Chapter 49: Escape Clause
The two unicorns ran through Abbey, passing a group of defenders who were rushing to barricade the door against the oncoming battering ram. Gemini followed their progress with concern. “I can't just abandon you, Flare!” Twilight objected.
Lustrous Revolt snorted in derision, once again emphasizing their division in perspectives despite their shared body. “Of course you can. She's offered to make the sacrifice, and delaying will only make the situation worse.”
Flare huffed as they ran. “Lustrous Revolt is right, Twilight. I am not worth the future of our race.”
Twilight wasn't finished arguing, but she decided to change the topic. “Why are they even attacking? I thought the Abbey would be in good standing with the rest of the Forgotten Realm, considering what you stand for.”
“You're right, it is a bit odd that they would attack us, but I have my suspicions. People are often jealous of happiness, especially when they are miserable, and there are some who couldn't join us, because of mental or physical barriers. But that's shouldn't be enough. This is the first time we've been attacked in earnest.”
“Perhaps the changelings have been getting smarter?” suggested Lustrous. “Notice how quickly they morphed when the army was spotted. It was like they were expecting it.”
“You're right, that does seem odd.” They hurtled around a corner, scrambling to pick up their momentum before they continued once more. “If that's the case, they must have sent for it a while ago. It's no easy feat to mobilize a militia, even in this world. It's not like them to plan ahead.”
“These are strange times. Why would the two factions join together against you? Furthermore, why would they join the changelings?”
“They probably didn't know the messengers were changelings.” Twilight began working overtime. “I'd imagine the changelings burst into town in disguise, yelling about a battle, to get everyone's attention. After everybody had gathered, they'd try to pin the Abbey as the bad guys. Maybe they made up some fake war crimes you've been committing. Maybe they told them that you were plotting to destroy their cities and take their land and their food for yourself. As hard as it is to mobilize an army, it's easy to cause fear.”
“And fear drives conflict. Astute observation, Gemini.” Once again, Twilight felt like she was being praised by Celestia herself. Lustrous, I can't shake the feeling that she'll be important in upcoming events.
Yeah, I've noticed you freaking out for the last half an hour or so.
I need you to help me convince her to come with us.
It'll be hard to convince her to leave her people. You've seen how devoted she is. She'll die before she abandons them.
Please, I have to bring her along.
No, no, I agree. I sense something about her, and Eclipse too. All I'm saying is we probably won't be able to convince her diplomatically.
You don't mean... ?
Sometimes to get the right thing done, you have to knock out a few allies.
Before Twilight could react, Lustrous leaped forward and clonked Flare on the head. Flare's momentum sent her tumbling, confirming that the precise strike had done its job.
“You just knocked out the only person who's been kind to me since I entered this world!”
“When she wakes up, you can apologize yourself, dropping our body to its knees, begging for mercy. Just be clear that it's you who's apologizing. It's for her own good. A captain that goes down with his ship is just as valuable as his sunk cargo. But if a captain lives to fight another day, he may prove himself worthwhile just yet.”
“Stop spouting metaphors and let's get out of her.”
“Ah, so you're willing to deal with the physical force I just used now?”
“It's not like I have a choice, and I'm not one to waste an opportunity.”
“Good, there may be hope for you yet.”
“You could have knocked her out closer to the exit.”
“...Fair point. But I acted when I did because I didn't want you or her guards stopping me.”
They lifted Flare up and onto their back. Despite the physical injury, she looked serene as ever, as if she had suddenly fallen asleep. Twilight giggled at the thought of a narcoleptic Celestia. There she was, giving a speech to the kingdom, then suddenly she keels over, snoring gently.
Cute, but let's go.
Twilight clamped down on that train of thought. She had forgotten she shared her mind. Personal fantasies were now public showings.
Gemini finished the sprint to the courtyard. The reflections and the Reality ponies were waiting with varying degrees of worry written on their faces. “What's the situation up there?” Jackie gestured with her tommy gun. “We heard yelling. And ponies and griffons have been rushing around .Nobody wanted to give us an answer.”
“The changelings' siege has been reinforced by griffons and ponies, and they brought siege weapons.”
“So now's the time to leave?” asked Temperament.
Gemini nodded hurriedly.
Eclipse ran around the corner. “Alright, that should be everyone.” She caught sight of Flare's unconscious form. “What happened there?”
Lustrous opened her mouth to bluff her way out, but Twilight reacted faster. “Lustrous knocked her out. She wouldn't have come with us otherwise, and we couldn't afford to lose her. She'll be a better use to her people if she helps us complete our mission than if she fights to the death.”
The air grew cold and heavy. Eclipse stared at the darkly. But then, she grinned ever so slightly. “I can't say I approve of the method, but you were right in what you've done.”
“Then we're agreed. Let's get out of here.”
Pinkamina coughed. “One problem. The front door's being attacked, right? And they've likely barricaded it. The Abbey's surrounded, and that was before reinforcements showed up. We have the poultices to disguise ourselves from the changelings, but I'm not so sure it'll work against the other armies. How do you suggest we get out?”
“Thanks for being so cheerful.”
“I'm half Despair, so I don't know what you expected, exactly.”
Gemini looked around. “Any ideas?”
Shuddercry stepped forward. “The pegasi can get out if we need to. We'll have to avoid any ranged weapons they have, but it's better some of the group gets away than none of it.”
“We'll keep that in mind as our final option. I want everybody out if it's at all possible.”
Rarity raised a hoof. “Most fortifications would have a secret escape route, I'd imagine. There's not much point in building a fortress only to have it be your prison.”
Spectral Slash nodded. “Temperament's reflection is right. Most places have a hidden entrance somewhere. It's how forbidden couples get in and out. Or in my case, the assassin sent to do somebody else's dirty work.”
“Any idea on where it would be?”
“In a place like this that doesn't have any mountains or the like comprising its walls, it'll likely be in the basement somewhere. Or the throne room, but Flare doesn't seem the type.”
“Anywhere else we should check?”
Slash shook her head. “Probably not. Splitting up in this situation would likely be more trouble than it's worth.”
“Duly noted. To the basement then.”
“It's over this way!” Fluttershy called. Seeing everybody look at her, she shrunk for a moment, before standing tall. “I stairs leading down when I was getting my stuff together earlier.”
The crowd hurried to the basement. Crates and shelves filled the rooms, with enough supplies to sit out any siege. Assuming the walls weren't breached.
“What are we looking for?”
“A trap door, a wall that isn't quite flush, a breeze where there shouldn't be... anything out of the ordinary.”
Rainbow came up next to Gemini. “Did it occur to you to ask Flare before you knocked her out?”
The group searched the room for a few moments. Occasionally they'd hear signs of the battle above. At one point, an explosion rocked the room, loosening dust everywhere, causing a coughing fit.
“This is going nowhere!” Lustrous Revolt yelled. “We might stand a better chance blasting our way through the armies. Heck, we have enough firepower.” She hefted the replacement Element.
“No!” Twilight yelled back. “We can't jeopardize our mission or our allies.”
“Have a better idea, hotshot?”
“Anything's better than a suicide mission.”
Rainbow shook her head. “I really wish you'd stop talking to yourself.”
“Sorry, we'll keep it in our head.” Gemini shut her eyes.
Alright, I understand your frustration, because, for crying out loud, I can actually feel everything that's causing it. But we have to stick together.
Lustrous snarled. I shouldn't have agreed to anything. I should have just suffered defeat.
Well, we're here now, so you can just deal with it. We use what we've been given, and to hope for more is silly and stupid.
But to be content with what you have is to remain stagnant, and to never progress. You can only advance if you strive for more than you have. The handouts life gives you come just as often as the taxes. Since you're so sure about this course of action, tell me, what should we do?
Twilight thought for a moment. You know, it might not be that bad of an idea to try to wake Flare.
Gemini turned to look at the unconscious body in the middle of the room. Flare was breathing softly, but otherwise she was so still she might have been dead.
You sure you're willing to have me knock her out again should things go south?
I really don't want it to come to that, but I suppose I could allow you to hit her again if it's needed.
I suppose we really are becoming more alike. Twilight didn't respond.
Gemini approached Flare's body, prodding her gently. Besides being pushed slightly, Flare didn't react. Gemini grabbed her, shaking her slowly. “Hey, wake up. Come on Flare, we need you.”
Her head lolled softly.
Gemini grimaced. Looks like I hit her harder than I thought.
Twilight focused, attempting to make a telepathic connection with Flare. Perhaps she could wake her up directly.
Gemini jumped back, then dove forward to catch Flare's falling body.
Applejack was the nearest, and turned to look at the commotion. “What happened?”
“I... I don't know. Hold on.”
Both personalities were awestruck, and a bit giddy. They attempted the telepathic connection once again.
It seemed that Flare was streaming a telepathic monologue, despite being unconscious. It didn't feel like she was trying to talk to anybody specific. Rather, it felt more like her own thoughts. If Twilight was correct, they were reading her mind.
It seems that way, yes. Lustrous' excitement was bleeding over to Twilight's half of their mind. Let's see if we can talk to her.
Gemini focused. Flare, can you hear me?
The telepathic stream stopped. Then, there was a simple answer.
Are you conscious right now?
No. You are speaking with my subconscious.
Do you know who I am?
Yes. You are Gemini, Lustrous Revolt and Twilight Sparkle.
Are you dreaming?
The conscious mind is.
What were you doing before we interrupted?
Organizing today's thoughts. The answer explain the topic of the condensed stream. She had likely been reflecting upon, well, the reflections ever since Twilight had merged.
Do you know how we're talking to you?
Can you make any guesses?
Conjecture is not my job. Please ask Flare when she's awake.
Is that why you're not speaking much longer than a sentence or two? You can only do jobs assigned to you?
Alright. Back in the real world, Gemini was grinning. Now they were getting somewhere. What are your jobs?
I handle instincts, unspoken realizations, memories, recognition, recursion, creation of dreams, and recall.
Lustrous jumped on the chance. Can you tell us where the Abbey's secret exit is?
It is behind the oaken shelf next to the old tapestry in the back left corner of the basement.
Alright, thanks. That's all.
The subconscious didn't respond, and instead began continuing the monologue
Gemini pulled out of Flare's mind, her body jerking backwards as it instinctive reacted to the 'falling'.
So... Twilight began.
Have we always been able to do that?
I don't think so, no. I've spoken telepathically before, but it's never been quite like that.
Here, let's try it on somebody else. They looked around the room for a moment, before landing on Pinkie Pie. They nodded to each other mentally, and focused quickly. It was like they entered a new room, inhabited only by Pinkie Pie and Pinkamina.
“Man, this secret entrance is good at hide and seek!” Pinkie giggled softly.
“Eugh. I don't think we'll ever find it.”
“Not with that attitude!”
“Yeah, I suppose so. We have to find it one way or the other, though I'm beginning to doubt its existence.”
“Well, Twilight's never been wrong before. We can trust her.”
“I think, actually she has, but you're just looking back at life with rose-colored glasses. Lustrous Revolt certainly has been, though I'll admit, she, and Twilight, are usually correct.”
Twilight cleared her 'throat'. She became aware of two more personalities noticing her.
“Hey! What's up?”
“Uh, not much, Pinkie. Hello, Pinkamina.”
“Hey. What are you doing in our mind?”
“That's just it, we don't know how. Well, we know how, but not necessarily how, if that makes sense.”
“You wondering how it's possible, though you know the method?”
“Hm. How long ago did you first discover this?”
“Just a couple of minutes ago,” Lustrous butted in. “We were trying to send a telepathic message to Flare while she was unconscious, to see if we could wake her up. We ended up opening a two-way channel, which hasn't happened ever before.”
“And then you contacted us, to see if it wasn't a fluke?”
“Yeah, I hope we're not bothering you.”
“Not at all!” You could practically hear the smile in Pinkie's telepathic voice.
“It's never happened before?” Pinkamina asked, much more focused on the conversation than Pinkie was.
“Never. Usually it's one-way, and it takes quite a bit of effort.”
“Hm. Well, in that case, you might have just discovered your merging's blessing.”
“You know how Pinkie and I have Spatial Rendering? It seems yours is, well, reading minds. That's likely not the full extent of it either, if our powers are any indicator. How long were you standing there before you coughed?”
“Ten seconds or so.”
“I had no idea you were there. Maybe it's like a memory bubble. They'll only notice if you make yourself known?”
“I like the sound of that,” Lustrous' side lit up with ideas and plots, not too many of them kind-natured.
“So, what did you find?”
Twilight was pulled out of her snooping. “Huh? Where?”
“From Flare. Do you know where the entrance is?”
“Oh, yeah, it's behind the shelf next to the tapestry, in the back left corner.”
“And you came to us instead of telling the others why?”
“Oh.” Both Lustrous and Twilight reprimanded themselves mentally.
“Remember, we're trying to escape an army right now. Time is of the essence.”
“Right. See you later.”
“Hey, give me warning if you come visiting again. I don't have anything in particular I need to hide, but it's nice to know.”
Gemini pulled out of her trance. Across the room, Pinkie and Pinkamina's body shook its head to clear the stupor. Their eyes met, and they ran to the corner Flare had told them about. After they pushed the objects out of the way, sure enough, the wall had a rectangular cut, in the shape of a door. Pushing on it caused the entire section to retreat, and after about a foot, the door was caught by some sort of mechanism and pulled to the side.
“Alright, everybody, it's over here!”
A loud crash came from upstairs, followed by yelling. The armies had likely broken through the gates.
“And not a moment too soon. Hurry! Everybody through!” Gemini picked up Flare once again, placing her over her back.
The filed into the passageway, which was carved directly through the earth. It continued more or less straight for a few minutes, before turning sharply up. They barreled up the stairs, which lead to a dusty trap door. It took a few tries, but eventually brute force flung it open. The passageway lead to a small cave, lit by ambient natural light pouring from a shaft with a sheer set of stairs, more closely resembling a ladder. Gemini motioned for silence.
“We don't know where this comes out,” she whispered. “There are hundreds of eyes out there, and it only takes one to ruin everything.” Spectral Slash crept forward, staying as low as possible. Despite her efforts, the old ladder creaked a few times, painfully grating on the nerves of all present. In a few moments, she disappeared from sight. She quickly returned. “Looks like the coast is clear.” Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. As Gemini climbed, Flare groaned softly.
Oh boy. She's waking up. Twilight commented.
Indeed, I believe so.
This is your fault.
The ponies poured out of the exit, savoring the fresh air. Rainbow Dash and Spectral Slash looked the most relieved, glad to have open sky above them.
Gemini placed Flare down softly, then turned to get her bearings. The nearby forest looked much the same, so the castle must still be nearby. She ascended the nearby sloped, keeping low like Spectral Slash had. She peered over the top, then dropped back down once again. Out in the distance was the Abbey, still besieged. The army outside had diminished, but that was likely only because they had gone inside. She grimaced as she thought about all the innocents who were about to be slaughtered.
Hey, Lustrous interrupted. They have weapons, call themselves guards, death is a known risk in their job. Protectors are never quite innocent, despite their intent.
Gemini turned around once more. Flare struggled to her hooves. The rest of the party suddenly found something more interesting to do.
“Oh, uh, hey. Good to see you awake and well. We, uh, we kidnapped you from the Abbey. We need you, and keeping you alive is in your best interest too you know.” The two personalities trying to speak at once made their intonation seem insincere and suspicious. Not the best for diplomacy.
“You... did... what?”
“Yeah, it's just over the rise back there. Just got overrun. Most inside have probably been killed, and it's only a matter of time before they find the secret passage.” Mentally, the two previously independent personalities were having a fistfight for control. Twilight had been trying to break it to her softly, and Lustrous Revolt wanted it to be logical and direct. In the end, it made them sound blunt and careless. Flare narrowed her eyes.
“You do understand that everyone in there counted on me to protect them? In their time of need, you ripped me from them, after my hospitality, my kindness, my whole-hearted devotion to helping others?”
“Yup. Sounds about right.” Gemini clamped a hoof over her mouth.
Flare sniffed indignantly, trying to keep herself calm. “Do you know why they call me Flare?”
Gemini didn't answer. One thing the two personalities could agree upon; speaking any further would likely make it worse.
Flare shuddered, looking down at the ground. Her pink mane grew deeper and more ethereal, until suddenly, it burst into flame. Gemini took a step back. Flare was breathing heavily, obviously still trying to control herself. She turned and looked at the cowed purple unicorn. “Because when I get mad, when the things I care for get hurt, the things that hurt them will burn.” Her mane exploded out, with enough heat the snow melted, causing a couple of the others to slip as they tried to avoid the blast.
“You must have had an interesting childhood,” Spike snarked. Gemini motioned for him to stop, but he either missed it or was deliberately ignoring her.
“Excuse me?” Flare turned to look at him, her eyes glowing red, her coat shining with divine indignation.
“Heck, Twilight yells at me any time I sneeze in the wrong place. I can only imagine how your parents must have reacted when it was time for bed, or you lost your favorite stuffed animal.”
Flare raised a brow. Then she scoffed, and then she giggled. “Oh, you don't know the half of it. Within a month of my life we had a fire-proof nursery.” Her mane cooled, then returned to its normal form. The mana around her dissipated, and once again she was collected, bright eyed, and smiling. She turned to Gemini once more, sighing deeply.
“I apologize for the outburst, but you have to understand I'm going through a lot of pain. I understand that they'll revive, but in this case, it might be worse for them. Prisoners, as I understand you know, aren't treated to well around here. But you're right. An army is too much for any one pony to handle, and the best way I can help them, if you truly need me, is to go with you. Just, give me a minute, if you will.” She stepped away gracefully, looking towards the rising sun, taking deliberate, precise breaths.
Spike grinned slyly, nodding towards Gemini. “Good thing dragons are fire-proof,” he whispered, before he and Thorn found a pile of snow to play with. Twilight had to hand it to the little guy, sometimes his big mouth paid off. Gemini retrieved their map, consulting it quickly.
“We should be about... here. Which means... haha, nice. The secret passage leads out towards Windark. We're already on the right path. And as far as we know, we haven't been seen, and we haven't been followed yet. If we hurry, we'll be able to make it by nightfall, and then we'll have a whole day to kick the Metaspectre's–”
Can you kick the rear of a creature who's body is made out of a gas? It would be quite a feat, one we'd be impressed if you could pull off.
The entire party whipped around to see the Metaspectre cresting the slope.
“It's you!” Gemini yelled.
Astute observation. We are here to make a proposal, one you might just like.
For the first time that she had seen, the Metaspectre smiled. It was a wicked smile, filled with dozens of wickedly sharp and thin teeth, far more fitting on a deep-sea predator than the equine body it had. It was just a little intimidating, to say the least.
Would you like to hear it? He blinked innocently.