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Category Archives: Mark Thornton


wizardwooing

Chapter 1: Jungles of Phantog
. . .
“Master Mage, we are half a day’s trek from Apys, and that is as far as I have
contracted to transport you. We must make good speed now. There is something
that has picked up your trail, and I have not been able to hide your scent from
it. You must tell me now that you will honor our bargain.”

Kennarith Ko frowned. “How do you know that something has picked up my scent?”
he snarled. “If you had told me there was any necessity to hide my scent, I
could have been doing so for days. Perhaps it is you that something trails.”

“Perhaps, but I have been here before. When faced with a choice of taking me or
taking the wizard with me, it has always chosen the wizard. Perhaps it is magic
that the creature desires. You, you are full of magic, and I have none.”

The Huntmaster looked at Kennarith grimly, staring straight into the icy blue
eyes of the foreign wizard. “Think what you like,” he said calmly. “I need to
know. Will you pay me exactly half of the dowry you will gain should you win a
bride from Apys?”

“I told you I would,” answered the wizard, “but let us be clear about this. If
the dowry is money, then you can have it all. If the dowry is magical objects,
then we can divide them between us. but I get first choice, and we take turns
choosing the other objects. If there is an odd number then you can have the last
item. If the dowry is some spiritual thing,” he hesitated to let the concept
sink in, “if it is increased magical ability or souls or something as yet
inconceivable to me, then you get nothing. I am a wizard, yes, but I am no
master, and I cannot divide the intangible, nor set values on unknown objects.”

Krokett the Huntmaster looked disconcerted. No one had ever spelled out these
different possibilities for him before, but than no one had ever paid him
before. “Will you take an oath on those words?’ he asked.

Late afternoon sunlight slanted down through the heavy foliage above them and
stray beam caught the wizard and made him shine for a just a moment in the
general gloom of the forest. “I vow that I will pay Krokett, and only Krokett,
as I have sworn to do with the dowry from Apys. This I swear on my mother’s
head, and on my spirit’s freedom, and on he honor of the Wizards Guild of
Khazan.”

“I accept your vow. Try to keep up!” said the rugged huntsman. He strode off
between two trees and promptly vanished, just as if he had become invisible or
were only an illusion to begin with.

“So,” mused Kennarith, “The huntmaster seeks to test me. Very well!”  The bracken fern parted as kennarith swiftly followed after the Huntmaster. His years doing menial labor for his magical training had toughened not only his mind, but his reflexes as well. Indeed it had spared him from more than one mishap with Osrek the Alchemists… accidents. His side still tingled when he smelled distilled essence of flame demons.

Kennarith broke into a trot and followed the Huntmaster. He saw movement some forty feet ahead–something pushing through a tangle of vegetation. In seconds he reached it, and shoved through himself. On the other side were two paths leading in two different directions, and the guide was not visible on either one. How did he move so fast, and why?

One path was fairly open and empty as far as the eye could see. The other quickly clogged with the malodorous shrubbery that infested this jungle. Kennarith chose that one, and pushed rapidly forward.

A strong hand reached out from behind a tree and grabbed the wizard’s upper arm, pulling him roughly to the side.
The wizard breathed a sign of relief.

“Good, you kept up with me. Now get ready to fight. Watch!”

A strange beast appeared on the path the wizard had just left. It had the size of a large cat, the face of a fiend, and the tusks of a saber-toothed cave tiger. Krokett locked his gaze on its slitted yellow eyes, took one step forward with knife in hand and let out an explosive yell.

. . .
Krokett’s yell startled the Fiend, because in the blink of an eye, it was gone.

“Whew,” the wizard gasped. “What was that?”

“Don’t relax!” snapped the Huntsman. “It is only changing the direction of attack.  His head moved from side to side as he scanned the forest. Then he grabbed Kennarith’s shoulder and spun him to face the Fiend as it materialized in a leap coming right at him.

Kennarith Ko had thought about what to do, but when the time came for action, he reverted to the most basic kill spell he knew and he put all his wizardly energy into it.  The wizard’s staff crackled with purple energy and an eye-searing bolt of killing force shot out of it and struck the fiend fully in its tentacled chest.

The Thing fell to earth just shy of the two men because of the magical impact, but then shrugged it off, and gathered itself to continue the attack.  In that momentary hesitation, Krokett leaped on it, flailing madly with the great bush knife. Man and beast rolled across the ground in a cacophany of growling (from the man) and a kind of whistling screech (from the fiend).

For the first minute of the fight the wizard watched with eyes agape as man and creature struggled. He quickly understood that this was more than just a physical fight between a man and a beast–it was more of a spiritual struggle manifested on the worldly plane. Once he saw a fiendish claw rip a gaping hole in Krokett’s stomach, but neither blood nor entrail flew out of it. In the next instant the wound closed again af it had never been.

Then the two moved in his direction and it seemed as if the fiend would break free of the man. Kennarith threw off his horror and leaped into the fight, jabbing at the monster with his staff, wielding it like a spear to poke and smash the horrible creature. Every blow seemed to simply glance off the fiend, but Krokett threw him a grim smile, more of a twitch of the lips as battled. Every little bit helped.

And then it was over. With a final howl the unnatural beast stiffened and lay still. Now wounds began to appear on its body, dozens of wounds where none had been visible before. Dead!

Krokett forced himself to his feet, leaned down and cleaned his gore-encrusted blade on the animal’s hide. His clothing had been torn and slashed in many places. Purple bruises began to rise on his flesh.

“Are you all right?” the wizard asked.

“I will live.”

Krokett knelt and pushed a mass of tentacles aside, then made a deep incision in the fiend’s chest. Thrusting his hand into the bloody opening all the way up to the elbow, he felt around and then jerked his arm back out, bringing with it an internal organ.

“What?” The wizard gaped in amazement.

“Its heart. If I do not take it, the creature will live again. See, it still beats.” The bloody red organ still shivered and squirmed in the Huntmaster’s hand.

“What will you do with it?”

“We should eat it. You helped beat it, so you are entitled to a share. Of course, it may poison us, but if it doesn’t . . .” he left the implications unspoken.

. . .
Kennerith’s mind raced as his stomach churned. The thought of eating a
still-beating heart disgusted him, but the though of facing a beast
immune to his spells a second time chilled him to the bone. Furthermore,
if the heart was unhealthy to eat, then letting Krokett eat it all would
place himself in dire peril as well. He could ill afford to let his
guide die – without his help he would quickly become lost in this
jungle, not to mention the other unknown dangers that could lurk in a
place where monsters had developed immunity to magic.

No, far safer if both he and Krokett became ill, but remained able to travel. of course, this was assuming that a single bite would not prove fatal…

This was no time for dithering. Faint heart never won fair maiden, and winning a fair maiden was what he was here to do.

“We’ll split it half and half,” said Kennerith reaching out his hand, “but perhaps it would be safer to eat cooked?” Fire appeared and danced in the wizard’s palm.

“Are you going to cook it in your hand, wizard? I think I’ll eat my part raw.” Krokett used both hands and tore the still throbbing heart into two pieces. He handed the smaller piece to the wizard, then bit into the larger one. Blood dribbled from the sides of his mouth and into his beard.

Kennarith Ko did cook the fragment of fiend heart in his hand. Spitting the fragment on the point of his own sax, he directed little blasts of flame at the meat until it darkened, stopped bleeding, and actually began to smell good.

(Lest you think that the wizard was fireproof, let it be known that calling flame in this manner is usually the first spell a wizard learns. The flame never actually touches him, but springs into existence far enough from the wizard’s hand to not actually burn him.)

“Mmmmm, chewy,” said the wizard as he bit into the fiend’s heart. When he swallowed it, it felt as if a ball of flame passed through his throat, through his chest, and into his stomach. But even as it went down he felt his body being recharged with the kremm energy of magic.

The huntsman washed his bloody meal down with several gulps from his canteen, then offered it to the wizard. Ko took it, wiped the mouth with the sleeve of his robe, and took a big gulp. He was in for it now, no point in being cautious or timid if he hoped to keep his guide’s respect.

“Let us go on,” said Krokett. We are not that far from our destination.” He stepped back onto the path he had been following and set off briskly. Kennarith grabbed his staff and hastened to follow him.

They walked for a couple of hours as the sky grew darker and afternoon advanced. They climbed, and the vegetation changed, somehow seeming lighter in both color and tone as they gained altitude. At the same time, the ground grew soggier, and the muddy forest floor squelched with every step.

Then they crested a ridge, and Krokett pointed. In the center of a rocky hollow stood a great hive building more than 200 meters in height and twice as broad, a building unlike any the wizard had ever seen before.

“This is it,” said the guide, “the home of the Manukans, the People of the Buzzing Bees. This is where you must go to win the Bride of Nature that you seek.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Bee_Soldier

Chapter Two: Into the City of the Manukans

Kennarith looked down and saw six soldiers striding up the eastern side of the crater towards him. They walked on stiff-jointed hind legs with a pair of similarly inflexible arms coming out of the mid-point of their bodies. The ebonic sheen of their chitinous skin was swathed with bands of shaggy brown-gold fur. Multi-faceted eyes and twin antenna completed the inhuman picture. Each guard also carried a large pair of diaphanous wings that vibrated as they walked, not enough to lift them into the air, but perhaps it lightened their steps because they approached swiftly. Each guard also carried a long bronze-headed halbard.

“I will leave you now,” said Krokett. “Remember our bargain, and seek me where we first met if you make it out of the hive successfully.” The Huntsman faded back into the jungle.

When they reached his side the leading bee-man looked the wizard over intently. Apparently satisfied, he began to speak in a buzzing version of the Common Speech. It took a few sentences for Kennarith to understand, but the bee-man rejpeated himself until finally Kennarith interrupted him.

“You speak my tongue strangely,” he said slowly, “but I am beginning to understand. You want me to follow you.”

“Correct.” The leader turned and strode away. Kennarith immediately followed him back down the hill. The other five fell in behind him.

In a short time they reached a broad ramp leading up into the hive-building. It led to an arched doorway illuminated by a large sphere that glowed with crimson radiance. Kennarith wondered how many men had passed through this ominous doorway. One of the escorts touched his shoulder and buzzed, “You are the seven thousand five hundred and sixty-first.”

The number seemed absurdly high to the Khazani wizard, but then he reflected that the Manukans were said to have been on Trollworld longer than the men had, and almost as long as the elves.

The soldier continued to speak. “This portal is a means of destruction should our queens decree. The photonic forces it subjugates may be released in any direction they desire. The effect is stark; existence is negated.”

The red light energy made his flesh crawl with a kind of tickling sensation as Kennarith passed through the doorway. The chamber inside held at least a thousand burning beeswax candles, and the air hung heavy, cloying and sweet in his lungs. A wave of sleepiness assailed him, but the wizard clenched his hands and fought it off. It would not be wise to lose consciousness here.

Many more of the soldier Manukans flanked both sides of the atrium. Kennarith could see now that it was but a passageway connecting the exterior with the interior of the structure. A larger, heavier beeman crawled from a passageway above and to Kennarith’s left. He fluttered down to stand directly in front of the wizard.

“You are the thirty-sixth and last of this cycle’s contenders for royal marriage,” he droned. “I repeat, you are the last. This means that the wooing will begin on the morrow.”

“I understand,” answered the wizard.

‘You may rest, take nourishment, and think about what level you would like to compete for.”

Fed with unfamiliar foods, lulled by the humming that seemed to permeate the strange city, Kennarith Ko was taken to a sleeping chamber and left to his devices. He quickly fell asleep.

When he awakened he found cool water and a scroll waiting for him on the bedside table. He washed his face and quenched his thirst. He had eaten so well before his sleep that he felt no hunger. Turning to the scroll he read these cryptic words:

YOU MAY CHOOSE YOUR OWN LEVEL OF COMPETITION:TWO, THREE, FIVE, SEVEN, TEN OR THIRTEEN. IF YOU OVERCOME THE OTHER FIVE CHALLENGERS AT YOUR CHOSEN LEVEL, YOU MAY BE ACCEPTED BY THAT LEVEL’S QUEEN, AND YOU MAY HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO COMPETE AGAIN AT A HIGHER LEVEL OF YOUR CHOICE.

There was a space to indicate his choice, and a pen and ink for writing it.

After some deliberation, Kennarith Ko decided to go for the easiest challenge, and wrote the number 2 in the space provided. As soon as he had done so, the paper magically faded out of his hand. At that moment he realized that he was sensing magic from all sides, and was unlikely to have any warning should enchantment come upon him.

His chamber door opened and in came the large man, or his twin. “Be thou ready for your challenge?” he asked.

“What is my challenge?” asked the Wizard.

“You have chosen to woo Apida the Harvest Queen. It is her duty to ensure that the Phantagonian flowers come to no harm, that they are free from disease, and protected from herbivores that her people may be assured of plentiful pollen supplies.”

“Sounds like a vital task,” Kennarith muttered to himself.

The guide led Kennarith to another chamber deeper inside the hive. Five other wizards were already there. The bee man made introductions and Kennarith Ko met Nux Fractor, Spontaneous Combustius, Perry Stroika, Ali Bongo and Sly Toffand. All were human except for Perry, who despite have rounded ears, was a half-elf.

The bee man led the six contestants into another chamber even deeper inside the hive. There, draped languorously upon a couch reposed the young queen, Apida.

As Manukan women go, Apida was truly lovely. She sported a full and firm thorax, cute stripes of ochre and burnt umber, two lively antennas, and bee’guiling. (Ken’s note: Mark has filled this section of the adventure with as many bee puns as he could come up with, and they are plentiful, but I may skip most of them. If you want to bee entertained by them, get the adventure.)

Apida was besotted with all her suitors. She clapped her four hands together and dismissed the bee man, whose name was Bee’de. “My bee’trothed must have a fine voice,” she buzzed. “You shall all sing for me.” She opened a cabinet and brought out 6 scrolls. “These are some of my most bee’loved songs. Each of you shall choose one and sing for me.”

The six songs are:
1. Honey for my Honey
2. Let it Be’e
3. Be’e My Baby
4. The Buzz of it All
5. Just Can’t Help Be’elievin’
6. Be’e Good to Me

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

By the luck of the draw, Kennarith Ko got to be the last singer.

The six wizards studied their scrolls for a few minutes. None of them were puzzled by them, though some figured then out a little faster than others. Their bee’havior was very civilized, and they took turns singing for the queen. It took a little about an hour for them all to have a turn.

The queen kept score in her head, but did not give any sign of whose singing she liked it best. (the adventure as written says to give the 6 contestants wooing points. Having made all the necessary attribute and saving rolls this is how it stands after the first round of competition:

Perry–200
Ali–200
Spon–100
Nux–500
Sly–200
Kenn–400)

When the singing was over Bee’de the bee man attendant came in with a tray upon which there were six golden goblets, each brimming with a thick brown brew. An overwhelmingly sweet aroma rose from the liquor.

“Drink, or do not drink, as you choose,” said the bee man, “but be aware that this is very potent liquor, and it may becloud your thinking.”

Because he was the last to arrive, Kennarith was the last to confront the queen and give her his one word description. Though many ideas had run through his head, the word he finally decided to use was “majestic”.

After seeing what had happened to Sly, none of the other wizards dared even touch the queen. When his turn came, Kennarith simply knelt before the queen and said “you are the most majestic person I have ever met, but then again, I not met many kings or queens.” A line like that would have made most humans smile, at least, but Apida’s face showed no emotion.
——————
The tests had been gentle so far, but Apida’s thoughts turned to the physical.  She feared that her mate might break during the exchange of genetic material  that must eventually come. It had happened in the past, and so, a test of physical capability was developed.

The queen retired through one door, and the bee man Bee’de took the six of you off in another direction. He brought you all to a hollowed-out honeycomb that was a replica of the queen’s nuptial chamber. There were six divans made of sculpted wax, and he told  you all to lie down upon them.  He then began to spurt honey on Perry from a bell-shaped receptacle on wheels with a hose and nozzle attachment.

“Ewww!” said Perry.  When Bee’de finished he was completely immersed except for his head.

“Are we in any danger from this?” asked Ali Bongo.

“You will not be harmed if you do not struggle,” answered Bee’de, “but you may be seriously injured if you resist.”

It occurred to Kennarith Ko that he as a wizard, and that whatever was in store for him when he was coccooned in a Manukan miasma of melted molasses (okay, honey, but the feeling would be much the same), he should not just take it lying down as a warrior would. He might be able to do something to himself as a wizard, and he wondered what spell he might cast upon himself to better his chances.

Because he was the last to arrive, Kennarith was the last to confront the queen and give her his one word description. Though many ideas had run through his head, the word he finally decided to use was “majestic”.

After seeing what had happened to Sly, none of the other wizards dared even touch the queen. When his turn came, Kennarith simply knelt before the queen and said “you are the most majestic person I have ever met, but then again, I not met many kings or queens.” A line like that would have made most humans smile, at least, but Apida’s face showed no emotion.
——————
The tests had been gentle so far, but Apida’s thoughts turned to the physical.  She feared that her mate might break during the exchange of genetic material  that must eventually come. It had happened in the past, and so, a test of physical capability was developed.

The queen retired through one door, and the bee man Bee’de took the six of you off in another direction. He brought you all to a hollowed-out honeycomb that was a replica of the queen’s nuptial chamber. There were six divans made of sculpted wax, and he told  you all to lie down upon them.  He then began to spurt honey on Perry from a bell-shaped receptacle on wheels with a hose and nozzle attachment.

“Ewww!” said Perry.  When Bee’de finished he was completely immersed except for his head.

“Are we in any danger from this?” asked Ali Bongo.

“You will not be harmed if you do not struggle,” answered Bee’de, “but you may be seriously injured if you resist.”

It occurred to Kennarith Ko that he as a wizard, and that whatever was in store for him when he was coccooned in a Manukan miasma of melted molasses (okay, honey, but the feeling would be much the same), he should not just take it lying down as a warrior would. He might be able to do something to himself as a wizard, and he wondered what spell he might cast upon himself to better his chances.

Kennarith thought about the warning–he had been told not to move, and the one spell that would freeze him in his tracks was Hold That Pose.  He cast it on himself at level 3, knowing that would hold him for up to 8 minutes, and hoping that would be enough.

The honey was extremely hot, and beneath it the wizards heated up very quickly. However, all of them had the same thought, and all had cast Hold That Pose. They all endured the heat well enough, and a few minutes later, Bee’de brought attendants to clean them off. He was somewhat surprised to see that all six contestants came through the ordeal unscathed.

The Queen took one look at her wooers and smiled slightly.

“And now, my would-be wooers,” she buzzed, “it is time for us to take a walk in the forest.  Gather what protective gear you may have, and meet me at the entrance to the hive one hour from now.” She departed to make herself ready for the excursion.

Kennarith did not have much in the way of special provisions to make for himself. He had no armor and little in the way of weapons, since he had counted on the Huntsman to protect him in the jungle. Instead he made certain that he had plenty of water in two canteens, some high energy food, and he put two healing potions in the  pockets inside his robe. He wore knee-high boots and a leather cap inside his wizard’s cowl, and hoped that would be sufficient.

An hour later the six wizards stood at the entrance to the hive. Apida appeared with an escort of 20 soldiers, all fully armed and armored.  The bee men and the queen have protections that outsiders such as Kennarith and the other wizards would never dream of. No such protections were offered to the wizards.

“This walk may be extremely dangerous for you,” warned Bee’de. “Before you risk your lives in the Phantagonian jungles, think, and if you wish, you may back out now.”

The bee soldiers escorted Apida, Perry, Ali, Spon, Sly, and Kennarith along a trail visible only to them. Nux had announced at the beginning that he really didn’t feel up to trekking through the jungle that day, and had retired back to the hive. The constantly beating wings of the soldiers did at least provide enough of a breeze to evaporate the sweat off your body, and thus provide some measure of coolness.

After several minutes of walking, Ali Bongo sidled over to Kennarith and began to speak in the Thieves Cant of the Khazan ghettos. “Ey, matey, ‘ow you like der tests zo far? Gotta offer for ya. Innerested?”

Kennarith looked at the other wizard coldly. “Wotch gots in yer mind?” he answered in the same almost unintelligible jargon.

“Look ere, Palzy. Itz gonna be hard ta know how to win dis ere game. Wotcha say we nooj der oddz a bit. Iffin I wins, i do give you a top job ere, an’ you does der same fer me iffen you gets der young missy. And,” he waggled an eyebrow knowingly, “we alzo duz  wut we kin ter ‘elp each udder wen we kin gainst der odders ere. Woddya say? Deal or no deal?”

Kennarith smiled at Ali, and made a
thief’s sign with his left thumb and forefinger. “Deal,
Palsy,” he whispered, “but keep it on der downlow, hokay?”

“Ri-ite!” grinned the other wizard. “Laters!” He wandered
off. As the walk continued, Kennarith noticed that Ali
approached some of the other wizards as well. Sly gave him a
big grin, Spontaneous looked confused and Perry said, “Wut?
Get away from me!”

Suddenly the brisk march through Phantog ended. The party
entered an octagonal clearing filled with luscious
lascivious, lurid blooms of epic proportions.  Another
twenty Manukan soldiers were standing around the clearing to
protect these flowers.

Some workers opened a large wooden chest they had been
carrying and took from it several large goblets carved from
a translucent, jade-like stone. They gave one cup to each
wizard.

“Go to the flowers and collect the pollen within them,”
buzzed the queen.

The wizards set to work.  For a half-elf, Perry did not
seem to react very well to plants. After only a short time,
he sneezed so hard that he dropped his collecting cup and
spilled what little pollen he had gathered on the ground.
Bee’de approached and told him to stop–his part of the test
was over. The others all managed their tasks with varying
degrees of success.  Surprisingly, Sly was the best at
accumulating flower pollen. When he presented his cup to the
queen, it had half again as much pollen in it as the second
best (Ali) and nearly three times as much as Kennarith had
collected. On the other hand, the other wizards all looked
both tired and dehydrated after collecting pollen for half
an hour, but Kennarith, who had brought plenty of water, and
drank liberally from it as he worked, just felt better and
better.

Just as the queen finished checking Kennarith’s cup, a
strange beast charged into the clearing–a wide-nostriled
mucous wrangler.  It charged, head down, nose down,
firing a shower of snot pellets in all directions.  One
noxious missile hit Ali in the forehead and spattered all
over his face. He went down flailing; his skin turned green,
and he began to vomit, all very quickly.

The soldiers ruahed to attack the elephant-sized beast. It
had already trampled one flower and was bearing down upon
the queen.

With 40 guards coming to the defense of the queen, not to mention three other wizards, Kennarith figured that his best option was to try and save Ali’s life.

His first action was to cast a Call Water spell and wash the poisonous mucous off of Ali’s head, reasoning that the sooner the infection was removed, the less damage would be done. He wished he knew a Too Bad Toxin spell, but he didn’t. It was within his powers to cast it, but a fourth level spell, and as a 2nd level wizard who had recently graduated to 3rd level, he simply hadn’t learned it yet. 4th level spells cost 1500 gold to learn, and the truth was that many wizards learned their higher level spells by getting  more advanced wizards to simply teach them outside the guild offices.

Ali still looked like he might die, his complexion distinctly green and his breath coming in short harsh gasps. Kennarith reached into one of his inner robe pockets and pulled out one of the two healing potions that he had brought with him.  He poured it down Ali’s throat and hoped for the best.

Between the death spells of the other wizards and the furious halbard work of the bee soldiers, the mighty Mucous Wrangler didn’t last long. One soldier was hit by the falling monster and squashed flat.

Queen Apida noticed that three wizards had cast spells in her defense, but that Kennarith had rushed to the aid of the only person in serious danger from the attack. She awarded points to the three wizards who defended her, and none to Kennarith and Ali, but kept in mind that Kennarith had kept his head during the emergency and preserved a life.

When the excitement subsided it was time to return to the hive. The cups full of pollen were closed with lids on top, and the four functional wizards were told that they must carry their cups back to the hive balanced atop their heads in order to leave their hands free for self defense. Kennarith and the other wizards tried balancing the flat-bottomed cups on their heads, and managed for a short time, but they were constantly in danger of falling off.  “This is silly,” Kennarith declared. He removed the cup from his head, pulled open his robe, placed the sealed cup in his largest pocket, and then proceeded along the path with little danger of losing the precious pollen. The other three wizards made similar arrangements.  Sly simply used his hands after the first near mishap, figuring that there were plenty of soldiers to defend him in case of another attack.

Suddenly Apida pointed into the dense lushness of the jungle. “We will take the short cut back. There is something I want to show you. Quick! Find the secret door and we shall be safe and have time to play!”

Perry, Spon, and Sly dashed forward, magic crackling from their fingertips.  Ali remained in the litter that two of the soldiers were carrying. His condition had stabilized, but he was still in no shape for a rigorous walk in the woods.