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Through Shadowed Eyes

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CALLIOPE: while trUth seems fairly straightforward, i mUst confess i’m still a bit confUsed on the difference between relevance and essentiality. coUld yoU go over it one more time, please?
ROSE: Of course.
ROSE: It helps to return to the conception of the cosmos we inhabit as a story, or as an amalgamation of stories. Which, by the way, relates to the idea I discussed earlier of reality as a conscious framework.
ROSE: The relevance of an event is how important it is to the functionality of the story itself. How much it affects, and is affected by, other central events in the story.
ROSE: Essentiality is more difficult to internally measure. You might think of it as how important an event is from an external perspective.
ROSE: As if some observer, reading the story, needed to read about some specific event or sequence of events.
ROSE: Perhaps to continue thinking the narrative holds together under scrutiny; perhaps to come to terms with some aspect of themself or the world they inhabit; perhaps to achieve some personal emotional catharsis.
ROSE: Phrased simply, relevance is internal significance, whereas essentiality is external significance.
CALLIOPE: oh, that makes perfect sense!
ROXY: uuuugh my head hurts

The sun hangs low in the sky. The shadow cast by the bell tower now reaches about halfway from the window to the wall. Roxy’s eye has wandered over to it whenever the discussion gets too confusing.

Normally around this time of day, Roxy and her beautiful green-skulled companion would be strolling around a park, or grabbing dinner at a cafe, or just dorking around playing video games. But instead, Rose has been lying on their couch monologuing about “canon” for the past hour and a half.

Roxy has always been mystified and somewhat amused by the prospect of everyone’s lives having “narrative importance,” especially in such a rigorously analyzable sense; they’re just people, for crying out loud! Calliope, on the other hand, is eating this stuff right up like it’s a freshly slaughtered meatbeast.

ROSE: And as I gather you’ve already surmised, the truth of an event relates to whether it factually occurs in the story proper.
ROSE: In most well-crafted stories without branching paths, each event is unassailably true.
ROSE: However, in most cases when alternate timelines are introduced, some are considered to have greater validity than others. And if a plot hole arises, the events surrounding it are thrown into uncertainty, and perhaps may only be regarded as true in a broad-strokes sense.
CALLIOPE: mm hmm!
ROSE: The conceptual framework we inhabit is absolutely lousy with branching timelines, and much of John’s retcon adventure might leave an observer scratching their head as to how some events happened. That’s why truth is a useful metric for analyzing our story.
ROSE: Those aren’t the only factors which may diminish truth values, of course. For example, if a story has multiple authors who have fundamentally different interpretations of it, their respective contributions might throw the “real” interpretation into question. Or a story arc might be so goddamned stupid that everyone just pretends it never happened.
CALLIOPE: i see!

The tower’s shadow continues its agonizingly slow forward march. This isn’t how Roxy expected her first meeting with Rose in months to go, and she’s getting impatient and kind of hungry.

ROSE: Returning to my broader point: Essentiality, as the most subjective of the three pillars, is consequently the most prone to varied and niche interpretations.
ROSE: Derivative works - “fanon,” if you will - are frequently motivated by a perceived gap in essentiality, which a reader might take it upon themself to fill.
ROSE: Such a work might have negligible essentiality to the original story’s audience at large, who might not even be aware of the derivative work’s existence. But it might have great essentiality for a small subset of that audience. In rare cases, the essentiality might be on par with that of the original story, or, even more rarely, actually surpass it.
CALLIOPE: interesting!
ROSE: The truth value of fanon is ambiguous at best, however, even when retroactively endowed with authorial validation. This can serve to weaken the authenticity of any relevant and essential events contained therein, though not always, and never from all perspectives. For example--
ROXY: omg
ROXY: rose ilu and this is erm cool and all but can u plz just get 2 the point?
ROXY: cause callie and i had a nice picnic date set up tonight and my tummys gettin rumbly yo

Calliope shoots Roxy a disappointed glance. Roxy shrugs apologetically.

ROSE: Certainly.
ROSE: I’m sorry for prattling on about the finer details of canonical classification. I’ve just been thinking about this model of reality a lot lately, as a side effect of my growing awareness of my Ultimate Self.
ROSE: Remind me, did I already explain that concept?
ROXY: abt 45 mins ago ya
ROSE: Ah. Well, anyway.
ROSE: My central thesis, as it relates to our immediate situation, is that canonical gaps precipitated by the absence of specific essential events can, if left unattended, cause the strands of consciousness to unravel and the cosmos within to be “forgotten,” as it were.
ROSE: In our case, the most essential event missing is easy to pinpoint.
ROSE: John has yet to defeat Lord English.

The room goes quiet at the mention of Calliope’s brother, whom they haven’t talked about in years. Calliope shifts uncomfortably in her chair and looks down at the floor. About ten seconds pass before she finally speaks.

CALLIOPE: when he does... will oUr reality finally be safe? is this the only remaining gap in canon left to fill?
ROSE: We will largely be protected from dissipation, but English’s defeat isn’t the only canonical gap. It’s simply the most significant one.
ROSE: There are other, smaller gaps which can be safely ignored without risking dissipation.
ROSE: Events firmly grounded in truth, with nonzero or even significant relevance values, but nearly divorced from essentiality.
ROSE: Who flipped the frog switch? The world may never know.
ROXY: frog switch
ROXY: wut
ROXY: wait nvm doesnt matter just get back to the point
ROSE: Exactly! I’m glad to see you understand.
ROXY: um
ROSE: Once John decides whether or not to fight English, it will set in motion a chain of events which will authenticate canon and prevent dissipation.
ROSE: To further cement the essentiality of his decision, I believe it should be presented on the most canonically significant date: April 13th.
ROSE: That gives us about six weeks to prepare.
CALLIOPE: rose, if i may...
CALLIOPE: what do yoU mean when yoU say john will decide “whether or not” to fight my brother?
CALLIOPE: is there a possibility that he might not?
CALLIOPE: and if so, will that trigger dissipation?
ROSE: Yes and no, respectively. Even if he decides to stay, canon will be safe as long as he is given the choice, no matter the outcome of that choice.
ROSE: I know that this may seem to contradict what I said earlier about English’s defeat needing to happen. But I can’t tell you why it’s the offering of the choice which matters, or the outcome might be jeopardized.
ROSE: You’ll just have to trust me.

Roxy scratches her head. She only half-cared about all this canon gibberish while Rose was lecturing without a clear purpose, but now that it’s sounding like John might risk his life for it, she’s trying to wrap her mind around it as fast as she can.

ROXY: wait so like is this a setup for a timeline split kinda deal
ROXY: and if so it sounds like john staying will make a doomed timeline that’s gonna kill us all??
ROSE: You don’t need to worry about that.
ROSE: Doomed timelines are a construct of Sburb and only apply to those limited by canonical relevance.
ROSE: We’re in post-canon now, so we don’t need to worry about such things.
ROXY: well in THAT case
ROXY: i still dont get what “dissipation” is or why its so important that callies bro dies
ROXY: i mean besides the fact that hes the actual worst
ROXY: but tbh if none of us are in physical danger and john not going won’t hurt anybody then
ROXY: why the hell should he risk his life for some abstract concept?
ROXY: ik you just spent the evening talking abt it but imo canon kinda just sounds like a particularly meta flavor of bullshit
ROXY: no offense
CALLIOPE: roxy, please be polite! rose is a gUest!
ROSE: No, it’s okay.
ROSE: I thought you might feel that way, Roxy. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’m talking to you about all of this.

Rose sits up, leans forward, clasps her hands, and looks Roxy dead in the eyes.

ROSE: Before I answer your question, let me posit one of my own.
ROSE: What are your feelings toward John?

Roxy blinks in surprise. Did this conversation about supposed meta-existential threats just take a swerve into relationship drama?

ROXY: why xactly do u ask?
ROSE: Please, just think it over for a while.

Roxy’s a bit miffed at not being given an answer, but she leans back and does as Rose asks.

Normally, Roxy doesn’t mind ambiguous relationships. She doesn’t know or care how her relationship with the gorgeous green alien sitting across the coffee table from her should be labeled. For some reason, however, something about John has always frustrated her in this regard.

She thought they built a real connection in the Sburb session. They were the only survivors of the original timeline, the only ones who knew what it meant to see all their friends die horribly. They had cried together, laughed together, and shared any number of important moments. He put himself on the line to save everyone. He stubbornly refused to give up on her or let her fade into nonexistence. He helped her bring Callie back from the dead.

After they built the new world, though, he just... drifted away. They hung out a few times at first, but she’d usually be the one to initiate it. He’d seem so funny and heartfelt whenever they got together, and then they’d part ways for the evening and he’d go right back to being awkward and unreachable.

She thinks of him more than she ought to, and her heart still does a little flutter whenever John texts her. But sometimes he’ll forget to text for weeks at a time. Sometimes even in the middle of a conversation.

Roxy always thought that if John liked her in that way, he would tell her eventually. She eventually concluded that their shared experiences simply didn’t mean as much to him as they did to her. He was just drifting on the breeze.

To complicate things further, John is on record as being heterosexual, and Roxy... She's never felt particularly feminine, at least not when compared with Jane and Rose, but lately she's begun to suspect that she might not even be a woman at all? It's an idea that so far has only emerged through occasional dysphoric thoughts and fragments of conversation. If it’s true, though, she might be someone whom John can't be attracted to, so there would be no point trying to start something.

She’s put John behind her now, though. She’s happy being with Callie. She doesn’t need to worry about what John thinks of her or about what she thinks of him.

At least, that’s what she believed. Rose’s question implies that she and John might not be quite done just yet.

ROSE: You don’t have to answer now. Just keep the question in mind.
ROSE: Whatever your feelings are, however, I can guess that you’re frustrated that he’s drawn away from you recently.
ROSE: How he’s seemed uncharacteristically distant and reserved for the past several years.
ROXY: yeah p much
ROSE: Most of our friends feel the same way.
ROSE: Much of John’s withdrawal is because he’s still tied to canonicity while the rest of us aren’t. He’s always felt like he doesn’t belong, and on some level, he’s right.
ROSE: If he chooses to stay, John will be permanently freed from canonicity. His retcon powers will quickly fade, but he’ll be able to live a full life on Earth C with the rest of us.

Rose takes a deep breath and sits up straight.

ROSE: There are two reasons I came here today. Beyond wanting to see you, I mean.
ROSE: The first is to ask the two of you to offer John his choice.
ROSE: It has to be you.
ROSE: Because Roxy is the perfect messenger to present John with an unbiased choice.
ROSE: She’s untroubled by worries about canonicity or lack thereof.
ROSE: She’s the best at hiding her feelings of any of us, and John has a unique connection with her.
ROSE: And you, Calliope, should be present to help contextualize Roxy’s current life for John. To remind him of the social dynamics which he’ll either be reentering into, or fighting to save.
ROSE: Right now, it’s ambiguous whether John feels the same way about canon as you do, Roxy. But making this choice will make it clear to everyone. Including him.
ROSE: If he chooses to go, it will be because he’ll have fully embraced his role as the guardian of what is true, relevant, and essential.
ROSE: If he chooses to stay, it will be because of his love for his friends.
ROSE: Specifically, his love for you.

Roxy’s eyes slowly widen. Across the table, Calliope starts looking down awkwardly again and fists her hands in the fabric of the chair.

ROXY: you think
ROXY: john loves me?
ROSE: I know it for sure.
ROSE: He’s just pretty awful at expressing these things directly. Even without the disconnect due to divergent strengths of canonical ties.
ROSE: It just depends on whether he decides that his feelings are more important than his cosmic duty.
ROSE: If he chooses you, and if you feel the same way about him...
ROSE: Well. Barring any unforeseen chaos, I know the two of you will be very happy together.
ROSE: I think you’ll find you'll even be the second pair to get married!

Roxy's head is spinning. Jegus christmas, this detour into romance-land escalated quickly. Not even five minutes ago, Roxy thought she was capital-O Over this boy, and now they’re supposed to get married?

She’s kind of stunned that Rose would lay all this on her at once. At the same time, though... it doesn’t sound entirely unappealing? If John really does love her, and if he’s still anything like the boy she had all those adventures with, then... Ergh, there’s a lot to sort through here. She’s going to need time.

Roxy quickly glances over at Calliope, who looks distinctly uncomfortable. Did Rose not even consider Callie’s feelings when she dropped this heterosexual prediction-bomb on them? For a lesbian, Rose must have a pretty busted gaydar.

While Roxy’s trying to think of a way to defuse the situation without anyone’s feelings getting hurt, Calliope clears her throat.

CALLIOPE: excUse me, rose.
CALLIOPE: i believe yoU mentioned there were two reasons yoU came here today.
CALLIOPE: may i ask what the second one is?
ROXY: yeah uh
ROXY: enough failing the bechdel test for one evening lets talk shop
CALLIOPE: bechdel test?
ROXY: ya its a thing dave talks abt a lot to determine whether
ROXY: FUCK i just did it again
ROXY: anyway rose plz continue
ROSE: Ah. Yes, certainly.
ROSE: Beyond facilitating John’s choice, there’s one more thing I need you to do, Roxy.

Rose leans forward again and folds her fingers in a tent.

ROSE: I need you to wipe my mind.
ROXY: what???
CALLIOPE: what???
ROSE: I need you to use your void powers to make me forget that I asked you to give John a choice, and to make me forget everything I’ve learned about what will happen if he chooses to stay.
ROSE: It’s imperative that I proceed with no anticipation of what might happen in that potential timeline.

Roxy’s more confused than ever. She’s never manipulated people’s memories before, why would Rose think that she could do it now? And more importantly...

ROXY: why would you want that???
ROSE: There are, shall we say... forces, in play, which intend active harm to our current cosmological state of affairs. Forces beyond passive dissipation.
ROSE: Part of this threat is meta-canonical. Part of it is... rather more literal.
ROSE: I have a strategy to ensure that this threat is defeated. But from our current vantage point, it is essential that you wipe my mind.
ROSE: That’s all I can say without risking my strategy’s success.
ROSE: There’s no need to worry about ethical concerns. The erasure will be perfectly safe and I’ve given my full informed consent.
ROXY: aight but uh
ROXY: lets say for a sec that i think this is a remotely good or sane idea
ROXY: y do you think i can even do it???
ROSE: There’s a few reasons.
ROSE: The first is that it might arise as a natural consequence of your heroic role.
ROSE: As a Rogue of Void, you steal nothingness for the benefit of others. This has historically manifested itself in the ability to steal the nothingness attribute from objects, i.e. to create them, in order to help other people.
ROSE: The other interpretation of your role, however, is to steal for the benefit of others by using nothingness.
ROSE: Stealing memories by replacing them with nothingness, with the consent of the one being stolen from, would fall under this purview.
ROXY: hm
ROXY: sounds kinda jank but ok
ROSE: The second reason is that I believe this ability might also fall under the scope of your opposite role.
ROSE: I’ve encountered a few texts relating to “inversion theory,” and--

Calliope scowls with disgust and bangs the coffee table with her tiny fist, causing the trio’s drinks to splash around. Roxy’s eyebrows nearly jump off her face. She’s never known Callie to get so worked up about anything so quickly.

CALLIOPE: inversion is a THOROUGHLY discredited theory based on a few snippets of anecdotal evidence at BEST! it’s contradicted by almost all verifiable accoUnts!
CALLIOPE: any stories of sbUrb players developing powers like those of their opposite roles are coincidences!
CALLIOPE: it’s a Useless framework that has set analysis of heroic roles back years! it has no place whatsoever in serioUs discUssions!

Callie pants in frustration for three more seconds, then quickly remembers herself. Her eyes go wide and she places a hand over her mouth.

CALLIOPE: i’m sorry, rose...
CALLIOPE: i shoUldn’t have gotten so angry with yoU.
CALLIOPE: it’s jUst that i have spent a considerable portion of my life developing theories on the pUrpose of mythological roles, and this particUlar theory has been a thorn in my side for...
ROSE: No worries. Your reaction isn’t uncommon.
ROSE: However, while I respect your opinion, I think inversion theory contains at least some element of validity. I’d like to present you and Roxy with my sub-argument based upon it, if I may.
CALLIOPE: ...fine.

Rose turns back to Roxy, whose understanding of what the hell is going on has continued to steadily deteriorate.

ROSE: If inversion theory is correct - and I acknowledge that that’s a big “if” - a player can, under specific circumstances, act as if both their class and aspect were the opposite of their actual class and aspect.
ROSE: Consequently, they may develop powers relating to that opposite role.
ROXY: wait a minute
ROXY: iirc light and void are opposites
ROXY: and i think a rogue passively steals shit but a thief actively steals shit
ROXY: rose
ROXY: is this just an elaborate scheme to say
ROXY: im vriska
ROXY: rose is that it am i 8ecomin vriska lmaoooooooo
ROSE: No! Though that certainly is an image, ha ha.
ROSE: The operative verb that a class is focused around is inverted as well. “Create” and “destroy” are inverses, “understand” and “change” are inverses, and “steal” and “exploit” are inverses.
ROSE: So you wouldn’t act like one who actively steals Light, you’d act like one who actively exploits it.
ROSE: That’s why your inverse role is a Knight of Light.
CALLIOPE: knights aren’t... oh, never mind.
ROXY: callies class doesnt have an opposite word tho
ROXY: whats her inverse role?
ROSE: Well, um.
ROSE: Dead sessions are incredibly scarce. Dead sessions where a player lives long enough to ascend, even more so. With so little data, it’s impossible to tell how inversion applies to the two master classes.
ROSE: It’s one of the holes in the theory.
CALLIOPE: one of many!!
ROSE: Anyway, if Light is interpreted as “knowledge” in this context, the purpose of a Knight of Light could be to exploit knowledge as a weapon.
ROSE: Manipulating memories to achieve a specified end could, under some interpretations, fall under this purview.
ROXY: ...
ROXY: that sounds even MORE jank tbh
ROSE: It does, I’ll admit. But there’s a third and final reason I think you can do this, and it’s the most convincing of all.
ROXY: wats that

Rose displays the half-smile characteristic of the only person in the room who understands what’s going on. It’s an expression she is accustomed to wearing.

ROSE: It’s narratively required.
ROSE: While we’ve predominantly left canonicity behind us, we still have enough ties to it that our lives follow some semblance of a coherent arc.
ROSE: This arc requires a near future in which I’m unaware of what John's choice may lead to.
ROSE: And whatever the narrative needs to happen, happens. By any means necessary.

Roxy frowns. She likes this explanation even less, but it sounds like the exact type of bullshit which Rose has been frustratingly right about in the past.

Rose leans back and folds her hands in her lap.

ROSE: So what will you do?
ROSE: Will you present John with his choice, and will you help me forget the consequences of that choice?
ROXY: ...
ROXY: do i rly have a choice?
ROSE: Of course you do. I’ll soon come to believe otherwise out of necessity, but all of us have free will.
ROSE: Paradox Space is defined and shaped by all of our wills.
ROSE: You have a choice, but that doesn’t mean I don’t already know what it will be.
ROSE: What I need it to be.

Roxy gives the matter a little more thought, but she already knows that Rose is right.

If John chooses to stay, maybe they can finally be free of whatever canon is supposed to be and just live their lives. If not... she’ll just have to live with that. He deserves to make his own decision, and it sounds like this is the best way to give him that chance.

She still needs to work out what she wants to happen between her and John, but that’s a problem for later.

As for the mind wipe... Rose has always come through in the past, and she says she has a plan. Roxy trusts her.

The hour is late. The shadow of the bell tower now fills the whole room. Even someone pressed against the window would be unable to see the sun.

Roxy looks questioningly toward Calliope, who gives a slow, deliberate nod. Upon seeing this, she turns back toward Rose.

ROXY: just tell me wat to do