Chapter 52: Servitude
“You're kidding right?” Gemini counted in place, unsure of how to handle the situation. “I never know if I can take you seriously.”
I am many things, among them a kidder. But when we are asked a direct question, I feel it deserves a direct answer, no matter the cost to feelings or relationship. No, we are dead serious.
“If this is true, why is this the first I've heard of it?” Twilight accused.
Oh, it hasn't happened yet, of course. But you gave me very explicit instructions to not only ensure it did, but to not tell you until you had finally reached your goal in the Forgotten Realm. Much of your growth is a result of your floundering, after all.
Lustrous spoke through their shared mouth. “Well, what of me? Am I doomed to be consumed by this goody-four-horseshoes here?”
You didn't make any deals with me, so I am not obligated to answer you, nor do I think answering will benefit anyone in this room, most of all yourself. You are destined for greatness. That is enough.
Gemini began circling the Metaspectre, who stood stock still, besides his eternally floating mane, which rose and fell as if in a pool of water. Both ponies controlled Gemini's legs. Both were dying for answers, but they had to be asked in the right way, they knew.
“Tell me, what are you really? A creature from another planet, yes, but why come here? Why now? Why me? I want answers. That’s why I pushed myself all the way to this reflection of Canterlot. If you’re bound to help me, explain to me what’s happening!”
I began to explain yesterday, before I was rudely interrupted. He gave an accusatory glance towards Flare, who held his gaze. I will tell you my life story, if you'd like. I can only tell a pitiful fraction of it all, but you have earned my respect, and thus an explanation. Perhaps this will provide you insight into my actions.
Gemini eyed him coldly. “I will allow you to continue as long as I feel you’re not just stalling for time.”
I am the last of my species. We were a proud race that lived on a world much like yours. There were many sentient species, each with their own goals and tactics. Due to the nature of our long lives, we found border clashes pointless and ultimately fruitless, as no one race could triumph over another. So we stayed secluded to the volcano we were birthed from, forming an entire city around it, drawing energy from the volcano, enough to keep it under control. Our souls are formed from a crystal that we believed, for the longest time, could only be found in that volcano. Alchutine, the black crystal. Forgeable, limitless potential for energy storage, and sacred to us in every way. In its purest form, the crystal takes a golden coloring, and when molded into an orb, holds energy so flawlessly that it can house a soul. It was upon this foundation that our race lived, for without the crystals, we would simply die off. Without the material to make new Spectres, it would only be a matter of time before we would disappear. We guarded our hoard jealously, and though we avoided conflicts, every race was eyeing our energy source. After all, with that much power, they could conquer whomever they wanted. But we couldn't let them have it. A foreigner touching the very crystals that gave us life? The thought was sickening.
However, I was more open minded than most. Shortly after my birth, I came to the realization that a purer knowledge came from experience, more so than careful study. So I left my home, which, while certainly not unprecedented, was unusual. I took with me only the shard of alchutine that I had grown next to. This became my weapon, my focus, and my heart.
With a flash, the shard of alchutine Twilight had chosen from the altar materialized. As it hovered, it began to stretch and convulse, and in short time, it had morphed into a black longsword. It seemed to pulse with power, as if it was far more comfortable in this form.
I became a hired killer. An assassin, a tool sent by cowards to do their dirty work. And I loved it. I gave into animalistic instinct, falling to bloodlust. With each kill, I grew stronger, sapping my target's failing life force into my sword, which only fueled my fury.
But along the way, I found friends of other species, who saw past my darkness, who chose to ignore the differences. And for a while, I found myself worrying more about the good of the world, caught up in some foolish plan to right all the wrong I saw. For every tale of success and great heroics, there are hundreds of would-be heroes fallen by the wayside, slain for their ideals but never remembered. Well, my friends met this fate. They were killed in battle, even as I finished the last resistance to our new world. I refused to let their essence die out forever. And so, I did the impossible and the abhorrent, binding their souls to mine. They were the first of my many personalities, but even now, they're still the loudest, urging me to press on whenever I feel that perhaps it's all pointless.
This discovery of merging souls started a long path that I'm still on. As I have said, experience is a better teacher than any book. Each soul I took had some new insight to share, bringing me closer to the answer to a question I hadn't even asked yet.
One day, a terrible discovery was made. While traveling with another wandering, female Metaspectre whom I loved as much as is possible when your race doesn't reproduce sexually, we detonated shard of alchutine in a blind panic, much as you did, Twilight. The physical devastation was terrible, of course, but more importantly, it actually managed to hurt us.
“Hurt you?” Gemini asked. “Well, shouldn’t it have?”
Here, try to attack me directly, and I'll show you what I mean. I won't retaliate.
“I’ll give it a try.” Temperament ran forward, her sword swinging in wide arc. The Metaspectre didn't move, and the sword made contact with his smoky, still form. Gemini cringed instinctively, but it was needless. The sword passed through the Metaspectre's ethereal body effortlessly, the resulting wind pulling with it some of the smoke, which was quickly drawn back to make him whole. Temperament gave a couple more swings with similar results, and finally, there was a metallic CLINK.
The smoke dissipated, leaving only the seven golden orbs. Barely above them, where Temperament's sword had hit, was a physical shield of light, resisting the blade. With a small flash, the sword was pushed away. The smoke rejoined once more.
We Metaspectre are built to survive most attacks. If we're actively watching an enemy, we can move our souls around in the shroud of our bodies. And as long as we have enough energy, getting a lucky hit, as Temperament just did, is survivable. Traditional weapons are largely useless. But what we discovered is that alchutine is both our savior and our undoing. If a magically attuned creature holds of a piece of it, and causes it to explode as you did, Twilight, it strips us of all of our energy, causing our shrouds of smoke to dissipate, and our protective energy fields to flee. We drop to the ground, our soul no longer interconnected, and we become just seven golden orbs, completely defenseless. Over time, if the orbs are kept together, they'll draw in ambient energy around them and begin to repair themselves, but it's a position of ultimate terror for us.
“Why tell us your weakness?” Gemini asked, tilting her head.
Do any of you /really/ want to kill me? Do any of you have alchutine? Would I even mind a noble death at this point? No, I do not fear you. As you need not fear me.
Continuing, this discovery was dangerous for my people. After we recovered, lucky enough to not be destroyed in our weakened state, we rushed back to our home to warn the others, consequences of our misdeed be forgotten. The others agreed that this was dangerous knowledge, and we watched our hoards of alchutine more closely than ever before. We would have been safe, if one of the other kingdoms hadn't found an unprotected source of alchutine. The amounts were minimal, and low powered as they didn’t have guardians watching and maintaining the reserves, but it was enough to put a serious damper on our resistance forces. Over time, it eventually reached a point that we, as a race, were driven back to our volcano to make our last stand. As I watched my allies fall around me, I did the unspeakable. I went to the heart of the volcano, and detonated it in its entirety. It wiped out the enemy forces and everything around for hundreds upon hundreds of miles. I killed thousands of my own species, but ultimately saved the few who were left. They and the rest of the world hated me for what I had done, but what is right is seldom appreciated.
It took many years, but our race grew back to relatively normal numbers. Yet the world had advanced around us. It had changed, for the worse. There was no self-restraint, no kindness in the average man. So, I left, displeased with it all, my hard work to create a better world having proven fruitless. Most of my race stayed behind, trying to carry on in their own way. My love stayed behind, and though it pained me, I felt an insatiable need to search beyond the confines of my planet.
The world I had come from could teach me no more, but perhaps others could. I searched the cosmos for other civilizations, settling down and trying to learn as much as I could from the few that I found. I realized that while I had essentially as much time as I wanted, I hungered to know as much as I could as quickly as possible. So I began planting the seeds of creation, creating worlds that had pristine conditions for life. Using time skips, I could arrive at the peak of their civilization, trying to find the answer to the question I now knew. What was the point of it all, if our actions will one day be forgotten?
Speaking with the denizens of these worlds wasn't enough. The information they gave me was incomplete, and bound by the context of my appearance. They could only give me answers influenced by what they thought I wanted to hear. Eventually, I returned to my animal behavior, arriving not as a creature of enlightenment, but an avatar of destruction. They rallied their forces, but I withstood them all. I got the information I wanted, rending it from their minds, but it wasn't enough. It was never enough. I returned to subversive means, setting up shop in their mythologies as a corruptor, trying to claim the desperate. After all, the desperate in every civilization are those who actually have something to believe in. I finally understood emotions, every reason for every wrong decision you could think of. Every misguided dream, love, perversion and act of nobility.
After a while I realized that largely the only thing that kept people moving ahead in their short flashes of life were the relationships they built for themselves. I returned to my home world to find my lost love, armed with this new knowledge, but when I got there, I found that she had already chosen to pass on. I was so blinded in my pursuit of the ultimate answer that I had forgotten the one source of true happiness in my life. She was disillusioned, tired, and concisely, done with living. Those who informed me of her death told me that she had promised she'd find me in the great beyond, whatever that was. But I refused to continue without answering the very question you asked me, Twilight Sparkle. The new question that consumed my mind. Why? Why indeed.
I continued my search, but my heart was out of it. As I insinuated earlier, my doggedness was largely due to my stubbornness. I refused, and still do, to pass on without figuring out what the point of existence is. I have many ideas, many personalities that are completely convinced one way or the other, but as a collective, I'm still torn.
This is why I was, and am, so intrigued by your world. It was a rare civilization, one that I hadn't created myself. A world of kindness, of genuine love rather than endless war. Sure, there was still fighting, but it was with intent, and not for power, but to right a wrong. It was noble. It had the purpose of higher thought. And so I observed, waited, and pulled away those who challenged the system, to see what possible flaws it could have, and how they could be fixed. Perhaps in a utopia, if such an idea could be reasonably created, I could find the true purpose of creation.
The entire time I was in this world, however, I felt some presence pulling me to its beginning. Eventually, I relented, and that's when I met your future self, Twilight. You caught me in my words, tying me into the events of the last two weeks, and every event that’s led up to it. My main directive was to act as I normally would, and so I returned to my timeframe, corrupting who I could. Then Luna visited me. Little did I know that it was all part of grand master Sparkle's plan.
So, that's why I'm here, Twilight. Of my own accord, simultaneously bound by you. The end of this tale intrigues me, and due to my contract, I must remain. And so, I'm here for the ride. I have not told you a hundredth part of my history. I don’t have the time. Perhaps, someday, I’ll write it all down, in case I ever pass on.
I digress. I am curious to see where these events take you. This is the closest I’ve ever been to fulfilling my goal. I feel my heart rekindling, and that’s a very good sign.
“Couldn't you just jump to the future to figure out what happens?” asked Rainbow Dash.
The problem with that is that it'd only be conjecture until it actually happens on the core time stream, and I'd prefer to not spoil the surprise.
“You know, I think that's the longest I've ever heard you speak in the first person,” Gemini commented.
I was talking about my personal history, not the collective decisions of my many personalities. The decisions that affect my personal life are mine, and mine alone. I can take consideration from the examples of others, including my captured souls, but in the end, I hold no respect for them. Only their logical arguments can sway me.
Gemini was nodding, mulling it all over. “Well, thank you for sharing with us, but there are many gaps in your storytelling that are a bit irritating.”
That can be expected, when I've been commanded by you to not say too much.
“See, that's the biggest one. Am I really to believe that I'd be foolish enough to make a deal with you? And in the future-past, after I’m fully aware of your capabilities?”
You misunderstand. It wasn't foolish. It was brilliant, and we respect you for that. Though, we just realized that your confidence might have come from us explaining it to you just then. Well, time is nothing, if not self-fulfilling.
“And back to third person. I want to set up a date between you and Trixie, that'd be a sight to behold.” Gemini sat back for a moment. “Alright Tell me, what's the plan now? Luna won't come with us, Discord's doing his own thing, Celestia's on her way, and Seren will likely be close behind. What can we even do at this point?”
You could just roll over and take it.
“Absolutely not!” exclaimed several dark reflections immediately. Their light equivalents nodded their agreement.
Or... perhaps you can elevate yourselves as close as you can to their level. If you want to challenge the gods, you have either have an unbreakable will, or else the power to back up your weaker one. Having both an unbreakable will and lots of power is preferable, however.
“What do you mean?”
Follow the path that Pinkamina, Gemini and Spork have taken.
“Spork?” asked several at once.
Spike and Thorn. Spork.
It took a few moments, but before long there was a grin on everybody's face, Luna included. Spike and Thorn laughed. “Sure, why not? I guess we're Spork from now on.”
Gemini turned to Thael. “Well, if the others are going to merge, how will they do it?”
The same way you discovered. Both parties have to have a desire to merge, and you have to physically touch each other. The union in mind yet separation of body can only last so long. If you don't do it now, it'll happen soon enough. Luna and Seren will see to that.
Luna coughed. “I'm still here, you know.”
Of course. I'm just telling it as it is.
Shuddercry tapped Gemini on the shoulder. “Listen, I don't mean to complain, but I really do. I don't really want to merge with Bumblefly or whatever her name is.”
Fluttershy scoffed. “Well, if you think I have any desire to merge with you, you've got another thing coming, you big brute.”
“Oh ho ho, she's got some bite to her.”
“Only because I want you to change. You're nothing more than a bully, throwing your weight around where it doesn't belong. Element of Brutality? More like the Element of Cowardice. You resort to physical violence because you don't know how to deal with people in a softer manner. If you could only be kind to people a little more often, I think you'd find you'd have a lot more friends.”
“Friends. Hah. They hold you back, making you deal with their problems instead of your own. Why would I want any?”
“You're wrong. They lift you up when you fall, they give life a greater purpose than just looking out for yourself. Because guess what? Someday, you're going to be old and alone, and there won't be anyone to help you move on, not if you treat them like you have.”
“But if you let them walk all over you like you do, you won't have any friends either! They'll take you for granted, they'll think that your smile is ever-present, that you're always happy, that you haven't a care in the world!”
“A good friend can see past all of that. And that's why you need them!”
“If you are your own best friend, there's no need for others! You'll always be there for you!”
“Then I think we're agreed.”
“Indeed, I believe so.”
Gemini rolled her eyes. This was going to be much more difficult than she had hope–
With a flash, the two yellow pegasi disappeared, and in short order, one reappeared. She stretched her wings experimentally, craning her neck. “Alright, I can live with this.” She took off her helmet, which she had kept from Shuddercry, and set it down, her long, soft pink mane falling down like drapes. Her turquoise eyes were bright and full of determination, paradoxically caring yet unforgiving.
“Gemini, ma'am. Sergeant Flutterspry reporting for duty.” She saluted sharply, before ducking momentarily. “If you'll have me, that is.”