Chapter OneBlood always looked black in the moonlight. It clung to the woman’s skin in dark patches, but not all of it was hers. She had put up one hell of a fight, just like a female Wolf protecting its pups. She wasn’t dead, despite her injuries. Her chest continued to rise and fall with each shallow breath she took. The gaping wound at her back was already beginning to heal, growling smaller with each second that ticked by. The Change was almost complete and once finished, she would be given a new name, and a chance at a new life with absolutely no memory of her past and what she had left behind. Such were the ways of the Wolf, the Rougarou.
He watched from the shadows, a protective guardian though he, himself, was gravely injured. The first Transformation from human to Wolf was always the most painful, the most traumatic. He didn't remember his own, but he shuddered all the same. It was the first time that bones snapped and reformed to accomidate the longer limbs and changes in the anatomical structure. Even now, in her partial transition, she was beautiful. He could feel the growing power of her Beast burning against his own in a golden flash. She had always been meant for this life, to be a Shifter. He had felt it the first moment he had laid eyes on her and yet, they had prevented him from fully enjoying the moment with her. Someday the truth would come out and what it did, he prayed that he was on her side when the fires of her rage burned all who were responsible.
5 years later...
White Mountains, New Hampshire
White Mountains, New Hampshire
She sat bolt up right in bed, a layer of cold sweat clinging to her skin, causing it o shimmer like gold beneath the sunlight streaming through the open window. Something gritty scraped against her bare legs. Tossing the sheet aside, her golden eyes shifted downward. A scream froze in her throat. Crawling up from the bottom edge of the bed was Basant’s severely burnt form.
“Gangrel.” His raspy voice taunted her as he crawled higher. Blackened, bony fingers gripped her thighs and she finally screamed, trying to break free from her dead Mate’s grasp.
“You belong to me and no one else." Those creepy looking fingers traced the bite mark along the inside of her right thigh before they started to climb higher.
Gangrel jerked awake, knocking the empty glass to the floor. It shattered, and with it, her nightmare of Basant fragmented. She had fallen asleep at the island counter of her kitchen. Again, an empty bottle of Absinthe sat beside her. Feeling like she got run over by a truck, she stood slowly and stretched, hoping the stiffness would ease after a hot shower. She moved carefully away from the broken glass and deposited the empty bottle into the recycling. She picked up the dust pan and swept up the shards of glass from the hard wood pine floor, bringing them over to dump into the trash can.
It had been five years to the day today that Basant had been killed. He had protected the Pack the night the hunters came for them. She had screamed at him to run, but the loud crack of the burning wood had stifled her words. No one had found his body. They had all assumed that the hunters had taken it with them as proof that their kind existed. No one had heard from him for those five years. Logic told her that he hadn't survived, but she still clung to shreds of hope. Being a Mated pair, if he was dead, wouldnt she have felt it? When she was alone, she felt empty, but she had to be strong for the Pack and would shove that emptiness aside to ensure she did what was best for her people. She would not be weak! This close to the full moon, Gangrel could feel her Beast pacing just beneath the surface, swirling in a golden flash of power. She was a very powerful Alpha, able to shift any part of her body at will. She could call on the Beast and force fatally injured Pack members to Shift in order to heal them. Though the Pack grieved with her, they could not be without a King, and five years was a long time. Wolves Mated for life, but there were situations where one would pick another Mate merely for the sake of Pack security. Though she didn not want to replace Basant, she knew that she may not have a choice. Tonight was the full moon and they would gather to decide a new King. If she did not choose, then the Pack would and she either had to accept the decision, or step down. The latter was not an option. She was the Queen and she knew that none of the other females were not strong enough. They were powerful, yes, but none of them had the abilities she did, none of them had the strength of will needed to lead their people.
Sighing softly, Gangrel replaced the dust pan and made her way to the cabins spacious bathroom. The cabin itself was set in the heart of a wooded ten acres. Various other cabins similar to hers were spread through that lot of land and housed the remaining members of the Pack. It was a safe place for them to run free and to be themselves. After the devastation that had claimed Basant and most of the Pack, she had moved them from the north to the south in hopes of starting fresh. So far everyone seemed to be adjusting to the transition.
She stripped off her clothes which had been nothing more than a pair of well worn black yoga pants and a white tank top, and turned the water of the shower on full and as hot as she could stand it. Stepping beneath the needling spray, she braced her hands against the cool tile and hung her head, letting the steaming water beat down on the back of her neck. Every time she closed her eyes at night, she could see Basant's face. It haunted her nearly every waking hour until she felt as if her heart had been ripped into thousands of pieces. She knew deep down that one of the Pack had betrayed them, but who? Why? Were they still alive, or had they perished in the fire that had claimed nearly half of their number? Had they followed them here to New Hampshire? Would they do the same again?
Tilting her head back, she let the water run over her face for a moment. There was a rolling heat that suddenly enveloped her. She had been so preoccupied with her thoughts that she hadn’t realized that someone had snuck up on her. They had been so silent that not even the shower curtain had made a whisper of a noise. The second she became aware, reality snapped into focus and Gangrel whipped around, a low feral growl rising up from deep within her chest. Before she could move to attack, she found herself pinned against the water slick tile, both of her arms held at the wrists by her head. The man in the shower, standing in front of her, she did not recognize, though he seemed very oddly familiar. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the naked torso that was eye level. Smooth, taunt, sun kissed skin greeted her vision. He was lean, but powerfully built, and nearly covered in tattoos. She didn’t dare let her gaze travel lower, lest she find that the lower half was just as naked as the upper half.
“What the fuck?!" Gangrel finally managed to snarl. He leaned closer, letting go of her right wrist. His fingertips touched the inside of her right knee and trailed upwards slowly. He took his time, moving his palm an inch at a time across her smooth skin until it came in contact with the bite mark marring her flesh. It was the mark of a claimed Mate and one that she had never had the heart to cut from her skin when Basant had died.
“You are mine. The mark you carry is not Basant's, it is mine. Remember that." Came his growling, husky voice a mere inch from her ear. His eyes met hers for a split second and they were the same golden amber that all Rougarou possessed. His face was unfamiliar to her and yet there was something about him that a part of her recognized, but what? Had she met him before? She couldnt remember ever having met him and with looks like that, she would have.
Long, dark hair was slicked back away from his face by the water, so she couldnt really gauge its length. His skin was just as sun kissed as her own, perhaps a shade or two darker. Dark brows were perfect slashes over those startling eyes that seemed sensual and seductive in their shape. His strong jaw was clean shaved. He gave her a smug, half smirk before he suddenly vanished, moving just as quickly and as silently as he had entered the bathroom.
“Gangrel?” Sparrow’s voice from beyond the door shattered her stillness.
It took her a moment to get her breath back and she was surprised to find that her voice sounded somewhat normal.
“In the bathroom, Sparrow. Make yourself at home. Ill be out in a minute." She reached down to grab her shampoo when she noticed that there was a necklace hanging onto the neck of the bottle. It appeared to be made from silver, but it looked far more expensive than that. Platinum perhaps. She reached out carefully and picked it up by the thin black leather cord it was attached to. It was a small crescent moon pendant. The center of the moon was made from a rare yellow diamond. Had that strange man left it behind? Gangrel felt a strong urge to wear it, though she wasnt entirely sure why. It was almost as if that pendant called to her. Reaching up, she fastened the necklace around her neck and it nestled comfortably at the hollow of her throat.
Quickly, she finished the task of cleaning up and stepped out of the steamy shower, wrapping herself in a large, clean fluffy towel. Most Rougarou’s weren’t modest. They were familiar and comfortable with nudity, but to show respect for Sparrow, Gangrel decided not to just pad out into the living room naked. She tucked the towel securely under each arm before opening the door.
“I'm sorry I kept you waiting, Sparrow." She said, finally catching a glimpse of the other woman sitting at her island counter nursing a mug of a fragrant herbal tea.
“I got you one as well. I figured you could use it." Sparrow said softly, indicating to the steaming mug beside her. There seemed to be a knowing smile that ghosted her lips. Did the other woman know of her strange visitor? Could she smell his scent?
“Let me get dressed and I'll join you."
“Of course, my dear."
Gangrel turned on her heel and padded into the master bedroom. Rummaging through her drawers, she pulled out a pair of skin tight black leggings and a large black sweater that hung off of one shoulder. She quickly pulled them on, securing her mass of black hair back into a single braid that she let trail casually over her bared left shoulder. After dressing, she moved back into the kitchen and sat in the empty stool beside Sparrow.
“You look like hell, Gangrel."
She snorted softly.
“Gee, thanks, Sparrow."
The older Wolf patted her arm.
She felt the other womans golden gaze assessing her.
" Are you ready for tonight?"
Gangrel was silent for a moment.
“Not really. I know it must be done, but.." She trailed off and they both knew, without words, exactly what she wanted to say.
“We all miss him dearly. For the short time he was with us, he was a good King and an even better man. I know you show such strength with the rest of the Pack, sweetheart, but I know how much your heart is breaking, even after all this time."
If there was anyone among the Pack that knew of her pain, it was Sparrow. The Healer had lost her own Mate, Ithal, during the great blaze.
“I don’t know how you continue with such emptiness.”
The Healer offered a sad smile.
“I take it one day at a time. You will always remember him. He will always live in your heart, but the pain and emptiness of his loss will fade with more time. You never had the proper time to grieve for him. You jumped right into leading this Pack."
“I know you're right, but theres a part of me that is terrified that I will loose all memory of him."
“I was terrified of the same thing, but I still remember Ithal. Their memories are what keeps them alive in our hearts and in our dreams."
They both took a sip of their tea, sharing a moment of silence for their fallen Mates.
“So, there is a new Wolf here tonight that came strictly for the Gathering. Rumor is that he brought his small Pack with him with the hopes of a merger." Sparrow said, finally breaking their moment of silence.
“Who allowed him to bring the rest of his Pack without my express permission?"
The Healer grinned and there was something wickedly sly in her expression.
“That would have been Mae."
Gangrel sighed softly. Mae was one of the women that had been striving for Basants affection in order to become Queen. She had been pissed when he completely bypassed her and since then, she had been acting out. Oh, it was never anything major. It was always minor things that she usually manipulated the rest of the Pack into believing was the right decision and though Gangrel punished her for her minor infractions, it didnt seem to deter the other Wolf from doing them again.
“She is really testing my patience.” She finally admitted and her words came out like a hiss through clenched teeth.
“I think that is her goal."
“It is not limitless, Sparrow."
The older woman laughed softly, patting her forearm gently.
“I know that, my dear, but you need to show Mae that."
“Yeah, I think a public display of her in subornation will prove my point."
Sparrow arched a single white-blond brow.
“What do you have in mind?"
The Gathering was being held in a large clearing a few miles north of the safety of the cabins. The clearing had been man made, formed into a circle by the cutting of several large trees. In the center of the clearing were two thrones that were made from stone. It seemed to be a natural formation, carved out by the elements. Directly to the right of the chairs, was a large stone slab that was used for members of the Pack to stand and voice their concerns or accusations. To the left, was the group of visiting Wolves. Sparrow had been right, they were small in number, no more than ten, divided evenly between men and women. Gangrel sat in the very throne that had belonged to Basant. It was customary for the Queen to take its position if her King had fallen in battle. It meant that she stood not just as Queen, but also as King and would die to protect her people. The Healer stood to her right, dressed nearly from head to toe in white. Her long white-blond hair trailed down her back, kicking up with the gentle tug of the nights breeze. Gangrel still wore the black leggings and sweater from earlier, but she had tugged on knee high black leather boots to cover her otherwise bare feet.
“The first order of business on this night would be to address an issue that has long since caused distress among the Pack." Sparrow stated loudly enough for their own thirty-something members to hear over the cacophony of the bayou. "Mae Winterbourne, would you step forward and face your Pack."
A statuesque red head shifted gracefully away from the crowd. Long, waist length, wavy, red hair swayed with her graceful movements. She sauntered up onto the rock platform, wearing a pair of faded cut off jeans and a white tank top. Unlike Gangrel, her feet were bare.
“You stand accused of inviting unknown Rougarou into the safety of your Pack without the Queens direct knowledge. How do you plead?"
Surprised widened her green eyes for a brief moment before it vanished and faded into a blank expression.
“I had attempted to contact Gangrel with the request, its not my fault if she-"
“Enough." Came the Queens command loud enough to echo through the trees. She stood with more grace that Mae could have ever hoped to possess. "This is not the first time you have pulled a stunt like this, Mae. You have disobeyed my direct orders. I made it law for any requests from outside Rougarou to be brought to my attention. You failed to do so. Whether it was a personal grudge, or a lapse in your memory, it doesnt matter."
“You disobeyed me!" Without warning, she crossed the distance between her and the platform so swiftly that no one had been able to track her movements. She was just suddenly standing before Mae, her lips pulled back from her teeth in a snarl of anger. Her eyes flashed bright gold and her power lashed out around the two of them, forming a whirlwind of a burning, golden halo. Surprisingly, the red headed Wolf had the decency to cower back.
“Will the King of the visiting Pack step forward." Sparrow announced, watching Gangrel out of the corner of her eye. She relaxed when the Queen stepped away to face the man who had stepped forward.
When her golden gaze latched onto the strange King, her breath hitched in her throat. It was the same man that she had thought she had seen in the shower with her earlier.
“My name is Daven, my Queen." His voice was just as husky as she remembered it and it shot a bolt of white hot lightning through her veins the moment she heard it. The sexy Irish accent that echoed with his words made her mouth run dry.
“As a transgression for law being broken by one of my Pack, I offer my sincere apologies and hope that you and yours will join us for as long as you would like. You are welcome to hunt as long as it is within the boundaries of our territory." Gangrel said, surprised that her voice still sounded steady. Her eyes met Daven's and she saw a flash of that smug smile before he bowed his head.
“Thank you, my Queen."
She held up a hand and offered a small smile in return to his words.
“Call me Gangrel, please."
Her gaze drifted down, taking in his appearance for a moment. He seemed quite capable of taking care of what was left of his Pack. Her eyes latched onto the hollow of his throat were a familiar pendant rested. It was the same one that she now wore. What on earth was going on? Her gaze snapped up and met his again. Now was not the time to address the questions that were burning to be spoken. Instead, she gesture towards Mae with her hand.
“Due to this particular transgression, it is within your right to judge Mae for her crimes. How do you find her?”
Daven turned his gaze towards the red head, but immediately felt it being pulled back towards Gangrel. By the Moon she was beautiful, stunning. No, breath taking. Though she was petite in stature, perhaps no taller than five foot one, what she lacked in height she made up for in her commanding presence alone. He had heard rumors of what it was like to have a true Queen, but he had thought them false. Now, looking at her with her head held high, he knew he had been wrong. Her long, wild black hair was pulled into a loose braid that trailed across her left shoulder, laid bare by the neck of the black sweater. It hung loosely until it hit the curve of her hips were it fit snug and seemed to blend in smoothly with the tight black leggings. This woman was all curves and taunt muscle and he knew immediately that she was a capable warrior. Nearly an unheard of trait among Queens these days. He remembered very well what she looked like under those clothes. He had not meant to sneak into her cabin and into her shower, but she had called to him on a level that no one else ever had. He had no idea what he was doing until he had her pinned against the shower wall, his rough hand sliding up the bare flesh of her right thigh where the mark rested.
“Guilty." Came his reply, simple and matter-of-fact.
“And the punishment?"
The smile that curved the corners of his lips was one of menace and Gangrel found her heart leaping in her chest.
“Humiliation by the Pack."
“You can’t do this!” Mae protested as two of the Enforcers, Ido and Arwin each grabbed one of her arms.
“Oh, but I can. Your Queen has given me permission." Daven replied, turning his gaze back towards Gangrel. The smile that she was trying to hide was evident in her eyes and he found his breath nearly expelling from his lungs in a painful rush. From what he understood, it was rare these days for her to smile. Perhaps that was something he would have to fix.
Humiliation by the Pack was not a punishment they did often, but it usually had a lasting affect. The Pack, in their Beast form, would line up, each taking turns to nip at the accused as they slowly walked by. Enough blood would be shed to leave them weak.
Gangrel nodded once to Sparrow.
“Let the punishment begin.” The Healer announced.
Sparrow had left with Ido and Arwin to bring Mae back to her cabin. The Enforcers would remain behind to keep their eye on the red headed Wolf who was currently uncouncious. The Pack was chatting among themselves while they waited for the Healers return before they continued with the Gathering. Gangrel watched them from the throne, her eyes constantly drifting back to Daven. He moved among each Rougarou, sharing small talk as he got to know the Pack. His presence seemed to dwarf them, but it wasnt menacing. It seemed almost comforting as if he was bonding with them. It had happened to her when she had first become Queen. Had the Pack subcounciously already picked him as their next King?
Her attention shifted when Mykael stepped beside her. He was her Second in Command and one of her guards. The large, six foot four Native American Wolf tended to intimidate quite a few people, but Gangrel knew him to be a giant teddy bear.
“What is it, Mykael?" She asked, noticing the slightl frown crinkling his brow.
“I don’t trust him.” He stated, folding his massive arms across his chest. He wore no shirt, but a beaded arm band with a single black feather rested along his right bicep.
“That’s not surprising considering that you don’t really know him.”
He snorted in lieu of laughter.
“Ever the comedian, Gangrel."
She chuckled softly.
“I do try."
“Do us both a favor and don’t quit your day job.”
“Bite me, mongrel."
“Don't offer unless you mean it."
They often bantered like this, like children or perhaps brother and sister. There was no one else she trusted more than she did him, except for perhaps Sparrow.
“What have you heard?” She asked, turning the conversation into a more serious topic.
“Nothing, really. From what intel I have been able to gather, his story is legit."
Gangel smiled slightly, turning her gaze back towards the Pack.
“Then let it run its course."
He sighed softly.
“As you wish, but I will keep my eye on him."
“Of course you will. You wouldn't be you if you didn't."
Her gaze locked onto Daven and she noticed he was watching her. How long had he been staring? She felt her heart leap when he threaded his way among the Wolves and moved towards her with the lethal grace of a dangerous predator. He kept his presence from being intimidating as he approached the throne, but she felt Mykael shift uneasily anyway. With a simple wave of her hand, she dismissed her Second and with a snort, he dropped back to stand behind her.
“I wanted to personally thank you for welcoming us into your territory. Not everyone would have done so. Some would have simply turned us away, or killed us.” He said softly, his expression serious.
“Neither option would have been beneficial. We are only thirty in number. The second smallest among the Packs. We lost a great deal in the fire fifteen years ago, including most of our people. I am trying to do what I can to make sure we are all safe. There is no reason why we shouldn’t ban together, be allies.” She replied, her gaze drifting over his face. Yes, he looked almost identical to the actor Jason Momoa, though there were a few subtle differences. His hair was darker, thicker and now that it was dry, she noticed it was shaved on both sides, leaving a wide strip along the center. It was an old warrior style that the men in the Packs used to use centuries ago. It appeared as though he simply ran his fingers through it rather than a brush. There were faint streaks of grey that littered his hair. His brows were darker, arching over eyes that seemed to smoulder with sensuality as their golden color blazed to life when his Beast came to the surface. She could sense him sniffing her, taking in her scent as if it was his drug of choice.
Daven felt her Beast responding to his like a well oiled machine. Their powers flared, slamming together in a near perfect melding of golden energy. God she was so powerful. He felt her surround him with her golden light, reaching into his very soul, his heart in order to seek what it was that he wanted most.
Family. Home. Safety.
Those were the words that had her pulling her power back abruptly and it wrenched a gasp from both of them.
“I'm sorry." She said softly, her fingers digging into the arms of her stone chair. Her knuckles were white with the effort she exerted not to just simply jump into his arms. Gangrel took a deep breath, centering her Beast and clamping tightly down on her power.
“Its alright. I would have done the same had the situation been reversed." He replied, swaying a bit on his feet, but managing to stay upright. Point for him. By the Moon, she was so damn powerful. More than he remembered.
“No matter the outcome of the Gathering tonight, you and I need to talk. Perhaps we can come to an arrangement to merge our two Packs.”
He smiled and bowed his head.
“I would like that."
Mother Moon help her. She wanted him. She felt the scorch of desire flooding her veins. What was it about him that affected her so deeply? It took all of her strength, her will to look away and not go to him. Her gaze sought out Sparrow who stood at the edge of the clearing, wearing a knowing smile.
Jesus God, she had to get out of here. Daven's scent alone was driving her crazy. Not even Basant had affected her like this. Gangrel dug her fingers into the stone beneath her arms in a physical attempt to ward off her warring emotions.
“Let the Gathering begin." Sparrow announced the moment she took her position next to the throne.
The night felt alive with power, it's energy practically vibrating along her skin. She stood in the center of her Pack, opposite of Daven. They were in the center of a large circle, having a near test of wills, a battle of their power as it crackled between them. It was similiar to what had happened earlier only much more intense. She could feel that same burning desire ache through her body, searing every nerve ending that stood in it's way. If she didn't break the metaphysical link soon, she was going to jump the man in the middle of the Gathering. How unprofessional would that appear? Slowly, and taking a deep breath, Gangrel was about to reel her power in when she suddenly felt the absence, the loss of his. Daven had pulled his Beast back first.
"My apologies, Gangrel. I do not think it would have been wise to continue." His accented voice was even huskier than normal and in that moment, she knew that she wasn't the only one who felt it. The connection, the sheer power the two of them could raise.
She cleared her throat carefully and nodded once.
"I would agree."
There were faint whispers among the Pack, murmurs that perhaps they had finally found a replacement for Basant.
"There is no need to continue any further, Sparrow. My decision has been made."
The whispering died down and the Wolves lingered in the silence waiting for their Queen's words.
"Daven, you have been chosen as the next challenger for King. The next full moon will be the battle to decide who takes over the Pack as King. I wish you the best of luck."
An hour later, a very aggitated Mykael stormed into the cabin behind Gangrel. His towering presence would intimidate most people, but she simply ignored him as one would ignore a child throwing a temper tantrum.
"I know that you are Queen, Gangrel and you know that I normally respect your decisions, but choosing a stranger as Challenger may not have been the wisest choice." Her Second practically whined, folding his impressive arms over an even more impressive chest.
She turned slowly, her golden gaze burning with her growing anger. She pinned their intensity on her Second until he practically squirmed where he stood.
"Being the Queen of this Pack gives me the authority to decide whom stands as Challenger and who does not. You are only a Challenger because you are powerful enough to hold the position. You earned your status, yes, but so did Daven. He is very powerful, Mykael. More than he dared show anyone. I have seen into the core of his abilities and his soul. He is a good man and a good Wolf. The battle for King is a fair one. Don't act so butt hurt because a stranger appeared on our doorstep and you feel threatened."
She watched his jaw clench at he words. His anger swirled outward and she felt her own rising in response. If he wanted a pissing contest, he was going to lose. Gangrel continued to stare at him with that piercing glare. Finally, he bowed his head.
"Your word is Law, my Queen,"
For now. Though he did not speak the words out loud, they passed unspoken between them.
When Mykael left and her house had grown silent, she sat down at the island counter in her kitchen and poured herself a shot glass filled with straight Absinthe. Normally one would prepare it properly with sugar and water, but it wasn't as strong as drinking it straight. Before she could bring the glass to her lips, however, a strong hand on her wrist stopped her. She glanced up and into the burning gold eyes of Daven.
"This is the second time you snuck up on me. I really hope you don't intend to make it a habit." She said softly, her skin nearly burning where he touched her.
"I knocked but I don"t think you heard me since Mykael is lound enough to rouse the dead." He replied just as softly, his gaze roaming back and forth over her face, almost as if he was trying to make sure what he saw was real, or he was committing it to memory.
"You heard that, huh?"
A smile tugged at a single corner of that sinful mouth and he nodded once.
"I am quite sure the next town over heard him clear as day."
She snorted faintly, watching as Aurin lowered her hand back down to the counter.
"Absinthe is not the answer to your pain, Gangrel."
She gave him a partially weak, saddened smile.
"Deep down, I know that. I do, but sometimes, I just want to forget. Sometimes I don't want to feel anything at all."
He let go of her hand and took the glass from her, pouring it down the sink drain. He leaned against the countertop, letting his forearms rest against the black marble.
"Trust me, I know the feeling. You are a strong woman, Gangrel, but you carry a very large burden on your shoulders. You look out for everyone else when you should be concentrating on looking out for yourself."
She ran the palms of her hands over her face, sighing softly.
"There are way too many who count on me. I do not have the time to look out for myself."
"I know and that is why I am hoping to be the winner of the Challenger Battle. Even if to simply take some of that weight off of your shoulders so you can have time to look out for yourself."
Her gaze drifted over his face momentarily, gauging the sincerity of his words.
"Why did you sneak up on me earlier? You said that my Mark was created by you and not by Basant. What did you mean by that?"
Joined : 2013-11-21
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