Chapter 50: Uplift
“Who are you?”
Ah, Flare, it is a pleasure to finally meet you. I am Thael, alternatively known as the Metaspectre, or to the people of Reality, the Devil. Of course you wouldn't have met us. You attract the righteous to you like a beggar to food, which might be applicable, in this case. Our dealings are with the desperate and the despairing. We’re the last resort for the people in this world.
“You sound like a liar and a cheat.”
I would be lying if I said I didn’t like confounding those who think themselves wise. But those who prove themselves worthy of praise, well, they’re rewarded greatly.
Temperament spoke up. “Why do you speak in the third person? And then switch to the first?”
Forgive me, it’s a bit of a quirk I’ve picked up. I carry with me the souls of thousands, all those who could not live with the consequences of their short-sighted desires. I speak in the third mostly out of respect, for even in the lives of the fallen are lessons to be learned and wisdom to be gained.
Flare sniffed in disdain. “So you work in one-sided deals that steal souls? I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’ll get along well.”
If you choose to look at it in that way, we suppose you could, but I consider myself a force for good. Fear not, my intent is not malicious this day. We come bearing a conditional gift.
“How conditional?” Eclipse asked, eying the Metaspectre carefully.
Do you all agree to hear me out?
“Well, now that you’ve brought it up, we kind of have to know.”
A fair point, Gemini. It would be most cruel for us to leave it on such a cliffhanger, wouldn’t it?
Thael lay down in what remained of the snow, after Flare’s blast. Despite what you might think, I’m not here to impede you. Note how much we’ve stayed out of your way as you’ve journeyed across this land. Speaking to Twilight specifically, of course.
“Of course,” Lustrous answered.
I, the core personality, am quite interested in what this world has to offer. There’s some hidden quality of faith for a better world that I’ve never seen in all of my travels. I’m interested in preserving this faith until I can understand what makes it survive. And so, I give you these.
With a flash, four hovering scrolls appeared, their runes written in dark red ink. The runes seemed to shift and melt about the page, making them hard to read.
These are time-travel scrolls. Each one will transport the caster into the past, at a point of their choosing. However, they can only transfer their consciousness. Once you arrive, you will either need to rebuild your body as an infant and risk losing your memories until something can revive them, or you’ll need to possess somebody already in the timeline.
Eclipse looked from the scroll to Thael, then back again. “The concept is interesting, but what good do they do us?”
The past is not a secure foundation. Your very existence is variable. Most will never notice it, but the timeline is being destroyed and reformed constantly. Many outcomes dictate your demise. But with these scrolls, you can give yourself a second chance. If you're about to die and you have one on your person, it will activate and save you. I have essentially given you an extra life.
“But we already come back to life after dying, right?” Spectral Slash looked around at the others. “Tell me I’m not crazy here.”
You are quite correct. But that only holds true in this world, the Forgotten Realm. Once the worlds merge, things will be quite different. Death will be permanent, mistakes life-changing, relationships strained and trust almost non-existent, at least until things settle down. By returning the past, you will have the ability to influence events to ensure your future comes true once again, as well as growing powerful enough to actually make a difference when the time comes.
“Just how far back can we go?”
Theoretically, back to the beginning of time. But unless you find a way to escape mortality, it won’t do you much good.
“What's the catch? Beyond the restrictions, there must be some sort of penalty attached to using the scrolls.”
You just assume that there's some hidden penalty? Do you not trust us? Well, you're right in your assumption. If your past self who used the scroll directly interacts with your future, or rather, current form, before the current self realizes what they are to become, both past yet future and current form will cease to exist.
Temperament rose a brow. “So you're saying that the scrolls could have already been used?”
Indeed. All four have.
“So four of us are running around in history somewhere?” Shuddercry chortled heartily. “Well then, what's the point in offering the scrolls to us? If it's already been done, it's not like we have no choice in the matter.”
You're looking at this all wrong. Allow us to make an extreme example. Let's say we offer you two options. You may either be fed, sheltered, and cared for for the rest of your life and thus allowed to devote your energies into bettering yourself or your goals, or you have the option of being scalded for days on end, without rest, by hot coals wielded by your worst enemy. Which do you choose?
“Is that even a question? Who wouldn't choose the first one?” The others nodded agreement to Applejack's interjection.
Well then, was it a choice or predestination? I knew with certainty that you'd answer that. Does that mean you couldn't have chosen the other, painful option?
“Well, no, I suppose I could have.”
I give you the choice again. Which do you choose?
“The guarantee of comfort.”
Jackie stepped forward. “Alright, we get it. How does this tie together?”
As I said, it was an extreme example. However, the lesson holds true. You as a person would make the same choice every time if you were given the same opportunity, with the same memories, in the same circumstances. The mind does not make its decisions based on chance. It chooses right and wrong based on the morals you know and what you've encountered in the past. Every wrong you did, you would do again. Every right as well. But it was still a choice. So, while I can now say you were predestined to choose the comfort option, since it has now happened, until the moment you consciously made the decision, it was still undecided. Even though I was sure you'd choose comfort over pain due to the nature of life, you still had the potential to surprise me.
When you look at the past, it seems everything was meant to be. Things could have gone another way, sure, but then the world you know now would cease to be, and that just seems inherently wrong. Yet you had to be there to make it happen. This is why I leave you the scrolls. The catch is thus; by using them, you will be thrust into a new situation, largely out of your control, where you will likely make mistakes, and cause terrible, terrible things. It will be your choice, but it is also already written in the books of fate. You will have to live with your mistakes, but the reward is thus; once you have caught up to your time, the future is once again uncertain. And then, with all the knowledge you have gained, you can make the future brighter.
With a slight flourish, the scrolls rolled up, a magical seal holding them shut. The Metaspectre handed them over to Gemini, who took them cautiously, placing them in her saddlebag.
Now then, we will be off. We shall meet you in Windark. We look forward to it.
“Wait!” Eclipse reached into her saddlebag, retrieving the confiscated black crystal.
The Metaspectre narrowed his eyes. Oh? What's this?
“Twilight Sparkle took it from your altar. I'm not fully aware of the circumstances.”
Gemini stepped forward, and Twilight began to speak. “At the time, I wasn't fully aware of what you were. It was when your soul was unresponsive, just after you appeared in Reality.”
Yes, we are aware. Had we wanted it back, we would have taken it from you. It served its purpose in getting you this far, but I don't think you should have an unfair advantage from here on out. The Metaspectre's smoky form surged forward, and grabbed the crystal. Funny that you chose this crystal, in particular.
It was the first piece of alchutine given to me. It grew next to my soul, and as such, it's both sentimental and attuned to me.
“Alchutine? Is that what the crystal is made out of?”
Yes, the most precious of materials, in the practical sense. They have limitless potential for energy storage, and due to its habit of growing next to our forming souls, it was quite important in my people's religion.
Gemini's ears perked up. Now this was interesting. “There's more than one Metaspectre?”
There were. To my knowledge, I'm the last of them all.
Gemini looked down. “Oh. I'm sorry.”
Don't be. It was so long ago, and most of them had already given up their immortality out of despair or boredom. Being a sentient non-organic creates some interesting, though different, struggles.
“If they had given up so long ago, why haven't you?”
Stubbornness, to be honest. I've found that life is ultimately pointless, but I refuse to pass from this world until I am proven otherwise. I don't want my life, nor my people's existence to be meaningless.
Flare rose an accusatory brow. “And so you entertain yourself by ruining other people's lives?”
I need not explain my actions. Thousands of years of experience has taught me not to argue with those who aren't ready to listen. With a deep, exaggerated bow, he bade farewell, and with a flash of light, was gone.
Eclipse stepped over and knocked Flare over her head. “Great job scaring him off.”
“I don't trust him one bit. I don't know how you can.”
“I don't, in particular, but as long as he isn't actively working against us, we should try to take advantage of his unpredictable ways. And the more we know about him, the better we can help ourselves and avoid yet another enemy. For somebody who's lived in the Forgotten Realm, you seem rather oblivious about basic tactics.” Eclipse stepped forward threateningly.
“Or you're overlooking the fact that keeping him around would likely cause contention in our group, which is something we don't have the time nor the resources to deal with.” Flare stood her ground resolutely. Eclipse frowned and stepped forward once more.
“Disagreements are easily dealt with. Lost opportunities are more costly than a little mutiny.”
“If you two lovebirds are finished, I'd like to get a move-on. I don't particularly want to wait for the armies to find us.” Shuddercry began walking in the general direction of Windark without waiting for a reply. The rest of the group quickly mobilized, even the reflections of Justice and Mercy recognizing the need to continue towards their goal.
“Twilight, can I see one of the scrolls?” Rarity was trotting alongside Gemini expectantly. Lustrous sighed internally, but allowed Twilight to reach into the saddlebag and hand the scroll over.
Rarity began turning it over, careful to not undo the seal. Temperament trotted up besides her. “They seem to be very well made.”
“Yes, as much of a smooth talker as the Metaspectre is, he has wonderful crafting skills.”
“Quite a bit of power in them,” Eclipse called out. “I think we can assume they will work as advertised.”
“I advise against their use, however.” Flare ran forward to join the group gathering around the scrolls. “Time travel is not a light matter, and despite what the Metaspectre says, staying in our own time is the most prudent decision.”
Jackie sighed. “Alright, we get it, you don't trust him.”
Flare was silent for a moment. “I've met some of his victims, those few who were lucky enough to make it out with their lives. That was just about all they had. No, I don't trust him, but don't pretend for a moment that it isn't reasonable.”
The party continued on for the remainder of the day. Just before dark, they came to a large cliff.
“This is what we get for staying off of the main road. The thing about roads? They usually avoid things like this.”
“It's alright, Shuddercry, we'll find a way over this.” Gemini rubbed her temple as she thought. “I mean, you and the other pegasi can fly over, it's just a matter of getting the rest of us up.”
“We could try ferrying you up, one at a time.” Spectral Slash jumped into the air, holding out her front legs in offering.
“Good plan. Two pegasi to a pony, is that reasonable?”
Fluttershy nodded. Shuddercry laughed. “Can you even get off the ground with those wings? I don't know how you're going to help carry anybody else.”
Fluttershy grit her teeth. “As a matter of fact, yes. I'm not the best flier, but I can hold my own just fine.”
The two reflections looked at each other for a few moments. Shuddercry rose a brow, but finally turned away, her temper neutralized. “Very well.”
The pegasi got to work, carrying Gemini and Jackie first. “It'd be easier if you were already an Alicorn,” Rainbow Dash commented.
Thorn flew up with them. Spike sighed. “Man, I wish I could fly.” Thorn turned to look at him, then flew down and grabbed his arm, flapping as hard as he could. It was a noble effort, but due to his smaller size, Thorn just didn't have enough lifting power. Spike laughed cheerfully. “Hey, thanks man. At least I know somebody's looking out for me.”
Thorn stopped and looked into Spike's eyes, landing on his arm. Behind his fierce animalistic looks was a spark of intelligence that seemed anxious to help.
“Heh, you know, maybe you're not so bad after all.” Spike stroked Thorn's spines. Thorn purred in delight.
With a flash of light, they disappeared. Gemini looked down. “What happened?!”
“I'm not sure, they just disappeared!”
“Oh.” Gemini knew where this was going.
With another flash of light, a single being reappeared. Great, leathery wings stretched from his back, smoke flowing from his nostrils, and his body glowed with a powerful aura. Upon realizing he had returned, he patted himself down to make sure nothing was missing, only to find several new additions.
“I... merged?” The combined personality seemed to maintain Spike's intelligence and demeanor, while gaining Thorn's wings and more adult-draconic features. Spike's formerly gentle name-sake spikes traveling down his spine had been swept back and sharpened. His wings, unlike Thorn, did not replace his arms, but instead granted him another set of limbs. Their body seemed to have age a few years as well, making him the size of a middle-aged dragon teen.
“Three down, a bunch more to go,” yelled Jackie. “How soon until the rest of us merge, I wonder?”
Gemini was set down at the top of the cliff. “Thorn! Or, uh, Spike! Can you fly up here now?”
“I'll try!” He gave an experimental flap, then began in earnest. Quickly enough, he was airborne. “Hah! Is this what I've been missing?”
Rainbow Dash grinned. “I'll have to challenge you to a race someday once you're used to flying.”
“Oh, you're on.”
After a few minutes more, the rest of the group had successfully surmounted the cliff face. They walked a short distance away before Gemini decided it was getting too dark to continue. “We'll camp here for the night.” The others nodded their understanding, and went about setting up camp.
“How worried should we be about attackers?” Pinkamina asked while the others were busy.
Gemini thought for a moment, looking the way they had come. “Not too much. Perhaps they'll discover our tracks, but it won't be until they've had their fun with the Abbey, and in any case, they won't send the combined forces after us. No, I think we should make ourselves as comfortable as we can tonight. After all, it's tomorrow that everything comes to a head.”
She looked up to the almost-full moon, just beginning to rise. “The solstice is tomorrow, and one way or the other, this comes to an end.”