CHAPTER 9: Muffins with the Oracle
The troop entered the broken castle, sidestepping fallen stones and shattered glass. The castle was silent except for their echoing hoofsteps. None of the creatures of the surrounding forest took refuge here, despite the seemingly ideal conditions for a lair. Something about the place seemed to scare them away.
“Down this hallway!” the Doctor called. “We're getting close.”
“Why would the Metaspectre come here? The Elements have been taken away.” Rainbow pointed out, voicing everypony's thoughts. “Well, now they're back, but that's only because we're following it.”
“Perhaps it's scared,” suggested Fluttershy. “When something's scared, you can't expect it to make the most logical decisions.”
“I dunno, from what Twi's told us, it seems to be very much in control.” said Applejack.
“That's right,” confirmed Twilight. “It didn't seem fazed by our threats. It also seemed to know all of us, though we'd only just met it. We need to somehow get inside of its head, know what it's thinking. What it wants. Why it took Luna.”
“We could just ask him! Is it a him? Or a she? Or an it? Oh! I have so many questions! I bet we could become bestest friends if we asked nicely. He'd give Luna back if we let him know why she needs to stay.”
“Pinkie dear, this creature isn't a pony. It doesn't seem to have feelings or caring for others. Why, it destroyed Twilight's library with no provocation!”
Twilight bit her lip. She hadn't told anypony what the Metaspectre had said to her privately. What did it mean that she was “about to be thrown into a bloody history that Celestia has left unresolved?” She looked over to her teacher, who was completely silent and lost in thought, her guards forming a barrier between her and Twilight.
“And here we are!” said the Doctor, stopping in front of a closed door that had somehow survived the weathering the rest of the castle had been beaten by. “Huh. The trail ends here. Well, there are two things to do when confronted by a barrier. Turn back or go through. I'm partial to the latter.” He pushed open the door, which was apparently unlocked.
The door swung wide, letting the entire party see inside. Standing alone in the center of the circular room was an oval mirror, defying gravity by standing perfectly still on the narrow end. It was about two ponies tall and one wide, and wouldn't have looked out of place at Rarity's Boutique. As soon as there was a clear path between her and the mirror, Twilight felt a mass wave of arcane power. The mirror was releasing a constant stream of energy that even the earth ponies could feel. Almost as much, if not more power than the Metaspectre's altar. The room itself seemed to be designed to contain the leaking energy, however, because they had not felt it until they had entered. The mirror was perfectly reflective, and didn't seem to be made of any material Twilight could name.
“Well, what's this then?” said the Doctor, trotting forward with no fear. “Awful lot of power coming from something so mundane. Ah! The Sonic's picked up the trail again. It leads...” he trailed off as he listened carefully above the slight hum of the mirror, “yup, right into the mirror itself.”
“What's the plan?” asked the Doctor, looking to the Princess. “It's pretty obvious where the Metaspectre went, but should we continue?”
“We have to.” said Princess Celestia. “But we also need to make sure it's safe. Doctor, what's your diagnosis?”
“Hehe. Diagnosis. Well, as far as I can guess, it's a stable gateway of sorts. A portal, if you will, to somewhere.”
“Somewhere? Nothing more specific?” asked Rarity.
“Somewhere. You can't tell much about a dimensional door just by looking at it. You have to go through.”
“Go through? But it's a solid mirror!” protested Rainbow.
“Is it?” the Doctor said. “Try it for yourself.”
Rainbow, with her reputation at stake, stepped forward boldly. The mirror was perfectly reflective, with not a single blemish on the glass. The image staring back at her was so perfect, Rainbow almost could have believed she was looking at an entirely different pony. She lifted her hoof up slowly and cautiously, and pressed against the glass. Expecting resistance, she pulled back with a small yelp when her hoof went right through the material, the movement causing the surface of the mirror to ripple like a pond.
Rainbow, having recovered, jumped forward once more. “That's cool!” She stuck her hoof through without hesitation. “Quick! Somepony go around back, see if you can see my hoof.”
“Nothing back here, Dashie!”
Twilight raised a brow. “The frame itself seems real enough.” To prove her point, she knocked against it, the dull wooden sound reverberating around the room. “Even the back,” she called out. Twilight pressed herself against the wooden backing, trying to topple the freestanding mirror. It pressed back with all the force she put against it. It would not fall over.
“Wouldn't something like this need a constant source of power to remain open? So where is it coming from?” Twilight closed her eyes, concentrating. She began to 'see' the energy in the room represented as light, the hearts of each pony lanterns of red in a field of darkness. The mirror itself was glowing a bright white, harsh enough that she couldn't look directly at it without discomfort. From up above, yellow particles were flowing into the top of the portal, but they came from everywhere at once, falling from the heavens.
“There's no single source,” she concluded. “It's pulling any energy it can. It's completely self sustainable as long as heat or light remain in this room. The walls are reflecting any we give off right into the portal.”
“Well, we can keep wastin' time investigatin', or we can just go through. No matter what we learn about this portal, the fact remains that Luna's on the other side.” Applejack stamped her hoof to punctuate her point.
“Well, um... we should be certain nopony gets hurt though, right?”
“That'll take too long! I'll go through, then y'all can come after me once you see it's fine.”
Applejack stepped forward, took a breath, and walked through. As the mirror rippled and eventually cleared behind her, everypony in the room found themselves holding their breath. Finally, just after Twilight was beginning to worry, Applejack's head reappeared. “Come on y'all. I'm not quite certain what's over here, but it's safe as far as I can tell.”
Celestia nodded to her guards, who stepped forward with the others to enter. She looked pointedly at Twilight, who stepped over. “Twilight,” Celestia whispered so only the two of them could hear, “I've been hiding something from you.”
Twilight swallowed. The Metaspectre was right! How did it know?
“I've done everything I could to create peace for Equestria. However, it's come at a price. Past that mirror is another gateway, and from there, a world of torment. It's a prison for everything dark that once existed in this world.”
“What, like Tartarus?”
“Exactly like Tartarus. The gate that Cerberus guards is a decoy. If the true location of all darkness was known by everypony, it would only take one lucky and determined fool to bring all that pain back.”
“Which is why nothing escaped when Cerberus got loose. Nothing is even there! So... The Metaspectre...”
“Might be trying to unleash the darkness in the true Tartarus.”
“So why does it need Luna?”
Celestia hesitated once again. “I... I can't tell you. Please, just understand we need to get her back.”
Celestia turned away. “I trust you, Twilight. More... more than anypony else. But I beg you leave this alone.”
The last time she had said that, there had been a book burning, Twilight noted. A betrayal the Princess still thought was secret.
Twilight stepped forward to the mirror, leaving Celestia with her thoughts. All the others had stepped through, and there was nothing to do but follow. She pressed her face to the glass, and passed through, instinctively holding her breath.
Twilight opened her eyes when she felt air around her.
“Glad you could join us,” grinned Rainbow. Twilight moved out of the way as Princess Celestia came through the portal as well.
Twilight looked around. “Where are we?” She wasn't standing on a physical surface, yet she felt completely stable. Soft gray clouds were rolling over an endless expanse, driven by an unseen and ubiquitous breeze. The whole place seemed somewhat surreal, like a dream.
“I believe I can shed some light on that situation.”
All heads turned to look at the newcomer, who had somehow approached them without being seen.
Celestia's guards shot forward. “Who are you?” the captain demanded. He had seen enough weird things today to last him years.
“A friend, no worries. I know why you're here and where your quarry is. But peace, they will wait.”
Twilight had to shake her head several times before she broke out of her stupor. It was just what she was looking at made no sense. It was Derpy, or rather, Ditzy Doo, though everypony called her Derpy and she replied to it. But the clumsy courier mare from Ponyville was standing right in front of them. Golden eyes straight forward and full of intelligence and wisdom.
“Derpy?” she asked in disbelief, finally finding her voice.
“Greetings, Twilight. My Princess. Elements of Harmony. The Doctor.”
“Hey Bright Eyes, good to see you again,” called the Doctor cheerfully.
“Come, I've prepared refreshment for you. You must be worn out from these recent events.”
Now that this enigma of a pony mentioned it, Twilight hadn't had a lot to eat lately, to say nothing of rest or sleep. Noticing her friends looking to her for guidance, Twilight merely shrugged. She didn't know what to think of the situation. The Princess seemed unfazed, and the Doctor a bit excited. So it must at least be alright.
Derpy, Bright Eyes, Ditzy, whatever her proper name was, turned and walked right into... a house. That somehow had escaped Twilight's attention. Despite it being right there and in her face. Some strange mental magic was happening here.
The cabin was warm and filled with the sweet smell of baked goods. There was a sitting area with several small wooden tables, and a kitchen in the back. “Please, sit.” Derpy walked to the back area while the group settled in silence. After a short while, she returned carrying a tray of blueberry muffins. “I'm sorry I don't have much more to offer, I've been busy trying to sort out these next events.”
“You've been quite hospitable and well mannered, but who are you exactly?” asked Rarity, no longer able to hold her curiosity.
“Oh, I haven't formally introduced myself yet. I must apologize once more.” She looked around. “The Doctor knows me already, but for the rest of you, I am Bright Eyes. The Oracle of Time and the keeper of the Natural Plane. I am given sight of the future, knowledge of the past, and wisdom to guide the present.”
Silence fell on the room.
“Believe what you want. But I know you are anxious to see to Luna's safety.”
A comfort we can provide.
The party whipped around, even Celestia showing surprise. The Metaspectre stood at the entrance, eyes blazing with light.
Twilight couldn't control herself. She felt all of her pent up anger finally spilling out, overwhelming her normally logical thought process. “YOU!” she yelled, jumping up from the table, toppling her half-eaten muffin. “There are two things I need to say to you right now. Number one: I am going to destroy you.”
What's the other?
“There doesn't need to be one!” Twilight leaped at the shadowy being, horn blazing. She landed with a thump on the other side.
We are a non-physical entity, you do realize. Besides, even if you were to hit our soul by chance, what would you do then?
Twilight seethed with rage. This thing was more arrogant than Rainbow Dash could be. But is was right, as well. She just felt she had to do something.
“Where's Luna?” Twilight demanded.
A wise gambler does not reveal his cards so early in the game.
The Princess stepped forward, recognizing that Twilight was in no mind to handle diplomacy. “Metaspectre. You must realize that your history and reputation caused us to act harshly. Please, understand, Luna is my sister, and has been trying for so long to redeem herself. Don't ruin that for her. Return her to us, and go in peace.”
We are redeeming her in the way you never could. She is living a lie. The same lie that your faithful student has been living. An illusion of peace and prosperity, threatened by the encroaching shadows. There will be no middle ground in these upcoming events, Celestia. All must be decided.
Including, and especially you, Miss Sparkle.
The Metaspectre turned away. We only came to give you fair warning. Celestia, we're taking your sister into the Forgotten Realm.
Celestia's calm demeanor was replaced by shock, and then disbelief. “You wouldn't.”
It's the only way. You're certainly not going to tell her.
“I can't allow that.”
Then stop us.
The Metaspectre casually shut the door behind it as it left. Celestia threw it open immediately and gave chase. The others, after glancing at each other for a brief moment, followed suit.
“Twilight! It won't listen to reason. It's time!”
The six friends gathered together, Twilight stepping in front.
“One last time, Devil! Release Luna!”
One last time, Celestia, there's nothing you can do.
“Very well. You leave me no choice. The Elements!”
Twilight hesitated. It seemed wrong, using the Elements in this way. As a weapon, simply because somepony refused to listen to reason? The Metaspectre hadn't even threatened harm on any of them, and Luna could very well be safe, especially if it was saying it wanted to tell her something. Then Twilight remembered the lying snake had destroyed her precious library. She tossed all doubts aside and planted her hooves firmly into the astral nothingness.
Each of the necklaces of her five close friends began to glow. She could feel the energy of each flowing into her, embracing her, guiding her. The other times she had used the Elements, it was an automatic process. Now that she had done some training in energy transference, she felt powerful. Unstoppable. Ready.
Twilight's eyes flew open, glowing with a heavenly light. The energy build grew to a climax, condensing into a purifying visible rainbow. It flew towards the Metaspectre, encasing it in a cocoon of brilliance. The aura around the friends grew and exploded outward, finishing the mass spell. Each of the ponies fell to the ground, disoriented as their eyes readjusted to normal light.
Twilight looked up in victory. Another day, another creature of darkness defeate-
The Metaspectre was meeting her gaze, no worse for the wear.
Are you quite finished?