Through the Looking Glass Chapter 2
Into the Storm
By Lucrecia Marionette
Vincent slipped the key into the door lock and turned it with a soft click that seemed eerily loud in the landing of the apartment block. Yuffie jumped and shuffled around impatiently behind him waiting to be the first of AVALANCHE to see where he lived. It had come as quite a novelty to her to even think of Vincent having a life. On board the Highwind she never really saw much of him, he kept to himself and mainly came out at night to take the watch with Cloud. As soon as the group split up and they all went their separate directions in life, everyone had decided to go back to what they knew best. It wasn't very hard for her to picture Vincent slinking back off to his coffin in the dead of the night in creepy Nibelheim. For her to unexpectedly find him in the middle of busy Midgar came as a huge shock, especially because he'd probably saved her life.
He pushed the door open on silent hinges and stood to one side to let her through. Half expecting to find cobwebs hanging off the walls and bats squeaking and crawling across the ceiling, it was almost a disappointment to find exactly what he'd described hastily on the journey there. A boring, normal apartment with magnolia walls, beige carpets and basic rooms; big wow.
She walked in through the doorway and he followed like a shadow closing the door and immediately walking right. The hall consisted of a long corridor with a door at either end, the front door behind her and three doors on the wall opposite. Only one of the doors was open now, the one that Vincent had walked towards and from what she could tell it was a kitchen. There were the faint sounds of cupboards being opened and her stomach decided to growl loudly, informing her that she hadn't eaten since breakfast. Walking slowly towards the open door, she continued to eye the bare walls almost hoping to find a hidden passageway or moveable picture but her investigations led nowhere and she soon stood at the doorway.
"Sit down if you want." Vincent said without turning around from whatever he was doing. He stood in front of a large window next to a sink toying around with something on the bench. His keys and the Death Penalty lay on a table in the middle of the room with three chairs sat around it. Realising that he obviously meant for her to make herself comfortable, she walked over to the nearest chair and sat down to continue her surveillance.
Warm light from the setting sun drifted lazily through the window that Vincent stood near and it bathed her and the table she sat at with a golden red glow. Like everything else she'd seen so far, the worktops were bare but the numerous cupboards and drawers probably hid far more interesting things.
Vincent turned around and she noticed a kettle in his good hand and two cups in the claw. He put them down next to a plug on top of the bench and switched the kettle on.
"Tea or coffee?" he offered trying his best to act as a host but coming across as quite awkward, unused to entertaining people.
"Umm... tea please. Two sugars and lotsa milk!" Yuffie beamed back, trying to act like a good guest; something that had never been her speciality.
He nodded and proceeded to make the drinks, turning around and placing them on the table and sitting down opposite Yuffie in the shadows once he'd finished.
For a moment they sat in silence, Vincent drinking his coffee and Yuffie her tea. The young ninja struggled to make herself comfortable but it was difficult picking a conversation with her company. Vincent seemed unabated by the stifling stillness and sipped his drink quietly casting amused glances over at Yuffie who slurped her tea loudly despite her best efforts.
When the embarrassment of her inability to keep quiet became too much Yuffie set her half-empty cup on the table and continue to glance around the room.
"You weren't kidding when you said it was boring... ." she muttered mildly irritated by Vincent's silence.
"Thank you." he responded flatly and she turned to him and blushed.
"Oh, gee. I'm sorry... I didn't mean it like that." she said defensively. "I guess I just expected it to be a little more... well... dark and Vincenty."
"Yeah! Y'know... dark and gloomy. Spiders and bats everywhere with huge chandeliers and gothic arches." she grinned while he raised his eyebrows.
"Sorry to disappoint you."
"No... I'm not disappointed. Just a bit shocked I think." Yuffie finished absently as she strained her neck to get a view out of the window above the sink. The area that the apartment block stood in was in one of the classier areas of the new Midgar. It was where the yuppies and single, white-collar workers tended to live on their own, using their expensive flats as 'bachelor pads'. Somehow, Yuffie had problems seeing Vincent as someone like that. The view out of the window was down onto a vast square green surrounded by the apartment block that was shaped like a jagged 'U'. The roads that ran around it were cobbled like most others' in the city, and from what little information she'd heard from Vincent there was a weekly market along the main street. She hadn't seen a single piece of litter anywhere in the sector and everyone that she'd said 'hi' too had smiled brightly back at her. The whole area was friendly, light and airy... the complete opposite to Vincent. She began to wonder if this was the kind of place he'd lived in as a Turk.
"What made you choose this place?" she asked eventually voicing her thoughts.
"I'm not sure really. There's something comforting about the city. There are so many people with so many pasts that questions don't tend to be asked about your background. I'm surrounded by people but I'm as good as isolated in this apartment because it's so quiet." he seemed thoughtful as he looked out the window but his eyes flicked back to Yuffie who was listening attentively and trying in vain to understand his complex way of looking at things. "Besides, the guy who lived here before died and I was in the right place at the right time."
Yuffie pulled a face. "Someone died here? Eww, that's gross! What did they die of?"
Vincent shrugged. "Not that it's important, but I think the estate agent said it was from old age."
"Aw man that's sick. How can you face being in a place where an old guy passed out? Just think, he could've died right here where I'm sitting. Or maybe in your bedroom! You might be sleeping in the same room where someone kicked the bucket!" she made gagging sounds in mock sickness.
"It doesn't bother me. After all, I slept in a coffin for thirty-three years." Vincent answered coolly and Yuffie fell silent with a shrug.
"S'pose." she mumbled hoping that she hadn't put her foot too far in her mouth.
Silence descended on them once more as Yuffie thought hard of how to restart the half-dead conversation.
"So what are you doing in Midgar?" Vincent asked eventually to her surprise.
Surprise quickly made way for embarrassment as she began to blush and look down at the floor grinning sheepishly. "Umm... Tifa probably told you about this guy in Wutai whose been following me around for the past year?"
"Silvas." responded Vincent after casting his mind back to his conversation a few days earlier with the bar-hostess.
Yuffie nodded, slightly taken aback but not showing it beneath her self-conscious crimson mask. "Yeah... Silvas. Well... um, my dad really likes him and arranged marriages are a big thing back in Wutai. Because I'm the Lord's daughter, I'm meant to set some kind of example. Thing is though, I don't wanna get married but they're trying to force me into it. Anyway, girls are meant to get married at about twenty so I'm already a year overdue and it's been hard enough trying to drag it out that long. Dad knows that I really don't want to marry this guy but he wants me to like him at least so me an' this Silvas have been travelling together for the past few months."
Yuffie stopped and Vincent looked at her expectedly. "And that's it? Where is this... Silvas then?"
"Umm... he's kinda... wandering around Costa del Sol somewhere." she mumbled and Vincent felt the corners of his mouth turn up in a slight smile that was hidden within the folds of his dark cape.
"You've run away from him?"
"No... ." she protested half-heartedly. "Just... kinda... sneaked off in the middle night and forgot to tell him where I was going."
Vincent shook his head and sighed as he set his cup down on the table and looked out of the window, leaving Yuffie to stew in her own embarrassment. After a while she began to shuffle uncomfortably as she looked around for something else to initiate some kind of comfortable atmosphere. Her face brightening a little, she looked up at Vincent with a smile. "Hey? Are you gonna give me a grand tour?"
He turned his gaze back down at her eager face. "There isn't anything to see."
She jumped up and grabbed his good arm in an attempt to pull him to his feet. "C'mon! If you don't show me then I'll have to do a little exploring of my own." she threatened deviously and Vincent's eyes widened a little.
"Very well then." he agreed reluctantly as he stood up and shook off her grip. She skipped through the kitchen doorway and into the hall corridor while he followed her and stopped at the first door and opened it. She peered in and saw an ordinary bathroom with shiny blue tiles on the walls and floor. The light shed from a bulb in the ceiling was cold and clinical, almost like a laboratory of some kind. She wrinkled her nose and stepped back out as Vincent closed the door.
He moved silently to the next one that stood opposite the front door and pushed it open.
Yuffie whistled through her teeth as she stepped into the room that seemed oddly out of place in the cold apartment. "Hey, this is more like what I had in mind!" she exclaimed as she took a few steps in.
She found herself in a lounge with all four walls covered from bottom to top with shelves stacked high with books; some new, some old. A single couch stood slightly away from the wall on her left at an angle facing a television on the far right corner hidden in the shadow of heavy, maroon coloured velvet curtains. Candles were placed strategically on some of the shelves which she guessed at night provided a dim but comforting light. They were obviously used often due to the wax dribbles that ran down their sides hanging like stalactites off of the undersides of some of the shelves. A single, small circular wooden table stood beside the nearest arm of the couch that had a book resting on it with it's pages splayed opened as if inviting someone to read it.
"Is this more... Vincenty?" he asked from the doorway with a hint of amusement.
Yuffie nodded as she walked up to one of the walls. "Gawd... how many books do you have?"
Vincent shrugged. "I can't say I've ever counted them. I'm afraid that there isn't anything interesting to do here but help yourself to them if you want to read."
Yuffie pulled a face but it was hidden as she stood with her back to him. Eventually snapping out of her trance, she walked back out of the room and once more into the hall where he showed her to the next room along the wall. He opened the door and stepped to one side.
"This will be your room while you stay here." he said simply.
Yuffie poked her head around the doorframe and looked in. It looked surprisingly warm and comfortable. A large window in the wall opposite her hung above a single bed with a thick and luxurious looking quilt lying on it. The walls were a creamy yellow and the curtains that hung at the window were blue checked like the quilt cover. A small pine cabinet with drawers sat beside the bed with a candle on top complimenting the wood of the bed. Yuffie walked in and pounced on the bed sinking a few inches in the thick covers and wanting nothing more than to wrap herself up in them and fall asleep.
"Will it be all right?" asked Vincent shattering the momentary feeling of relaxation.
Yuffie swung her legs over the side of the bed and nodded with a bright smile, her eyelids feeling suddenly heavy. Her stomach growled loudly and any thoughts of sleep were dispelled as she blushed furiously and futilely hoped he hadn't heard.
"I take it you're feeling hungry?"
Her cheeks a shade of red, she looked up at him and stifled an embarrassed laugh while he began to turn away and walk back down the corridor. She hopped off the bed and followed him but stopped as her gaze caught a door at the opposite end of the corridor to the kitchen which Vincent hadn't shown her.
"Hey Vinny, you never showed me in here." she called out as her hand went for the handle. As soon as it was within her grasp she felt a cold metallic hand clamp firmly on her shoulder. She turned around quickly and saw Vincent standing behind her with a dangerous look in his eyes.
"That's my room." he said in a low voice. "I don't want you to go in there, is that clear?"
Yuffie blinked, her eyes wide from shock and managed to nod in reply. Satisfied that she understood, Vincent turned and once more walked into the kitchen leaving his young guest with a sense of dread and horror at his menacing reaction.
"What's his problem?" she muttered in an attempt to shrug off his threat but fear crept up her spine and refused to go away. It wasn't long before another, more dangerous emotion took it's place; curiosity. What was in his room that he wanted hidden? Why did he react so badly when she even suggested looking? Didn't he trust her or was he hiding something... like a dead body?? Yuffie grinned at herself and her imagination. It's his room, he can keep what the hell he wants in there she decided firmly although she couldn't help a backward glance at the door which was shrouded in shadows as she walked into the kitchen.
Yuffie woke with a start. She'd been having a weird dream about men made out of tomatoes chasing her down an alley because she'd stolen their sacred celery.
That's the last time I eat cheese before I go to sleep she thought to herself irritatedly.
She looked around quickly at her surroundings which were unfamiliar. After a few moments of examining the room she was in, thoughts and memories came together as she picked out the checked quilt she slept under and the half melted candle on her bedside table along with her watch.
Oh yeah... Vincent's home.
A shiver went through her as icy fingers played on her bare skin and chattering her teeth, she sank down deeply into the soft, warm quilt. She exhaled a deep and contented sigh and began to wonder how she'd got to bed. Her last memories were of sitting in the lounge and watching television while Vincent read. They'd eaten dinner earlier and ever since then she'd felt unbearably tired. Satisfied that she knew everything she could, an odd thought overcame her.
I didn't go to bed... I think I fell asleep on the couch.
Suddenly thoughtful, she lifted the quilt and looked down at herself. She was wearing what appeared to be a long black shirt; probably one of Vincent's and little else. Eyes wide in shock, she looked in one corner of her room and saw her trademark shorts, green tank top with long socks and sneakers folded neatly.
Eww... Vincent changed my clothes! she thought with a shudder but quickly realised that he probably wouldn't have any kind interest in a girl who was forty-five years younger than himself. She almost laughed at the very absurdity of the thought and began to close her eyes as sleep stole over her mind once more.
On the edge of unconscious, a quiet click brought her sharply back to reality. Holding her breath in fear and anticipation, she listened as the front door of the apartment opened and shut almost silently. She heard it lock and then soft footsteps approaching her room. She closed her eyes tightly and heard the bedroom door creak open softly as someone peered in to check on her, probably Vincent. Satisfied that she was safe, he pulled back and closed the door. Yuffie remained in false sleep for another few seconds while she listened to his bedroom door open and close as he went in and she dared to roll over and exhale the breath she'd been holding in. Frowning in puzzlement she glanced over at her watch to note the time.
Four o'clock? she exclaimed mentally. Why the hell did he go out this early in the morning? It's still dark outside. Weird...
Opening her mouth she yawned loudly as her eyes began to droop once more. I must be more tired than I thought she finished dozily as her eyelids gave up their personal battle and closed.
Daylight drifted through the cracks in the curtains and settled in pools of gold on the checked quilt. Yuffie opened her eyes with a degree of effort and stretched luxuriously after a surprisingly good night's sleep, yawning loudly and rubbing sleep from her half-opened eyes. She took a moment to adjust her vision and soon made out the room around her. A glance at the watch which still sat beside her bed informed her of the time; eleven am. Reluctantly braving the cold air of the room she swung her legs over the side of the bed and hastily dressed flinging Vincent's shirt messily on the end of her unmade bed. She crept out quietly daring a quick look at Vincent's bedroom door that remained closed and no sound came from it. Presuming that he was already awake, she made her way to the kitchen where she discovered a hastily written note on the table.
Yuffie pulled a face at the writing; Vincent's writing was overly italic and scriptic making it awkward to read even when he had all the time in the world to write.
"'Help... yourself to good?'" Yuffie read aloud and pulled a face. "Oh, food. 'Feel free to leave the apartment but leave a note before you go. Take care and try not to let any strangers plant stolen materia in your pouch this time. I doubt that anyone will be around to help you sort out the 'misunderstanding', Vincent.'" Yuffie put her hands on her hips angrily. "That's awful. Jeez, no one trusts me anyone... ."
Looking back down the corridor she'd come from it was clear that Vincent was still in bed. Remembering about his entry to the apartment early that morning, it made perfect sense to her although his motives were not so obvious. Scanning quickly through the cupboards and finding nothing except pasta and muesli she made a disapproving noise and scribbled an extra few sentences on the bottom of the piece of paper he'd left for her to read.
"'Dear Vinny,'" she began with a giggle. "Gone to get some real food over at Tifa and Cloud's, back before it gets dark. C ya, Yuffie.'"
Grabbing the arm shield and Conformer, her 'oversized Frisbee' as Cid had called it, from the lounge she left the apartment and walked out into the busy Sector Four market.
"Jen! Two whiskies for table three and a cola with vodka on ten!" Tifa yelled as she walked briskly into the kitchen leaving the sound of loud chattering for the hisses and various aromas that occupied the hectic hub of Tifa's Seventh Heaven. The bar had just re-opened after the lunch break and it was busier than Tifa had seen it for a long time.
She looked around angrily at the steamy kitchen. Cloud and Jen were helping her but Cid had promised to show his face after she informed him that Thursdays were city-wide market days and work was busier than usual.
"Damn that chain-smoking pilot." she muttered furiously as Cloud brushed past her holding a tray with dirty shot and pint glasses on it.
She let out a long and weary sigh as she sat down for a few seconds on a conveniently placed chair in a quieter corner of the kitchen taking a moments rest closing her eyes and ears in an attempt to deny her overworked reality. Feeling herself beginning to drift away and unwind she let out another sigh, more contented and felt waves of relaxation lap against her battered feet.
A loud crash and bang exploded in the air and her eyes flew open as the back door from the alleyway behind the bar into the kitchen was thrown open and Cid burst in with a dramatic entrance that only he could manage. Tifa leapt off her seat, her heart pounding in her ears as Cid leant up against one of the worktops and panted heavily, a crumpled newspaper in one of his hands. She rushed over expecting to find a troop of Shinra soldiers or hideous monsters following him but the alleyway was empty and he didn't seem to be in fear. Beginning to feel anger at his rude entry she stormed over to him.
"Cid Highwind! What the hell are you doing, rushing in here and scaring me witless?" she began furiously. "You promised to help me with the bar and this had better be good!"
He caught his breath and when he looked up there was a mask of seriousness unfamiliar to Tifa that took the place of the captain's jovial features. "Godammit, Tifa." he swore breathlessly. "Haven't you heard the news today?"
Tifa frowned and shook her head. "No, what's happened?"
Cid waved the newspaper in her face and a glance was all she needed before her heart almost stopped and her knees felt as though they were going to collapse from underneath her. Without another word, she sprinted through to the bar and clapped her hands loudly.
"Everyone, we're closing early!" she yelled over the hubbub and at the sound of her voice, the customers stopped talking and looked up at the proprietress. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience but due to circumstances beyond my control, Tifa's Seventh Heaven will be closed until further notice."
There were angry and puzzled mutterings coming from the crowd as it sifted back out onto the streets holding half-finished drinks pondering the cause of the bar's early closing.
Once the double doors were closed Cloud and Jen walked over to Tifa curiously; completely oblivious to why she'd suddenly shut the bar.
"Tifa, what's going on?" asked Cloud immediately with a tea towel draped over his shoulder. "Has something happened?"
Tifa grabbed the newspaper that Cid had been clutching a spread it out on the bar counter. There were sharp inhalations from Cloud and Jen as the headline blared out the shocking news to them, ' Vice Mayor Reeve Jameson missing.'
"Reeve? Gone? But how... and why?" Cloud questioned eyes wide from disbelief.
Tifa cleared her throat and raised the tabloid to eye level as she began to read. "'It has been confirmed by the Midgar Post that Vice Mayor Reeve Jameson is missing, presumed kidnapped. According to sources from inside the Midgar Offices, he has been missing since Tuesday without any indication of his whereabouts. The incident is being treated seriously and the Midgar Police Department has been put onto the case. Although we attempted to get interviews with the employees of the Office we were unable to get any information of suspected groups which could have carried out the offence or motives. It is generally believed that the kidnapping has been carried out by one of the many groups who opposed the rebuilding of Midgar due to environmental reasons and have held Vice Mayor Reeve as the one responsible for the regeneration of the once ruined city. A single statement was given by Cait Sith, hero of the Meteor Crisis and Vice Mayor Reeve's confidante and advisor in which he was quoted as saying that the situation is being looked at closely although they have no lead on the culprits. No notes have been sent and no demands have been made. It is still however a serious matter and the Turks have been put on the case. The Midgar Post shall continue to cover the story as it progresses and as with any other serious occurrence, if anyone has any information which may be beneficial to the Police's investigations then they are recommended to come forward. Continued on pages two and three... .'" Tifa put the newspaper down while everyone shook their heads in sadness. Reeve had always confided in them saying that he suspected that it wouldn't be long before some threat was made on his life but he'd always taken the whole matter light-heartedly. It was a blow to the three AVALANCHE members to hear that one of their own was in danger.
"I, Is there anything we can do?" asked Tifa quietly but Cloud shook his head.
"If anyone can get him back, it's the Turks. I, I'm sure that Reeve'll be fine. Let's try not to worry." he soothed with a touch of doubtfulness in his voice.
"Dammit. There must be somethin' we can do. I don't wanna sit on my ass while I'm here knowin' that Reeve's in danger." Cid swore angrily.
A solemn silence fell upon the small group while Jen stood to one side feeling uncomfortable in the stillness. "Umm... can I get anyone anything?" she asked quietly but Tifa shook her head.
"You can go home if you want, Jen." she responded quietly. The young waitress nodded curtly and left without a sound in order to avoid disturbing the three friends.
"Damn... Reeve." Cloud muttered. "Maybe if we contacted Reno... ."
"He'll probably be busy with all of this." answered Tifa. "There's nothing we can do. If they need our help than we can let them come to us."
"Maybe we could see if we can getta hold of 'em anyway. It might be worth seein' if they need some helping hands?" suggested Cid but the answer remained the same. The sound of the kitchen door opening caused everyone to look up eagerly, perhaps in some faint hope that someone somewhere heard their prayers and decided to send the Turks but Yuffie stood at the doorway looking around with curiosity.
"Where is everyone?" she asked innocently. "Everyone seems so gloomy in town."
"Yeah... Reeve's been kidnapped." Cloud answered sorrowfully while Yuffie's face dropped. "He's been missing for two days."
"Oh no... that's awful."
Everyone nodded sadly as she walked over to join them as they sat down around one of the bar tables.
"Isn't there anything we can do?" Yuffie asked quietly but she received shakes of sorrowful heads.
"The Turks are on the case. They'll contact us if they need help but knowing them arrogant bastards..." Cid began, his voice getting louder with each syllable from anger until Tifa put a soothing hand on his arm.
"There's no sense in wasting away here and getting annoyed about it. All we can do is wait... and hope... ."
Four days passed with the same routines and no more news from the Midgar offices regarding Reeve's capture. Tifa's Seventh Heaven remained closed and the members of AVALANCHE sat around uselessly, a feeling of helplessness overwhelming them. At one point Cid had to be forcefully restrained to stop him from marching up to the Midgar Offices and demanding to be told what the hell was happening but no respite came and Reeve's whereabouts remained anonymous.
Yuffie muttered angrily as she turned off the television in Vincent's lounge. For the past few days there had been news broadcasts on all of the channels about what was happening with Reeve. They all said the same thing 'no sign or information yet'. As worried as the young ninja was, she was getting bored with the repetitive nature television was taking on. She'd never much liked it but experience had taught her that it wasn't wise to try stealing materia in the busy streets of Midgar. TV had been one of the only alternatives and it was a poor one.
Yuffie twisted her head around and examined the only remaining alternative; reading and she pulled a disgusted face at the thought of sitting down and staring at words for any great length of time. Without another option, she reluctantly slipped off the couch and looked over the shelves. There were books ranging from chocobo anatomy to children's stories. She began to wonder whether Vincent truly had sat down and read through his entire library; whether he even knew half of the books he'd accumulated. Pacing up and down the wall her gaze eventually fell on one of the books which seemed more interesting than the rest. It was pale blue with a fraction of a picture visible and black printed writing along the spine. She gently took the book off the shelf and wiped the thin layer of dust from it's front. The completed picture was one was of a young girl standing over a bizarrely beautiful landscape, a large mirror stood on her left and a strange crowd of people were gathered below her. The gold print along the top revealed the book's title, 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'. Yuffie felt intrigued by the strange book in her hands. In Wutai when she'd been growing up she had been forced to sit down and memorise pages of religious text about Da-Chao and Leviathan which had probably put her off reading for life. However, this book seemed different. It was obviously a child's book but she wasn't in the mood for reading anything too in depth and this looked perfect.
Vincent was sat in the kitchen cleaning the Death Penalty from what she knew; he hated it when she watched the television and she wondered to herself why he'd even brought one in the first place if he found it so obnoxious. Not seeing the point in disturbing him, she curled up on the comfortable couch and opened the book at the first page and became immediately engrossed in the colourful language and descriptions.
It wasn't long before a shadow was cast over the page and her head jerked up suddenly in fright.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." Vincent apologised to Yuffie who was panting heavily from panic.
"Y'know, a footstep wouldn't go amiss sometimes." she said angrily receiving a look which was a cross between odd amusement and puzzlement off her dark companion.
He glanced down at the book which she still held open on her lap. "What are you reading?"
"Oh... umm, it's called Alice Through the Looking Glass." Yuffie answered absently after looking down at it and them turning back to him. "I dunno what the hell the guy who wrote it was on at the time." she grinned.
"What is it about?"
"It's really weird." she answered, her brow knitted in thought. "It's about some kid who walks through a big mirror and goes into this strange world where everything's backwards. Everything seems so different to how it appears normally."
"Perhaps it's not as strange as you may think... maybe it's more like reality than you realise... ." Vincent said quietly but wistfully. Yuffie frowned up at him but he was staring into space, his thoughts elsewhere. Snapping out of them, he looked down to meet her gaze. "I'm going out for a walk now. I won't be back until late... so don't bother waiting."
He left the room as silently and as mysteriously as he'd entered and Yuffie waited until she heard the front door close before she decided to push any unwelcome thoughts to the back of her mind so that she could continue reading.
A clock chiming in the distance aroused her from her sleep and as she moved and stretched a loud thump brought her fully back to consciousness. She looked down at the book which had slipped off her lap as she moved, the bright cover mocking her and getting some sick amusement out of her sudden fright. Yuffie rubbed her stiff neck and regretted allowing herself to fall asleep on the firm couch. Vincent certainly wasn't one for comfort.
She looked up at the clock on the mantle piece over the lounge fire and read 3 o'clock, judging by the darkness outside it was morning. She stretched and stood warily from the couch as though her legs were unused to the exercise and had to be treated carefully. Listening for a moment and looking around it was quickly obvious that Vincent still hadn't returned from what ever it was he went out to do. She shrugged, if there was one thing that Yuffie was good at, it was finding something to amuse herself. She placed the book carefully on the table that stood beside the couch and walked out to the hall. Still nothing. He was definitely still away.
She sauntered lazily over to the kitchen where to her surprise she saw the Death Penalty lying on the table. It certainly wasn't like him to go out and leave it behind. She shrugged again. The day she understood Vincent would be the day that she gave up materia hunting; both were very unlikely. Sighing she turned off the light and walked back down the narrow corridor to her own room in the knowledge and feeling of defeat that there truly was nothing to do in Vincent's home. Reaching the entrance, she put a hand on the walnut door preparing to push it open when something caught her attention. The door to Vincent's room had always sat at a right angle to her own shrouded in shadow staring darkly down the hall towards the kitchen. It had always remained closed; barred from her and the rest of the world but now it sat slightly ajar, literally inviting her in to taste its secrets. She licked her suddenly dry lips and glanced towards the front door which seemed to be there to warn her. It was threatening to open any second to show Vincent standing behind it, watching her with a malicious glare at her contemplation of going against his orders. However, Vincent's room was calling to her now, begging her to enter so that it could share its dark history, allow her to share the burden of whatever evil lurked within. Although the metaphorical eyes of the front door continued to burn holes into her soul, she found her body acting against reason and fully pushing open the door to Vincent's room. Before she even had the chance to reprimand and knock some sense into herself she had taken the first step into the unknown. As if sensing the drama and tension, a thunderclap outside signified the beginning of a storm; a storm in the world and a storm in her life. She knew it was wrong, she knew that she shouldn't go in but she couldn't help it. A flash of lightning illuminated the room momentarily leaving an imprint in her mind of what it looked like and the following darkness called her on like a siren chanting for a sailor to join her on the rocks. Her palms grew sweaty and her breathing became shallow but she wasn't quite sure why. From the brief light there didn't seem to be anything unusual. The room was very dark with heavy black velvet curtains at the windows and a large double bed in the middle of the room. Vincent had said that he hadn't bothered with decorating of any kind but the walls of the room stood a midnight black, an unusual colour for the previous occupant (an old man had Vincent said?) to colour a main bedroom. No, this was Vincent's work. But why? Why the obsessions of hiding his room from light and from the rest of the world?
She took another step, she was fully inside the room now and the aura of the place began to eat away at her soul. The shadows always seemed to gather around her dark friend and so they seemed to be concentrated in his sleeping area. The feeling of depression and sorrow hung in the air and made it difficult for to breathe as though it were tar and she was about to drown in its thick black depths. She could almost feel the tendrils of the solid mass of shadows that clung to the corners reaching out and brushing against her bare skin. She'd faced certain death, looked a demi-god in the eye but the very emotion of being in that room terrified her more than anything else she'd ever done before. Nonetheless, she took another step and another flash skewered across the sky and lit her dark path. The bed stood at an awkward angle in the room forcing a single 'walkway' around its sides and the base snaking around its foot and across the window. Yuffie found herself following the path until she stood at the first bottom corner of the foot. She swallowed nervously. What am I doing here? What do I hope to find...? What do I hope not to... ?
Her silent questions went unanswered and her heart leapt for a second as a drumming on the windowpane began.
"It's only rain... its only rain..." she whispered repetitively to herself in an effort to calm her shaky nerves. The fat rain droplets hit the glass and although only light they echoed around the room like an army marching to an eerie, unheard tune; all unsynchronised and drumming into her mind.
Another flash. This time as she looked straight ahead an object was momentarily illuminated. As the ensuing thunder rolled around the dark room she moved towards it and soon stood before a bookcase previously unnoticed in the shadows. An odd smell clung around the wooden shelves, something which seemed strangely familiar. As she moved her head closer to the small bookcase the smell took on an undeniably chemically stench, easily recognisable as Mako. Although puzzled by the bizarre scent she ran her fingers down the spines of the large books which stood with an almost gravity defying grace on the thin shelves. Even in the poor lighting she saw puffs of dust float off them and she stifled a cough as the ancient grime tickled her lungs. Covering her mouth and nose with one hand to protect herself feebly against the toxic Mako stench and the dirt she moved even closer so that she could read the names of the books. They were obviously very old and had been ignored for some length of time; that was easy to see by the poor state they were in and the staleness of to leather covers. The writing on the spines was in an italic hand painted on by gold ink which had begun to fade and flake off. Unable to see the writing properly her hand went towards one of the books and she pulled the heavy tome from its place and dumped it unceremoniously on the end of Vincent's bed. In the faint light from the open doorway she brushed the thin layer of dirt from the front cover and raised her eyebrows in surprise as the choking dust settled. In clear fluidic writing the title 'JENOVA project: Volume I' was painted on the top of the cover. From her limited knowledge the writing was undeniably Hojo's and the muddled thoughts in her mind began to come together with startling clarity. Old scientific books about Jenova, the stale Mako smell and the association with Hojo all added up until they reeked with the Shinra Mansion's dark secrets.
Why does Vincent have books for that old dump...? She thought rhetorically.
Flicking through the yellowed pages and finding nothing of interest apart from complex scientific formulae and page after page of Hojo's monotonous drone, she pushed the book back into its place and pulled another out at random. She repeated the same procedure of wiping the cover to make the title intelligible to her eyesight but taking a step back, she gasped in shock.
Although this book was from the same place as the previous one, this one had a different story to tell. In similar gold writing on the front cover with horrific crispness were the words 'JENOVA project: ALPHA. Subject specimen; Valentine, Vincent. Volume III'. She blinked and whistled through her teeth in disbelief. No wonder Vincent had been so secretive about this room. Glancing back at the bookshelf she quickly counted the total of twenty books. If this was volume three of whatever Vincent went through, for all she knew fifteen out of the remainders could also be about him. God only knew what he went through so it was no surprise that he wanted them kept away from prying eyes. Like her own... she thought with a terrible feeling of guilt swelling in her mind.
Jenova project though...? Why Jenova project? What did he have to do with that, he was just fiddled around with by Hojo for a year wasn't he...?
Unable to stop herself she opened the book until she reached the first page of writing. It didn't take her long to see that it was in some kind of diary form; it appeared as though Hojo kept every day in detail up until the time he was forced to stop his tortures. One of Hojo's negative points as he'd even admitted himself was that he was a stickler for accuracy, a perfectionist, an obsessive... . It didn't completely shock her to see that every entry seemed to take up about five pages each. Although it was difficult in the dim light and the disintegrating old pages, Yuffie succeeded in reading the first page of writing and had to stop afterwards, her face pale and her breathing shallow.
She expected it to be completely full of scientific jargon and nonsense like the others, but this was something else, something much more terrifying. Although he went into detail of his experiments it was with a fiendish vigour; he punctuated ever sentence with some derogatory comment about Vincent, with some sly undertone telling of how much he despised and loathed the Turk. The fury was overpowering, almost emanating from the pages themselves until she felt physically sick; from the hatred and from the operation detail.
"106 day. Valentine seems to be coping surprisingly well with the mako transactions. I must admit that I am surprised at his tolerance although with his being in the Turks I suppose I should have expected this unusually high resilience.
103 days have passed since I first caught him when he barged into my laboratory that stormy night. Heh heh heh, this almost sounds like a horror story doesn't it? Well, perhaps it is for him. Unfortunately he is the monster in this particular tale. I suppose that would make me the tragic hero...? Mwa, ha, haa! After all, he is the wicked fiend who stole my 'darling Lucrecia' from me... the bastard. He can have her... in fact; he's welcome to her. He can have her in hell and know forever that she is my gift to him. Every time he looks at her he will know that I am the one who has given him what he wanted and so he is indebted to me for eternity. If I wanted her, I could've kept her. It was my choice that things would be this way. My choice! Do you hear that you bastard? Yes! I had this planned all along! I never like you, you never liked me and this is your punishment. I saw you looking at me from the corner of your eye every time we passed in the corridor, you in your pristine uniform and me in my lab coat. I was higher than you, always higher than you but you would always wear that smug and arrogant look on your face whenever you glanced in my direction. You always thought that you knew something I didn't.... well I did! And now look where it has gotten you! You took Lucrecia and thought that it would give you prestige over me, but I knew all along. You never loved her! You used her to get above me. I see you Valentine, I see you for the demon you are. The demon that you hide behind that cold visage and that blue suit.
I see it Mr. Valentine and I will ensure that one day the rest of the world shall see it too. That is my aim... I will bring out the monster you are, deep inside. The one you hide, the one who looks across the room at me whenever we are together. The one that took Lucrecia and pretended to love her. Yes... the demon.. It shall be as black as your heart and then everyone will know the evil that lurks within you. Heh, heh, heh!
Today I continued my experiments on his shape shifting abilities. I do not think that it shall be long before i am able to begin the final stages in which I am intending on giving him the demonic form I have planned. The only thing that restricts me is the difficulty of finding the correct balance to initiate such a powerful transformation. It may be many months before i am able to carry out this particular operation but I have recently been given a new assistant who goes by the name of Janus. He is overly curious with an almost dangerous burning desire to ask questions... heh, heh, heh! He almost reminds me of myself which I suppose is why I am so wary of him... .
Today I gave him the privilege of watching me perform an experiment on Mr. Valentine. He has easily absorbed the other three forms given to him by me; the very figments of horror stories, how very appropriate! The Galian Beast, the Death Gigas and Hellmasker. I suppose that I should have forewarned Janus about the intensity and violence of Valentine's transformations but it appears that I..... heh, heh, heh! Forgot to mention the cause for safety and so he received a fright when Valentine changed into a hideous monster before his eyes. Fortunately it was only the Galian Beast otherwise I believe he may have been killed by the delay he took to evacuate the library.
However, despite my moment of arrogance we succeeded in tranquillising Valentine so I could show my student the depth of the genius that I am. We dragged the beast's body onto the large desk in the library and I proceeded to open the chest whereupon I took some amusement in noticing Janus's queasiness. I pointed out how the very anatomy of Valentine altered with the form. It was visible that the stomach and lungs had enlarged while the trachea had shortened disabling the use of his voice box therefore preventing him for making any intelligible sounds other than bestial growls and snarls in the feral form. Most of the organs had been pushed upwards and into the protected rib cage leaving the more vulnerable abdomen less of a disadvantage. The ribcage itself was very thick and strong as I allowed Janus to discover as he put all of his weight on the bone. The whole bone structure of the skeleton had changed dramatically also, the bones themselves were denser and therefore thicker making him much more protected against breaks. We took several samples of the bone by chipping away pieces from random parts in the body and we also took some tissue samples that I shall give to Janus to toy with later.
After the examination which took approximately two hours, we sewed the beast back together and left it to wake in it's own time. I must admit that the incision I made was considerably larger than I am used to making and it should give Valentine something else to hid beneath the dark shrouds he insists on wearing to hide his appearance. Mwa, ha, ha! One of my aims was to break him down and make him suffer for interfering with my plans but he seems to be doing an excellent job of it himself. I believe that within a matter of weeks I will be able to offer him the chance of freedom and watch him decline through his own choice! Perhaps he truly did have feelings for Lucrecia... at night I hear him talk to himself about her and sometimes he seems to be having a conversation to her but I cannot hear her reply. Maybe he is going mad. I hope not. That would provide him with a release from my tortures which would defeat the very purpose of me confining him here. He shall suffer for what he has done and I shall give him no release be it death or madness. He will take whatever punishment I choose to give to him. He seems to be getting used to the idea. As a matter of fact he no longer complains... I think he believes Lucrecia's death his own fault and I am not prepared to tell him otherwise. He may become less co-operative if I do... ."
Yuffie swallowed and closed the book, her face as pale as the wane moon that shone through a slight crack in the thick curtains. She knew that Vincent had faced hell over that year but he had never said anything that gave any in depth idea to the extent of his nightmares. Hojo truly had hated the poor man and the terrible thing was that he used Vincent's own emotions to an advantage. What a monster... what a sick and twisted cruel man he was... . Yuffie shuddered and turned around to push the hellish book back into its place.
Turning around, she prepared to walk away when there was another nagging thought in the back of her mind; curiosity again. She couldn't leave it at that. Maybe before she left she could have a look at one more book. See how Hojo finally put an end to Vincent's misery, all of her fears and worries would be rewarded with that single piece of information. It was like one of the books off Vincent's shelves, some of the stories were sad and you really began to sympathise with the characters yet you continue to read. Despite the negative feelings it pushes upon you, you cannot help but read until your sorrow is rewarded with the joy of a happy ending. Smiling to herself for her crude justification of her dishonour, she turned back to the bookcase and began reading the faded spines until she found the final book in Vincent's series.
She pulled it out and sat on the corner of the bed with the heavy tome on her lap. Flicking quickly through it she discovered that only half the pages had been used and the others remained pure and untouched by Hojo's poisoned ink and words. She flipped to the final diary entry and became quickly enthralled.
"Day 374. Those vigilant enough of you enough to observe the dates on my entries will see that I have missed two weeks out of this 'diary'. As you may have read in my last entry President Shinra has decided that all scientists will be moved back to the Shinra HQ to continue experiments on the child Sephiroth whom has recently had his first birthday and is already showing signs of increased ability and intelligence. Lucrecia would've been proud, heh, heh, heh!
Due to the cut in money to the Mansion I have been forced to kill off most of my experiments because many of them although brilliant are unauthorised and probably illegal. This unfortunately included Mr. Valentine a.k.a, the 'missing Turk' that seems to have become something of a legend at the HQ. I gave him a severe over dose of Mako energy two weeks ago to kill him as slowly and painfully as I could through poisoning. My inability to create the demon transformation within him over this past year made me see that it was a pointless quest that only diverted my attention from the extraordinary child who is my main concern. Because of this there was no point in sustaining Valentine's life and I decided to give him the release of death he has been begging me for, for so long now. Instead of dying within a week as I had expected him to, he somehow held on to his pathetic life until he regained consciousness yesterday. This of course was an incredible phenomenon and earlier today when he was strong enough Janus and I paid him a little visit with the intention of performing several more experiments.
Janus and I entered the library at 10am whereupon we saw Valentine sat in his usual place in one of the more shadowy corners of the room. He glared at us from the darkness and we immediately noticed the odd colouring of his eyes. As startling as it was, one of the first things we noticed as we saw him was the odd colouring of his eyes. It had changed from a dark brown to a red blood-like hue which almost seemed to glow in the light (NB could the overuse of Mako cause this change of colouring in the irises? To be explored in further depth.). His face seemed very pale although this is expected for someone who has been in a coma for under a fortnight I suppose. As soon as we saw him his fists clenched and his eyes took on a murderous gleam as he began to feel the anger that initiated his transformations steeling upon him. Janus has often joked that Valentine is a good example of the 'Pavlov' theory in which certain stimuli can cause effects in the body as was experimented using dogs. Over the months I have been inducing my experiments on Valentine he hates me even more so and to begin his changes I simply have to walk into a room! Heh, heh, heh! As a matter of fact, Janus often calls Valentine my pet which only serves to infuriate him further!
I approached him and asked how he was feeling but he simply stood up and continued to stare at me.
"You said you were going to kill me, you bastard." he growled.
"Now, now Mr. Valentine." I said calmly. "This is as unexpected for me as I'm sure it is for you. Janus and I would like to perform a few tests and then I promise you that we will-"
"No!" he snarled. "I'm sick of your promises Hojo. I want to get away from this hell. I don't want to be sliced open and prodded any longer. Please..." he said his eyes shutting wearily. "Just kill me... ."
"You know we can't do that, Vincent." stated Janus stepping beside me. "Through all of your sins you have the chance to redeem yourself by aiding us to improve the human race. Do you not want to help your fellow man?"
"He's no man." I hissed and watched Valentine's reaction with glee. "He's a monster! He has no say over his life any longer. Look what he has done to it. He has killed countless people, murdered the innocent... failed to protect Lucrecia."
"No..." moaned Valentine as he dropped to the floor and held his head.
"Yes. You cannot escape from your crimes. You do not deserve death..."
"You deserve to suffer hell for what you did.. or should that be what you failed to do?" I spat. "Lucrecia is dead and it is your fault. You shall remain my experiment forever.. let that be burnt into your mind you blood stained freak! I will never release my grasp on you and when you do die you shall continue to twist in your minds' torment knowing that I will always be better than you...!"
"NO!" Valentine roared suddenly the anger in his voice almost over powering. I stumbled back but Janus remained where he was, too transfixed by the infuriated man to move.
"I will tear you limb from limb Hojo!" Valentine hissed as his eyes began to glow even brighter and more obvious red until the white of his eyes were swamped by the hellish light. "I'll make you pay for what you have done...!"
Valentine took a step froward but his face contorted with pain and with a cry of agony he dropped to the floor and clutched his stomach. I began to back away to the door as Janus stood watching the hideous event with morbid fascination.
Valentine screamed with agony and vomited blood across the floor as it smeared all over his bare skin. As I watched he began to change; twisting and growing as the shadows themselves seemed to gather around him, sticking to him like a black skin. He cried out again but it came out as a terrifying roar and a pair of massive red and black bats like wings burst from his back and flapped clumsily against the shelves knocking books across the floor. He roared again and was still for a few seconds before he growled and lifted his head.
The eyes glowed red, a startling contrast to the black skin which was now covering his body. A huge pair of horns jutted back from his face and a pair of overly pointed ears pointed backwards in the same direction. A set of white fangs protruded over his bottom lip and the overall effect was of a feline like visage. He twisted around and pushed himself off the floor into a position that allowed him to stand. As he tried to draw himself up to his full height the horns scraped across the roof forcing the demon to stoop drastically. The sight was very terrifying and overwhelming but looking at him I got a sense of satisfaction that had finally succeeded in inducing the demonic change.
I believe that the creature stood 10ft tall from toes to the crown of its head although in the cramped room it was difficult to tell (*see diagrams following). It let out a horrific roar and lunged forward as I leapt back. Janus broke out of whatever hypnosis he'd been under and began to run but he was too late and the demon raked its claws down his leg reducing it to a bloody mess. I heard his screams but did not turn back to help him. The damn fool should have run when he had the chance; I wasn't prepared to go back and risk my life to save someone who was too stupid to save himself. I sprinted out of the door and was about to close it when by some unnatural strength, Janus limped out of the room just as it slammed shut.
We rested for a few moments before the door began to shake and a massive black and clawed hand burst through the old wood. We began to run and didn't look back even when Valentine let out a pained cry and his padded footsteps followed us no longer. We didn't dare to stop and look to see if we were safe. We are the only scientists left in the house and if we'd died earlier today then it could've been weeks before we were discovered. The very thought still makes me shudder... .
It wasn't until lunch when I dared to go back down to that place. Valentine lay on the floor unconscious in his 'human' form (I use the word loosely) with puddles of his own vomit and blood lying around him. The transformation must be a very taxing experience. I had to order someone from the town to restore the door to the lab to disguise all traces of a disturbance. However I could not leave the body of that conceited Turk lying around for anyone to see in case they remembered him, even in his nightmarish guise
I dragged his body to the crypt and threw an old skeleton from its coffin and dumped Mr Valentine inside. I couldn't kill him, not after what I achieved. I, Professor Hojo have succeeded in personifying mans' darkest emotions, I gave Valentine's evil and darkness a form. I was not prepared to destroy him and forget about it.
I concocted a mixture of chemicals from the lab which I knew would induce a state of deep sleep and injected them directly into his brain. I do not know if this will have the desired effect but it was intended to put him into a hibernation like state so that I could retrieve him when that fool Gast is out of the way and can hinder my research no longer. It may be many years before I return to this place but I am confident that he will remain 'alive' for a great length of time. I am not completely without compassion however. I have invented a little game for those brave and foolish enough to wake him. I have put the key to the crypt in the old safe in my room with instructions on how to open it. Valentine will not be completely without choice in his life, but one thing I can promise you. When and if he does wake up, he will come to me. I have faith in that. I have scarred him too deeply for him to walk away and ignore me. Even if I do leave him there forever I know he will seek me out. Perhaps then I shall be allowed to finish what I have started.... .
By Professor T. Hojo
Yuffie sighed in alarm from the terrible extract for the book she'd read. What did Hojo mean about finishing what he had started and who was Janus? So many questions stirred by the book and with a deep sorrow she realised that she would never find out. A distant thunderclap and spark of lightning drew her attention back to the storm outside which seemed to be intensifying with each passing minute.
Glancing down at the book she felt a numb sense of satisfaction. Much of Vincent's past had always remained a huge enigma but this single extract clarified much of the unanswered queries raised by the dark member of AVALANCHE. None of them could have imagined the depth of the hatred that existed between the insane scientist and the ex-Turk. This certainly helped to explain how Vincent came to join the group.
She stood up and awkwardly carried the book towards the shelf so that she could put it back in its rightful place disguising all traces of her exploration. A sudden and loud explosion of thunder directly above the apartment block caused her to jump and almost drop the book. Nature seemed to be raging with all of its fury at her desecration of Vincent's privacy. Hoisting the book up, a flash filled the room and another loud booming followed but there was something different... something very wrong. Although the storm was directly overhead the noise sounded much nearer.
Yuffie spun around; her heart in her mouth and blood rushing through her ears. Hit with an immensely powerful force, the door of Vincent's bedroom burst open almost coming off its hinges and cracking against the wall. The book slipped out of Yuffie's grasp as her jaw dropped and terrified eyes focused of a silhouetted figure standing in the light thrown out by the hall. A pair of red demonic eyes stared back at her with horrifying fury and the young girl found her breath sticking in her lungs. The book hit the floor as another glare of lightning forked through the dark clouds outside and momentarily lit up the black room and a rumbling thunder resounded in her ears with deafening loudness. The yellowed pages opened and flicked in the strong breeze rushing in from the open door. Yuffie's laboured breathing and the rustling paper were the only sounds in the room as even the ferocity of the elements outside paled in Vincent's fury.
"Get out." the voice wasn't raised but there was a strain in it as Vincent obviously held himself back from doing something terrible. The maliciousness in his voice was hypnotically powerful and Yuffie found herself more stationary than she had been before although it was more out of fear than anything else. She began to tremble but she couldn't tear her eyes away from his own blood red stare.
With inhuman speed and strength Vincent leapt across the huge bed until he stood in front of the window. He span around to face Yuffie who had backed up against the wall in an effort to escape from him.
"I SAID GET OUT!" he yelled his voice taking on a bestial ferociously with a rage that she had never even thought of him as capable of.
Spurned out of her still stature, Yuffie took a few fearful and faltering steps towards the door as Vincent raised his left hand and clawed it. Light gleamed off the golden surface and she sprinted away from him as he brought it down in a swipe that tore into the bookcase and obliterated tomes in an explosion of paper. As Yuffie stepped out of the door she began to hear Vincent coming after her.
"GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!" he roared over and over again until overcome by fear she began to cry out but she didn't stop moving. Opening the front door she ran out and slammed it shut behind her and the sound of something hurling into it only furthered her terror.
Tears ran down her cheeks as she ran with all of her strength into the street. They mingled with the rain and rivulets of water streamed down her face and off her clothes. Her hair was plastered to her forehead and she choked on her panicked sobs as she ran through the deserted streets and alleys uncertain of where she was going but only knowing that she had to escape from Vincent.
The storm raged on and lighting and thunder battled overhead with incredible strength. Gusts of wind almost blew her from her feet but regardless of all except her own life she ran on into the night.
She wasn't sure how long she ran or even how she knew where to go. The only thing that she had any knowledge of was the burning in her lungs and legs and the fear. The dreadful fear that pushed and urged her on. The very thought of Vincent behind her was enough to make her sprint even though her legs were knotted with pain.
Running through an unfamiliar alleyway she finally collapsed; the exertion had finally become too much for her to bear. She only had the energy to drag herself to the nearest door and bang on it before everything went black... .
"Yuffie...? Oh my God! Cloud help me! It's Yuffie! Something terrible's happened... ."
What is this that I see in you?
You just want to shroud away.
I just want to help you,
But you cower from my touch.
We were partners in fighting,
Now you are never around.
You seem to be fighting your own battle,
In some way I can't see.
I was just looking for a refuge,
I was a bit curious about you.
You were in such a rage;
I had no choice, as you chase me faster than the storm itself.
BY Irvine Quest
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