea that Whimsy is not very useful doesn’t surprise me at all! On a bet, that planet would be a lot of fun to visit, but I’m not sure I’d want to live permanently under a god whose primary intent is to be whimsical.

L: I see Whimsy in my head as Delirium from The Sandman.

A: Mercy worries me: Why does Mercy worry him? I can think of two possible reasons: One, that Mercy was present when Odium destroyed Ambition. It’s possible, especially depending on whether this was a three-sided clash or a two-on-one conflict, that Mercy was damaged in the process, and is no longer entirely in control. Two, that Mercy is much inclined to “be merciful” and let Odium loose from his imprisonment. Other thoughts?

(Oh, also, how cute that the Shard Mercy is introduced at the head of a chapter titled “Devotary of Mercy.”)

L: Mercy can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be a little scary. People can do terrible things in the name of what they view as “mercy”—like “putting people out of their misery,” for instance, even if the person in question may not necessarily want that.

A: Oh, I hadn’t thought of that aspect. I was thinking more of the way we so often put “mercy” and “justice” in opposition (though they really aren’t). It could go either way, or possibly something we didn’t think of, but I sure would like to know why Harmony is worried. What’s wrong with Mercy?

A: I do think that Valor is reasonable, and suggest you approach her again. It has been too long, in her estimation, since your last conversation: Does “reasonable” translate to “might be on our side,” or “by contrast to Valor and Mercy, it might be worth trying”—or both? Also, Valor thinks it’s been too long since she’s had a conversation with Hoid. I have absolutely no basis for this, but… was there a past Relationship between Hoid and Valor’s Vessel? That would be hilarious. Other than that, I can only say that having Valor on your side in a conflict sounds like a good idea.

Chapter Recap

WHO: Kaladin
WHERE: Urithiru
WHEN: Approximately 1175.4.2.4, immediately following Chapter 23

(Note: For the “when” notations, we are using this wonderful timeline provided by the folks at The 17th Shard.)

Kaladin and Teft go in search of a patient, and find him with the ardentia, who are treating all mental illnesses the same… by locking the patients in dark rooms in isolation. Kaladin takes the patient and engages him in conversation in the light.

Overall Reactions

He and Teft were still trying to track down the refugee woman’s missing uncle…

It felt odd to be spending so much time personally looking for one man when there were many patients to see. Coming here wasn’t particularly effective triage.

A: First of all, I love that Kaladin decided to take this on personally. Obviously, part of that is where it’s going to lead him, but it’s also part of who he is. He’s the guy who can’t let go of anyone, who insists on taking responsibility for the most hopeless people and situations. Which is another issue, in a way, but this action suits him. I guess that actually ties into my second reaction to this passage, which is…

Hey, if Adolin’s right about the women all lined up for a chance to personally meet Alethkar’s new Most Eligible Bachelor, this actually is effective triage. He’s working to save someone he might be able to help, instead of wasting his time and energy on a bunch of people who really don’t need a surgeon at all.

L: Not only that, he’s helping those who don’t have a voice of their own. The ardents clearly aren’t listening to these people who are suffering. They don’t understand. But Kaladin will.

Giving up on one to save two others? Sure, it was great in principle. But doing it hurt.

L: Interesting parallels to Taravangian, here…

A: Interesting indeed. If you look at it as triage, you can almost justify Taravangian’s choices. Almost.

“You knew he might be a danger to himself,” Teft said, walking up, “and you didn’t send him there immediately?”

“We… no,” she said. “We didn’t.”

“Irresponsible,” Teft said.

“My father knew and sent him here first,” Kaladin reminded Teft. “I’m sure the ardents did what they could.”

A: You can certainly see why Teft reacted the way he did, but there’s so much more to the story.

L: This is a common theme. Often people just don’t know what to do with situations like this.

“You lock them in here?” Teft demanded. “In the dark?”

“Many of the mentally deficient react poorly to overstimulation,” the ardent said. “We work hard to give them quiet, calm places to live, free of bright lights.” … “The therapy is prescribed by some of the best thinkers among the ardentia.” …

There was some straw for a bed beside the other wall, but the man wasn’t using it.

“Can’t give him blankets or sheets,” the ardent explained, peeking in. “Might try to strangle himself.”

“Kelek’s breath,” Teft muttered to Kaladin. “I was too harsh on that lady ardent. I chewed her out for keeping Noril instead of sending him to the experts—but if that’s what the experts were going to do, I see why she’d hesitate.”

A: Without quoting half the chapter, this reinforces what we’d learned about the treatment of mental illness back in Words of Radiance. Minimize stimuli. And as Kaladin well knows, sometimes that’s the worst thing you can do. Remember Chapter 12?

L: I’d also like to point out the real world historical context, here. I’ve done a lot of research and historical tours of “lunatic asylums” from the turn of the century and the early 1900s. It’s all like this (in many cases it’s worse), and it’s all terrifying. I won’t go into specifics because honestly, it’s triggering and awful (go and do some research if you’re curious). But all of this just rings so, so true historically. I’m so glad to see that Kaladin is going to be the driving force to begin making changes in this.

A: Oh, one other thing: The ardent refers to their patients collectively as “the mentally deficient.” I’m sure it’s the common attitude, but it’s infuriating. Many of the people in their care aren’t “mentally deficient”—they’re mentally and emotionally overloaded, among other things. And even those who could be said to be deficient are unlikely to do well in this environment. No wonder the other ardent was so reluctant to send anyone down here.

L: UGH. Yeah, this wording is so, so frustrating. They’re not deficient. They’re just different.

“With all due respect, Brightlord, you should leave medical issues to those trained in them.”

L: ::ahem:: Please allow me a moment of BITCH DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO?!

A: LOL. It’s almost funny… I’m tempted to get into my RL experiences with this, but I’ll refrain. It’s always embarrassing for someone, though.

He led Noril past a large corridor where people flowed in both directions. Across that, at long last, they stepped onto a balcony. … Teft kept Noril talking—not about anything important, just where he was from. Apparently he’d lost his arm years ago, in a different event than when he’d lost his family. The more he talked, the better he seemed to feel. Not cured, by any means. But better…

“He’s talking,” the ardent said. “We haven’t been able to get more than a grunt out of him.”

A: I’m pretty sure Kaladin was having a tough time not punching the ardent at this point—or at least I would have been. It’s really infuriating to see Noril helped so much by something so simple as bringing him out into some sunlight and getting him to talk, and to know that the “experts” have denied him any of this for the last 4-5 weeks because “it’s not the prescribed treatment.”

L: Doctors, not listening to patients? Say it ain’t so. (She says with a healthy dose of frustration and sarcasm aimed at doctors who have discounted her own health problems and those of her close friends.) Also… I’m willing to bet that the ardents weren’t trying to talk to him on a basis of equals, and that’s why he’s responding so much better to Teft. Teft is engaging him like a friend, not a patient.

A: If they talked to him at all, other than to tell him what to do. I mean, the ardents are only human, and in many ways this job would be depressing in itself. But that doesn’t justify the overall approach.

“I know you’re angry at us, Brightlord. But we do what we can. Most people, they want to ignore men like him. They shove them off to the ardents. You might think us callous, but we’re the only ones who care. Who try.”

“I don’t think you’re callous,” Kaladin said. “I think you’re simply approaching this wrong.”

A: Like I said, overall, I have sympathy for both sides of this. Kaladin is correct, that they’re approaching it wrong, but it’s really hard to overcome the inertia of tradition and presumed expertise. Kaladin’s solution is to work with each individual to see what works for them; the ardentia’s approach has been to find something that, however little it helps, at least keeps most of their patients quiet and unharmed. I have to admit to a certain sympathy for the ardents; there aren’t just tons of people volunteering to work with the mentally ill, and those few who choose it are inadequate to the task Kaladin would have them do. And at least they do keep their patients clean; Kaladin specifically noticed that.

L: You’ll forgive me for not awarding them any points for affording their patients the bare minimum of required care.

A: Yeah, not really, but it’s better than some historical situations. Marginally.

“Keep them away from anything that might aggravate or disturb them. Keep them clean. Let them be in peace.”

A: As the ardent admits, the recommended treatment for every mental issue is the same. It seems that, as with real life, part of the problem is the set-in-stone mindset of the experts, but a large part of it is lack of resources.

But if there was one thing he understood that most ardents and surgeons—even his father—did not, it was this.

“Release this man to my care,” Kaladin said. “And warn your superiors I will be coming for others. The ardents can complain all the way to Brightness Navani if they want. They’ll get the same answer from her that I’m giving you now: We’re going to try something new.”

A: By the next time we get back to him, in Chapter 33, Kaladin will have chosen a compromise and begin by focusing on one group of men with similar symptoms. The beauty of this particular arc is that, even though it doesn’t see full fruition in this book, we see the way forward for Kaladin and for the Devotary of Mercy: Evaluate each patient to at least group them by symptoms, and begin working with those groups to see what different treatment options will be. It’s bound to be a long road ahead, but it’s so encouraging to see the seeds planted here.

L: I’m so happy to see it, and so proud of Kaladin for trying to find a better way. So many people would just shrug and give up. But not our boy Stormblessed.

Spren and Shadesmar

“Aladar’s axehounds had puppies. I had no idea how much I needed to see puppies until I flew by them this morning. They are the grossest things on the planet, Kaladin. They’re somehow so gross that they’re cute. So cute I could have died! Except I can’t, because I’m an eternal sliver of God himself, and we have standards about things like that.”

A: Bahahaha! I love Syl’s reaction to the axehound puppies. What can I say, I love Syl and her… approach to conversations. From axehound puppies to the immortality of spren, with “so cute I could have died” as the only connecting thought. (Dare I admit, I can totally relate to this style? Drives my daughter nuts, though.)

L: Not to mention the fact that her observation of the pups is objectively hilarious. So gross that they’re cute! I love it.

Bruised, Broken, and Disabled

“Noril,” Kaladin said, kneeling. “Your niece, Cressa, is looking for you. You aren’t alone. You have family.”

“Tell her I’m dead,” the man whispered. “Please.”

“She’s worried about you,” Kaladin said.

A: When you’re deeply depressed, sometimes it’s really hard not to think that you’re more trouble to your loved ones than you could possibly be worth. This is a beautiful reminder that it’s just not true. Sure, sometimes it’s hard when someone you love is this deep in the gloom, but the good outweighs the bad, and people who love you would far rather fight it with you than let go of you altogether. Trust me on this.

L: Your friends and family love you more than you realize, and your departure leaves more of a hole than you would expect. I still think of my friend Steve often, as is obvious by the story I’m going to tell a little later. He left us in 2015 and I have never forgotten him. I’m willing to bet that he would never have considered that.

“I know how you feel. Dark, like there’s never been light in the world. Like everything in you is a void, and you wish you could just feel something. Anything. Pain would at least tell you you’re alive. Instead you feel nothing. And you wonder, how can a man breathe, but already be dead?”

A: Ouch. I’m not asking for a show of hands, here, but I know there are people here who have felt this. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite this low, but my imagination can stretch there.

L: I have. The apathy is… terrifying, when you look back on it later. Even the things you love to do lose their appeal.

“Come with me and talk,” Kaladin said. “That’s all you have to do. Afterward, if you want me to tell your niece that you’re dead, I will. You can come back here and rot. But if you don’t come now, I’m going to keep annoying you. I’m good at it. Trust me; I learned from the best.”

A: I’m not sure he’s entirely telling the truth here; knowing Kaladin, I don’t think he’d let go this easily. But it makes a good story, and it works to get Noril moving.

Question, though: Who is “the best” that he learned from? Lirin? Hesina? Bridge Four? Teft? Adolin? All of those would fit the description. Maybe he means all of them.

L: My money is on Adolin, honestly. On a much more serious note, though, I’d like to get real personal and tell a story. I’m prefacing it with a trigger warning for depression and suicide. Skip this paragraph if these things are likely to trigger you.

I had a friend in college named Steve. After college ended, he moved back in with his parents and retreated from the world. He went from being a quiet but sweet and kind theater nerd who loved to laugh and make jokes, someone who was extremely popular and active in scholastic government, to a total shut-in over the course of about five years. He didn’t even speak to his family members he lived with… just left his room to get food or use the bathroom, then returned to the safety of his room. (Seeing some parallels here? This is why I’m bringing this up.) I went to visit him once, and said almost exactly what Kaladin did above. The only difference was, he didn’t come out. He refused to allow anyone to help him. He locked himself away in the dark and kept spiralling and spiralling until he eventually lost the fight, and took his own life. So when I say that I love seeing what Kaladin is doing here, I really want you to understand that I love what Kaladin is doing, here. I have experienced what Kaladin has, with the exception being that I was very emotionally close to the victim, and often to this day still feel as if I failed him. (There’s a reason I’m a Windrunner, folks.) I wish he had had a Kaladin in his life; I had actually left him a copy of The Way of Kings outside his door the last time I visited, in the hopes that he might read it and relate to Kal. I’m so very glad to see this whole thing portrayed in fiction, and to know that a lot of readers who also suffer from depression have been helped through seeing and relating to Kaladin’s struggles.

“What is this?” the ardent said. “You can’t let him out. He’s in our charge! We have to care for…”

He trailed off as Kaladin fixed him with a stare. Storms. Anyone would turn suicidal if kept in here too long.

“Lad,” Teft said, pulling the ardent gently out of the way, “I wouldn’t confront Brightlord Stormblessed right now. Not if you value keeping all your bits attached to you.”

A: Heh. Not much chance of some ardent stopping Kaladin from doing what he wants right here and now, is there? I do love this in Kaladin (even though I know there are ways in which he’s taken it too far): Once he’s got cause to care about someone, he’ll move heaven and earth to watch over them and help them.

L: This is absolutely my favorite thing about Kaladin. He cares so, so deeply and is loyal to a fault.

A: And sometimes it takes so little for him to start caring. In this case, it just started with a woman searching for her uncle. He didn’t know the woman nor her uncle, but the story caught his attention, and suddenly… he cares. I have a hard time not getting all sappy here, because I just find this so encouraging and endearing. As long as Kaladin cares so much about other people, he won’t let go.

“Storms… when it’s bad for me, I think I want anything but someone to talk to. I’m wrong though. While you can’t force it, having someone to talk to usually helps. You should be letting him meet with others who feel like he does.”

A: Others who feel like he does, or others who simply care about him. Again, remember Chapter 12? While Adolin has his own problems, battle shock/PTSD and severe depression aren’t among them. That didn’t stop him from knowing—and doing—what Kaladin needed, and dragging him out into the light.

L: I honestly adore their bromance so much. Both Kaladin and Adolin are such wonderful people, both are so kind and caring. Their friendship is so beautiful.

Oaths Spoken, Powers Awakened

The stack he’d originally been holding—now Lashed upward just enough—remained floating in the air beside him.

“Oh,” she said, then inspected him more closely. “Oh! You’re Brightlord Stormblessed!” …

“I had no idea who you were! I’m sorry, Radiant.”

“It’s fine,” Kaladin said. “Don’t make anything of it, please.” As if being lighteyed wasn’t bad enough.

A: To give him the benefit of the doubt, we’ll say that Kaladin was using his Lashings reflexively to do a simple task. It certainly gained him instant credibility with the ardent, though, and likely cut through a lot of red tape.

L: I’d also like to point out that I love how satisfying this is, from a reader’s perspective. I just love seeing Kaladin being recognized by people. It’s like… we’ve been following his story for so long, and we know how much of a hero he is, that seeing normal everyday people in the world starting to recognize it is just… Ahhh. Satisfying.

A: It is indeed. I also can’t help thinking that it might be a good thing, societally, for the Radiant powers to be something people see in use every day, being used to help ordinary folk in ordinary tasks.

These days, after being Radiant for as long as they had, their eyes rarely faded anymore.

L: I’m wondering if eventually this will become a permanent change. Did the Knights Radiant of old all have their eyes permanently changed, hence passing on those genes to their descendants and setting in motion the current hierarchy of “lighteyed and darkeyed”? This has long been assumed in the fandom, but if the eye color is a permanent change, that would be new information.

A: It would certainly make sense to me; I don’t have a problem with constant Investiture rewriting your DNA. (I have a vague idea that it’s happened elsewhere in the Cosmere, but I can’t guarantee it.) It also seems reasonable that by the time one reaches the fourth or fifth Ideal, their eyes wouldn’t fade at all.

Speaking of red tape, though (as we were a few paragraphs back)…

“I’d need the authorization of at least a highlord of the third dahn. Otherwise, speak to Sister Yara for normal visitation requests. I have a form somewhere for your wife to fill out.”

Teft glanced at Kaladin.

“You do it,” Kaladin said. “Syl’s out for her morning flight, and she’ll snap at me if I call her back early.”

Teft sighed and reached his hands out, making a silvery Shardspear appear. The Stormlight in the three nearest lanterns went out, streaming into him, setting his eyes aglow. A luminescent mist began to rise from his skin. Even his beard seemed to shine, and his clothing—once so pedestrian—rippled as he rose into the air about a foot.

A: I mean, you could just tell him who you are… but I suppose this is quicker and more convincing.

L: (And more fun, let’s be honest.)

A: I’m highly amused at these two; they keep grumbling about being treated like lighteyes and having people bow and scrape to them, but when they really want something, they’re perfectly fine using their status to get it.

On another note, though, can I just say how much I love Teft when he does things like this? Or maybe it’s just that I love Brandon’s descriptions. Either way, the contrast between Teft-the-deliberately-scruffy-sergeant and Teft-the-empowered-Windrunner is something I love to see. To me, the latter is the “true” Teft. And if I go on about it, I’ll be crying over Chapter 104 all over again.

Anyway… Kaladin actually mulls over the whole issue of how people treat the Knights Radiant, which I think was a very good authorial decision:

Kaladin didn’t much care for the reverence people showed them. People who had once spat after hearing someone speak of the “Lost Radiants” had turned around quickly when their highprince and their queen had each become one. It made Kaladin wonder how quickly these people might turn on them, if reverence suddenly became unfashionable.

That said, there were perks.

A: He does have a point. The fact that the Radiants were the ones who saved the army from the Everstorm, and brought everyone safely up to Urithiru, and are actively seen serving and defending people—all that probably has as much to do with their acceptance as the status of Dalinar and Jasnah. Maybe more, considering that they’re both currently viewed as heretics, while the others are actively supported by the Vorin church.

But you do have to wonder: If the war went really badly, would people end up full circle, blaming the Radiants for bringing the Fused down upon them? Even if it’s not true, you can easily see that mentality arising.

L: Of course they would. It’s only human. I also see a little in here that reminds me of how people can get really frustrated when new people join fandoms. “I was a fan of this before it was cool!” Kaladin’s got some better reasoning than most of them do, at least.

Geography, History and Cultures

Everything in Urithiru was a hike, especially on the lower floors.

Shallan always knew her way around just by the strata on the walls, which waved in colorful lines as different layers of rock had been cut through to make the tunnel. Kaladin considered himself good with directions, but he had to use the painted lines on the floor to get anywhere.

A: As always, I have to notice all the things about Urithiru. In this case, I find it a good reminder of just how huge this place is. The best estimate I can find is that it’s probably about a mile across at the lowest tier. That means 18 levels at that size before it shrinks a bit to the next tier, and so far they’ve only occupied the lower 6.

L: For reference, London is about one mile square.

A: So, yeah, it’s a bit of a hike to get anywhere.

I liked the callback to Shallan’s proficiency with “reading” the strata, and I can’t help thinking there’s something more to it. There’s no reason to assume that the new occupants were using the same rooms for the same things, but (for example) she easily found her way to the Sadeas headquarters without needing directions. I hope we find out why that worked, because for now, the only thing I can guess is that at some subconscious level, she was getting the information from the Sibling.

L: She’s always been good at recognizing patterns, and she does have a photographic memory (when she chooses to), so those could be playing a part, too.

A: True. I may have to put this in my list of “trivial questions I’d like to ask Brandon someday.”

“Brightness Navani’s teams have mapped all the lower levels, and done walk-throughs of all the upper ones.”

A: As Teft notes, this isn’t exactly an in-depth exploration; also as we’ll learn later, they didn’t do a sufficiently accurate survey to identify all the closed-off rooms. Still, they have been working at it.

Most everyone lived and worked on the rim. The only times they would strike inward would be to visit the atrium or one of the first-floor markets. He’d noted people taking long walks all the way around the rim to one of the lit corridors rather than cutting through the darker center.

A: I’m really excited to see this change in the next book(s), now that the Sibling is awake again and there’s light everywhere. But I can absolutely see why people tried to stay out nearer to the rim, even though obviously there’s not room for everyone right out on the edge. I’d stay as close to the sunlight as I could, too.

L: Dark creepy hallways, barely mapped, which until recently were haunted by an Unmade? Yep. I’d keep my distance, too.

Humans

His name was Noril, and Kaladin’s father remembered the man. Not surprising, considering Lirin’s near-superhuman ability to recall people and faces.

A: I’m trying to remember if we’d heard about this before. Either way, I can’t help wondering if this is simple character-building, or if this is a hint dropped about something in Lirin’s future. I just can’t decide if it’s more Lightweaver or Edgedancer in character.

L: I’d say Lightweaver personally, but I honestly hope that Lirin never becomes a Knight Radiant.

A: I’m not sure I’d want it, either, but I’m getting paranoid with Sanderson, and picking up “hints of foreshadowing” that might not actually be hints at all. That said, I like Lirin a lot more than you do, so if that’s the way it goes, I’d be all right with it.

Brilliant Buttresses

“Can’t reveal patient information,” the man said in a bored tone, putting on his spectacles…

L: I don’t know where else to put this, but I just wanted to note that it amuses me that the Alethi have a concept of HIPAA.

A: Right? That cracked me up. There is a strong concept of privacy, even though it can be circumvented by a high enough authority. Third dahn is pretty high.

“Lad,” Teft said, “you could stick us with a hundred swords, and we’d just complain that our outfits got ruined. Open the storming door.”

L: Teft is the grumpy old uncle that we all love.

 

Dive into the discussion in the comments—see you there! And join us again next week, as we return to Shadesmar to join Shallan in “A Little Espionage.”

Alice is still enjoying that Skyward 3 beta read; it just never gets old. Unlike Alice.

Lyndsey has been enjoying the Nowhere beta read despite the time crunch, and is also a fantasy author herself. She’s been doing weekly tie-in videos to the reread and silly cosmere cosplay vids on TikTok, or you can follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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