The Price of Loyalty - Part 1
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Eyes clenched, Rainbow Dash squirmed and allowed herself to sink deeper into the fluffy cloud that was her home. The afternoon Sun shone down upon her, rousing her from her slumber. She rolled onto her back and let loose a huge yawn. Sighing, the pale cyan pegasus slowly cracked open her eyes and rubbed them with her two fore-hooves. She sat up on her haunches and peeked over the edge of her cloud, gazing at the bridge to Ponyville nearby. Nopony was there.
"Oh, come on, kid," she mumbled in annoyance. "You begged and pleaded for almost an hour yesterday, and now you don't even show up on time."
Rainbow lazily scanned the expansive valley below her. Winding paths snuck between sparse trees and over rolling green hills. A light breeze swept across a field of daffodils, carrying its sweet scent to Rainbow's nose. Birds chirped pleasantly in the distance. Despite her annoyance, Rainbow allowed herself a slight smile. It really was a beautiful day.
One quick glance at the Everfree Forest wiped the grin off her face. Several large and ominously dark clouds hung over an area deep in the forest. She shook her head and frowned as she noticed that the clouds were moving of their own accord. The Everfree Forest just wasn't natural. She lowered her gaze to the forest entrance and discovered a familiar figure emerging from amidst the trees. Her smile returned as she recognized the pony's lavender coat.
"Hey, Twilight!" Rainbow called down to the unicorn below. "Up here!"
Twilight Sparkle glanced up at her and offered a friendly smile. "Hello, Rainbow Dash. What have you been up to?"
"Oh, not much," Rainbow yawned. "I'm just waiting for Scootaloo. I promised to give her a ride around the valley today, but she was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago." Rainbow casually spread her wings and hovered for a moment before descending to the ground. "More importantly, what have you been doing?"
"I just got back from Zecora's." Twilight reached back with one hoof and unlatched one of two saddlebags draped across her shoulders. Rainbow peeked inside and saw a large assortment of leafy shrubs. "She was teaching me about the different herbs she uses in her stews."
"Oh, that's cool." Rainbow Dash said simply. She opened her mouth once more, but before she could utter another word a knot formed in her stomach. She absentmindedly tapped one hoof in the dirt, trying to build up enough willpower to continue.
"So, Twilight... I, uh- I've been thinking for a while, and... Uh..."
Twilight blinked. "Yes, Rainbow Dash?"
"I just, uh- I was wondering if you wanted to hang out later."
Coward, she thought bitterly. You should have just said it.
"Well," Twilight began, bringing a fore-hoof up to her chin in thought. "I don't have much planned for the rest of the day. I just need to get back to the library and finish up the book I've been reading lately
Sure, I guess I could spare some time."
Despite her failure to speak her mind, Rainbow Dash allowed herself a pleased grin. "Cool. I'll stop by the library after I'm done with Scootaloo. That is, if she ever gets here," Rainbow muttered.
Twilight peeked around Rainbow Dash's head and squinted her eyes. "Well, I don't think you'll have to wait much longer."
Rainbow Dash whipped her head around and looked down the path toward Ponyville. She soon spotted a small orange speck on the horizon zooming down the path toward them. As the speck grew larger, she recognized a purple helmet atop a young filly's head. The filly beat her wings furiously, zipping along on her scooter. Within seconds, the filly skidded to a halt in front of her, throwing up a thick cloud of dust.
"Hey, Rainbow Dash!" Scootaloo shouted.
"There you are," Rainbow coughed through the dust. "Where have you been?"
"Oh, sorry, Rainbow Dash. I had to tear the house apart to find them, but I was looking for these."
Scootaloo tore off her helmet and lowered her head slightly, revealing a shiny pair of purple goggles.
Forgetting her annoyance with the young filly, Rainbow Dash smiled approvingly. "Nice goggles, kid. So, are you ready to go for a ride with the best flier in Equestria?"
"Great. So, um... I guess I'll see you around, right, Twilight?" Rainbow Dash turned to face the unicorn and cast her a hopeful look.
"Sure, Rainbow Dash. I'll see you later." With that, the lavender unicorn strode past the two pegasi in the direction of Ponyville.
Rainbow watched her go, a sad smile on her face. Twilight's rump swayed gently as she trotted away, causing Rainbow's cheeks to blush crimson. Why couldn't she have just told her when she had the chance? It wasn't like her to get so nervous...
"Rainbow Dash? Are you okay?"
Scootaloo waved a hoof in front of her face, causing her to snap back to attention.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Rainbow said perhaps a bit too loudly, trying to regain her composure.
"Great! I'm ready to get flying! This is going to be amazing!"
Rainbow chuckled. She had to admit, the kid had spirit. She lowed her neck and bent down slightly, allowing Scootaloo to climb onto her back. Scootaloo spent a moment adjusting herself into a comfortable position before reaching up and pulling the goggles down over her eyes. She wrapped her front hooves around Rainbow's neck, taking care not to choke her.
"Ready?" Rainbow asked.
Not wasting any time, Rainbow Dash spread her wings and kicked off from the ground, shooting into the sky. The air whipped past her face, causing a sharp yet not unpleasant sensation. She raced toward a large cluster of clouds, both fore-hooves extended in front of her. As she reached the clouds, she began slaloming in between them, intentionally coming a little too close to each one, but pulling away at the last moment. Scootaloo clenched Rainbow's shoulders tightly, holding on for dear life.
"That's right, kid!" Rainbow shouted back at the filly. "Hang on tight!"
Rainbow angled herself upward and used her momentum to shoot up like a rocket. She continued to pull back, twisting her body as the ground replaced the sky. She completed the back-flip and pulled her wings in close to her body, plunging herself and the filly astride her into a sharp freefall. Her eyes watered as the ground rushed up to meet them, making her wish she had brought her own goggles with her. Mere seconds away from colliding with the earth, Rainbow leveled out and flew perfectly horizontal, her hooves brushing up against the grass below. She began miming a trotting motion, treating Scootaloo to one of the more recognizable tricks in her arsenal, the Super Speed Strut.
After a few moments of strutting, Rainbow pulled up once more and darted back into the air. Pure adrenaline raced through her veins, urging her to go even faster. She put on a renewed burst of speed and rocketed up toward the cluster of clouds above. She broke through the cloud cover and entered an entirely different world. Here, the sun's rays shone down with a brilliant radiance, basking the cloud tops in a sparkling light.
Rainbow hovered for a moment, gazing at the spectacle before her. After a while, she lazily began circling a nearby cloud as if she were a vulture swooping in on a meal. After several revolutions, she lowered herself and planted all four hooves on the cloud. She turned her head to check on the filly, and barely managed to bite back a laugh.
Scootaloo's mane was blown back in a ridiculous point, exposing her bare orange forehead. She stared ahead blankly, her jaw agape. As Rainbow Dash watched, a wide grin spread across the filly's face. Scootaloo began to giggle in delight.
"That... Was... Awesome!" the filly shouted.
"Oh, that was nothing, kid." Rainbow stated confidently. "I'm just getting warmed up."
Twilight sparkle had a noticeable spring in her step as she trotted into Ponyville's town square. She hummed quietly to herself while working her way through the normal afternoon crowd. Pegasi soared through the sky, stretching their wings. Several mares stood outside their homes watering their gardens. Twilight breathed deeply, enjoying the fresh Summer air. Just another pleasant day in Ponyville.
"Twilight, darling!" A sudden cheery voice caught Twilight's attention.
Twilight turned in the direction of the voice. There, at a small table outside a local restaurant, sat a white unicorn with an air of sophistication.
"Oh, hello Rarity," Twilight responded, joining her at the table.
"My, it's been a while since we've really had a chance to talk, hasn't it?" Rarity's horn glowed as she lifted a small teacup to her muzzle. "Go on, darling, tell me all about your latest endeavors."
Twilight raised a fore-hoof to her chin. There wasn't much to tell, really. Other than her visit to Zecora's, she had spent most of her time in the library poring over The Founding of Cloudsdale, a particularly informative book Princess Celestia had sent her. She doubted Rarity would show much interest in that, though.
"I've just been studying a lot lately," Twilight said finally.
"Oh, Twilight, I understand you like to coop yourself up in that library and read, but you simply must get out more often. I haven't seen you for days." Rarity continued to sip her tea.
"Yeah, I suppose you're right, Rarity," Twilight mumbled, embarrassed.
"Of course I am, darling," Rarity boasted. The white unicorn pursed her lip for a moment, appearing thoughtful. "Oh, I know!" she exclaimed suddenly. "You should join Fluttershy and I later today for our spa visit! It would be a great chance for us all to catch up, and the mud baths are simply marvelous."
Twilight's friendly expression turned into an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Rarity. I already promised Rainbow Dash I would spend time with her later. Maybe next week?"
Rarity's eyes widened a bit. "Rainbow Dash, you say?" The faintest trace of an amused grin crept onto her face. "Interesting."
Twilight's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean by that?"
Rarity waited a long moment before responding. "Well, Twilight... Have you noticed anything odd about Rainbow Dash lately?"
Rarity cast suspicious glances at the ponies seated at the tables nearest theirs. Finally, she leaned in closer to Twilight, motioning for her to do the same.
"I was working on a new dress yesterday," Rarity whispered. "Something fabulous made from gorgeous white silk, and... Oh, sorry, the dress isn't important. Anyway, while I was working, I heard a faint sound outside my window... I glanced outside and saw Rainbow Dash napping in a tree."
Twilight arched an eyebrow. "And just how is that strange?"
"Just hold on, Twilight... I cracked the window a bit and figured out what the sound was; Rainbow dash was mumbling in her sleep... I understand that ponies mumble in their sleep all the time, but... I think I heard her say something about you, my dear."
"So? It's not uncommon for ponies to dream about their friends."
"That's just it, Twilight. When she said your name, she didn't really say it like you were a friend, exactly... She sort of moaned it."
Twilight scratched her head with one hoof. What was Rarity getting at?
"I don't think I understand, Rarity."
Rarity sighed and shook her head. "You know, Twilight, for such an educated unicorn you really can be clueless at times." With that, Rarity sipped the last of her tea and rose from her seat. "Do let me know if you reconsider my offer, dear."
As Rarity trotted off toward Carousel Boutique, Twilight sat alone, her brow furrowed in confusion. Just what was Rarity getting at?
Rainbow Dash panted heavily as she touched down on a small hill. She didn't know how long she had been flying, but it felt like a lifetime. Scootaloo wasn't particularly heavy, but the added weight certainly wasn't making things easier for her. Scootaloo hopped off her back and began bouncing around on the grass.
"Rainbow Dash, you're amazing!" Scootaloo chanted with delight. "You were all zoom! And then you were like woosh!" The filly raised one hoof and made fast motions through the air, miming Rainbow's most recent performance.
"Yeah," Rainbow muttered in between erratic breaths. "That's what I did." Rainbow collapsed onto a particularly thick clump of grass and pulled her hooves in close to her body, making herself comfortable. Her mind slowed to a crawl as she nuzzled her makeshift pillow, settling in for a nap. Her potential slumber was interrupted, however, by a quick tap on her shoulder.
"Rainbow Dash?" Scootaloo asked inquisitively. "Are you tired?"
"Wha- Of course not," Rainbow responded, trying to make herself sound as energetic as possible. She forced herself back up to all fours and ignored the comfy material she was standing on. She had to hide her exhaustion in front of Scootaloo. "I never get tired, kid."
"Great! Because there was one more teeny tiny little favor I wanted to ask you..."
Rainbow forced a smile. What now? What more could Scootaloo possibly want from her?
"Sure, kid. Shoot."
"A Sonic Rainboom!" The filly practically exploded with enthusiasm.
Rainbow's heart dropped. A Sonic Rainboom? Right now? Impossible. She had only managed to pull that off twice in her lifetime, and both of those times she had been well-rested and energized. There was no way she could do it in her current condition. And yet...
Scootaloo was staring up at her, an enormous grin painted across her face. She was using her 'Rainbow-Dash-You're-So-Awesome-You-Can-Do-Anything' look. That tore it.
"Hop on, kid."
As Scootaloo scrambled onto her back, Rainbow Dash felt a tiny little droplet of water collide with her muzzle. Her head swiveled and she stared up at the sky. The dark, ominous clouds from the Everfree Forest had drifted, and were now looming over the edges of the valley separating the forest from Ponyville. Why hadn't she noticed that earlier? Storms over the Everfree Forest had drifted over to Ponyville occasionally, but they had never looked quite as intimidating as the one that now threatened the peaceful village. Judging by the size of the clouds, Ponyville was in for a rough time.
Rainbow sighed. So much for her day with Twilight. Perhaps they would have to spend time together inside...
That might actually be pretty fun, Rainbow thought with a grin.
Rainbow Dash knew she didn't have much time. If it started raining, her wings would get damp, and she would have no chance of performing the Sonic Rainboom. She spread her wings for what felt like the thousandth time that day, checked to make sure Scootaloo had a firm grasp on her shoulders, and kicked off from the ground.
Rainbow Dash shot forward as if she had been launched from a cannon. The rain methodically intensified as she soared over the valley, building up speed. Her wings felt as if they were on fire as she accelerated faster and faster, pushing them to their limits. She ignored the pain, determined to give her admirer a day to remember.
The wind picked up, throwing her off course for a moment. She flapped her wings furiously to compensate for the added resistance. At last she managed to straighten out. She kicked into overdrive, producing an extra burst of speed.
Rainbow's heart soared as she noticed the mach cone forming around her. She gritted her teeth and pushed harder, straining herself like never before. She just needed one more good push, just a little more effort... The mach cone tightened, shaping into a sharp point in front of her. This is it, she realized. The third Sonic Rainboom in Equestrian histo-
Rainbow Dash clamped her eyes shut and instinctively swerved to avoid the streak of lightning, but her evasive action threw her directly into a powerful gust of wind. She twisted and turned in midair, completely unable to stop herself. Suddenly, she felt lighter, as if some large weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Her wings crumpled uselessly as the overwhelming wind pushed her down toward the tree-line on the edge of the Everfree Forest. She couldn't think straight. She only knew one thing for certain; she was about to crash. The distressed pegasus threw up her fore-hooves in front of her face, trying desperately to protect vital areas.
A large tree. An imminent impact. Rainbow only had a brief second to register it all before her forehead slammed into something solid. She opened her mouth to cry out in pain, but instead found herself fading...
Slipping away into darkness...
Twilight flung open the door and stepped into the library, dripping wet. Her mane was soaked, hanging limply down in front of her eyes. Brushing it aside with one hoof, she released a small spark from her horn to close the door behind her.
"Spike! I'm back!" Twilight called out grumpily.
The baby dragon glanced at her from his perch at the top of a tall ladder, a tower of books in his arms. After one quick look at her mane, he dropped the thick volumes, roaring with laughter.
Twilight stared at her assistant with annoyance. "Yeah, yeah... Laugh it up, Spike."
Finally managing to subdue his own laughter, Spike shakily climbed down from the ladder. "What's with the new hairdo?" he asked, his face still contorted in amusement.
Twilight ignored the jab. "I don't remember hearing anything about a scheduled downpour today," she muttered thoughtfully as she trotted over to the nearest window and gazed outside. The Sun had been completely blocked out, enveloped by the shadowy clouds. "I guess it must have blown in from the forest."
Spike popped up beside her and stared out the window. "Wow, it's really getting rough out there, huh?" the dragon thought aloud.
Twilight let out a low sigh and spoke in a defeated tone. "You're right, Spike. Nopony in their right mind would wander outside in this mayhem. We might as well close up for the day."
"Really? This early?"
"Well, even I have to admit there would be no point in overworking ourselves."
Spike practically bounded with joy. "Yes! I get to catch up on my sleep!"
Suddenly motivated, the baby dragon rushed over to the door and slid its lock into place. He then plodded over to the stairs and began his ascent. Before reaching the second floor, he turned back and called down to Twilight, "You have any plans for tonight?"
"Well, I was going to spend the day with Rainbow Dash, but..." Twilight pointed her horn at the window, indicating the storm outside.
Spike nodded sadly and trudged up the last few steps, yawning.
Twilight trotted over to a small desk where a large hardback volume sat open, waiting for her. She began reading through The Founding of Cloudsdale, but for some reason the historical account failed to capture her attention like usual. She read several pages before realizing she had not really absorbed any information from them.
Her mind wandered; she could not stop thinking about her conversation with Rarity. The white unicorn had not made much sense to her; it seemed as if her friend was hinting at something she believed to be obvious.
What was that Rarity said? Twilight thought. Rainbow Dash was... moaning my name?
Just what could that mean? Twilight sighed once more as she rubbed her temples. Now that she really thought about it, Rainbow Dash had been acting a bit strangely. The normally brash and tomboyish pegasus had seemed somewhat subdued earlier... Nervous, even.
She decided that the next time she saw Rainbow Dash, she would simply ask her what was on her mind. That would be the easiest way to solve everything.
Twilight's horn glowed for a moment, and the The Founding of Cloudsdale flipped back several pages. Twilight gazed down at the text before her. Ignoring the endless drone of rain and thunder outside, she took a deep breath and began to read.
"Oh, my head..."
Rainbow Dash groaned quietly as she cracked her eyes open slightly. She was dimly aware that wherever she was, it was noisy. Strangely, though, the noise seemed distant, as if she was wearing a pair of thick earmuffs...
Rainbow's eyes widened as she felt the small red droplet slide down the side of her face and into the puddle below. The noise surrounding her faded in as she regained her awareness; the storm had worsened, but the tree she had landed in was providing some protection from the rain. She lay there tangled in the branches, blood dripping from a nasty gash on the left side of her head.
Rainbow winced as she rose a hoof to the gash. It was by far her most severe injury; minor nicks and cuts were scattered about on her legs, but nothing too noticeable. She checked her wings. They were bruised slightly, but serviceable. Basically, she had gotten lucky.
Her head pounded and throbbed, making it difficult to concentrate. Her memories returned slowly, assembling piece by piece into a comprehensive picture. Flying. The storm. Almost performing the Sonic Rainboom. Scootaloo... Where was Scootaloo?
Rainbow pulled her back legs out of the branches they were tangled in. She hurriedly adjusted herself on the branch she was laying on and poked her head out among the leaves. Large droplets of rain pounded against her face, causing a stinging sensation when they came into contact with the gash. She ignored it.
"Scootaloo?" she called out into the storm. "Scootaloooooo?" Rainbow could barely even hear her own voice over the uproar of rain and thunder. It was useless.
The beaten pegasus dropped out of the tree and landed with a thud on the damp earth. Her legs wobbled for a moment, threatening to give in, but she remained standing through sheer willpower. Rainbow swayed dangerously as she gazed into the dark forest. Quick flashes of lightning illuminated the dense foliage for brief moments, but immediately afterward the shadows of the forest destroyed any hope of clear sight.
There's no way a single pegasus could find Scootaloo in there, she realized gravely. What have I done?
No, she thought desperately. No, no, no
I need to get help. I have to help Scootaloo.
Beaten and bruised, Rainbow shakily spread her wings, rose into the howling wind, and set a course for the faint shape of Ponyville in the distance.
"Now who could that be?" Twilight thought aloud as she shut The Founding of Cloudsdale.
"I'm coming!" Twilight trotted over to the door, her horn sparkling. She unlatched the lock and swung the door wide open, eager to see the pony who would actually be willing to trek down to the library in such a brutal storm.
Twilight's face formed the beginnings of a smile as she recognized her friend's rainbow-colored mane. As soon as she noticed the streak of blood down Rainbow's face, however, her mouth fell open in shock. Rainbow leaned upon the doorframe, panting heavily. Broken twigs stuck out haphazardly from her soggy mane. Dozens of minor nicks and bruises covered her body. Worst of all, however, was a large gash that ran from the center of her forehead to the furthest tip of her left eyebrow. She looked horrible.
"Rainbow! What happened to you?" Twilight yelled as she took a slight step forward.
"It's nothing, Twilight," the pegasus responded breathlessly. "We... We need to get going."
"What are you talking about, Rainbow? Get in here, out of the storm! We have to look at that gash!"
Twilight moved to pull Rainbow into the library, but the pegasus roughly shook free from her grip. Twilight stared at her, astounded by her apparent lack of self preservation.
"Twilight, just stop and listen to me!" Rainbow said forcefully, her voice regaining some of its strength. "I'm fine, but we have to go, now!"
"What are you talking about Rainbow?"
Rainbow lowered her head in silence. Drops of moisture fell from her soggy mane onto the wooden floor. The silence seemed to last forever. Why was Rainbow so hesitant to explain? When the pegasus began to convulse slightly, a sudden realization hit Twilight. The drops weren't coming from Rainbow's mane... They were coming from her eyes.
"Rainbow... Are you-"
"Scootaloo's missing," Rainbow choked out.
Twilight's eyes widened.
"She... She's missing?" Twilight gasped. "Right now? In this storm?"
Rainbow continued to stare at the floor, tears streaming down her cheeks. The display of emotion shot Twilight's anxiety through the roof. Rainbow Dash never cried. Not openly, anyway.
She wanted me to do a Sonic Rainboom for her," Rainbow said quietly, wiping her cheeks. "I knew how dangerous it was, but I
I tried it anyway." Rainbow sniffed. "There was this big streak of lightning, and I got thrown off course, and... And now I think she's somewhere in the Everfree Forest."
Twilight felt as if she had been hit in the stomach. She took a step back, shaking. The Everfree forest was downright dangerous for such a little filly... And in this storm... Twilight didn't want to think about it.
Rainbow sluggishly raised her head up and locked eyes with Twilight. "I need you to go tell everypony else what's happened," the pegasus said pleadingly. "You're the most organized pony I know. You should be able to round up a search party pretty easily."
Twilight did not respond immediately. Scootaloo was in the Everfree Forest. She repeated this statement over and over in her head, trying to come to terms with the situation. "Okay," Twilight finally said in what she hoped was a confident tone. "We'll find her, Rainbow Dash. I promise."
"Th-Thanks, Twilight," Rainbow said simply. She took a small step back out into the rain, turned her back on Twilight, and spread her wings.
"Wait, where are you going?" Twilight gasped.
"Where do you think I'm going?" Rainbow asked, glancing over her shoulder. "I'm going to go clear out the clouds, and hopefully find Scootaloo."
"Rainbow, look at yourself!" Twilight yelled. "You're in no condition to be out in this storm! Let the rest of us handle this!"
Rainbow Dash whipped herself around and took a brisk step toward Twilight, forcing her to jump backward.
"Twilight, all this is my fault!" Rainbow shouted. "I agreed to take Scootaloo out there! She's my responsibility!"
Rainbow's gaze returned to the floor, and her volume dropped dramatically. "I let her down. Right now, she's somewhere in that forest, scared out of her mind... She's all alone, and probably injured... It's all my fault. My fault... So I have to look for her. I have to."
Twilight stared at Rainbow in disbelief. The sudden confession of guilt threw Twilight off guard. She now realized just how terrible Rainbow must feel. Her anger subsided; now she felt only compassion for the pegasus standing before her.
"Rainbow," Twilight whispered as she placed a hopefully comforting hoof around her friend's shoulder. "I understand that you're worried about Scootaloo. That's a perfectly reasonable feeling... But I-"
"No, Twilight," Rainbow said forcefully as she snapped her head up, giving the unicorn a meaningful look. "Don't try to talk me out of this. I need to go." Her stern face softened a bit. "I'll be fine. Trust me."
Without waiting for a response, the cyan pegasus gently pulled away from Twilight and spread her wings once more. She swayed dangerously as she rose into the howling wind. She shot Twilight one last glance before soaring away in the direction of the forest and disappearing into the storm.
Twilight stood still as a statue, her mind racing. Scootaloo was missing. Rainbow Dash was hurt. Now, Rainbow was racing back into the storm despite her injuries. It was madness.
Twilight turned on the spot and galloped over to the staircase. She took the stairs two at a time in her haste. Arriving on the second floor, she dashed over to the small bed where Spike snored drowsily.
"Spike, wake up!" Twilight yelled desperately as she shook the dragon.
"Wha- Aah! Zombies!" Spike cried out, flailing his arms wildly.
"No, Spike! There are no zombies! Listen! I need you to go to the town hall. Tell the mayor that Scootaloo is missing. Have her organize a search party."
"Oh, Twilight. I... Wait, what?"
Twilight raced back down the stairs, leaving her assistant behind, babbling in confusion. She barreled through the library's main room and out the front door, slamming it behind her. She was immediately enveloped by the cacophonous rumble of rain and thunder. Pushing her way through the wind, she trudged as quickly as she could in the direction of the forest, hoping beyond hope that she could find her friends before things got any worse...
TO BE CONTINUED...
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