We… We found him!
The light! The light is faltering!
Go! Go and bring him!
He is ready!
Bring him back!
Back to us!
Our eye is opening…
We… I… I am waking…
We can’t see…
It is dark…
But… We see the light.
The warrior, the sword, and the light.
I… need… them…
I need… my friends… back…
I need… to see them…
I feel… alone… I feel…
Like everything around us.
Like the universe around me.
Bring… them… all… so they, too, won’t feel happiness… with me…
Fumu walked out of the school, and the first thing she did, was look up at the sky. It was raining. Again. She pulled out her umbrella, and continued her way onto the muddy road. She had just spent the whole day correcting homework, and now she couldn’t wait to just go sit at home and relax. The day wasn’t over, it wasn’t even close to, but still she felt her heart heavy, especially since she woke up that morning. It hadn’t let go since, and wouldn’t let her do her work in peace.
On the way toward town, where she first needed to go buy groceries, she had to stop and take a deep breath, feeling both a chill run down her spine and a small pain in her chest. She looked back to the sky, squinting her eyes. Those clouds, over there… They were black. Feeling more worried than she already was, she closed her eyes and breathed out deeply. Popstar had been under the protection of the Agency for over three years now, but the news that reached them from outer space were not reassuring. Everyday, the Dark matter were growing in numbers and aggressiveness, and Fumu feared, from what Sir Galacta Knight had subtly told her on his last visit, that the Agency did not have enough soldiers to face this threat…
“Bun, Kirby,” she mumbled to the sky, visualizing both of her little brothers. “Be careful out there… If anything should happen to you both… I don’t know what I would do… Look out for each other… Alright?”
With a deep sigh to straighten herself up, she continued on her way to town, ready to face the tired villagers’ faces, equally fraught with worry, while those dark clouds loomed over them, watching the Dreamlanders the same way they were watching the rest of the Universe.
Dragato was out of breath; the pain in his hip was worse than ever before, probably due to his sudden move when he ran after his young pupil. They were in front of the giant tree they saw Kirby escalate at incredible speed, and of course, they received no response.
“Azure,” Arthur said toward the beast, “do you see him?”
The Wolfwrath hesitated, but he gave a short nod as he stared at the sky, eyes squinted.
“I see a lot of things in the tree,” he said, voice hoarser than usual. “But he is there.”
“Is he gonna be alright?” Ribbon asked worriedly, turning her head to Vei with the others. “Sir Vei?”
Strangely, they noticed, the man had lost his usual smile. The frown that barred his face was accompanied by a group of flashing meteors that passed through his eyes as he stared up at the canopy. Finally, he looked down at the young fairy, slightly opening his mouth for a moment, before shaking his head to retrieve his bearings.
“Let me first be clear about something,” he first said seriously. “I cannot see what exactly will happen. I just see the possibilities. And they are endless. I just carefully observe the signs that lead up to a certain event, and that’s how I can predict the future.”
He looked back up the tree, and his gaze grew worried as the meteor shower passed in his eyes and showed a dark blue nebula that filled them with dark and cold hues.
“There was… a chance in a million that Kirby would react this way. I did not plan this right… And if that is the case, then the path we are headed down…”
“He transformed,” Azure suddenly cut off. “He left!”
Dragato quickly turned to the medium, and saw his eyes widen, as if horrified. He turned on his heels.
“Azure,” he called, making the wolf turn to him, growling in anticipation. “Track him down. Don’t come back until you found him. Understood?”
The Wolfwrath’s eyes suddenly lit up, and his pearly white teeth showed as he snarled viciously. He stood up on his hind legs, turned, and bounced off into a run, screeching loudly. Even as he disappeared through the bushes and vines, his snarls could still be heard through the forest. Dragato took in a deep breath, secretly praying to the stars that he would find Kirby. He turned back when he heard Arthur ask, as if he already knew the answer:
“What will happen in this path, Vei?”
He took a moment to answer, but the starry-eyed man closed his eyes, something he didn’t do often.
“I must go,” was his answer as he turned to the golden-cladded leader. “I am of no more use here, as I am needed elsewhere. The only advice I can give you without breaking my oath of not disclosing the future to anyone… is to be wary of who you trust. Wether it be a friend or a rival, not everyone is as they seem. Keep this in mind as you search for the remaining shards.”
Arthur grunted, but still he gave a curt nod, deciding to simply ask:
“And where do you need to be?”
And Vei retrieved his kind smile, although the flying stars in his eyes gave him a fake look.
“Far away, to assist in someone else’s destiny. Good luck, Star Warriors. May the Great Nova protect you on your way.”
The two men shook hands, and they watched as Vei turned on his heels and headed back to the village, hands joined as usual. Maëlle remained silent as she looked up at Sir Dragato, who was still looking up at the tree. She hugged Landia around the neck, feeling safe in his soft fur. She only hoped that her big brother Kirby would come back… She couldn’t say she completely understood all the things she had seen in the house, but one thing she knew, was that Kirby was more than just another kid she met that day. The moment she heard him talk, she knew, quite simply, that he was more. The dragon she was clinging to rumbled his throat, moving his head to look at her with his blue eye. She smiled warmly at him.
“Big Brother’s gonna come back!” she said quite loudly, stopping everyone in their talking and getting their attention.
Dragato stared at her as she tugged at Ribbon’s skirt and gave her a hug. Now he understood what the little girl saw in Kirby, and could only wonder… Was she also blessed by the stars? He would have to ask the Elder about this… but for now, he tried to remain calm. Azure would find Kirby, then bring him back. What could go wrong?
Blade sighed in defeat and sat down on a rock, dropping his helmet. He bit his lip, biting down on his anger as well. He, Hailan, Bun, Galacta Knight and Magolor had traveled back to where they encountered the battleship earlier that evening. The only way to see in the darkness of the ravine at night was with the lights from both of their ships as they hovered above them in silence. The bright lights from the Lor Starcutter were particularly useful, Blade couldn’t deny that… But still, Sword was nowhere to be found. It weighted on him heavily; if he had found just a single trace of his presence here, or even – though he didn’t dare think about this – his body, it would give him repose, peace of mind or even hope that he was alive. But now, this ravine offered nothing.
He slowly looked up when he heard something scratch against rocks ahead of him. The others were farther down the path, following the small river stream that flowed here between the rocks and walls, and only Magolor, the strange Halcandran that Galacta Knight brought to them, was here with him. He felt… odd, that young man, but there was something light about him that somehow relieved him of a bit of stress. His cheery voice had a strange effect on them, something that made them smile, but Blade wasn’t complaining. Kirby had that same effect on people. The two would certainly get along well when they met. If they met, that is. Now, the young floating creature seemed to be scavenging through rocks under the water. Ears flattened backward, Blade observed his movements carefully, even though his mind was completely elsewhere. Right now, he could only think back to when they were still in Dreamland with their lord… and wonder how things could have gone if their lord hadn’t drank that wine cup. Things were so different back then, and it hadn’t been that long since everything changed. How did things happen so fast? One day Nightmare was gone, the next they were at peace. One day their lord told them about the Dark matter, and the next… he was gone. Just like that, he had been erased from their lives, leaving them alone to deal with another lost parent. Sword had always agreed with his brother on this fact; their lord had been like a father to them. Though they never told him that… And now, it was Sword’s turn…
His stream of thoughts and souvenirs was suddenly interrupted when he heard someone clear his throat. He lifted his drooping head once more to look at the young Halcandran in front of him. His glowing yellow eyes had a worried shine about them as he slightly tilted his head and raised his pointy ears. He held out his hands.
“Hum,” he started, “sorry to bother, but… I found this. Does it belong to your brother…?”
Blade’s interest suddenly rose and he looked at what he was holding. There was no doubt. He would recognize that star-shaped badge anywhere. He took it from his hands and held it closer, examining it quickly.
“It does!” he exclaimed, his excited voice echoing against the walls. “It’s his badge!”
“Then he was here!” Magolor completed his thoughts, making him nod in agreement. “But… how? You said he fell from all the way up there!”
“I don’t know, but his body’s definitely not here,” was all Blade could say on the matter, turning around to wave to the rest of the crew to come over. “Sword was here, and now he’s not, and that can only mean that he was either moved or that he moved himself. In both cases, we need to find him!”
He turned back to the Halcandran, and found his eyes curved up, as if smiling. His hands joined in front of him and he tilted his head, straightening his ears.
“Then I’ll be happy to help!” he told the knight, making him smirk. “The Starcutter is equipped to find specific objects; it’s usually used to find minerals and ores. But if we use this badge… maybe I could try and see if it leads to your brother? I’m not really good at explaining how that thing works, but I swear it does…”
Blade’s eyes widened. He had heard of these machines and had always been amazed that they existed. Exactly like Magolor said, the machine was used to track down specific objects if a sample was provided. If a sample of DNA was used in the machine, it could track down a person… He had yet to see one in person, but if that young man was talking true, then it wouldn’t be long. And now, as he stared down at the badge in his gloves, he could only hope Sword had left his fingerprints on it, or that it would suffice. If it did not work… he had an idea where Sword was. Only the pirates had been here last. They were the main suspects. But as the others came up to them and they explained the situation at hand, Blade silently wondered, for a brief second that he soon forgot, why Magolor bothered to leave his planet in a hurry with a ship containing this much equipment.
The world was still heavy and blurry when he awoke; he was floating on a cloud, yet he had weights on his chest that made it painful to breathe. His eyes slowly opened, half-way, but he couldn’t see anything in this dark place, except for a warm, blurry light by his side. He couldn’t move either; he couldn’t even feel his body. The voices he heard were distant and incomprehensible, echoing whispers he couldn’t focus on.
“Non, monsieur, he is not awake, and won’t wake up anytime soon. I thought I made it clear.”
“Fo’ stars’ sake, Valken! We can’t keep this guy around, skwak! Them Star Warriors’re gonna come after us to get him back, skwak! This is stupid!”
“I don’t know why you’re complainin’ to me, Vul. I’m following orders, aussi simple que ça. Ze Lord wants zis guy healed and alive, so I’m keeping him alive. If you have complaints, you go to him.”
“Well you bet I’m gonna go to him! No way we’re keepin’ someone from the Agency here, not on my ship!”
That voice disappeared and faded as it ranted, leaving the other one, the one with a strong accent, alone in the same room.
“Ce n’est même pas ton vaisseau, stupid chicken,” the voice mumbled as it drew closer to him.
He heard shuffling, and saw a bright light from a machine glow against a face he did not recognize it was so blurry. He saw movement, and the face looked up at him, two round black eyes with the bright blue light shining against them like mirrors. The injured slowly blinked and breathed in with difficulty, forcing out a little wheeze that made it known he was awake. The blurry face looked down at the machine he was holding.
“Ne t’inquiète pas, Sword, mon ami,” the voice softly spoke, yet hoarse, like one of an elder man. “You may rest. You’re safe here. You will meet our Lord soon, as planned.”
And the knight, though he tried to talk first with no success, fell immediately back into unconsciousness, with the distant feeling he had heard this voice before, long ago, and he slept a dreamless sleep.
During day time, while the sun was still doing its course across the sky, Neo Star’s jungles were warm and humid, and the songs of the birds and the calls of the animals made it all inviting. At night, when the only light was that of the two small moons orbiting around the planet and the light from the stars, the jungles, under their thick canopy of leaves and giant trees, were engulfed in darkness. Kirby had been flying for over twenty minutes now, or so it was how it felt; maybe it was even more, he didn’t know. He had followed the light he had seen in the sky, but now, he was afraid to admit he had lost it. Instead, he continued flying above the trees, eyeing down through their leaves when they parted ways, searching for that light. For that moment, Kirby did not care. He did not think of all the things that had plagued his mind for the last years. He did not think of all the ridiculous things he was being told at the Agency, of the alliances between worlds, names of higher ranking soldiers, or even all the praise he was given everyday. He wanted to forget all about it, and so he did.
His eyes shifted suddenly when he saw it; the light, down there, through the trees. It was still up ahead, but it was definitely closer than it had been before. Without thinking, Kirby plunged through the canopy, wings held close at his sides, and immediately began swirling through branches and wooden arms that extended for him, leaving a few feathers behind in his wake. The light was always farther ahead, never in his reach but never out of his sight. It was bright, purple-ish even… What was it? It couldn’t be Dark matter; they wouldn’t be able to make such a pure light! Was it a Neon? Why would it glow like that? Kirby found himself like before; a simple, curious child that wanted to know. He had always been this way. The events had simply surpassed his mind and forced him into a broken mental state that had been entirely knew to him. Now, strangely, that he knew where he hailed from… it felt like it was time to end this masquerade. He wasn’t a soldier like Bun; he was still a child. It seemed to him like Sir Dragato had been the only one to see…
Kirby’s breath suddenly caught in his throat and he choked; his wings froze, he flew straight into a tree and was sent plummeting to the ground like a dead bird. He hit a few branches which slapped his face painfully before finally landing on a larger one, where he was able to hold himself with his feet before sliding off to the side. He hugged the branch tightly, coughing and trying to retrieve a normal breathing. What had just happened? When he calmed, he noticed something odd… There was no noise; like the whole forest had stopped everything it had been doing. No insects, no wind, no nothing. It was almost eerie for the young child.
And when the leaves moved and allowed the light from the moons to come shining down on him and the branches, he saw it. A shadow, like a dark mist, rising from the bark of the tree, a few feet in front of him. It was thick, nothing like smoke. He would recognize it anywhere, and it suddenly scared him more than anything. This Dark matter was large… It grew tall, and when its eye opened, something else followed. A mask. A V-shaped visor that surrounded that red eye. The form rose around him, stretching its darkness without touching him, and Kirby immediately jumped to his feet, readying his knives-like feathers for combat. The Dark matter spoke, its voice like fingernails running against a blackboard; his skin tingled with goosebumps he couldn’t hide.
“It’s dangerous to wander too far at night, Kirby of the Stars.”
It paused. Kirby squinted his eyes and raised his wing like a shield, deciding not to respond.
“You don’t shine here. You don’t shine anymore. Are you lost?”
He carefully watched the shadows that spread on his sides, trying not to listen to what the voice told him.
“We are lost too… We fought with our friend, and now we lost them…”
Despite himself, Kirby’s eyes strayed back to the eye, surprised to find it staring at the ground, as if saddened. Was it possible? A Dark matter could feel? Or rather the collective mind… He risked a question, voice slow and careful.
“Who… Who was your friend?”
The masked Dark matter looked back at him, and they made eye contact. Somehow, Kirby couldn’t look away, like there was a magnet between them.
“They went by many names. You know her. You saw her as a sword, a sword that once cut us so deeply we are still bleeding. We are lost without her. But your light can replace hers. Can it, Kirby of the Stars?”
“My… My light?”
Kirby was confused by the words the being was speaking. Was he talking about the sacred sword Galaxia? He knew it was an important weapon that had been a key in the war, but he personally didn’t know much about it, except that he had been supposed to inherit it. Kirby was reminded of the last time he had held the sword; a time he preferred to forget, yet dreamt about many times.
“The light that vanquished the nightmare,” the Dark matter answered, and only now did Kirby realize it was edging closer to him, like a snake recoiling around its prey. “The light we saw that day blinded us. We want it by our side. Do you want friends, Kirby of the Stars? We can provide you with so many… Even the lost ones. You won’t ever feel lost.”
If he had any, Kirby’s ears would have perked up. The… lost ones?
“I… I’m sorry, but,” he stuttered, suddenly finding the will to back away, lifting his wing once more to shield himself. “No. I’m not interested. I have enough friends, and-”
“You are already our friend, Kirby of the Stars. Your heart is darkening.”
The Dark matter then rose even higher and from its darkness spawned even more armor parts. Kirby didn’t stick around to watch; he quickly turned and jumped down the branch, just as the Dark matter extended its smoke to catch him. He went back into flying through the trees, except this time he was the one being chased. The Dark matter was silent behind him, but he knew, he could feel, it was right behind and wouldn’t get lost between the trees. Kirby flew as fast as he could, flapping his arms relentlessly. He had to get away! It was all he could think about.
Eventually, he suddenly flew into a patch of thick vines, twisting his body and closing his wings just in time to fly through, and he arrived in a sudden wave of cold winds carrying the smell of the sea. The clashing waves crashed against the cliff he had arrived at and Kirby quickly stopped at the outcropping, eyeing the dark waters below suspiciously. He turned back, and watched the silent forest beyond the section of rocky ground that separated him from it. There was no one… He took a moment to breathe, but he quickly held it back, listening carefully. He had heard… something… else. Flapping wings. He couldn’t mistake that sound for something else.
He felt something, neither cold or warm, brush against the skin of his back and arm, and he slowly turned his head. That red, single eye was staring deep into his blue ones.
And suddenly, Kirby found himself in darkness, facing an immense eye. It towered over him like an overwhelming being, but its eyelid was barely opened; still Kirby could see the black pupil behind it focused on him. The eye was all he could see in the darkness, all he could focus on.
That voice, he had already heard it. Neither man or woman, it spoke strangely gently to him, yet all it said was his name.
“Kirby! Close your eyes!”
That shout made him blink; and he was thrown back onto the cliff, just in time to see a bright, blinding light flash by, pushing away the Dark matter. At the same time, Kirby felt a hand push him back, and he staggered back before falling on his backside. He was trembling all over, unable to breathe correctly and understand what he was seeing. The light had pushed the Dark matter away, and now the two beings faced each other, with the light shielding the young Star Warrior. The Dark matter’s lone eye widened, as if surprised.
The light suddenly flew straight at the Dark matter, but the dark being flew away, either in fear or in retreat, and the bright light didn’t bother in pursuit. The Dark matter disappeared in the ground, leaving Kirby alone with the light. The young Star Warrior could only stare at it, still on the ground, and though he tried to speak, he could only stutter meaningless sounds. He could see a form inside the light… It settled on the ground, and glowed less and less as it turned toward him. No one spoke; Kirby just watched… as the light vanished. The moons shone down brightly against the cliff side in a silvery glow that made it all too unreal.
It was a dream. Nothing else.
It was something he had only seen at night for the past years. At night, in memories hidden underneath a star in his backpack. He was convinced that he was looking at another memory.
He stood there. The one person he had dreamt of seeing again for the past years. And he saw it as a dream.
Meta Knight walked toward him. His armor was clanking. His metal-cladded feet were shiny, as was his mask, his shoulder plates, and the strange additional armor on his hands. On his back, two wings, the same that had pierced through his skin three years ago, neatly folded against his round form. Their claws were shiny as well. And his eyes… They, they were the only things that convinced Kirby that this wasn’t, in fact, a dream. Kirby felt light. He thought he would pass out, and for a moment, he held his head, finding it harder and harder to breathe. The phantom walked closer, and Kirby crawled and backed away, scared.
“No!” he shouted. “Don’t touch me! You’re not real!”
That familiar voice echoed in his ears, and all he did was block it away with his hands, closing his eyes tightly. If he let it pass, the vision would go. It always worked this way… didn’t it?”
Then, a hand. On his head. He froze for a good moment, but, slowly, his blue and scared eyes fluttered open. He stood right in front of him, silent. His own golden eyes were warm, as was the hand that laid on his head. Softly, Meta Knight rubbed his head, like he would do sometimes when he succeeded in training.
“I must be dreaming,” Kirby cried in a broken murmur. “I-I killed you… Why… H… How…”
“Hush, Kirby,” the phantom knight answered. “It’s best you see me as a dream. Reality is too harsh for you. You should go back to-”
“I know. I know… everything…”
Kirby was in a daze, exhausted. He didn’t care if he was speaking to an hallucination or not. The knight remained silent and listened as the younger Kiridan spoke, crying softly as he did.
“I’m… a part of you… You lost your powers because of an accident with Galacta Knight… Nightmare took them away from you, and, without him knowing, I was born out of them… I’m you… You never told me because you wanted me to grow normally… right?”
The ghost was still silent, and Kirby took it as a positive answer. He hiccuped.
“I’m sorry,” he cried, wiping his eyes. “I didn’t mean… what I did… I wanted to save you… You’re my friend… my brother, my dad, everything… I-I’m s-s-sorry-y…”
The silence continued as Kirby cried softly, exhausted and tired, and he dropped his head, saddened to receive no response even from a ghost. Maybe he really was imagining all this… But, the hand on his head gently tapped him, making him look up again. Those shining blue eyes slowly reverted to gold…
“Kirby,” he said, a smile visible in his voice. “Forget what I said. You are not dreaming. You know more than I thought. I should be the one to beg for your forgiveness. I deliberately abandoned you in your hour of need, and took the coward’s way out. I lived, Kirby. You did not kill me.”
Kirby gave no warning. He looked dazed, dead even. His eyes then rolled over, and he fainted, falling back on his back and fading into unconsciousness, Meta Knight’s shining, lively golden eyes implemented into his brain.
Azure was running at top speed, following the lone speck of heat ahead. The large fire beast hadn’t followed the beaten path in the forest and now ran through bushes and jumped and bounced around above plants and water spots, skillfully evading them while keeping an eye on Kirby’s heat. Every here and there, he had to scare away another beast on the hunt, with only his size and screech; he had been taught not to use his fire in forests, unlike other Wolfwraths. The world around him was strictly made of heat and cold, and he was surprised at the difference at night. Still, it allowed him to see Kirby perfectly well; as well as watch carefully as he saw the young Kiridan being plucked from the sky and drop like a rock. Azure suddenly stopped, jumping on top of a larger root producing from the ground, and watched him fall until he stopped and remained immobile for a moment. Azure jumped down, growling. Something must have been wrong. The heat signals had dropped, something that didn’t happen often in Kiridans.
Azure picked up the speed when he saw Kirby fly out again, faster than ever. Was there something after him? Soon, however, Azure lost the signal; the cold environment was too thick here and even he was feeling it dig in his own inner fire. He growled; how he dreamed to burn this forest to ashes! He now relied on smell to find Kirby. He was surprised to find that the smell lead him deeper and deeper into the forest, in many directions; still he ran, nose in the air.
And finally, he found Kirby’s heat signature again. His round form appeared by the edge of a distant cliff that smelled strongly of the sea. He wasn’t alone. Azure suddenly came to a stop, ears straight and eyes wide. There was someone else with him, close. The signature was so similar… so familiar… Azure whined. The last time he had seen that heat, it had fallen into the sea, in which it had been engulfed by the cold, and extinguished completely… Slowly, Azure walked out of the vines hanging from the trees and out onto the rocky cliff side. Kirby was laying on his back, unmoving, yet not dead. The other one, as he drew closer, turned to look at him.
Immediately, Azure dropped on the ground, head between front paws, ears flat against his head. He whined and cried, tail between his legs.
“Master…,” his deep voice spoke, reaching out to the knight’s mind.
The connection was successful, and Master held out his hand to pet him on the head, smiling. The caresses went to his cheeks, making the demon wolf purr, closing his eyes. Unlike Kirby, he knew it wasn’t a dream. He had been taught to trust his instincts. And now, the heat, the smell, the warmth, everything lead to this. It was real.
“I knew you could not be gone, Master. I knew it.”
“Azure,” Master spoke in turn, with the same voice he used to have. “You’ve grown so much since last I saw you… I’m sorry, Azure, but I cannot stay. There is not much time. Are you still loyal to me?”
The Wolfwrath stood up on his hind legs, as straight as possible, adopting his proud and saluting stance.
“Now and always, Master. I am forever loyal to you. What are your orders, Master?”
Azure followed his Master’s gestures and went back on his four legs as the elder Star Warrior turned to the immobile Kirby. He gently picked him up in his arms, saying:
“I want you to bring him back to wherever your camp is.”
Azure bent forward, allowing him to set the younger one on his back, between the spikes of his shoulder blades. When Kirby was correctly installed, Azure turned his head to Master, who put his hand under his lower jaw to have a good look at him.
“When you’re done,” he continued, voice taking a strange tone Azure had never heard, almost dark, or strangely mischievious, “I want you to do something special. I know your crew keeps a good number of crystal shards with them. I want you to bring them to me. Do you understand?”
Azure did not hesitate. Yes, he had obeyed the others all this time, yes he was loyal to them. However, his Master went first, and if the Master wanted something, he would have it. The Wolfwrath then nodded his head, answering:
“Yes, Master. I will do it. Where will I find you?”
“Come back here. I will come pick you up, and you will come with me. Now go, don’t lose more time. Tell the others Kirby was attacked by Dark matter. They will take matters in hand. Go, Azure.”
Before leaving, Azure did something he hadn’t done in a long time; he lowered his head and touched his forehead with his Master’s; his own sign of love, a sign Master gladly returned. With his blue gem glowing, the large fire beast stood up, turned and ran off into the woods with Kirby, leaving his Master behind. He was thrilled more than he had ever been.
And as the wolf left Meta Knight behind, the knight smirked. His eyes briefly flashed red, but they quickly reverted to gold as he chuckled darkly.
“I’m sorry, Kirby. This is reality.”
His wings stretched wide from his back, and in one, swift movement, he was in the sky, gone in an instant.