• Published 14th Oct 2013
  • 3,773 Views, 229 Comments

Alpha Centauri - StLeibowitz



Twilight is kidnapped by a sun and told she used to be one too. Rainbow Dash is fighting phantoms of past lives as she tries to rescue her. Powerful alien beings intend to exploit the chaos to further their own ends...

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Chapter 6: A Way with Words

Back in her own bed again a day later, Rainbow Dash turned over in a state of semi-sleep, trying to ignore the almost inaudibly faint tapping coming from the front of her cloud-home. Snoring usually kept that kind of thing from bugging her, but she wasn’t fully asleep – really, she was only just now starting to get tired – and so she refrained from doing so in order to maximize her chances for a nap. The knocking continued, however, and eventually she decided ignoring visitors again would be a terrible idea; that was how this whole mess with Twilight had started, wasn’t it?

So, sleepily, she rolled off her bed and thumped onto the springy floor and rose to her hooves. “Just a sec!” she shouted. The knocking stopped.

She trudged into the spacious bathroom adjoining her bedroom, yawning widely, determined to go through at least part of her morning routine before opening the front door. She slipped a hairbrush onto a forehoof and started brushing the worst of the knots out of her mane – the wild mess it usually looked like was actually meticulously maintained, to keep it looking awesome and not lazy – and idly thought back to the conversation she’d had with Discord after Fluttershy had finished fussing over her.

“You sent me into a trap!” she’d accused. “And phoenix beak dust is poisonous, isn’t it?”

Discord had continued laughing for another solid minute before managing to say, “That was perfect Rainbow Dash! Absolutely marvelous!”

“What?”

“Assaulting the Queen of the Universe – and the talking to yourself – oh, that really threw her!” he chortled with glee. “You almost had me convinced there was somepony there giving you advice! That was incredible! We really have to pull pranks like this more often – say, there’s an international conference on climate control coming up in a few days that Celly’s forcing me to attend. I’m sure I can convince her to let me bring you, too – what do you think? Together, Rainbow Dash, we could rule the pranking galaxy!”

“A prank?” she shouted. “Is that all that was? Some kind of stupid prank?”

“A stupid prank?” he repeated, offended. “Why, my dear pegasus companion, that was no mere prank – that was art!

“Twilight’s been kidnapped by some kind of freaky alien monster, and all you can think of is a chance to pull a bucking prank?”

“I believe I made my position on the Elements of Harmony quite clear initially, Rainbow Dash,” he said, wagging a finger at her. “And I am a draconequus of my word, if nothing else.”

“You didn’t make any sort of promise!”

“Exactly!”

She growled with irritation, hooves itching with the memory of how she’d knocked down a being a lot more powerful than this joker not a day ago. “And what about the phoenix beak dust, huh? That’s poisonous!”

“Only if you touch it,” he clarified, his voice becoming serious. “And a fine job of that you did! Honestly, flopping over into the ritual circle’s borders while a spell was in progress - the magical surge alone could have killed you! At the very least, your tether should have snapped like a neck in a hangman’s noose.” To emphasize his point, a miniature replica of himself appeared in the air next to his head, a noose around its neck. The miniature took a step as if walking off a cliff, fell, and jerked short with an unpleasantly loud crack.

“Well, excuse me!” she snapped. “I got blown up by Caelum because of your stupid prank!”

“No, that was your fault.” He summoned a hammock and glass of lemonade again. “Honestly, what possessed you to attempt to physically coerce a magical being responsible for the creation of the heavens into helping you?”

“She was lying to me about knowing where Twilight was!”

“Yes, and an excellent job of picking up on that you did,” he nodded. “At that point, I actually began to wonder if you might convince her. Then you did something stupid, as is your wont, and cured me of that cautious hope.”

“If you could see all of that, couldn’t you have helped at all?”

“If she’d had any inkling I was there watching, Rainbow Dash, we would not be having this conversation now,” he answered gravely. “We did not part on the best of terms. If only thinking you were working for me was enough to make her that surly, imagine what my actual presence would have caused!”

“What if – “

“There are no what-ifs about it,” he cut her off. “Caelum is a dead end now. I would suggest you try to find a new way to retrieve your friend – such as, perhaps, contacting the Princesses. Why you have yet to do that, I’m not sure, but it’s too late for you to do it now. Fluttershy and Spike have already colluded to warn them. They’ll actually be coming here tomorrow, if it’s any interest to you.” He sipped from the lemonade. “I think this flashback is done. You might want to answer the door soon-ish.”

“You really should,” Cloud Ferry agreed. “It’s rude to leave a guest waiting so long.”

With a cry of surprise, Rainbow Dash flew into the air and dug her hooves securely into the ceiling, turning as she did so to face Cloud Ferry. The unicorn was standing calmly in the door of the bathroom, watching her with dispassionate interest.

“So you do own a hairbrush,” she commented, smirking. “I had been wondering about that.”

“How are you in my house?” she demanded furiously, returning to the floor. “Get out!”

“You should probably lock your doors more often,” she chuckled. Another round of tapping at the door came. “Your guest’s a-waiting…”

“Get out of my way,” Dash grumbled, pushing past the unicorn. She trotted with undue haste through her house to the living room, where the knocking was loudest, and pulled open the door to her porch. “What?”

It was Fluttershy on the other side. Her hoof was raised to knock on the door again, but she lowered it quickly “Um…Princess Celestia wants to speak with you?”

Dash gave her a dead stare worthy of Twilight woken up early on a bad day. “Why?”

“Um…you were the only lead left, she said…and that maybe you knew something about why Twilight disappeared?”

She sighed. “Fine. Where is she?”

“She’s set up in Sugarcube Corner. I think she was having breakfast at one of the tables outside behind the bakery,” Fluttershy answered. “You should go speak with her right away – um, if you’re not doing anything else right now?”

“I’m not,” she confirmed. “I’ll go talk with her in a sec. I just need to finish getting ready.”

“Oh. Um, good.” She trotted back to the edge of the porch and hopped off, hovering in the air for a second and looking back. “I hope we can find Twilight soon.”

“I hope so, too, Flutters,” Dash sighed as her friend left. “I hope I do, too.”

------

The world flickered back into existence almost instantly for Twilight, it seemed. There was no shifting of space-time around her like a teleportation spell would have caused, no sensation of movement; just blackness, and then light. She and Beta arrived in a large, hemispherical chamber; the floor was tiled with hundreds of miniscule mosaics in blue and purple and red, illuminated by a shaft of sunlight streaming through an aperture at the apex of the roof. Streamers of moss hung from the ceiling almost to the floor, and channels cutting the room into four quarters flowed with softly burbling water that emptied into a deep basin in the heart of the chamber. It was peaceful.

“This is my personal garden,” Beta explained happily. “I come up here when I need rest or escape from court. It’s a nightmare” – she winced – “well, okay, maybe not that bad, but it’s still stressful. But now that you’re back, we can split duties – I’ll keep charge for a few months while you acclimate back to Domhan again, but you’ll sit in during Court and see how everything works – and that will make things more manageable. When we get some off time, I can show you around the cities so you can see how things have changed – and they’ve changed a lot, you’ll want to explore probably, you always were curious – oh, what should I show her first?”

“Maybe we could start with wherever I’ll be staying?” Twilight suggested. Beta giggled.

“Of course! Of course, of course, that’d be a great way to start.” A mischievous grin flashed across her face before she suddenly slammed herself against Twilight and dove for the pool in the center of the room. Twilight let out a cry of surprise and pain – it felt like somepony was trying to pluck every hair in her coat on her right side off with tweezers, all at once – and was yanked along with the other star. The moment they sank beneath the water, their coats came unstuck, allowing her to push frantically away and paddle for the surface.

Beta was laughing when her head breached the surface next to Twilight. “Your mane’s out, Alpha!”

Twilight ran a hoof over her head once she was sure she could breathe again. Sure enough, the flaming mane she’d gotten from her body shift had gone out, leaving behind what felt like a mixture of hair and seaweed that she could see Beta didn’t have. She was sure she looked absolutely ridiculous. “Yours is, too!”

“Yep!” Beta giggled. “Now, come on, Alpha, the castle’s down at the bottom of this shaft!”

“Wait!” she exclaimed, pausing Beta before she could submerge again. “How are we supposed to breathe? Why is your castle underwater?”

Beta looked confused. “Kelpies can breathe underwater. My idea, and it’s worked out wonderfully! The castle’s in a cave below here for protection from sea serpents.” She quickly added, “But those haven’t been a problem for almost three centuries!” when she saw Twilight’s worry.

“Kelpies can breathe underwater?” she repeated quizzically. Beta nodded. “How?”

“Gills!” she answered matter-of-factly. “Inside of your cheek and throat. Basically, just breathe normally.”

Nervously, Twilight watched her submerge. Dozens of scenarios for how this could go wrong flashed through her mind. Could a sun drown? If she drowned, would that actually kill her, or would she just become a star again? What if water got into her lungs? Would she be able to breathe on land again after that, or would she just suffocate – her lungs filled with too much water to permit oxygen to enter? Would –

Beta poked her head back up. “Alpha? Everything okay?”

“Yeah!” she answered hastily. “I’m just, uh…nervous.”

Beta nodded. “Right. You’ll be perfectly fine, don’t worry!”

She swallowed anxiously. She wanted to trust Beta on this - she could even feel ridges on the inside of her cheeks that she assumed were the gills - but the spectre of being trapped helplessly, struggling desperately to breathe, in a closed room or something held her in place. “Okay,” she replied anyways. Beta kept her head up, watching. Another minute passed as she tried to work up the nerve to take the plunge.

“Count of three?” Beta suggested. Twilight nodded gratefully. Count of three. Simple enough. “One…”

“Two…”

“Three!” Beta dived under. Twilight hesitated a second longer, tried to banish her fears from her mind, took a deep breath, and submerged herself as well. When she opened her eyes underwater, it felt almost like they were still closed – except she could see. Her mind grasped for an explanation for a moment before she recalled a passage from an old biology book – Amphibian Ancillary Anatomy – that she’d read as a filly.

Nictitating membranes, of course! she realized. At least I’ll be able to see.

“You’ve got a bubble, Alpha,” Beta observed; her voice should have sounded distorted, at the very least, Twilight thought, but it didn't; kelpies' ears must be adapted to water too, just like the rest of their bodies apparently were. Abruptly, Beta aimed a precise kick at her midsection, and a stream of bubbles spewed from her mouth as it drove out the breath she'd unconsciously been holding. Her mouth filled with water as she gasped reflexively – but something snapped shut over her trachea and kept the flood out before it could inundate her lungs, maintaining a watertight seal even when she opened her mouth again. She wouldn't drown! The brief burst of panic she’d felt melted into relief. Perfectly safe.

“I think I’m ready to go on,” she said sheepishly.

“Down we go, then!” Beta smiled and started swimming.

Twilight followed close after Beta as she descended, the water growing darker and darker as they got further and further from the shaft of sunlight that was its sole source of illumination and becoming a sort of dull shade of green. The shaft’s diameter remained constant up until the very end, when it suddenly seemed to balloon outwards, widening rapidly into a flooded atrium of some sort. Bright globes of yellow-white light were dotted at regular intervals on the walls, keeping the huge space lit with a cheerful glow. Beta – and by extension, Twilight – drifted all the way down to the base of the room, where more mosaics – well-maintained, not what she’d expected from an underwater building, but then, the kelpies seemed to be at least a partially subaquatic culture and would reasonably keep their underwater dwellings in good shape – decorated the floor.

“Oh! That’s what I’ll show you first!” Beta’s face lit up as she thought of something. “The observatory!”

“You have an observatory underwater?” Twilight asked incredulously. “Wouldn’t the intervening water layers interfere with accurate observation?”

“You’ll see!” Beta grinned knowingly, before kicking off from the floor and angling for an archway sunk into the wall near the base of the chamber, trailing small bubbles as air pockets in her coat escaped. “Come on – we’ll be entering one of the dry parts of the palace soon, so remember to get all the water out of your mouth before we surface, so you can breathe air.”

“Why are there dry parts of the Palace if kelpies can breathe underwater?”

Beta laughed. “We’re not just queens of kelpies, Alpha! There’s wolves and thunderbirds, too. They drown, unlike us down here, so we have to make accommodations.”

Twilight nodded thoughtfully. Like pegasi using cloudstone and buildings roads, she thought. Even if they don’t need them, unicorn and earth pony visitors would.

On the other side of the archway was a respectably long hall, dotted with other arches into other rooms – and even a few more circular openings in the roof and floor, to allow access to rooms above and below the hall. Kelpies poked their heads through as the two stars passed, servants and soldiers whispering curiously amongst themselves, speculating about the presence of a second being that looked like Beta Centauri. Twilight felt immediately self-conscious, though Beta seemed completely unaffected. Oddly, the thing she felt most self-conscious about was the fact that she had a mane still – would they believe that she was Alpha Centauri? There were several major differences between her and Beta, after all. Would they even realize she was a star?

When did them not believing become something to avoid? she asked herself, shaking her head slightly. This is crazy, but it fits the facts as I know them. No other alternative scenario has presented itself, at least.

They came to a four-way junction in the hall, turned left, and ascended a shaft that seemed to serve the same function as stairs in pony structures. They exited the shaft three floors up and made their way down another long corridor before emerging into a large dining hall crammed with tables – and those tables were crammed with kelpies in the livery of palace servants, and every one of them was staring straight at Twilight and Beta – but mostly Twilight. The whispering started up immediately, and didn’t abate once they’d successfully navigated the maze and exited out the other side.

“Heh. Shortcut.” Beta smiled apologetically. “You’ll have to get used to it again soon, anyways, so…”

“It’s fine,” Twilight sighed, glancing back at the open archway and noting mentally that she hadn’t seen a single door in the entire castle, nor a single window. The only illumination came from the magic lights. “I just wish they wouldn’t look at me like some sort of carnival freak.”

“Well, you haven’t been reintroduced,” Beta said. “It’s been two thousand years since you were a Queen here, so they won’t recognize you. Right now, you’re just a funny purple kelpie with gold wings.” She tilted her head quizzically. “Why did you stay purple, Alpha?”

“I’ve been purple my entire life,” she answered. “It just seemed natural.” She didn’t admit that it hadn’t occurred to her until now that she’d had any control over what she looked like after the spell.

Beta frowned, but they kept going. Down halls, up shafts, down other shafts, through rooms of servants and nobles – nobles who proceeded to follow them like floats in some kind of weird underwater parade – until eventually, they came to a drop down into a j-shaped tube.

“Here we are!” Beta declared. “On the other side of this is the throne room. We’ve got to go through it to get to the observatory. Remember to expel as much water as you can before breaching the surface, unless you like feeling like you’re drowning. I’ll go in first.”

Beta vanished down the hole. Feeling like she was stepping off a cliff, despite the water buoying her up, Twilight swam down after her, kicking off from the low point in the curve and forcing the water out of her mouth and throat before she breached the surface. The air was cold on her face as she pulled herself up the steps at the top, and she was shivering slightly once she was fully extricated from the water, but she refrained from shaking herself off – she wasn’t sure what the protocol for that was. Wouldn’t it be an amazing start to my return, she thought, if it began by spraying the upper nobility with water?

The walls of the throne room were carved from brown stone, and left unadorned save for the ubiquitous globes of light. It was longer than it was wide, extending maybe a hundred and fifty feet away from the trio of thrones Twilight stood behind, and twenty feet wide to either side of the thrones. At the far end of the room was a matching trio of tall windows that spilled wavering blue-tinted light across the gold-trimmed blue carpet that led up a set of steps to the dais. It was just as impressive as the throne room in Canterlot Palace, despite the lack of ornamentation, just for sheer size, and it was filled with dozens of nobles and functionaries – metal-feathered birds that looked like giant hawks as big as a pony, kelpies in a multitude of earth tones and brightly colored robes, even a few wolves, their ears pierced through with golden ornamentation and their fur dyed in odd patterns – and at the head of them all, Beta Centauri, mane re-lit and wings spread wide; Twilight could see why they’d made her queen – or at least, some part of her thought, what being a queen had made her.

“Kelpies, Thunderbirds, and wolves!” she shouted, drawing the attention of the inhabitants of the throne room instantly. “Subjects of the Queendom of Domhan! Many of you were aware of my repeated absences over these long years – my annual disappearance, that I’m sure most of your schedulers found very annoying to work around.” Some good-natured chuckling rose from the crowd. “I come before you today to announce both the purpose of these absences, and a glorious event in the history of our nation. You see, over the past two thousand years, during my absences, I could not be found because I was not on Domhan.”

She ignored the murmuring that arose from that statement, and pressed on, grinning widely. “I was searching neighboring worlds, under the rule of my compatriots – other stars, other queens and kings reigning over a thousand sunrises on a hundred different planets – for someone very dear to me, who was lost millennia ago – and who I have found again. Nobility of the highest order, today we have a second Queen once more!” Gasps of surprise. “I have found my sister. Alpha Centauri has returned to us!”

Beta looked over her shoulder and grinned at Twilight. Taking that as her signal, the star trotted forward around the thrones, still dripping wet. The nobles looked at her with a mixture of skepticism and curiosity. Beta may have been able to continue under that weight of doubt, but Twilight felt like she would be crushed under it. She could feel every eye on her as she stood there awkwardly, her wings twitching with discomfort despite her best efforts to force them to be still, while Beta finished triumphantly.

“Ladies and gentlebeings of the Court of the Suns, I present to you Alpha Centauri, Spirit of the First Sun and Co-Queen of Domhan!”

Twilight felt a sudden, wild spark of magic, latching onto her uncertainty and escaping her control, ignite her mane and tail again, the comfortable heat from their ignition helping to push back the cold and dispelling a bit of the fear. She straightened as, starting with the wolves that hung in packs near the front, and spreading quickly to the thunderbirds and regalia-adorned kelpies, the assembled nobility of a nation knelt before her.

------

Rainbow Dash circled high above Sugarcube Corner before gliding in for a landing, searching the nearby environs for any sign of her unicorn stalker. That she had to deal with Cloud Ferry in her head was bad enough; having to bump into her randomly in the real world throughout the day was intolerable, and she was pretty sure that word came directly from Ferry’s vocabulary, since she tended to avoid using what she deemed overly-long words. She searched for ten long minutes for her, and, finally satisfied there’d be no unwanted interruptions, let herself descend gently in towards the ground.

As Fluttershy had said, Princess Celestia was at a table set up behind the bakery, sipping from a cup of tea, with a crumb-scattered plate in front of her. What Fluttershy had not mentioned, though, was that Princess Luna was in attendance as well, and that all the rest of their friends were there too – minus Twilight of course. Dash landed nearby and completed her journey on foot, oddly enjoying the feel of the dirt underhoof. It was very different from how the dust on her moon had felt. She found herself digging a hoof into it idly, fascinated by how it stuck together and clumped under pressure, its moisture making it stick and form up into little ramparts.

“Uh, sugarcube?” Applejack prompted. Rainbow Dash blinked, then realized exactly what it was that she’d been doing and grinned sheepishly before taking the final few steps to the table they were seated at. She did her best to ignore the odd look Luna was giving her, and took her own seat.

“Fluttershy said you wanted to see me about what happened to Twilight?” she said. Celestia nodded.

“You can perhaps imagine my concern at learning a few days after the fact that my student seems to have vanished,” the Princess said, smiling gently. “And that the only other pony who might know her location was comatose in the Everfree Forest. Have you recovered well?”

“From the coma thing? Yeah, I guess. Still kinda out of it.” She didn’t mention that she felt almost uncomfortable in her own skin, and that Equestria’s gravity had felt abnormally, irritatingly heavy since her return – and she somehow thought that mentioning assaulting the Queen of the Universe would be a bad idea. Well, a bad idea without explanation following immediately. She could justify it! Sort of. “So what did you want to know?”

“Well. We can start with what – exactly – happened to my student.” She set the tea down and focused her full attention on Rainbow Dash. “And after that, we can discuss why I was not informed immediately that Twilight Sparkle – my most faithful student and friend – had vanished.”

“Ah still think this ain’t going to help,” Applejack mumbled.

“Nevertheless, farmpony, our sister has decided to pursue it as an avenue of investigation,” Luna sighed. “And so we must let arguments lay still for the moment, that we may move onto more fruitful leads. Such as the fact that the hill they were on seems to have combusted at – “

“Let her speak, Luna,” Celestia murmured. The other alicorn fell silent, but that didn't stop her from shooting Celestia an annoyed glare before focusing on the situation at hand. All eyes were on Rainbow Dash.

“Okay,” she started, collecting her thoughts. Hopefully, she wouldn't sound too crazy. Not that she was crazy, of course, but in a bad light, some of what she'd done could be seen as...less than rational. “Well, I’d gotten to the party kind of late…”

She recounted the events of three nights ago, starting with why she hadn’t arrived on time for the party – apologizing to them all for it, as well, which Pinkie accepted on all their behalves in good grace – and moved on to the sighting of the weird meteor that had actually drawn her out, which drew a renewed look of interest from Luna.

“I canceled the meteor shower for that night due to poor conditions, and I scheduled no lone meteors besides,” she muttered, disturbed. “This is impossible.”

“Hush,” Celestia urged her. “Continue, Rainbow Dash.”

She skipped over the argument she had with Twilight – it wasn’t important, anyways – and quickly reached the part where the alien space-pony – the kelpie – had slammed into the hill and blew it up. Her friends, especially Applejack, listened in increasing disbelief as she told them how the thing had announced itself as Beta Centauri and claimed Twilight was her sister.

“You’re joking,” Applejack interrupted flatly. “Are you sure you’re okay, Dash? You must've got hit in the head pretty hard to be out like that.”

“Quiet, dear,” Rarity shushed her, but it was evident from her tone that she was just as skeptical.

“Sister, is that not the same being – “ Luna started, but Celestia held up a hoof and quieted her.

“Go on, Rainbow Dash,” she ordered softly. “What happened next?”

“Oh, please!” Cloud Ferry snorted, stepping out from behind Celestia. “She doesn’t want to hear this, Rainbow Dash.”

“Buck off,” she snarled. Everypony else recoiled; Celestia looked shocked.

Rainbow Dash!” Rarity snapped, aghast.

“None of them believe you, Rainbow Dash.” Cloud Ferry smirked. She bent close to Celestia’s ear and whispered loud enough that everyone had to have heard her, “She’s a madmare, Princess!”

“I’m not crazy!” she protested, jumping out of her chair and slamming her forehooves down on the table, causing everything on it to hop an inch into the air. “Just leave me alone for once!”

“Absolutely mad…” Ferry sang, teleporting over next to Applejack. “The mud pony’s right, for once. You’re making absolutely no sense, and haven’t since you started this whole madcap one-mare rescue mission. Honestly, what possessed you to go charging off into the unknown to rescue a unicorn that you’ve barely known three years?”

“Just because you never had a friend in your life - !”

“Whoa, there, RD,” Applejack cautioned. “Calm down!”

“I’m sick of you!” Dash snapped. “I haven’t had a single day without you messing with my head since that freak dug around inside my memories!”

“Um…Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy whispered. “You’re – “

“You were even crazy before she did that,” Ferry chuckled. “Rude, unsocialized, filthy – “

What?

“ – bird-brained – “

With a wordless shout of rage, Rainbow Dash hurled herself across the table at the unicorn, or tried to – her weight flipped the thing, dumping her on the ground and narrowly missing Celestia’s chin. Cloud Ferry cackled with glee.

“ ‘Queenslayer’ they’ll start calling you!” she laughed. “That’s two royals you’ve almost killed!”

Dash picked herself up and leapt for Cloud Ferry again, dodging AJ’s attempt to tackle and restrain her. Cloud Ferry laughed and danced out of the way, letting the pegasus sail past her, teleported out of the way again when Dash came back for a second strike, and positioned herself in front of Celestia when she came back for a third go. This time, instead of skidding harmlessly across the grass like before, Rainbow Dash slammed directly into Celestia, sending them both sprawling and forcing Luna to dodge into the path of another customer who was trying to avoid the spontaneous outbreak of chaos, and then that customer panicked and jumped into another seated customer, knocking them both over as well. Cloud Ferry laughed even harder.

“Insane!” she sang. “Mad as a hatter! Crazy!”

I’m not crazy!

“Crazy, crazy!” she chanted. “Almost two royals at once! A menace! They’ll never believe you now, dear – maybe this time, you can be forced to see sense before you get us both killed!”

And then, in full view of Rainbow Dash, Cloud Ferry smirked and disappeared into thin air, leaving her alone to face the fury of two Princesses and four mortified friends. She looked around at the destruction she’d caused, and giggled nervously – it was perhaps the single most insane sound she’d ever produced.

“I’m not crazy,” she insisted weakly. Unconsciously, she dug a hoof into the dirt again, some part of her marveling at how odd it felt.

Yeah, she was forced to admit, finally. I’m going crazy.