The Dark Elf Trilogy: Homeland

Chapter 24 To Know Our Enemies


Part 5??Zaknafein

Zaknafein Do'Urden: mentol; teachel; friend. I, in the blind agony of my own frustrations, more than once came to recognize Zaknafein as none of these. Did I ask of him more than he could give? Did I expect perfection of a tor-mented soul; hold Zaknafein up to standards beyond his ex-periences, or standards impossible in the face of his experiences?

I might have been him. I might have lived, trapped within the helpless rage, buried under the daily assault of the wick-edness that is Menzoberranzan and the pervading evil that is my own family; never in life to find escape.

It seems a logical assumption that we learn from the mis-takes of our elders. This, I believe, was my salvation. With-out the example of Zaknafein, I, too, would have found no escape-not in life.

Is this course I have chosen a better way than the life Zaknafein knew? I think, yes, though I find despair often enough sometimes to long for that other way. It would have been easie~ Jruth, though, is nothing in the face of self-falsehood, and principles are of no value if the idealist can-not live up to his own standards.

This, then, is a better way.

I live with many laments, for my people, for myself, but mostly for that weapon mastel; lost to me now, who showed me how-and why-to use a blade.

There is no pain greater than this; not the cut of a jagged-edged dagger nor the fire of a dragon's breath. Nothing burns in your heart like the emptiness of losing something, someone, before you truly have learned of its value. Often now I lift my cup in a futile toast, an apology to ears that cannot hear:

To Zak, the one who inspired my courage.

Chapter 24 To Know Our Enemies

"Eight drow dead, and one a cleric" Briza said to Matron Malice on the balcony of House Do'Urden. Briza had rushed back to the compound with the first reports of the encoun-ter, leaving her sisters at the central plaza of Menzoberran-zan with the gathered throng, awaiting further information. "But nearly two score of the gnomes died, a clear victory?'

"What of your brothers?" asked Malice. "How did House Do'Urden fare in this encounter?"

"As with the surface elves, Dinin's hand slew five" replied Briza. "They say that he led the main assault fearlessly, and he killed the most gnomes?'

Matron Malice beamed with the news, though she sus-pected that Briza, standing patiently behind a smug smile, was holding something dramatic back from her. "What of Drizzt?" the matron demanded, having no patience for her daughter's games. "How many svirfnebli fell at his feet?"

"None" Briza replied, but still the smile remained. "Still the day belonged to Drizztl" she added quickly, seeing an an-gry scowl spreading across her volatile mother's face. Mal-ice did not seem amused.

"Drizzt defeated an earth elemental" Briza cried, "all alone, almost, with only minor help from a wizard! The high priestess of the patrol named the kill his!" Matron Malice gasped and turned away. Drizzt had ever been an enigma to her, as fine with the blade as any but lack-ing the proper attitude and the proper respect. Now this: an earth elemental! Malice herself had seen such a monster ravage an entire drow raiding party, killing a dozen sea-soned warriors before wandering off on its way. Yet her son, her confusing son, had defeated one single-handedly!

"Uoth will favor us this day" Briza commented, not quite understanding her mother's reaction.

Briza's words struck an idea in Malice. "Gather your sisters" she commanded. "We shall meet in the chapel. If House Do'Urden so fully won the day out in the tunnels, perhaps the Spider Queen will grace us with some information"

"Vierna and Maya await the forthcoming news in the city plaza" Briza explained, mistakenly believing her mother to be referring to information about the battle. "Surely we will know the entire story within an hour"

"I care nothing for a battle against gnomes!" Malice scolded. "You have told everything that is important to our family; the rest does not matter. We must parlay your brothers' heroics into gain"

To learn of our enemies!" Briza blurted as she realized what her mother had in mind.

"Exactly" replied Malice. "'lb learn which house it is that threatens House Do'Urden. If the Spider Queen truly finds favor with us this day, she may grace us with the knowledge we need to defeat our enemies!"

A short while later, the four high priestesses of House Do'Urden gathered around the spider idol in the chapel an-teroom. Before them, in a bowl of the deepest onyx, burned the sacred incense-sweet, deathlike, and favored by the yochlol, the handmaidens of Lloth.

The flame moved through a variety of colors, from orange to green to brilliant red. It then took shape, heard the beckons of the four priestesses and the urgency in the voice of Matron Malice. The top of the fire, no longer dancing, smoothed and rounded, assumed the form of a hairless head, then stretched upward, growing. The flame disap-peared, consumed by the yochlol's image, a half.melted pile of wax with grotesquely elongated eyes and a drooping mouth.

"Who has summoned me?" the small figure demanded tel. epathically. The yochlol's thoughts, too powerful for its di-minutive stature, boomed within the heads of the gathered drow.

"I have, handmaiden" Malice replied aloud, wanting her daughters to hear. The matron bowed her head. "I am Mal-ice, loyal servant of the Spider Queen" In a puff of smoke, the yochlol disappeared, leaving only glowing incense embers in the onyx bowl. A moment later, the handmaiden reappeared, full size, standing behind Ma-tron Malice. Briza, Vierna, and Maya held their breath as the being laid two sickly tentacles on their mother's shoul-ders.

Matron Malice accepted the tentacles without reply, con-fident in her cause for summoning the yochlol.

"Explain to me why you dare to disturb me" came the yochlol's insidious thoughts.

"To ask a simple question" Malice replied silently, for no words were necessary to communicate with a handmaiden.

"One whose answer you know"

"Does this question interest you so greatly?" the yochlol asked. "You risk such dire consequences"

"It is imperative that I learn the answer" replied Matron Malice. Her three daughters watched curiously, hearing the yochlol's thoughts but only guessing at their mother's un-spoken replies.

"If the answer is so important, and it is known to the handmaidens, and thus to the Spider Queen, do you not be-lieve that Lloth would have given it to you if she so chose?"

"Perhaps, before this day, the Spider Queen did not deem me worthy to know" Malice responded. "Things have changed"

The handmaiden paused and rolled its elongated eyes back into its head as if communicating with some distant plane.

"Greetings, Matron Malice Do'Urden" the yochlol said aloud after a few tense moments. The creature's spoken voice was calm and overly smooth for the thing's grotesque appearance.

"My greetings to you, and to your mistress, Queen of Spi. ders" replied Malice. She shot a wry smile at her daughters and still didn't turn to face the creature behind her. Appar. ently Malice's guess of Lloth's favor had been correct.

"Daermon N'a'shezbaernon has pleased Lloth" the hand. maiden said. "The males of your house have won the day, even above the females that journeyed with them. I must ac-cept Matron Malice Do'Urden's summons" The tentacles slid off Malice's shoulders, and the yochlol stood rigid be. hind her, awaiting her commands.

"Glad I am to please the Spider Queen" Malice began. She sought the proper way to phrase her question. "For the summons, as I have said, I beg only the answer to a simple question"

" Ask it" prompted the yochlol, and the mocking tone told Malice and her daughters that the monster already knew the question.

"My house is threatened, say the rumors" said Malice.

"Rumors?" The yochlollaughed an evil, grating sound. "I trust in my sources" Malice replied defensively.

would not have called upon you if I did not believe tpe threat"

"Continue" said the yochlol, amused by the whole affair. "They are more than rumors, Matron Malice Do'Urden. An. other house plans war upon you" ,

Maya's immature gasp brought scornful eyes upon her from her mother and her sisters.

"Name this house to me" Malice pleaded. "If Daermon N'a'shezbaernon truly has pleased the Spider Queen this day, then I bid Lloth to reveal our enemies, that we might destroy them!"

And if this other house also has pleased the Spider Queen?" the handmaiden mused. "Would Lloth then betray it to you?"

"Our enemies hold every advantage" Malice protested.

"They know of House Do'Urden. No doubt they watch us every day, laying their plans. We ask Lloth Qnly to give us knowledge equal to that of our enemies. Reveal them and let us prove which house is more worthy of victory"

"What if your enemies are greater than you?" asked the handmaiden. "Would Matron Malice Do'Urden then call upon Lloth to intervene and save her pitiful house?"

"No!" cried Malice. "We would call upon those powers that Uoth has given us to fight our foes. Even if our enemies are the more powerful, let Lloth be assured that they will suffer great pain for their attack on House Do'Urden!"

Again the handmaiden sank back within itself, finding the link to its home plane, a place darker than Menzoberran-zan. Malice clenched tightly to Briza's hand, to her right, and Vierna's, to her left. They in turn passed along the con-firmation of their bond to Maya, at the foot of the circle.

"The Spider Queen is pleased, Matron Malice Do'Urden" the handmaiden said at length. "'ll'Ust that she will favor House Do'Urden more than your enemies when battle rings out-perhaps. . . " Malice flinched at the ambiguity of that final word, grudgingly accepting that Lloth never made any promises, at any time.

"What of my question" Malice dared to protest, "the rea-, " son for the summons?"

There came a bright flash that stole the four clerics' vi-sion. When their eyesight returned to them, they saw the yochlol, tiny again, and glaring out at them from the flames of the onyx bowl.

"The Spider Queen does not give an answer that is already known!" The handmaiden proclaimed, the sheer power of its otherworldly voice cutting into the drow ears. The fire erupted in another blinding flash, and the yochlol disap-peared, leaving the precious bowl sundered into a dozen pieces.

Matron Malice grabbed a large piece of the shattered onyx and threw it against a wall. "Already known?" she cried in rage. "Known to whom? Who in my family keeps this secret from me?"

"Perhaps the one who knows does not know that she

knows" Briza put in, trying to calm her mother. "Or perhaps the information is newly found, and she has not yet had the chance to come to you with it"

"She?" growled Matron Malice. "What 'she' do you speak of, Briza? We are all here. Are any of my daughters stupid enough to miss such an obvious threat to our family?"

"No, Matron!" Vierna and Maya cried together, terrified of Malice's growing wrath, rising beyond control.

"Never have I seen any sign!" said Vierna.

"Nor I!" added Maya. "By your side I have been these many weeks, and I have seen no more than you!"

" Are you implying that I have missed something?" Malice growled, her knuckles white at her sides.

"No, Matron!" Briza shouted above the commotion, loud enough to settle her mother for the moment and turn Mal. ice's attention fully upon her eldest daughter.

"Not she, then" Briza reasoned. "He. One of your sons may have the answer, or Zaknafein or Rizzen, perhaps"

"Yes" agreed Vierna. "They are only males, too stupid to understand the importance of minor details"

"Drizzt and Dinin have been out of the house" added Briza, "out of the city. In their patrol group are children of every powerful house, every house that would dare to threaten us!"

The fires in Malice's eyes glowed, but she relaxed at the reasoning. "Bring them to me when they return to Menzo-berranzan" she instructed Vierna and Maya. "You" she said to Briza, "bring Rizzen and Zaknafein. All the family must be present, so that we may learn what we may learn!"

"The cousins, and the soldiers, too?" asked Briza. "Perhaps one beyond the immediate family knows the answer"

"Should we bring them together, as well?" offered Vierna, her voice edged with the rising excitement of the moment.

"A gathering of the whole clan, a general war party of House Do'Urden?"

"No" Malice replied, "not the soldiers or the cousins. I do not believe they are involved in this; the handmaiden would have told us the answer if one of my direct family did not know it. It is my embarrassment to ask a question whose an. swer should be known to me, whose answer someone within the circle of my family knows" She gritted her teeth as she spat out the rest of her thoughts.

"I do not enjoy being embarrassed!"

Drizzt and Dinin came into the house a short while later, exhausted and glad the adventure was over. They had barely passed the entrance and turned down the wide cor-ridor that led to their rooms when they bumped into Zakna-fein, coming the other way.

"So the hero has returned" Zak remarked, eyeing Drizzt directly. Drizzt did not miss the sarcasm in his voice.

"We've completed our job-successfully" Dinin shot back, more than a little perturbed at being excluded from Zak's greeting. "I led-"

"I know of the battle" Zak assured him. "It has been endlessly recounted throughout the city. Now leave us, Elderboy. I have unfinished business with your brother"

"I leave when I choose to leave!" DiDin growled.

Zak snapped a glare upon him. "I wish to speak to Drizzt, only to Drizzt, so leave"

DiDin's hand went to his sword hilt, not a smart move. Be-fore he even moved the weapon hilt an inch from the scab-bard, Zak had slapped him twice in the face with one hand.

The other had somehow produced a dagger and put its tip at DiDin's throat.

Drizzt watched in amazement, certain that Zak would kill DiDin if this continued.

"Leave" Zak said again, "on your life"

DiDin threw his hands up and slowly backed away. "Ma-tron Malice will hear of this!" he warned.

"I will tell her myself" Zak laughed at him. "Do you think she will trouble herself on your behalf, fool? As far as Matron Malice cares, the family males determine their own hierarchy. Go away, Elderboy. Come back when you have found the courage to challenge me"

"Come with me, brother" DiDin said to Drizzt.

"We have business" Zak reminded Drizzt.

Drizzt looked to both of them, once and back again, stunned by their open willingness to kill each other. "I will stay" he decided. "I do indeed have unfinished business with the weapon master"

"As you choose, hero" Dinin spat, and he turned on his heel and stormed away.

"You have made an enemy" Drizzt remarked to Zak.

"I have made many" Zak laughed, "and I will make many more before my day ends! But no mind. Your actions have inspired jealousy in your brother-your older brother. You are the one who should be wary"

"He hates you openly" reasoned Drizzt.

"But would gain nothing from my death" Zak replied. "I am no threat to Dinin, but you. . . " He let the word hang in the air.

"Why would I threaten him?" Drizzt protested. "Dinin has nothing I desire"

"He has power" Zak explained. "He is the elderboy now but was not always"

"He killed Nalfein, the brother I never met"

"You know of this?" said Zak. "Perhaps Dinin suspects that another secondboy will follow the same course he took to become the elderboy of House Do'Urden"

"Enough" Drizzt growled, tired of the whole stupid sys-tem of ascension. How well you know it, Zaknafein, he thought. How many did you murder to attain your position?

"An earth elemental" Zak said, blowing a low whistle with the words. "It is a powerful foe that you defeated this day" He bowed low, showing Drizzt mockery beyond any doubt.

"What is next for the young hero? A daemon, perhaps? A demigod? Surely there is nothing that can-"

"Never have I heard such senseless words stream from your mouth" Drizzt retorted. Now it was time for some sar-casm of his own. "Is it that I have inspired jealousy in an-other besides my brother?"

"Jealousy?" Zak cried. "Wipe your nose, sniveling little boy! A dozen earth elementals have fallen to my blade!

Daemons, too! Do not overestimate your deeds or your abili-ties. You are one warrior among a race of warriors. I for-get that surely will prove fatal" He ended the line with pointed emphasis, almost in a sneer, and Drizzt began to consider again just how real their appointed "practice" in the gym would become.

"I know my abilities" Drizzt replied, "and my limitations. I have learned to survive"

"As have I" Zak shot back, "for so many centuries!"

"The gym awaits" Drizzt said calmly.

"Your mother awaits" Zak corrected. "She bids us all to the chapel. Fear not, though. There will be time for our meeting"

Drizzt walked past Zak without another word, suspecting that his and Zak's blades would finish the conversation for them. What had become of Zaknafein? Drizzt wondered.

Was this the same teacher who had trained him those years before the Academy? Drizzt could not sort through his feel-ings. Was he seeing Zak differently because of the things he had learned of Zak's exploits, or was there truly something different, something harder, about the weapon master's de-meanor since Drizzt had returned from the Academy?

The sound of a whip brought Drizzt from his contempla-tions.

"I am your patron!" he heard Rizzen say.

"That's of no consequence!" retorted a female voice, the voice of Briza. Drizzt slipped to the corner of the next inter-section and peeked around. Briza and Rizzen faced off, Rizzen unarmed, but Briza holding her snake-headed whip.

"Patron" Briza laughed, "a meaningless title. You are a male lending your seed to the matron and of no more importance"

"Four I have sired" Rizzen said indignantly.

"Three!" Briza corrected, snapping the whip to accentu-ate the point. "Viema is Zaknafein's, not yours! Nalfein is dead, leaving only two. One of those is female and above you. Only Dimn is truly under your rank!"

Drizzt sank back against the wall and looked behind him to the empty corridor he had just walked. He had always suspected that Rizzen was not his true father. The male had never paid him any mind, had never scolded him or praised him or offered to him any advice or training. 1b hear Briza say it, though, . .. and Rizzen not deny it!

Rizzen fumbled about for some retort to Briza's stinging words. "Does Matron Malice know of your desires?" he snarled. "Does she know that her eldest daughter seeks her title?"

"Every eldest daughter seeks the title of matron mother" Briza laughed at him. "Matron Malice would be a fool to sus-pect otherwise. I assure you that she is not, nor am I. I will get the title from her when she is weak with age. She knows and accepts this as fact?'

"You admit that you will kill her?"

"If not I, then Vierna. If not Vierna, then Maya. It is our way, stupid male. It is the word of Lloth?' Rage burned in Drizzt as he heard the evil proclamations, but he remained silent at the corner.

"Briza will not wait for age to steal her mother's power" Rizzen snarled, "not when a dagger will expedite the trans-fer. Briza hungers for the throne of the house!"

Rizzen's next words came out as an indecipherable scream as the six-headed whip went to work again and again.

Drizzt wanted to intervene, to rush out and cut them both down, but, of course, he could not. Briza acted now as she had been taught, followed the words of the Spider Queen in asserting her dominance over Rizzen. She wouldn't kill him, Drizzt knew.

But what if Briza got carried away in the frenzy? What if she did kill Rizzen? In the empty void that was beginning to grow in his heart, Drizzt wondered if he even cared.

"You let him escape'" Matron SiNafay roared at her son.

"You will learn not to disappoint me'"

"No, my matron!" Masoi protested. "I hit him squarely with a lightning bolt. He never even suspected the blow to be aimed at him! 1 could not finish the deed; the monster had me caught in the gate to its own plane!"

SiNafay bit her lip, forced to accept her son's reasoning.

She knew that she had given Masoj a difficult mission.

Drizzt was a powerful foe, and to kill him without leaving an obvious trail would not be easy.

"I will get him" Masoj promised, determination showing on his face "I have the weapon readied; Drizzt will be dead before the tenth cycle, as you commanded"

"Why should I grant you another chance?" SiNafay asked him. "Why should I believe that you will fare better the next time you try?"

"Because I want him dead!" Masoj cried. "More than even you, my matron. I want to tear the life from Drizzt Do'Ur-den! When he is dead, want to rip out his heart and display it as a trophy!"

SiNafay could not deny her son's obsession. "Granted" she said. "Get him, Masoj Hun'ett. On your life, strike the first blow against House Do'Urden and kill its secondboy"

Masoj bowed, the grimace never leaving his face, and swept out of the room.

"You heard everything'?" SiNafay signaled when the door had closed behind her son. She knew that Masoj might well have his ear to the door, and she did not want him to know of this conversation.

"I did" Alton replied in the silent code, stepping out from behind a curtain.

"Do you concur with my decision?" SiNafay's hands asked.

Alton was at a loss. He had no choice but to abide by his matron mother's decisions, but he did not think that SiNafay had been wise in sending Masoj back out after Drizzt. His si-lence grew long.

"You do not approve" Matron SiNafay bluntly motioned.

"Please, Matron Mother" Alton replied quickly. "I would not..."

"You are forgiven" SiNafay assured him. "I am not so cer-tain that I shoutd have allowed Masoj a second opportunity.??Too much could go wrong"

"Then why?" Alton dared to ask. "You did not grant me a second chance, though I desire Drizzt Do'Urden's death 8S fiercely as any"

SiNafay cast him a scornful glare, sending him back on his courageous heels. "You doubt my judgment?"

"No!" Alton cried aloud. He slapped a hand over his mouth and dropped to his knees in terror. "Never, my matron" he signaled silently. "I just do not understand the problem as clearly as you. Forgive me my ignorance"

SiNafay's laughter sounded like the hiss of a hundred angry snakes. "We see together in this matter" she assured AI. ton. "I would no more give Masoj a second chance than I gave you"

"But-" Alton started to protest.

"Masoj will go back after Drizzt, but this time he will not be alone" SiNafay explained. "You will follow him, Alton DeVir. Keep him safe and finish the deed, on your life"

Alton beamed at the news that he would finally find some taste of vengeance. SiNafay's final threat didn't even con. cem him. "Could it ever be any other way?" his hands asked casually.

"Think!" Malice growled, her face close, her breath hot on Drizzt's face. "You know somethifig!"

Drizzt slumped back from the overpowering figure and glanced nervously around at his gathered family. Dinin, similarly grilled just a moment ago, kneeled with his chin in hand. He tried vainly to come up with an answer before Ma-tron Malice upped the level of the interrogation techniques. Dinin did not miss Briza's motions toward her snake whip, and the unnerving sight did little to aid his memory.

Malice slapped Drizzt hard across the face and stepped away. "One of you has learned the identity of our enemies"

she snapped at her sons. "Out there, on patrol, one of you has seen some hint, some sign"

"Perhaps we saw it but did not know it for what it was" Dinin offered.

"Silence!" Malice screamed, her face bright with rage.

"When you know the answer to my question, you may speak! Only then!" She turned to Briza. "Help Dinin find his memory!"

Dinin dropped his head to his arms, folded on the floor in front of him, and arched his back to accept the torture. 1b do otherwise would only enrage Malice more.

Drizzt closed his eyes and recounted the events of his many patrols. He jerked involuntarily when he heard the snake whip's crack and his brother's soft groan.

"Masoj" Drizzt whispered, almost unconsciously. He looked up at his mother, who held her hand out to halt Bri. za's attacks-to Briza's dismay.

"Masoj Hun'ett" Drizzt said more loudly. "In the fight against the gnomes, he tried to kill me" All the family, particularly Malice and Dinin, leaned for-ward toward Drizzt, hanging on his every word.

"When I battled the elemental" Drizzt explained, spitting out the last word as a curse upon Zaknafein. He cast an angry glare at the weapon master and continued, "Masoj Hun'ett struck me down with a bolt of lightning"

"He may have been shooting for the monster" Vierna insisted. "Masoj insisted that it was he who killed the elemental, but the high priestess of the patrol denied his claim"

"Masoj waited" Drizzt replied. "He did nothing until I began to gain the advantage over the monster. Then he loosed his magic, as much at me as at the elemental. I think he hoped to destroy us both"

"House Hun'ett" Matron Malice whispered.

"Fifth House" Briza remarked, "under Matron SiNafay"

"So that is our enemy" said Malice.

"Perhaps not" said Dinin, wondering even as he spoke the words why he hadn't left well enough alone. To disprove the theory only invited more whipping.

Matron Malicp did not like his hesitation as he reconsid-ered the argument. "Explain!" she commanded.

"Masoj Hun'ett was angry at being excluded from the surface raid" said DInin. "We left him in the city, only to witness our triumphant return" Dinin fixed his eyes straight on his brother. "Masoj has ever been jealous of Drizzt and all the glories that my brother has found, rightly or wrongly. Many are jealous of Drizzt and would see him dead"

Drizzt shifted uncomfortably in his seat, knowing the last words to be an open threat. He glanced over to Zaknafein and marked the weapon master's smug smile.

" Are you certain of your words?" Malice said to Drizzt, shaking him from his private thoughts.

"There is the cat" Dinin interrupted, "Masoj Hun'ett's magical pet, though it holds closer to Drizzt's side than to the wizard's"

"Guenhwyvar walks the point beside me" Drizzt pro- Jtested, "a position that you ordered"

"Masoj does not like it" Dinin retorted. Perhaps that is why you put the cat there, Drizzt thought, but he kept the words to himself. Was he seeing conspira-cies in coincidence? Or was his world so truly filled with de-vious schemes and silent struggles for power?

"Are you certain of your words?" Malice asked Drizzt again, pulling him from his pondering.

"Masoj Hun'ett tried to kill me" he asserted. "I do not know his reasons, but his intent I do not doubt!"

"House Hun'ett, then" Briza remarked, "a mighty foe"

"We must learn of them" Malice said. "Dispatch the scouts! I will know the count of House Hun'ett's soldiers, its wizards, and, particularly, its clerics"

"If we are wrong" Dinin said. "If House Hun'ett is not the conspiring house-"

"We are not wrong!" Malice screamed at him.

"The yochlol said that one of us knows the identity of our enemy" reasoned Vierna. "All we have is Drizzt's tale of Masoj"

"Unless you are hiding something" Matron Malice growled at Dimn, a threat so cold and wicked that it stole the blood from the elderboy's face.

Dinin shook his head emphatically and slumped back, having nothing more to add to the conversation.

"Prepare a communion" Malice said to Briza. ('Let us learn of Matron SiNafay's standing with the Spider Queen"

Drizzt watched incredulously as the preparations began at a frantic pace, each command from Matron Malice fol-lowing a practiced defensive course. It wasn't the precision of Drizzt's family's battle planning that amazed him-he would expect nothing less from this group. It was the eager gleam in every eye.

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.