Worth the Candle

by Alexander Wales

Original HIATUS Action Adventure Drama Fantasy GameLit High Fantasy LitRPG Magic Male Lead Portal Fantasy / Isekai
Warning This fiction contains:
  • Gore
  • Profanity
  • Sexual Content
  • Traumatising content

A teenager struggling after the death of his best friend finds himself in a fantasy world - one which seems to be an amalgamation of every Dungeons and Dragons campaign they ever played together. Now he's stuck trying to find the answers to why he's there and what this world is trying to say. The most terrifying answer might be that this world is an expression of the person he was back on Earth.

The most complete version of this is posted on Archive of Our Own. Chapters will be posted here at roughly 13 hour intervals (which will rotate timezones) for the next two or three months until it's been caught up to current.

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Alexander Wales

Alexander Wales

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Table of Contents
Chapter Name Release Date
Taking the Fall ago
Thickenings ago
Solely Responsible ago
Reaver ago
Goraion ago
Cold Comfort ago
Twenty Questions ago
Diamond and Iron ago
Making Magic ago
Sewer Rat ago
A Winding Course ago
Life of the Party ago
Time Out ago
ELEVATOR facts ago
Whys and Wherefores ago
Kindly Bones ago
Voting Blocs ago
Communal ago
Montage! ago
Desert Course ago
Cliff Racer ago
Rolling Need ago
Siege ago
Like a Glove ago
Rocket Man ago
Superman ago
Fears ago
The Impish Inn ago
Greychapel ago
Plot Relevant ago
The Loyal Elf ago
Be Still My Heart ago
Tenth ago
Weik Handum ago
Friendship is Magic ago
In Which Juniper Stares At His Character Sheet ago
Paths ago
Don't Split the Party ago
Strategic Reserves ago
The Feminine Mystique ago
Truth and Reconciliation ago
A Pleasant Interlude in Kansas ago
In Search of a Quest ago
Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats ago
Keep Magic Weird ago
The Market of Blood and Bone ago
At Arm's Length ago
Doe or Doe Not, There is no Try ago
Math.random() ago
Copse and Robbers ago
Blood in the Water ago
Culmination ago
A Tiptoe Through the Tulips ago
Looper ago
Bond Girl ago
Vacation Vocations ago
Place Your Figs ago
Panopticon ago
All the Myriad Ways ago
Aggressive Negotiations ago
Animus ago
Drift ago
The Chemical History of a Candle ago
In Which Juniper Stares At His Character Sheet, Again ago
A Kindred Soul ago
The Long Night ago
A Helping Hand ago
Seeing Red ago
In Mutual Congress ago
Moral Agency ago
The Soul of Discretion ago
Tripartite Talks ago
Amaryllis ago
The Mouth of a Long River ago
Stats for Nerds ago
Date Night ago
Lies and Damned Lies ago
The Sacrifice ago
Rule Zero ago
The Princess and the Pea ago
Musings on the Elder God ago
Aboard the Lion's Tail ago
The Familiar and the Foreign ago
The Party Line ago
The Great Train Robbery ago
Headwater ago
Down And Out ago
The House of Solitude ago
The Face of a Place ago
Head of House ago
An Open House ago
Shades ago
Bottle Episode ago
Grayscale ago
Time Enough ago
A Portrait of the King as a Young Man ago
Rapping at my Chamber Door ago
Letter 15 ago
Enough Rope to Hang Yourself ago
Immanentizing the Eschaton ago
PPROM ago
The Adventures of Valencia the Red ago
Contract ago
Consolation ago
Notes ago
The One-Hand Warder ago
Name of the Beast ago
The Dream That Skewers ago
The Veil of the World ago
Bubblegum ago
Peer Pressure ago
Egress ago
A Hell of a Time ago
The Meeting of Minds ago
Communicative ago
Therapy ago
Beast of Burden ago
Breaking Loose ago
Depths ago
Deceptions ago
Maddie ago
Raven ago
Medieval Stasis ago
Fight Club ago
The Remnants of the Past ago
Ever Onward ago
Full House ago
An Open Book ago
Schemata ago
The Abject Despair of an Uncaring World ago
A Cypress Waits ago
Uskine Nervedah ago
The Critical Path ago
Safe Mode ago
Holding ago
Krinrael ago
Darili Irid ago
Stats for Nerds II ago
Piece of Mind ago
Commingling ago
Monty Haul ago
Sound and Silence ago
Manifold Paths ago
Skewered ago
Freshman ago
Terrors of the Black Age ago
Good Vibrations ago
Sing For Your Supper ago
I Have to Hand it to You ago
Than One Innocent Suffer ago
The Mind's Eye ago
The Time to Talk ago
The Temple ago
Above From Below ago
Mome Rath ago
Mome Rath II ago
The Bird on the Fence ago
OP ago
The Dome Away From Home ago
On the Merits of Oblivion ago
Reimer ago
Deus Ex ago
Level Heads ago
House of God ago
Politics, blah, blah, blah ago
Brownian Motion ago
Beached ago
Hollow ago
The No Sleep Club ago
On Treating With Dragons ago
Blood is Thicker Than Water ago
Reviews

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Herb571
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Something Special (in the beginning)

One of the best I've read on RR so far.

Has an interesting/innovative premise for the setting and characters feel very well fleshed out.  Some subtle character progression for side characters and more thorough/in depth progression so far for the main protagonist.

Action doesn't draw out unnecessarily long, overall having a good pace to it in my opinion.  World building also feels ※right※ with not too much extrapolation or meandering fed to the reader like in some other novels. Basically, the story flows naturally where nearly everything introduced has context as for why it's being brought out to bare.

I would say that the writer probably has quite a fair amount of experience sitting in the GM chair and it shows.  Flavor text is abundant throughout giving vivid imagry for what is going on and the game systems don't feel wonky at all (for me at least) as it's something of a conglomeration of pathfinder, d&d, and a hell of a lot of homebrew thrown in.

Story-wise, I also feel inclined to applaud the author.  There's a fair amount of an undercurrent of intrigue and mystery thrown into the mix as the reader is left wondering along with the protagonist as to what exactly is going on as well as why/how and will he find what he's looking for or does he even want to?

(Read up to the end of "Book II" as of this review)

Having read ahead from Alexander's website (up to chapter 165), i would say that the experience starts to wane later on. 

This comes from the introduction of certain relevations that start to cause nearly all the main characters to ponder upon the meta aspect of the story.  It quickly snowballs in such a way that the pacing suffers quite a lot in my opinion.  Said relevations also snuff the mystery/intrigue atmosphere much earlier than expected since the reveal was pretty much unnecessary to plot developments, serving only to paralyze the progression of the story at many junctures.

Characters meander to and fro at every crossroad before deciding to do what they were going to do anyway.  The weight of all of the succeses that June and friends achieve is also rendered nigh meaningless in the face of what they and the audience know.  Furthermore, I believe the story starts to suffer from the protagonist becoming increasingly introspective as time goes on.  He noticeably thinks in circles, often repeating and rehatching old thoughts.  While realistic, it can (and does in my case) begin to chip away at the audience's patience, distancing us from viewing June in a favorable light.  It also serves to exacerbate the pacing problem.

I would say overall, despite these later setbacks this story is still a good read, just not as magical as in the beginning.

binary_pineapple
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A must read rational litrpg

I am definitely going to regret reading this as it has probably cost me tens of thousands of dollars. More about that later; into the review.

I knew about this fiction since a very long time, especially since I was subscribed to the subreddit that it was posted on . Hpwever, the name didn't ring a bell, neither did the author seem familiar, so I gave it a pass. It was a mistake.

Fast forward to when the story was posted on royal road. It didn't have the author as cthuluraejepson, but Alexander Wales. The name seemed familiar, and I went on his website. He had made another nickname for himself, and was the same author that had written Shadows and Metropolitan Man, the same stories that I raved about to my friends. As I went through the list, it seemed that all his written stories were the ones that I had liked and stuck with me such as the Randi Prize. Oh, what a revelation.

I started binging through the novel and stormed through till the last chapter (161).  And what a ride it has been. Somehow, the story touches upon and coagulates widely dissimilar topics into a meta narrative. The "meta" aspect is something that is dealt with so regularly, that I felt that this story should have been the one named "Meta World" (Could we swap the titles?). It includes a range of topics spanning from economics to world building and therapy. 

It is one of the very few "system" litrpgs, where the character actually discloses everything about the mechanisms to his companions. Here, the world that he is transported to is one that highly mimics the ones that he created on Earth as a Dungeon Master. It meshes well into the story as the character and his companions figure how they all fit in to the "narrative" (a word that you will hear often).

The characters are actually what sets this story as the best charterizations I have ever read. The way the characters deal with situations is very realistic. The MC is not the smartest person, he is great in some aspects, poor at others, just how a normal guy would be. The others are not dumbed down either, and not everyone is overjoyed to throw themselves at the MC, with the females ready for a harem, unlike common webnovel tropes. The MC, other characters face a variety of issues from relationship issues, procrastination to depression.

The magic system is phenomenal and has a broad variety. Different species, different magics requiring different costs, just shows how much work has gone into creating it. While revealing too much would be a spoiler, it would not be and understatement to say that the world emerges as a land full of possibilities for the future. Truly makes me want to play D&D. And yeah, for all you flat earthers: rejoice!

Some of the critique would be some decisions taken by the characters that don't really seem optimal given the time they spend on decision making for even trivial stuff. Some world building or character interactions just seem to go on for much longer than what is needed. All of them being issues which can be solved with a bit of editing.

All in all, it is a work of fiction that is so addicting that you can't stop until you reach the last chapter. And this is a positive point unless you really don't have time (like me). As I write this review, I accept my fate that I am not going to clear my interview for Amazon as I have spent the last week just reading this novel instead of prepping for it and I am probably going to regret this for a long long time. Yes, addiction has an opportunity cost. (Interesting tidbit: the author is a former software engineer too.)

 

Gilgilad7
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Rational Take on Tabletop LitRPG

Review as of chapter 161:

Worth the Candle is a portal fantasy tabletop litRPG by a well known rational fiction author.  The story subverts as many tropes as it adheres to with expert execution of the plot.  You won't find a story on Royal Road with more comprehensive world building.  Even the bizarreness of the world starts to make so much sense as it continually intersects with the narrative and the wide variety of magic systems.

The world’s mystery is derived around the MC noticing many of people, creatures, and items that appear are directly related to RPG lore he invented himself in his own pen and paper games back on Earth. Unraveling this mystery keeps the narrative flowing. There are many flashback scenes to his games he played with friends in his old life and they tie into the plot of the story.

The world happens to be single player; only the MC has a character sheet.  So to put it in video game terms that many may be more familiar with than tabletop RPGs, it is like Skyrim with a mod to allow 5+ followers.  As he levels up, so do his followers and the difficulty of challenges thrown at them.  

The followers are NPCs in the loosest sense of the word, but in actuality they are highly complex real people with their own specializations.  His party works together as a team, each bringing their own skills to make a sum greater than its parts.  But their relationships with the MC and with each other are deeply explored and character growth happens to all of them, some for the better and some for the worse.  Even as we learn more about the MC's past, it changes our perspective of how we view other characters.  And they are so well written!  Character writing is probably one of the author's greatest strengths.

The author is also writing this story for the rational fiction genre and it really shows. The main character is highly logical and introspective as he questions the world he is transported to and the reasons he was brought there. He is a min-maxer and he studies his character sheet in depth, going so far to even do the in-depth math to min-max his build. The litRPG elements have more of a tabletop RPG influence as opposed to the genre’s more common video game RPG inspiration which is quite refreshing for the genre.

This is a meta story where the "narrative" of the story itself is part of the narrative which really is intriguing and lends a lot of credibility to the world and the character's actions and reactions. This isn't litRPG written just because stats are cool, the worldbuilding is logical from the ground up and the stats make sense in a narrative way that many other litRPG stories completely lack.

While the story is brilliant, it isn't for everyone though.  The readers who might not enjoy this story are those who don’t like stories with flashback scenes or just can’t get into the deep philosophical discussions.  There is a lot of subtext that is easy to miss and subtle foreshadowing that some may not pick up on.  If you are looking for a pulpy read without thought, then this is not the place to start.

But for those who want to read a litRPG story that actually strives to be rational, this is the closest you will likely get. 

The Wadapan
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Worth the candle a hundred times over

I've been following this story for a good while on AO3, but have never taken the time to write a proper review - an oversight which I intend to correct here, because I'd hate for anyone on this site to be missing out on what I think is easily one of the best pieces of web fiction of all time (certainly one of my favourite stories, period).

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hooked pretty much from the word go, but - fair warning - most people will tell you to stick with the story until at least its fourteenth chapter before drawing any conclusions. If you're not fundamentally enjoying it by then, it probably just isn't for you - but if you are, then I feel confident saying that it will surpass your expectations at every turn.

This isn't a story where progress is about unlocking new levels and skills and perks. Well, okay, it technically is, but - more importantly - it's about trying to do the right thing and becoming a better person.

Alexander Wales manages to deftly weave an impressive amount of introspection into the events at hand, thanks to clever use of dialogue, observations, asides, and (most notably) flashbacks - none of which negatively impact the story's strong pacing. The romantic elements of the narrative are handled with a astonishing level of depth and nuance - somehow managing to be simultaneously sincere and deconstructive. Truthfully, the same could be said for pretty much every aspect of the story: its prose, worldbuilding, conflicts and characters. You'll find a lot of twists on classic tropes and setpieces, but there are a wealth of original and evocative ideas to be found here too.

At every level, Worth the Candle feels like a labour of love - and you'll probably end up loving it too.

Zimzimbadabim
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I've been following this for a while. It's nice to see it on another platform where it can get more exposure.

This is a pretty neat story. If you are a fan of DnD and other such dice-rolling adventure games that require a game master, you will probably really enjoy this. 

I think by far what keeps me reading this story is the characters. These are some of the most authentically crafted characters I have read in a fantasy story. This genre usually is more known for plot and worldbuilding than it is for nuanced characters. Not so with this story! I would argue that the characters are the real shining stars of this story.

The world building is good, don't misunderstand me. It can become a bit cluttered at times due to how complex the world is set up to be, but that is ok because it is merely the stage and props with which the characters bring the story to life. 

Continuity is good. Logical coherence is also good, and of critical importance considering the premise of the story, so kudos to the author on that.

This story has authentically portrayed romance with a twist that I will not spoil for you.

There is abundant action and adventure into new and interesting lands. There are a seemingly limitless number of species. So if you only want the classic human, elf, dwarf trio with maybe an allowance for a few others, this is not for you. All the races in this story are original to the author except for humans. So I hope that interests you. There are creatures inspired by those in other fictions, but none copied directly that I have found so far. 

Also, I know some really hate stories with a "person pulling strings behind the curtain" character that guides the journey of the MC, and this story does have that, BUT it does it in a way that I personally think adds to the story and is very directly and consistently addressed by the main characters such that it is a valuable plot point as well as a character development tool. 

I don't want to give too much away. It's a good story. I say give it a shot.

It does deal with some heavy and unsavory topics like canibalism, suicide, etc. So be ready for a not so light-hearted read. I personally do not reccomend for those under the age of 10.

You can find this story on https://archiveofourown.org/works/11478249/chapters/25740126

Fred
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Believable characters, incredible world building.

I can easily say this is one of my favorite stories ever, as it touches on a number of things I consider important.

The characters all feel very real, rather than just placeholders with a single defining character trait, each their own person, without falling into any trite cliches. 

 Speaking of cliches, this story does a great job of examining several common tropes of portal fantasy, tabletop rpgs and the like, deconstructing, reconstructing, subverting and sometimes playing them straight when you least expect. 

The grammar and overall spelling is excellent, with the author consistently correcting any slips that are pointed out. 

But more than anything, what truly gets me in this story is the world building. The breadth and depth of the world is truly fantastic. The hundreds of species, the dozens of magic systems, the way societies have organized themselves around the existence of magical items, everything the author reveals, just keeps showing more and more of how immense the world of Aerb truly is. If I have only one complaint is that there is no way this story will ever be long enough for us to see the full scope of what the author has created. 

Sharkerbob
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A Journey Into A Rationally Twisted Mind

What would you do if you found yourself transported to another world? What if being in this world gave you access to strangely game-like super powers? What if this world spent most of its time trying to kill you, and only your quick thinking, analytical strategy, and a handful of stalwart companions was the only thing keeping you alive as you attempt to fulfill a series of quests in the hopes of gaining answers, and perhaps a way home? And, strangest of all, what if this world seemed eerily familiar, because so much of it was based on the roleplaying campaigns you yourself had designed?

Recently, I had come to the conclusion that so-called LitRPG, or Progression Fantasy, or Gamified Portal Fantasy, was a genre I did not enjoy. While the idea can be fascinating, and some of them could be decently written, all too often, I mostly felt like I was just following some nerd oggling stats and brushing over descriptions of generic fantasy tropes for pages and pages, explaining to me how something as bog-standard as a potion worked as though I'd never heard of a video game before, trying to impress me with how cool their magic system is when it really just boiled down to the standard White Mage/Black Mage set I've seen in literally every JRPG since Dragon Warrior. Rarely did the tropey characters hook me, and rarely did their adventures feel like anything more exciting than reading a slightly more narrative take on a strategy guide.

Worth the Candle manages to take this premise and elevate it. It is by far the best-written example of the genre I've read, not only from the quality of the writing, but in the sheer creativity of the world and the depth of the character exploration.

The teen protagonist finds himself quickly teaming up with two gorgeous women early on, but their relationships are not anywhere close to the typical harem shenanigans. They feel like actual developing relationships between somewhat sketchy individuals who are trying to work together for common interests, but don't just immediately fall into their stereotypical roles, and have to learn how to trust one another, organically over time.

The world building is great. I have always had a fascination with stories about authors interacting with the worlds of their own creation in a more grounded way, and this is an interesting take on it, where Jun recognizes some aspects of the world, but the world is different enough he's still thrown for a loop. Three books in, the world feels large and a live, and definitely distinct from the Standard Fantasy Setting I've long gotten tired of. Moreover, their are numerous magic systems at play throughout the setting, and its always interesting to see a new kind of magic, and all the clever magical items that get revealed throughout the adventure.

Another nice touch is Juniper's frequent recollections of his time with his friends, their DnD sessions, and the tragic death of his best friend months before his sudden fall into this fantasy adventure. These flashbacks act as both a way to expand on Jun's backstory, but also ruminate on the nature of storytelling, dungeon mastering, and campaign building, and literary symbolism.

I'm having a hard time thinking of anything to complain about. The first Book of the story, about 14 chapters, did actually turn me off a little at first, because it does start off as a pretty straightforward "dungeon crawly" trek through an interesting, but kind of gamey arc. Even here, though, this was about the time I was realizing I didn't like LitRPGs very much, so that bias was probably sinking in. I'm glad I pushed through and kept reading, because Book Two is where the good stuff really starts to hit.

Otherwise, some people might not enjoy how much the main character spends the story analyzing his situation, and characters discussing how to min-max his gamey level-up powers. I admit that was part of the tough sell for me at first, but after the first Book, I feel like it doesn't come up nearly as much as in other LitRPG stories, and certainly doesn't feel as intrusive.

This combination of great worldbuilding, rich characters, and ruminations on storytelling, all written with a literary quality above the usual LitRPG/Light Novel fair I've read previously, has elevated this to my top three web serials. Check it out if you like a good fantasy story, and definitely check it out if LitRPGs are your thing.

Makin
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The good kind of mature

Formerly the top original novel in AO3, what separates Worth the Candle from the other stories in the genre is the maturity with which treats its main characters.

The heroes are shitty to each other, but they're called out for it, and learn to become better people. They get hurt and still continue to deal with the consequences several books later. Denouement is denied even when it would make for a "kickass" scene. And the eventual payoffs are so much better off for it.

All this combined with the right amount of action, humor and messing around with extremely original magic systems make this one of the best fantasy stories I've ever read. Glad it's finally here.

Par0xysm
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Highly overrated, lacks the feel of "magic"

I've read up till chapter 64, and i have to say that it's a well written story, with likeable characters, and an interesting world setting, but...:

 

1. The story is incredibly rant-y in almost every chapter, there's way too much meaningless drivel, unneeded math and the MC staying inside his head for unrealistic amounts of time compared to the different situations he/they experience.

2. At first i liked the idea of the breaks from the present to the past, (to the D&D POV's) but it gets tiresome very fast, and completely breaks immersion all the time. Also most of the "breaks" are overly long, and feels like a poor tool for exposition and for the MC to remember something that is vital to a given situation.

3. For a story with such an interesting and different world filled with unconventional magic, there's no feeling of wonder, or "magic" in any of it. It's all framed inside a system, and feels even less mystical and magical than a video game would feel like. It all comes too effortlessly to the MC, and there's no mysticism in it. It's too clinical and too bound by rules of tabletop and math. Personally it has no impact for me whenever he "learns" something, it's just boring and contrived.

4.

Spoiler: Spoiler

5. The story is incredibly predictable, and there's too much "telling", and too little "showing"

6. For having a rational and logically thinking MC (who honestly has far too much knowledge, about way too many things for his young age, especially since he's not supposed to be a genius or anything like it), he keeps committing enourmous mistakes all the time, and for someone who've been playing as a DM for countless rpg sessions, he has no sense of wonder or adventure when it comes to the magical systems he learns to use, and the ones he learns that exist.

He doesn't experiment with ANY of his skills, he doesn't try to combine knowledge or abilities, he doesn't adapt a specific "style" of using what he has. He's flat and uninspired in his way of doing things, and completely bound by, and set in his knowledge of tabletop earth knowledge.

6a. And so is the narrative and the whole "level up" mechanic. There's too many boundaries set in place, fx: If he learns something to a specific degree or level, he has to progress further in specific stats to further improve them, meaning he would never be able to master all the skills he accrues throughout his journey/the story, because everything has limiters tied to his level, and level cap. Which means, he can never "train" or use the experiences/knowledge he accrues from different plots, and outcomes, to further or improve his abilities. UNLESS it's in the frame of a level up and adding points into something. 

So basically he can't grow or evolve.

 

This was a lot of negative i know that, but i feel this has unrealistic reviews and an undeserved rating. It's basically been "hyped" too much. I DO recommend it for people who play, or have played tabletop RPG's, and who like stories that puts everything into "boxes" and rules. This just isn't for me, i'm more into the "show" not "tell" kind of stories, like: a Practical Guide to Evil, or Mother of Learning.

Glaurung
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Phenomenally innovative and moving

As another immigrant from AO3, I've read all nine hundred thousand and change words of Worth the Candle that have yet to be released here, and there's one thing I feel comfortable spoiling: it's fucking great.

The worldbuilding is meticulous and expansive, reconciling a wide range of ideas into a coherent, interconnected whole. Part of the premise is that the setting is built from many worlds invented by the protagonist, and the depth of thought shows. There are throwaway lines that could serve as seeds for stories in their own right, dozens of species, and more forms of magic than you can shake a stick at. 

Worth the Candle is technically an isekai, but Juniper's relationship with the world he now inhabits is a crucial part of the story. Some parts are played straight, others subverted, but it's a more serious exploration of the genre than anything elsewhere. The characters themselves are all as compelling as they are flawed, and to paraphrase one of them, it's beautiful to watch the cast struggle against and overcome their weaknesses. 

Honestly, I wish I could forget everything and dive back in to experience the whole thing all over again, which is just about the highest compliment I can pay to fiction in any medium. That's unfortunately impossible, but fresh readers can and should savor this story.