Created By: SharleeD on March 29, 2014 Last Edited By: SharleeD on April 29, 2014
Troped

Monstrous Cannibalism

Predatory creatures are shown eating one another to prove they are voracious and/or evil

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In perhaps the most graphic form of Kick the Dog, writers often display how vicious, ravenous, or just plain evil a predatory species is, by having the strong among them literally prey upon the weak. While cannibalizing outsiders or eating sentient creatures is nasty enough, doing so to members of one's own social group is indicative of betrayal as well as cruelty, suggesting an evil or Horror Hunger so indiscriminate that no one is exempt.

With non-sentient creatures, Monstrous Cannibalism conveys how voraciously hungry the predators are, and may indicate that their species as a whole is starving and desperate. For sentients, it demonstrates a ruthlessness that bodes ill for any other species they interact with: if their instincts or culture make eating their weaker fellows a standard practice, what hope might a stranger have of being spared? In either case, seeing them turn upon their own for food is often what pushes a species over the Moral Event Horizon into being monsters in the eyes of the audience, not just beasts or antagonists.

Subtrope of I'm a Humanitarian; often a supertrope to Cannibal Tribe, if the tribe eats its own as well as enemies/strangers. Compare To Serve Man, in which victims from outside one's social group are preyed upon, and No Party Like a Donner Party, in which cannibalism is an abhorrent last resort. Contrast No Zombie Cannibals and Ape Shall Never Kill Ape.

May result in a Food Chain of Evil within the group. A common way for the Monster Lord to establish its dominance over its underlings. Sometimes overlapped with Always a Bigger Fish.

Examples:

Comics
  • The intelligent undead of Marvel Zombies are quite open about the fact they'd like to devour one another, but are balked from doing so by the fact that zombie flesh tastes unbearably awful to them. A few stubborn ones try anyway, but have to spit out any bites they take out of a fellow-zombie.

Film
  • In Reign of Fire, the gigantic male dragon pounces on and catches one of the smaller female dragons, presumably to eat. The humans who witness this conclude that the dragons must be starving.
  • In Pitch Black, when the last survivors are running to the shuttle, Alien Blood starts falling all around them from the flock of creatures above the canyon. It appears that the ravenous creatures have begun killing and eating one another in midair.
  • In the 1959 Journey to the Center of the Earth, one of the pack of Slurpasaurs is killed and devoured by the others.
  • In Lord of the Rings, orcs will resort to cannibalism if other meat isn't available. The Two Towers has a scene in which an orc captain executes one of his soldiers for disobedience, then declares "Looks like meat's back on the menu, boys!" as the rest of his men tuck into the corpse. (Averted in the books, where orcs are disgusted by the thought of eating orc flesh, though they have no taboos about eating humans.)
  • In the Lost in Space movie, the space spiders immediately eat any of their number who are injured. This turns out to be a Chekhov's Gun when Future!Smith (who's been mutated into a Half-Human Hybrid by being bitten by one) is eaten alive after being stabbed.
    "They eat their wounded."
  • In Galaxy Quest, when the team comes across a group of blue teletubbie-esque creatures, one of them is injured so is offered some water by its friends, until the others immediately jump it and start to eat it.
  • In Pandorum, when Bower, Manh and Nadia kill one of the Hunters, the rest of its pack show up and immediately start to devour its corpse.
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, the gigantic Red Death dragon is introduced by devouring a small Gronckle dragon when it fails to deliver food.

Literature
  • H.P. Lovecraft:
    • At the end of "The Lurking Fear", one of the odd-eyed subterranean monstrosities turns on a weaker companion and eats it. To the narrator's eyes, it looks like a routine practice.
    • In The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath, it's mentioned that ghouls traditionally eat their own wounded after a battle, although Pickman has been discouraging the practice.
  • Taxxons from Animorphs suffer from a Horror Hunger so extreme that they will dive down and eat anything wounded in the area, be it humans, other Taxxons, and of course...
    Jake: <Is it dead?>
    Ax: <In a matter of speaking. One half of it is consuming the other half.>
  • In Chess With A Dragon, the mantis-like alien race's culture incorporates cannibalism of one's rivals or inferiors, to such a degree that "gracing the table" is a standard penalty for anyone that loses badly while gambling. Two of the ones involved in the novel's conspiracy actually formed their alliance by working together to ensure another's loss at the gaming table, purely because they think the targeted player looks tastier than the others.
  • Discworld:
    • Deconstructed/subverted in Snuff. Goblins are known to eat their young, a fact repeated by the average racist (basically 99% of the Disc's population) to prove they're "evil beasts". What is not widely known is that goblins only do this when faced with famine that would guarantee the death of both mother and child, and that the mother then makes a special pot to contain the child's soul until it can be reborn, hopefully under better circumstances.
    • Referenced in Unseen Academicals, in which history depicts the race of orcs as savage warriors that devoured their own dead after a battle. Whether this really happened is unclear, although Nutt's ability to revive when stabbed suggests that fallen orcs vanishing from battlefields because they got back up again may have been misinterpreted as proof they'd been eaten.
    • When junior postman Stanley tries to parley with Mr. Grylle in Going Postal, suggesting he use the post office to send a letter to his grandmother, Grylle matter-of-factly replies that he ate his grandmother. The impression conveyed is that wild banshees don't consider this unusual.
  • In Beasts of Gor Tarl and his friend are being hunted in the Gorean Arctic tundra by a pack of wild sleen, tenacous hunting mammals with six legs. Tarl's friend sets a trap: a knife with a piece of meat, its hilt frozen in a large slab of ice. One of the sleen bites the meat off the knife, slicing its mouth in the process. It then tries to lick the blood off the knife, slicing its tongue further. The other sleen, smelling blood (literally), kill it and eat it.
  • In The Wheel of Time, it is often said that Trollocs "will eat anything, so long as it's meat." They prefer humans, but will eat their own if it's convenient - trollocs are very lazy. This actually works to their advantage in war, because they need no supply lines: after a battle, they just cook up their own fallen.
  • In C. S. Lewis' "The Pilgrim's Regress", John and Virtue come upon a dragon hoarding its gold. In the dragon's poem is a line like "At times like these I wish I hadn't eaten my wife." He did so not out of hunger, but out of greed and paranoia regarding the gold.
  • In C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, this is the Lampshaded fate of demons who fail, and the ultimate fate of Wormwood (by his uncle Screwtape himself).

Live-Action Television
  • On Primeval, the team catch a baby raptor in a shopping mall, then use it as bait to set up an ambush for an adult that's still on the loose. They expect that, being from the same pack, the adult will come to the crying hatchling's aid, but it pounces on and eats the leashed juvenile instead.
  • The Hundjager, from Grimm, are said to consume their mother from inside the womb. They have been shown to be cold, unmerciful, and relentless trackers and assassins who usually work for the Verrat.
  • In Supernatural, the Leviathan race are expressly shown to be cannibalistic to emphasize their voraciousness. For instance, the monsters' leader Dick Roman consumes one of his minions alive for losing a holy tablet to the Winchesters.
  • The ending of The X-Files episode "Our Town" implies the cannibals ate their leader.

Tabletop Games
  • This trope applies to many evil Dungeons & Dragons races, but is a particular hallmark of sahuagin culture, in which the maxim "Meat is meat" is used to justify their preying upon everything from other races to deformed sahuagin hatchlings to their own dead.
  • Subverted in depictions of trolls from the Mystara D&D setting. While they readily chomp on one another whenever they're feeling peckish, their regeneration powers ensure that any troll who's nibbled upon will quickly and painlessly recover. It's implied that some man-eating trolls are actually inoffensive by nature, but simply too stupid to grasp that non-trolls they try to make friends with don't like having their arms or legs bitten off.
  • Vampire: The Requiem:
    • The vampire bloodline called the Noctuku are apex predators to apex predators, preying on other vampires' blood and flesh. If they drink all of their vampire victim's blood they commit diablerie by consuming their soul. While Noctuku are normally loners, they're known to form Cannibal Clans called clutches that systematically prey on other vampires. If their activities are ever discovered, they're hunted by vampires unironically enforcing the double standard that only humans should be hunted and killed.
    • Another bloodline, the "En", are also cannibals... but of the megalomaniacal king variety. They gain power over a city and give free reign to their dark appetites, creating children only to feed on them later (unless their child gets the drop on them).
  • In Warhammer40000 the Tyranids consume all lifeforms, including their own units once they're no longer needed.

Video Games
  • Arcanum: The chapter of the manual dealing with Orcs notes that they prefer to cannibalise rather than bury their dead. It's also an accepted orcish custom for an orc mother who gives birth to triplets to present one of the newborns to the father, who eats it in celebration of his own fertility.
  • It is implied that Seekers of the Name from Fallen London will eat other humans when their Horror Hunger is out of control. Your character can do it too, if you're a Seeker.
  • In Elona, cannibalism causes one to go temporarily insane, unless one undergoes a mutation that makes them OK with eating other people. From that point on, they'll kill and eat anyone they encounter, each other included.
  • The Primal Zerg in StarCraft kill and eat other creatures in order to absorb their genes and become more powerful. They gain the most essence by eating one another.
  • In Mass Effect 3, you encounter a new type of mooks called 'Cannibal'. Its 'special move' is to eat their own kind in order to restore health, showing how much of an eldritch abomination the reapers have turned them into.

Web Comics
  • When the Kvrk-chk are introduced in Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger it's stated that they devour their dead on the spot, at social gatherings it's considered common courtesy to tear off a limb as a gift to the host, and their youngest adults have to disperse far from home every thirteen years to avoid being eaten by their younger siblings. To say nothing of their attitude towards other sapient races.
  • Stated to be the case in Drow Tales; Drow (especially homeless lowborn) will eat each other, although the Drow are on dire straits by the time the comic takes place. All the soft tissues usually pink on a healthy elf are purple from malnutrition; and even clan matriarchs have this.

Real Life
  • In Australia, the decimation of rodents' natural predators in a farming community caused an explosion in the rat population. In desperation and starvation, the stronger rats preyed on weaker ones until they virtually died out.
  • Ant colonies regularly "recycle" injured or dead colony members as food. Averted if a dying ant suffers from an infectious disease its fellows can detect by smell, in which case it's killed and dumped outside the nest to prevent sickness from spreading.
Community Feedback Replies: 48
  • March 29, 2014
    Astaroth
    Subtrope of Im A Humanitarian

    • In Lord Of The Rings, orcs will resort to cannibalism if starving; The Two Towers has a scene in which an orc captain executes one of his soldiers for disobedience, then declares "Looks like meat's back on the menu, boys!" as the rest of his men tuck into the corpse. (Averted in the books, where orcs are disgusted by the thought of eating orc flesh, though they have no taboos about eating humans)
  • March 29, 2014
    Ryusui
    No. No, no, NO. This is a trope, yes, but for God's sake, we don't need another snowclone for snowcloning's sake.

    For starters, there's no clear difference from the trope name alone between this and just plain Eat The Dog. People are gonna be tempted to treat this as "Eat The Dog, only eeeeevil" (which we already have under Exotic Entree).

    Might I suggest simply Animal Cannibalism? Or Cannibal Animal/Cannibal Animals?
  • March 29, 2014
    Snicka
    • In Rio, this is invoked when Nigel the cockatoo is shown eating chicken. While it's not cannibalism per se, as chickens and cockatoos are different species, all birds are sentient in this setting, and one character explicitly refers to Nigel as "cannibal".
  • March 29, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^^ Actually, it was supposed to be a variant of Kick The Dog, not Eat The Dog. But if you think it needs a non-snowclone name, something like Monstrous Cannibalism would probably be better than Cannibal Animal, as not all examples will be of animal intelligence.

    ^ Not sure if the Rio example would count, if Nigel was simply eating chicken from a take-out shop or whatever. He didn't know the chicken in question, after all; this trope is more about in-group cannibalism, rather than eating a stranger who just happens to be of your own species.

  • March 29, 2014
    Chabal2
    • Taxxons from Animorphs suffer from a Horror Hunger so extreme that they will dive down and eat anything wounded in the area, be it humans, other Taxxons, and of course...
    Jake: <Is it dead?>
    Ax: <In a matter of speaking. One half of it is consuming the other half.>
    The same series also has the team wonder if eating dumpster chicken while in seagull morph counts as cannibalism.
    • Snuff: Goblins are known to eat their young, a fact repeated by the average racist (basically 99% of the Disc's population). What is not known is that they do this when faced with famine that would guarantee the death of both mother and child, and that the mother then makes a special pot to contain the child's soul until it can be reborn, hopefully under better circumstances (not often at all).
    • One of the Walking With Beasts series had a pair of primitive mammals devour their offspring so they could survive.
  • March 29, 2014
    Bisected8
    • In the Lost In Space movie, the space spiders eat immediately eat any of their number who are injured. This turns out to be a Chekhovs Gun when Future!Smith (who's been mutated into a Half Human Hybrid by being bitten by one) is eaten alive after being stabbed.
      "They eat their wounded."
  • March 29, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^^ For the Walking With Beasts example, were the mammals caring for their young until the need for food became desperate? Because this trope wouldn't necessarily apply if, say, an animal kicked its offspring out of the nest, then later happened to run into them and eat them without recognizing that they were its own young. There needs to be a social bond of sorts, which is why I didn't put stuff like male bears eating bear cubs here.
  • March 29, 2014
    zarpaulus
    • When the Kvrk-chk are introduced in Quentyn Quinn Space Ranger it's stated that they devour their dead on the spot, at social gatherings it's considered common courtesy to tear off a limb as a gift to the host, and their youngest adults have to disperse far from home every thirteen years to avoid being eaten by their younger siblings. To say nothing of their attitude towards other sapient races.
  • March 29, 2014
    DAN004
    I thought some real life animals sometimes eat their own kind, too. Sharks, particularly.
  • March 29, 2014
    Astaroth
    • Arcanum: The chapter of the manual dealing with Orcs notes that they prefer to cannibalise rather than bury their dead. It's also an accepted orcish custom for an orc mother who gives birth to triplets to present one of the newborns to the father, who eats it in celebration of his own fertility.
  • March 29, 2014
    zarpaulus
    ^^ Most carnivores have no qualms about eating their own kind, I think there's some of the more notable examples on the Ape Shall Never Kill Ape and Im A Humanitarian pages.
  • March 29, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ This isn't just about eating your own species, but about eating members of your own social group, and doing so because the writer is specifically showing how voracious and/or evil you are. A shark that eats another shark because it's not smart enough to notice any difference between its own species and other fishes wouldn't qualify, although a troop of hyenas that turns on one of its members because she pissed off the alpha, then eats the carcass, might.
  • March 29, 2014
    Earnest
  • March 29, 2014
    CaveCat
    • In GalaxyQuest, when the team comes across a group of blue teletubbie-esque creatures, one of them is injured so is offered some water by its friends, until the others immediately jump it and start to eat it.
  • March 29, 2014
    DAN004
  • March 29, 2014
    CosmeF
    The Animorphs example should be treated as a subversion, while the Taxxons are first shown as evil, later it's revealed that they can't control their hunger and suffer a lot because of it.
  • March 29, 2014
    Lakija

    EDIT: wait that does't count... unfortunately I have a Real Life example, although the jury's still out on whether rats are intentionally evil. It's up to you whether or not to add. I'm sorry to have to type it... ugh...

    • In Australia, the decimation of the rat's natural predator in a farming community caused an explosion in the rat population. In desperation and starvation, the stronger rats preyed on and consumed the others until there was none left.
  • March 29, 2014
    LikeSnowyNights
    • The Hundj√§ger, from "Grimm", are said to consume their mother from inside the womb. They have been shown to be cold, unmerciful, and relentless trackers and assassins who usually work for the Verrat.
  • March 29, 2014
    LikeSnowyNights
    Sorry that A came up weird.

    • The Hundjager, from "Grimm", are said to consume their mother from inside the womb. They have been shown to be cold, unmerciful, and relentless trackers and assassins who usually work for the Verrat
  • March 29, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^^^^ In the Animorphs case, the "shows they're voracious" side of this trope applies, whether or not the "shows they're evil" aspect is subverted.

    ^^^ Ditto for the Australian rats.
  • March 29, 2014
    Earnest
    Before I forget.

    Tabletop game example:
    • In Vampire The Masquerade and successor game Vampire The Requiem there is a form of vampiric cannibalism called diablerie. One of the double standards of vampiric society is that while they feel perfectly fine with preying on and even killing humans (so long as The Masquerade remains intact) no vampire community will ever accept diablerists because they are vampire cannibals. Worse, it's not just eating flesh and drinking blood, but consuming the soul. And worse worse? It's addictive. And if that's not bad enough, it gets worser (yes that's probably not a word but it is now). Diablerie also gives the cannibal some of the memories, skills, and powers of the cannibalized... and can also lower their morality, making them that much more likely to think nothing of doing it again.
  • March 29, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ The existence of diablerie wouldn't necessarily be this trope, as you do say the vampires themselves don't approve of it, making it more Im A Humanitarian if individual renegades do such a thing. If there's a subculture of vampires that do accept or endorse this practice among themselves, Monstrous Cannibalism would apply for that subculture.
  • March 29, 2014
    Earnest
    ^There are, here goes.

    • In Vampire The Requiem there is a vampire bloodline called the Noctuku; apex predators to apex predators. While most vampires thirst only for blood, the Noctuku hunger for flesh as well. It's an addictive, slippery slope: if they drink all of their vampire victim's blood they commit diablerie by consuming their soul. While Noctuku are normally loners, they're known to form Cannibal Tribes called clutches that systematically prey on other vampires. If their activities are ever discovered, they tend to get hunted by vampires unironically enforcing the double standard that only humans should be hunted and killed.
      • Another bloodline, the "En", are also cannibals... but of the megalomaniacal king variety. They gain power over a city and give free reign to their dark appetites, creating children only to use them and feed on them later... unless their child gets the drop on them.
  • March 30, 2014
    SharleeD
    • Thanks, that fits better. (Edited it a bit for grammar and to suit this trope; also changed Cannibal Tribe to Cannibal Clan, as I assume the Noctuku aren't hanging out in a jungle village boiling missionaries in stewpots.)
  • March 30, 2014
    Morgenthaler
  • March 30, 2014
    StrixObscuro
    In Beasts of Gor Tarl and his friend are being hunted in the Gorean Arctic tundra by a pack of wild sleen, tenacous hunting mammals with six legs. Tarl's friend sets a trap: a knife with a piece of meat, its hilt frozen in a large slab of ice. One of the sleen bites the meat off the knife, slicing its mouth in the process. It then tries to lick the blood off the knife, slicing its tongue further. The other sleen, smelling blood (literally), kill it and eat it.
  • March 30, 2014
    StrixObscuro
    Literature
    • In The Hunger Games, Katniss recalls that one year a tribute started eating the hearts of the other tributes, much to the viewers' revulsion. She suspects that the snowstorm that ultimately killed him was deliberately engineered to prevent him from being the winner.
  • March 30, 2014
    KTera
    • It is implied that Seekers of the Name from Fallen London will eat other humans when their Horror Hunger is out of control. Your character can do it too, if you're a Seeker.
  • March 30, 2014
    StrixObscuro
    • In The Wheel Of Time, it is often said that Trollocs "will eat anything, so long as it's meat." They prefer humans, but will eat their own if it's convenient - trollocs are very lazy. This actually works to their advantage in war, because they need no supply lines: after a battle, they just cook up their own fallen.
  • April 1, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^^^ Again, not sure if that counts, given that the effort to prevent that contestant from winning shows it's not something tolerated or approved of by society. At most, it's showing that that one Hunger Games contestant is a nutcase, which is more Im A Humanitarian than this trope.
  • April 6, 2014
    dvorak
    Video Games
    • In Elona, cannibalism causes one to go temporarily insane, unless one undergoes a mutation that makes them OK with eating other people. Fridge Horror sets in when one remembers that Claymores, lifted largely intact from the manga, are a playable class, meaning this is a common enough occurrence to form a legion of Super Soldiers to deal with it.

    Web Comics
    • Stated to be the case in Drow Tales; Drow (especially homeless lowborn) will eat each other, although the Drow are on dire straits by the time the comic takes place. All the soft tissues usually pink on a healthy elf are purple from malnutrition; and even clan matriarchs have this.
  • April 7, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ Do the cannibals in Elona actually eat members of their own society of okay-with-eating-people mutants? Or do they only prey on those who don't have the mutation yet?
  • April 7, 2014
    dvorak
    ^I think they eat anyone. the mutation comes randomly from exposure to Etherwind, so they usually don't have societies. Two cannibal mutants will more than likely try to kill and eat each other.
  • April 7, 2014
    SharleeD
    Okay, that's probably an acceptable example then.
  • April 7, 2014
    Alvin
    Live-Action TV: The ending of The X Files episode 'Our Town' implies the cannibals ate their leader. Literature: In CS Lewis' "The Pilgrim's Regress", John and Virtue come upon a dragon hoarding its gold. In the dragon's poem is a line like "At times like these I wish I hadn't eaten my wife." He did so not out of hunger, but out of greed and paranoia regarding the gold. In CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, this is the Lampshaded fate of demons who fail, and the ultimate fate of Wormwood (by his uncle Screwtape himself).
  • April 8, 2014
    Snicka
    The creature who engages in this is often a Monster Lord, using cannibalism to establish dominance over its minions.

    I don't know how much of this we should mark as spoiler, but:
  • April 8, 2014
    DAN004
    How about Savage Cannibalism?
  • April 9, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^ I considered that one briefly, but it'd probably be too often confused with Cannibal Tribe.
  • April 9, 2014
    zarpaulus
    • In Warhammer40000 the Tyranids consume all lifeforms, including their own units once they're no longer needed.

    • The Primal Zerg in Star Craft kill and eat other creatures in order to absorb their genes and become more powerful. They gain the most essence by eating one another.
  • April 9, 2014
    DAN004
    ^^ Cannibal Tribe is pretty much a subtrope.
  • April 10, 2014
    sgtpendulum
    • In Mass Effect 3, you encounter a new type of mooks called 'Cannibal' and its 'special move' is to eat their own kind in order to restore health, showing how much of an eldritch abomination that the reapers had turned them into.

    Not sure if they eat so that they can gain health or some sort of powerup but either way, it applies.
  • April 13, 2014
    MonaNaito
    See also Always A Bigger Fish, which can overlap with this trope if the "bigger fish" is just a larger and hungrier member of the same species.
  • April 28, 2014
    dvorak
    ^^ They also gain a layer of armor

    Real Life
    • Territorial spiders eat each other quite readily. A larger female will eat a smaller males if he's not quick enough at impregnating her, and hatchlings leave their nests because they'll eat their brood siblings if there's no other food available. Averted with the rare species of Prosocial (ie, Bannanna) spiders.
    • On that note, several arthopods practice something called "sexual cannibalism" in which the female consumes the male that inseminates her, often "in the act" as it were.

  • April 28, 2014
    justanid
    Literature
    • A comical example from Speaker For The Dead has a sentient Formic queen (aliens that are also in Enders Game) feeding a pupa with dead worker (both non-sentient), which is then compared to human breast-feeding. While each example of "cannibalism" is entirely benign, both species are squicked out by the other.
  • April 28, 2014
    TonyG
    In Toy Story, Buzz and Woody assume this is the case with Sid's toys when they see them gathering around a doll. Later they discover that they were just mending it.
  • April 28, 2014
    SharleeD
    ^^^ I don't think spiders or mantids or the like necessarily should count for this trope, as they don't actually have any social ties that eating one another would betray. Rats and ants are social species, so they're eligible, but solitary Real Life animals that eat one another are usually not sufficiently equipped with brainpower to notice they're eating their own kind.
  • April 28, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ That would be the case if they're predators like sharks, as you said earlier. That sexual cannibalism, however, should count (who would otherwise be able to mate with them but with their own kind?)
  • April 29, 2014
    Chabal2
    • Also from 40K:
      • The gretchin (goblins In Space) serve as Comic Relief, gofers, ammunition, and emergency rations to the orks (who also eat other species).
      • The Sons of Malice renegade Space Marine Chapter have a ritual where each participant brings captured slaves and eats them alive in his cell as a sacrifice.
      • Dark Eldar Mandrakes are known to eat each other and any Dark Eldar they catch, but the richest and most depraved likely do so as well.
    • Warcraft III: In the backstory, it's mentioned that some troll tribes practice cannibalism.
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