Does Homestuck confuse you?
Are you often beset by doubts about whether the villains of the story can truly be overcome, with all their commanding force? That Homestuck is headed toward a “downer ending”, the heroes locked in by the alpha timeline’s absolute inevitability?
Do you feel like you don’t know how the alpha timeline works or is decided, other than the idea that it seemingly works against everything hopeful? Are you mystified by the presence and emergence of stable time loops, and the impenetrable methods via which they paradoxically exist?
Like many of the characters in Homestuck, do you despair that fate is inevitable?
It is. But if you take that at face value, you’re missing the point!
"The point" is why the alpha timeline unfolds the way it does. It’s the concept Homestuck’s characters, and the readers by extension, are teased with constantly, only to reach out and miss grasping it again and again. It’s the moral hammered in by every element of the game, every quest, every long-winded bit of sprite or consort exposition. It’s the core of temporal mechanics, the core of reality’s mechanics. It’s hinted at by hundreds of tiny moments of happenstance and conversation throughout the story, and explains hundreds more once known. It’s the overarching theme of Homestuck, it’s how the heroes can and will win.
And it just so happens to be The Ultimate Riddle.
Under the cut, I’ll walk you through the answer. Fair warning: It takes a while. :)
— Why is reality the way it is? —
To help convey this, let’s start with an example; a miniature riddle, if you will:
Imagine that Dave Strider is strolling along on LoWaS, under a cliff, when - SUDDENLY!!! - the cliff starts to collapse, and rocks are raining onto him. He barely has time to realize what’s happening, much less dodge.
If he were to hypothetically get hit by these rocks, it would turn out to cause him some serious bruises and bumps. It’d be a huge, painful pain in the ass, but it would NOT generally interfere with his quest or progress in the session. (In other words, Skaia or the Horrorterrors probably wouldn’t have reason to care, this isn’t a plot-important event.)
Now: What happens is that a future Dave warps in and pushes him out of the way, sparing them both injury. A stable time loop that spares him the inconvenience.
And here’s the question:
Why does that stable time loop exist?
Why couldn’t Dave just have been hit by the rocks, which would have prevented him from going back to save himself the injury without dooming the timeline? Why does reality just so happen to include him successfully executing that stable time loop, instead of having things immutably play out?
And why - and I can guarantee you this, explained later, but I’m telling you now as a hint - is reality almost ensured to have Dave saving himself whenever this sort of thing happens???
Here’s the wrong answer:
Many of you would say that “Fate” simply said it would be so, and thus Dave experienced the loop and had to obey it.
Skaia doesn’t care about a couple of hard knocks on the head. Not in this irrelevant, contrived scenario, at least. And neither do the Horrorterrors; in fact, from what we know of them, they might be more than willing to inflict a little bad luck for shits and giggles, but him sparing himself makes that pointless.
So what does that leave? Some arbitrary in-built “destiny” in Paradox Space? Why would it give a damn about this, enough to ensure that Dave will be in a helpful loop every single time something like this happens?
None of those theories explain why the stable time loop (get saved by self from rocks, temporally ensured to go back later and save self) exists in place of the alternative (get hit by rocks, temporally ensured not to go back and save self without dooming).
So what does explain it?
Here’s the right answer:
Dave has participated in countless stable time loops. You saw simple ones in [S] Dave: Accelerate, where he went back during fighting simply to speed things up slightly and collect grist easier. He barely needs to pay attention to his past selves; he just keeps doing what he thinks he’d do, and as long as he’s not intentionally violating causality, there just so happens to be a loop in the alpha timeline where expects it to be.
Or, to be more precise…
GG: well youre from the future right?
GG: dont you know already if itll work?
TG: yeah more or less
TG: i never really studied how it went down all that closely
TG: i just figured when the time came to sort it out the right thing to do would be obvious
TG: like it is now
TG: managing the loops is a balance of careful planning and just rolling with your in the moment decisions
TG: and trusting they were the ones you were always supposed to make
TG: by now im pretty used to having my intuition woven into the fabric of the alpha timeline
The loops are where he would have wanted them to be!
Dave wouldn’t want to be bumped and bruised, and would have been willing and able to come in from the future to forestall that. So, that becomes reality, simply by lieu of the fact that he would’ve given enough of a shit to do it.
In response to this idea - implied in my lead-in ask responses to this topic - the anon who had been questioning me had an objection.
So you’re saying Dave let Jade kill her /because he wanted it to happen/?
Yes, he did!
As I put it with a friend:
- 12:15:10 AM Legendary: it seems that
- 12:15:15 AM Legendary: the more attention you pay
- 12:15:27 AM Legendary: the more your /subconscious/ desires start being the time loops you suffer through
- 12:15:35 AM Legendary: such as dave watching himself get killed by jack
- 12:15:47 AM BlastYoBoots: Dave pretty much wanted to get killed by Jack
- 12:15:58 AM BlastYoBoots: it’s how he wanted to go out, and he was determined to do so
- 12:16:07 AM Legendary: yes but, until he saw it happen, i don’t think he /knew/ he wanted it
- 12:16:16 AM BlastYoBoots: there were hints that he did before
- 12:16:31 AM BlastYoBoots: in his dreams, he imagined escaping his time loops
- 12:16:39 AM BlastYoBoots: and he wanted to duke it out with Jack
- 12:16:48 AM BlastYoBoots: his will, added together, resulted in that
Dave, overwhelmed by his insecurities, felt like using death as an escape. And through his desire to at least put up a fight against Jack Noir - an unbeatable foe - he found a ‘heroic’ method of achieving it.
Doubt it? Have a look:
TG: i kept dying
TG: there kept being these traps like i would go one way and get my head chopped off
TG: or go another way and get stabbed or whatever
TG: and every time i died the dream reset itself and i was standing there alive and ready to try to escape again
TG: but each time i would be watching myself from the vantage point of a different crow
TG: like i was the crow all squawking around in circles like a macabre flapping douche
TG: and i would always watch myself try to do something different to dodge the trap but i always ended up dead
TG: so i kept dying and kept being crows and stuff
TG: and then i started to notice something coming from the sky
TG: it was this faint eerie singing and i look up and theres nothing there just darkness
TG: i looked up into the sky
TG: didnt see anyone singing
TG: but even though the sky was black i could see the sun
TG: it was bright as hell even through my shades
TG: so i flapped my wings and flew up away to it like a fucking piece of garbage
TG: and thats it
TT: This doesn’t strike you as an impulse of self destruction?
TG: not in the sense that it was a dark sacrificial zoology mission
TG: it was more like somewhere to go besides watching myself die a lot from the vantage of a feathery murder of dumb shitty birds
TT: So, if hypothetically you were to accept such a mission, or even insist upon one, it wouldn’t be in the spirit of genuine sacrifice, but of escape?
And at any point after his death, did you see Dave expressing a shred of regret about his course of action?
He doesn’t. He merely says that he wanted to, and then justifies it by claiming it was supposed to happen:
TT: What about why you went to fight Jack?
TG: i did that
TG: because i wanted to
TG: and because i was supposed to
TT: Are you sure?
TG: yeah i saw my future self fighting him so obviously that had to happen or else id be dead anyway
TG: without even getting the satisfaction of standing up to him
TT: So was your decision a result of desire or obligation?
TG: hard to explain
TG: with all the time shit going on
TT: So what about Jade?
TT: You didn’t tell her your expedition with her would result in your death, let alone one she’d inadvertently cause.
TT: Or that she’d be stuck with the job of resuscitating you. Did you?
TG: what am i really supposed to say
TG: hey were gonna hunt frogs til you shoot me through the jack
TG: then i die and youve got to make out with me
TG: that kind of changes how the whole thing goes doesnt it
TT: Not if you’re “supposed to,” right?
TG: what does that even mean
TT: I guess you’re right. No reason to make an effort to empathize if doing so comes at the price of oblivion.
TT: It must be comforting to have your ASPD tacitly supported by predestination.
TT: Antisocial personality disorder.
TG: oh no
TG: this conversation just got bumrushed by a mudslide of fucking awful
TT: It wasn’t already awful, believing you might be dead?
TG: you dont know anything
TG: about what i was feeling or what happened on lofaf
As you can see, Rose is rather skeptical! The Horrorterrors might have primed Dave with the thoughts through his dreams, influenced his preferences and decisions… but his loops in the alpha timeline seem firmly the result of his will.
Anyway, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves with all this focus on Dave. What about the others? Is it just Dave whose will matters over the alpha timeline?
We’ve seen other players ‘create’ loops too, if you think about it. Remember how Vriska saw kids falling asleep over the Trollian viewer at roughly the times at which she would have wanted to put them to sleep, and then did so to complete the loops?
In fact… can you recall a single instance in Homestuck where someone did something to the past solely because causality dictated it, even though they didn’t want to??
If you look carefully, you’ll realize that all the actions into the past involved more-than-willing participation by the players doing so! They didn’t just fulfill the loops because they had to. They wanted to do the thing that happened to fulfill the loop, or even wanted to ensure the result of the loop itself. Even if they misunderstand causality in the first place!
Of course, some have a better idea of it than others:
GC: YOU 4SK3D WH4T 1T M34NS TO B3 TH3 S33R OF M1ND
TG: i obviously still dont know
GC: OK TH3N 1LL JUST 4SK TH1S
GC: HOW MUCH OF YOUR R34L1TY DO YOU TH1NK 1S M4D3 OF WH4TS 1N YOUR M1ND?
TG: i dont know sounds like a riddle
TG: fuck it ill just say all of it
TG: i mean that is the answer right
GC: SM4RT4SS >:P
GC: 1T 1S NOT 4 R1DDL3, 1T 1S 4 S3R1OUS QU3ST1ON, TH3R3 1S 4 B1G D1FF3R3NC3 D4V3
GC: 1F YOU S33 WH4TS 1N YOUR M1ND CL34RLY 4ND UND3RST4ND TH3 POW3R YOUR THOUGHTS H4V3
GC: TH3N YOU UND3RST4ND R34L1TY WH1L3 3V3RYON3 3LS3 1S RUNN1NG 4ROUND CONFUS3D 4ND 4NGRY 4ND UPS3T
GC: B3C4US3 TH3Y TH1NK R34L1TY 1S SOM3TH1NG H4PP3N1NG TO TH3M
GC: R4TH3R TH4N SOM3TH1NG TH3Y 4R3 M4K1NG 3V3RY MOM3NT W1TH 3V3RY THOUGHT
Well put, Terezi!
Not understanding the power your will has over reality, of course, has its own consequences on your effect on it.
Especially when your enemies understand it better than you do:
uu: I GuESS WE’LL JuST HAVE TO SEE. WON’T WE?
uu: I THINK THIS IS PROBABLY A DIFFERENT KIND OF SESSION.
uu: ONE WHERE THE PLAYERS FIGHT FOR SuPREMACY. RATHER THAN WORK TOGETHER.
uu: I THINK THAT IT MuST BE THAT WAY.
uu: BECAuSE THAT IS HOW I WANT IT TO BE.
uu: AND IF I WANT SOMETHING TO BE TRuE HARD ENOuGH. THEN THAT MAKES IT SLIGHTLY MORE ABSOLuTELY IRREFuTABLE.
uu: ARE YOu FEELING ME, FuCKER?
uu: YOu CAN’T.
uu: THE MIIIIIIIIIIILES.
TT: Sorry, it’s not going to start being a Thing no matter how much you say it. Give it a rest.
uu: THE MIIIIIIIIIIILES!
uu: AAAAAAAAAAAH HAA HAA HAA HEE HEE.
uu: “YOu CAN’T ESCAPE THE MILES” IS TOTALLY GOING TO BECOME A THING, CAL!
uu: THERE’S NOTHING YOu CAN DO ABOuT IT. BECAuSE YOu’LL BE DEAD!
uu: HOOOOOOOOOOO HOO HOO HOO HAA HAA!
I want to clarify ‘will’ here, however. It’s not simply ‘desire’ I’m referring to; what you wish for alone doesn’t shape reality. (The Ultimate Riddle’s answer isn’t exactly The Secret.) Rather, it’s your natural inclinations that would result in action, and the form said actions would ostensibly take, which would bring about a corresponding stable loop. Jade possessed the will to act to fulfill Skaia’s outlined plan to send her a birthday present from John several birthdays early, and so her cooperation was indeed ordained; if Jade had merely thought Skaia’s ideas were noble without the inclination to carry out its suggestions, Skaia would have needed another willing participant to get things done.
This is the principle governing Dave’s time loops: If Dave would have naturally wanted that loop to exist enough to back it up with its causing action at a later date - without merely being forced to by the loop’s existence alone - then the loop happens to exist, regardless of whether or not he notices the returning future self that represents its pastmost end. People respond to the information they receive in ways that are consistent with their own personalities; we already know that this determines linear reality, so it isn’t much of a stretch to extend it ever so slightly to the metatemporal!
Reality being the result of "how people act" is merely adjusted to "how people would act”. It’s really that simple.
Of course, as the will to act is different from desire, the results may not quite work out as he intended: He may try to prevent something, prompted by misleading information by others, and end up causing it instead, or he may leap to do something he understood he had the power to accomplish (fighting off the thief of Rose’s journal) only to both later and retroactively find - through the discovery of his eager former self’s doomed corpse - that he had miscalculated what he could physically get done.
Moreso than the desires and innate inclinations at its root, will can be redirected, misdirected, and subverted. Though, indeed, the root desires themselves may be dampened or eaten away by misplaced disillusionment and apathy, especially by those who don’t understand how the alpha timeline is truly determined.
Back during an explanation to him and others, Ktalaki asked:
But, on the subject of there not being anyone who participates in stable time loops they wouldn’t have wanted to participate in: Would it be possible for someone to participate in a stable time loop they don’t want to participate in, but not enough that they would will it to happen in some other way?
Apathy can indeed be a motivator to let things play out the way they appear to be playing out. Especially so if there are other wills involved, working to make sure it does happen! The Horrorterrors especially encourage such hesitation in players, on occasion, to further their own ends uninterrupted. Aradia is a huge example: Her carefully arranged death made her malleable, a powerful proxy of the Horrorterrors’ will.
And if no wills work for something to come about, well… the result is just physics, isn’t it? There are no giant self-causing space walruses appearing out of nowhere. External will - and potential ‘sources’ for the information that makes them, even if they’re not specifically referenced in the self-causing loop - has to be involved for a loop to come about.
— “Self-Generating” Information —
Which I’ll go into a little more detail about: Self-generating, loop-born information is rather rare in Homestuck, only coming into play under very constrained circumstances.
- When ordinary players use the simpler forms of stable time loops, no new, purely self-causing information or objects seem to appear out of the ether. If an original object appeared out of nowhere from the future, players haven’t been shown sending the same original object back to become itself, thus making the object void-born and without a true origin: instead, at some point in the loop the item that was sent back is necessarily misplaced, and a fresh version of it - the “true”, brand-new original - is the one sent back.
- Except when it did, on exactly one occasion: The money transfer. Notable about this event is that (1) it was almost certainly ordained heavily by Skaia, the Horrorterrors, and Doc Scratch despite its simple nature, since it’s the mechanism by which they became aware of each others’ existence in the first place and they wouldn’t have done so otherwise, and (2) there was only one piece of self-generating information in the loop, amidst what would normally just have been an arbitrary, variably large amount of money Dave always would have sent. Just one. It was the number 413, and neither player could explain how it got there.
- The extremely broad time loops arranged by the major powers, the ones which do contain massive amounts of seemingly self-generated information (such as the ectobiological nature of our heroes, or the frog temple which seeds the game code that creates it), all have plausible sources via which the information might have conceivably been obtained, if not for the loop. The kids are humans, and the trolls are trolls… so couldn’t their genetic makeup have been anything arbitrary instead?
The answer here is that information - and will - is not self-generated by time loops where it appears to be so, but can instead be injected by major powers with the means to source that information. The information needed to construct a human’s code could easily be cobbled together by Skaia on a metatemporal level - seeing as it already omnisciently knows humanity’s makeup, even outside of causality - and also, having been birthed within another instance of Skaia, it’s only natural that the planets in a newborn genesis frog would find loops seeding the game’s code, which the outer game possesses; hence, frog temples appearing on planets via stable loops.
After all, as a counterpart to the Horrorterrors’ embodiment of Void, Skaia is practically the essence of Light…
JASPERSPRITE: Rose im just a cat and i dont know much but i know that youre important and also you are what some people around here call the Seer of Light.
JASPERSPRITE: And you dont know what that means but you will see its all tied together!
JASPERSPRITE: All the life in the ocean and all the shiny rain and the songs in your head and the letters they make.
JASPERSPRITE: A beam of light i think is like a drop of rain or a long piece of yarn that dances around when you play with it and make it look enticing!
JASPERSPRITE: And the way that it shakes is the same as what makes notes in a song!
JASPERSPRITE: And a song i think can be written down as letters.
JASPERSPRITE: So if you play the right song and it makes all the right letters then those letters could be all the letters that make life possible.
JASPERSPRITE: So all you have to do is wake up and learn to play the rain!
Not just fortune, but information and agency.
And where that influence makes itself manifest, the arc numbers fill in the self-causing informational gaps, like in that money transfer. 413, 612, 1025, 111. Indicators that unseen actors are competing to make their wills known, that no individual is being inspired by a self-causing thought that they and they alone created, sent back in a stable time loop to clue themselves with something they never would have slightly considered without the self-generating hint… that doesn’t happen. An idea’s or being’s germination is never fully self-caused, and if it appears that way, you’ll find that other wills are actually at fault.
Hence the purpose of inviting malicious individuals to voluntarily decide to perpetuate Lord English’s looping entries, and perform the keys to his eventual creation and rise to power. Lord English can’t be the sole, major retroactive influence in his own creation. Apart from his innate nature, his circumstance needs to be largely the result of other wills, even if it was just an absurd whim. You don’t honestly believe that Calliope and Caliborn were spawned from just another Cherub, do you? >;]
If there weren’t these important restrictions on information, we would have a couple examples of that by now. In fact, there isn’t just a lack of evidence for sourceless generation: we have the opposite of an example. A counter-example.
It was when Kanaya tried to self-generate the earlier conversation against her as a slight to Rose. Click the text document she links right there, would you?
Now, keep in mind, there were ‘reasons’ that Kanaya’s attempt didn’t work. In-the-moment reasons, mainly that John was the one typing all along. However, a broader point was being made by this failure: This kind of self-generation was never going to happen, and never could! The course of the conversation in that text document didn’t correspond even slightly to Rose’s will, and if she’d followed the script it would have been entirely sourceless. There was no reason for a stable loop like that to ever exist.
It’s an example of one of the many misinterpretations and failures Andrew has intentionally shown players making with regards to temporal mechanics, to help demonstrate the true, underlying reasons he has had the story subtly allude to all along. The answer to the Ultimate Riddle.
— The Ultimate Wills —
I’m not saying that will is merely an influence over fate, as you may be able to tell. I’m saying it exists in fate’s place:
The alpha timeline is the precalculated sum of everyone’s wills to act, multiplied by their foreknowledge and vectors of influence!
On the broader stage, you have the major players, Skaia and the Horrorterrors. They have broad, broad omniscience, allowing them to accomplish something merely by tipping a small domino far up the line, nudging the map of eventual outcomes to result a certain way. Skaia and the Horrorterrors can manipulate things so that the wills and actions of lesser beings coincide with their own, inadvertently or otherwise.
In fact, most of the major, plot-important stable time loops you see rarely happened on their own, by Skaia or the Horrorterrors’ doing specifically. Instead, Skaia and the Horrorterrors manipulated the situation so that players would WANT to take the actions that fulfilled the loops these broader powers desired!
Part of what imparts so much freedom to the players is that Skaia and the Horrorterrors are competing, at odds. They train the players, claiming them in equal halves, leveraging heavy omniscience and strong “vectors of influence” - a vector of influence being any power they can extend through to where they want it, such as Skaia showing calculated snippets of the past and future in its clouds to sway individuals, or Horrorterrors whispering to do the same - but in the gaps between their struggles, there is plenty of freedom to decide reality.
FAA: i d0nt kn0w if it was just bad luck
FAA: 0r an extensi0n 0f the curse karkat insists he br0ught 0n us
FAA: that lead t0 the incidental and unf0rtuit0us pr0t0typing 0f feferis p0werful lusus
FAA: with0ut which the battle w0uld have p0sed little challenge
FAA: i think
FAA: it was m0re likely just an0ther inevitability
FAA: a pr0duct 0f c0llusi0n between the disparate f0rces at play
FAA: a bargain struck between what skaia kn0ws already and what the g0ds demand up fr0nt
FAA: t0gether they 0rchestrate trials sufficient t0 ensure
FAA: that in 0verc0ming them we w0uld be pr0ven w0rthy
FAA: 0f inheriting
If the Horrorterrors had enough hands in a certain timeframe or location, for example, they could deny a certain possibility from ever occurring: possessing enough foreknowledge, they would simply threaten to have their hands prevent it from succeeding in any possible permutation of reality. Skaia can do this, too!
Of course, their vectors of influence are limited, unless they acquire more via shenanigans… such as the Horrorterrors obtaining Aradia’s service, allowing them to brute-force the trolls’ frog breeding into a specific result via mass timeline dooming!
Though, they had help. And that’s where the third major player comes in, the one throwing everything out of balance: Lord English.
We know that Doc and the Horrorterrors colluded, for example, to bring about the Green Sun. Doc arranged to have Aradia killed, and the Horrorterrors controlled her as a result. Doc sent Rose on a mission to deliver the Tumor, and the Horrorterrors delivered them through space and time in the Void to the very moment the Sun was supposed to be created.
In other words, Skaia and the Horrorterrors are usually in balance, but - though their motives are unlikely to line up exactly - Lord English and the Horrorterrors have collaborated enough to clearly tilted that balance in favor of Destruction, as opposed to Skaia’s Creation.
And boy, does Lord English have the means to. Doc Scratch was, for all practical purposes, omniscient. Plus, he was omnipotent in A2 within all relevant temporal perspective of the trolls’ planet’s lifetime. That is an incredible amount of power over reality: Doc’s will was basically law.
In addition, he helped recruit Aradia into the Horrorterrors’ service (as mentioned above), allowed individuals to receive calculated trauma/disabilities, and leveraged his omniscience to manipulate others’ mindsets into doing what he wished over chatlogs, extending serious influence quite handily into the trolls’ session and beyond.
(You can see why the Void aspect is so critical to the heroes’ eventual victory. If there’s a big black gap where you can’t see the map of dominoes, as an omniscient player in reality, you can’t tip one domino outside the gap and know which direction the flow will eventually fall when it comes out the other side. Void obscures the ability of the omniscient to exercise their will using foreknowledge; they can’t nudge things so something happens if they don’t know the realities their nudging would create. Thanks to Roxy, the entire B2 session after her entry is obscured, and presumably invisible to Doc!)
What about doomed timelines? Well, in the case of time travel, they occur when someone capable of such travel possesses the will to doom everything to change the past, and did so. (Sometimes unwittingly!) Thus, the whole branch was doomed, because from the start, someone was willing to erase it all to change it. That’s a great power (with a high cost) that those with access to the ability to doom a timeline possess… or, those who can influence such a person’s will. (An example is the timeline Davesprite came from. Recall that he doomed everything to go back because John died… but it was later revealed that said John had made a deal with his denizen TO die, so that Dave would go back and fix everything! Fun fact: If you think about it, Davesprite’s dooming of his branch timeline was not really because John would have died, but because CAL would have been prototyped and unable to complete his vastly-willed loop!)
As to non-time-travel ones, I’ll get to that in the next section.
The compromise between Skaia and the Horrorterrors is also why some characters, like the trolls during Horrorstuck, die for good before they can make it… but under a morality Skaia presumably enforces.
Consider this: The trolls were denied the reward partially via their own doing. Though an outside entity ensured their various flaws would mount, it was indeed personal flaws in the trolls - and a disregard of the game’s quests and lessons - that led them to troll and interfere with the humans in a manner that catalyzed the very reward-denial which allowed them to do so in the first place, as if Jack’s interference in their nigh-victory was a perverse consequence of their own wills! (Which fits in with the sort of morality Skaia may be enforcing, that there must be a justification which they themselves might eventually see for their condition.) So, once the trolls had been denied the reward, you could think of them as being in a post-game “overtime”:
"Start to overcome your flaws for the good of your team and reality’s perpetuation, or die and be excluded." As if they were each given one last chance, or we witnessed one last failure before they fell out of participation in the story’s major events. Skaia might wish to let the players have more time to learn, but the game is over, and the Horrorterrors demand blood; so, Skaia gives everyone a last shot to prove they won’t stagnate, ensuring that morality plays underneath the circumstances of the deaths of those who fail.
And as it happened - this is something we far later realized, and I’ve edited it into this post - the trials granted to them coincided with their aspects: Their mistakes were largely related to immersing themselves in their aspects without overcoming them, without ascending to control of the power at their command and realizing its flaws!
No aspect can be fully understood, or fully embraced, until you’ve had at least a glimpse of its inverse, learned to appreciate the underside of your aspect’s coin.
Feferi practiced optimism, preached that everything was going to be alright, but never acted on it: she merely let things fall as they would under the premise of “everything’s going to be okay”. (Including her dangerous former moirail, but her culpability in ignoring the danger he posed - and not doing something about it beforehand, though I wouldn’t have recommended keeping the relationship - is debatable.) As such, she was excluded from the picture. She died.
This was a trial of Life, the aspect involving the energy and optimism one uses to affect reality. Satisfied with events, she was suddenly content to do nothing substantial to change the course of existence, not understanding the sacrifice (Doom's domain) necessary on their parts for existence to continue. And in her complacence, as she simply indulged in and ceased leveraging Life, Life simply ceased leveraging her.
Tavros learned Vriska’s disastrous brand of false confidence, and acted as if it was real. He foolishly pursued a doomed duel with Vriska in person, without so much as notifying his team of the reasoning behind what he was doing, and charged headlong into a vicious wall of spikes called the Thief of Light. He died.
This was a trial of Breath, the aspect of quest, direction, and freedom. Tavros was arrested with a goal, a quest, dedicating himself to the foolish move of attempting for Vriska’s life. He ignored any and all warning signs, catapulting himself to the task like John on a jetpack. However, in immersing himself in this direction, Tavros drowned himself in Breath without appreciating its inverse, Blood: the aspect of bonds, relationships, promises, responsibility and shackles. Not once did he consider informing his friends of his course of action, asking them for advice or assistance, uniting a single will with his own to increase his likelihood of success or potentially dissuade him from his course. And confronted through the chest with an insurmountable obstacle, Breath left him.
Contrast this with John, who reconsidered in favor of his trust in Dave!
TG: so you believe me then
TG: about future me
TG: and like
TG: him turning into a floating sword bird
EB: ok, i don’t know anything about that…
EB: but it doesn’t matter!
EB: you’re my best bro, and if you say not to go then i won’t go.
GC: SO JOHN 4CTU4LLY D1D WH4T 1 S41D?
TG: im telling you
TG: huge pushover
TG: he will do what you say
TG: unless it happens to be for his own good
TG: then all a sudden hes a tough nut to crack go figure
Equius was given one last chance to stand up against his personal issues, against Gamzee, but refused to overcome his hemospectrum zealotry, even when his friends’ lives were at stake. For this, he died.
This was a trial of Void, the aspect of nothingness, irrelevance, the destruction of information, darkness, and - most importantly in this discussion - submission. Equius indulged in submission to authority over the safety and livelihood of his friends. Had he even so much as twitched his neck, taking the slightest bit of personal free will (a part of Light's domain that Vriska often steals) into his own hands, the rope around his neck would have snapped clean. Instead, he perished as unimportant as ever.
Nepeta was placed in a safe location where she could have been absolutely safe and hidden. She had one last chance to finally take the danger they were in seriously, to finally move where she had stagnated frivolously instead of making any sort of move towards the team’s survival. Instead, she ignored her moirail’s last wishes, and scurried around the vents curiously, completely heedless of the mounting warnings and danger. For this, she died. (Yeah yeah curiosity killed the blah blah I get it.)
This was a trial of Heart, the aspect concerning personal inclination, the effect of the unique soul on reality. Nepeta followed her inborn curiosity relentlessly, when even the slightest consideration of logic - Mind, the choices with which we react to our environment - would have had her taking her situation seriously before it was too late.
Compare this to Terezi’s mistake with Dave, getting so wrapped up in scheming, plotting, and affecting Dave’s thoughts about reaching God-Tier that she ended up violating his trust in her by killing him, injuring his resolve in a way that may have eventually helped lead to his suicide attempt, and reducing herself to later tears. The mistake of immersing herself in Mind while ignoring the ramifications of Heart.
Vriska is a very unique case. She was making significant progress against her issues, and her death wouldn’t have had to happen… without the influence of Doc Scratch. He had Gamzee invite destruction through Rage in Terezi, narrowing her outlook on the possibilities available to forestall Vriska’s fight with Jack, until it was too late for her options to be anything more than killing her or allowing everyone else to die. (For what purpose Doc had her killed - the nature of the “unfathomable destruction” her later actions will result in - is yet to be seen. EDIT: We might now know what it is!) However, despite the cruelly enforced inevitability, Vriska still faced and failed a Skaia-ordained test.
That test was the coin flip.
Vriska had amassed enough luck to forestall any attempts by fortune at preventing her from getting exactly what she wanted, all the time, without exceptions. If she wanted to have her fight with Jack, she was going to have it. However, this outlook failed to take her team into account:
In being challenged to let the coin fall fairly, Vriska was being offered the chance - begged to consider the option, by Skaia, you could think about it - of allowing her team to possess even the least, slightest bit of control over reality. To allow coincidence to even possibly forestall her own desires, to have the tiniest chance of not getting what she wanted, if it had the potential to be in her friends’ best interests.
She stole just enough luck to decide the flip in her favor. Took away the only chance they had at overruling her fortune. And she died a Just death as a result. There was no way she was going to take Skaia’s offer, but it at least had to put it on the table for her before killing her.
After all, this was still indeed a trial she failed, and you can very easily see that it was a trial of Light. The aspect concerns not just fortune, but information, relevance and importance. Vriska was immersed in her aspect, wanted to be responsible for both her team’s defeat - Jack Noir’s existence - and their victory, by personally defeating him. She wanted it ALL! And ultimately, this killed her, and she was in actuality responsible for neither; a First Guardian of some variety would have been created in the kids’ session regardless, and even if John had succeeded in prototyping the blue lady doll, Bec still intended to jump in. Vriska failed to acknowledge that more people than her deserved to matter to reality’s progression.
Eridan I didn’t think I had to mention, but apparently everyone insists that I do. I thought “I’m going to join the enemy and kill my friends because fuck the progression of reality” was quite enough of a moral statement, you know?.
Eridan was overcome not by his aspect, bur rather by his entire role: he came to detest Hope, not become immersed in it. To become fully realized, a Prince must understand and appreciate the aspect which they threaten to destroy, else their path leads to nothing but oblivion for themselves and those around them.
(Dirk constantly, unwittingly attempts to erode the uniqueness of his friends in place of logic, to pound them into submission on occasion simply with his relentless determination… and his auto-responder is even less restrained in this regard. Until Dirk learns to fully appreciate their Hearts, the wear he puts on his friends will begin to result in cracks.)
Finally, the Matriorb was destroyed. This was one of the most important and thematic consequences of the troll session’s “overtime”: Having been denied the Ultimate Reward, the major celestial players - Horrorterrors especially - will not let their race perpetuate. Said Matriorb was not simply destroyed, but destined to be destroyed, according to Kanaya’s modus. And when the Condesce repeatedly attempted to resurrect trollkind on post-scratch Earth, the Gl’bgolyb progeny that was her pet - a Horrorterror emissary - kept wiping them out, as she had not earned the right to propagate in the dark gods’ eyes! Trollkind’s resurrection awaits a further victory on the behalf of the remaining trolls, a demonstration of worthiness or a sacrifice… and may not come in the form of trolls, but rather - as a result of their combined victory with the kids - a hybrid race, spliced with human reproductive capability.
(Minor side theory: With all that symbolism about Skaia reflecting itself, what if Skaia is a mirror? Perhaps Skaia is merely an omniscient entity that bolsters and reflects its team’s wills? That’s why rebelling against Skaia is such a bad idea… you’re rebelling against your own best interests, the perpetuation of your own will, and that of your team!)
Back to the Riddle.
Now, recall what’s been said about the Ultimate Riddle over the course of the story. How Karkat equated it to their creation and everything being “meant to happen all along”, and presumably misinterpreting it to mean pointlessness, for example.
At every step and turn in Homestuck, characters have misinterpreted this property of reality - why the alpha timeline is the way it is - and this has been done often enough to the point that it seems thematic. We keep getting hint after hint, but the story is waiting, not telling us the truth outright. At least, not yet. (Recall that in past Karkat’s convo with John where he was about to reveal the answer to the Riddle, the rest was cut off, obscured from us.)
But back when he first really went into it, in Act 4:
CG: AND THIS WAS THE POINT I WAS TRYING TO MAKE ABOUT THE ULTIMATE RIDDLE.
EB: what is the riddle anyway?
EB: maybe i can guess, i am good at riddles!
CG: HAHAHA, THINK AGAIN IGNORAMUS.
CG: IT’S NOT EVEN THAT GREAT.
CG: OR EVEN MUCH OF A RIDDLE AT ALL.
CG: IN THE COURSE OF YOUR ADVENTURE YOU WOULD HAVE ENCOUNTERED ALL THESE FRAGMENTS OF LIKE WEIRD POEMS AND SHIT.
CG: YOU FIND THEM ALONG YOUR QUESTS, WITH CLUES AND STUFF BURIED IN THEM TO HELP YOU SOLVE PUZZLES AND MOVE HUGE STONE COLUMNS AND MAKE STAIRCASES APPEAR AND LOTS OF NONSENSE LIKE THAT.
CG: AND IT’S ALL MASKED IN THIS FLOWERY SORT OF FROTHY POETIC JACKASSERY THAT NOBODY REALLY CARES ABOUT.
CG: AND I SURE AS HELL DON’T CARE ABOUT SPOILING IT FOR YOU.
CG: BUT WHAT ALL THESE LOFTY SYMBOLIC ALLUSIONS BOIL DOWN TO IS SOME GRANDER STATEMENT ABOUT WHAT YOU SEE HAPPENING HERE.
CG: THAT YOU WERE ALWAYS THE KEY TO SEEDING YOUR OWN EXISTENCE THROUGH THIS GAME.
CG: AND ANY HOPE THAT IT COULD HAVE PLAYED OUT DIFFERENTLY OR THAT YOU COULD HAVE AVOIDED THIS WHOLE MESS WAS ALWAYS JUST A RUSE.
EB: a distaction, perhaps?
CG: BUT ANYWAY, THERE’S A LOT MORE TO THE RIDDLE THAN JUST THAT, LIKE WHAT WE WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT LAST TIME WE TALKED.
CG: BUT THAT’S SORT OF THE GIST OF THE THEMES IT DEALS WITH.
So - Karkat’s pessimistic wrong-headedness about it aside - this is supposed to be a theme the game is constantly pushing. What themes has the game constantly been pushing, anyway?
TG: im not a hero
TG: my bro was
TG: john is
TG: im not
GC: Y3S YOU 4R3!
GC: Y3S, W3 4LL 4R3
GC: 1 4M TH3 H3RO OF M1ND
GC: YOU 4R3 TH3 H3RO OF T1M3
GC: TH4T 1S WHO W3 W3R3 CR34T3D TO B3
That the players are HEROES.
NANNASPRITE: Yes, they have dueled in this manner forever… that is, until you showed up!
That they are IMPORTANT.
AG: I am giving you the option, 8ecause at some point a hero has to start making choices.
AG: Once you take a 8r8k from hunting treasure and stop getting distracted 8y side quests, you eventually realize that’s what this game is all a8out.
AG: The choices you make affect the destiny of the universe you cre8te, as well as the type of hero you 8ecome.
That their CHOICES MATTER.
NANNASPRITE: That remains for you to find out, dear! For you see, the journey you are about to take is The Ultimate Riddle!
And as you can now clearly see, it says all this because they are! Their will shapes the contents of reality, and if they succeed, their new universe and universes to come. That’s the essential struggle portrayed by Skaia’s game, and perhaps about to play out across all of Paradox Space at once with our heroes: Creation and Destruction are at odds, warring with each other, and if all continues once balance is upset, Creation will always lose. However, only the heroes can make a difference and turn the tide despite this inevitably, fighting Destruction back and forging reality anew amidst the shattered remains of both!
In fact, Karkat’s even begun to glimpse this, bit by bit. Remember that argument he had with himself in one of the intermissions?
CCG: WHAT THE FUCK IS IT NOW?
FCG: IT JUST OCCURRED TO ME
FCG: THIS DUMB TANTRUM I THREW
FCG: THIS ENTIRE BAD MOOD…
FCG: IT WAS JUST ANOTHER IDIOTIC SELF-FULFILLING REACHAROUND WASN’T IT.
CCG: WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT??
FCG: I MEAN, WHERE DID THIS EVEN COME FROM?
FCG: IT WAS LIKE SPONTANEOUSLY GENERATING SELF-LOATHING WITH NO DISCERNIBLE SOURCE.
FCG: WAS THIS EMOTIONAL OUTBURST EVER EVEN REAL?
CCG: OH NO, DON’T EVEN START WITH THAT.
CCG: DO *NOT* START GETTING EXISTENTIAL ABOUT MY ANGER.
CCG: YOU BETTER FUCKING BELIEVE THIS IS REAL.
FCG: ARE YOU SURE, MAN?
He just doesn’t quite realize that these self-arguments happen because he wanted them to happen! It’s a slow progression of realization, a gradual reveal to the readers that encompasses and underlies Homestuck as a whole.
— The Perpetuation of Reality —
Since Act 6 began, many more of the pieces to the broader puzzle, the implications of this, have been falling into place.
From Aranea, here:
AG: It helps to understand your role, not just as a hero who must overcome, 8ut as a single capillary within a much larger 8ioexistential system.
AG: Think of it like circulatory system, where the veins and capillaries that do not help the overall flow of 8lood through the system are likely to wither and die. Those are doomed offshoots.
AG: Reality itself is using you and many others to propagate its own existence. Strictly speaking, there is only one path to its successful propagation. 8ut it still permits you to make choices. Not all that are conceiva8le, 8ut some nevertheless, as dictated 8y who you are and the challenges you face. And you are free to make key decisions however you like, as long as you understand that some of these paths unfairly or not will lead to o8livion. 8ecause those choices do not contri8ute constructively to the perpetuation of all existence, including your own.
AG: Such is the 8urden assumed 8y anyone who plays this game.
Now, this does sound somewhat bleaker than what I’ve been saying.
To start, it helps to remember that influencing the nature of reality is the theme behind this game, and underlies its heroes and their abilities!
The Aspects, varied and opposing, encompass the essential components of reality and how it unfolds. (click the links for more) Space and Time are its physical fabric, from which power and flexibility are derived. Heart is the reset-spanning power of the unique soul and its potential to carve the ideas it deeply desires into reality, while Mind is the effect of choice and façade, of logic and thought on how events unfold. Light is what Skaia and Doc Scratch operate on: information, perception, communication, and the carefully placed circumstances encoded into reality to benefit individuals/causes in the form of Fortune, while Void is the domain of the Horrorterrors, causing destruction and obscuring information from view to forestall action or tempt interest, leaving misfortune in its wake. Breath is direction, purpose and quest, the drive and freedom to fly and move toward a chosen path on reality or send others/objects on paths of their own, while Blood is grounded in the bonds, unity, and suffering that glue people together toward whatever goals they may seek to effect into reality under their combined power. Life is the energy and optimism to fuel one’s inclination and ability to influence existence, and Doom its curtailing, pessimism and the routes which lead to death and exclusion from the ability to affect that which exists - how Life’s energy may be expended and exhausted in exchange for powerful effects on reality. Hope is one’s belief in the breadth of the possibilities open to them for pursuit, for delivery into reality, while Rage is how one’s perception of them is narrowed considerably through anger and fear.
Heroes meant to play are given not just a blase pool of their aspect to access, but rather a specific method of influence, a Class, to be pursued or inverted to affect both the reality of their aspect and all reality through their aspect. (click the links for more) There are classes which may Exploit their aspect, like a Knight, or Redistribute their aspect, the Thief and Rogue. Classes which Create or Repair their/through-their aspect like the Sylph, or Destroy their/through-their aspect, the Prince and Bard. The pair of which the Witch is a member possesses the ability to Change, and the pair including the Seer may Understand. These cover pretty much anything you could ever do with something, as a whole, don’t they?
As such, with sessions composed of heroes whose essence is that of reality’s unfolding itself and how it may be influenced… why, it’s no surprise that the version of reality which they most successfully modify and perpetuate is that which continues to exist!
If you think about it, this also explains the necessity of a Heroic or Just death method for Gods. Everyone who lives deserves a chance to have a say in how reality and the world unfolds. And if powerful heroes lived forever, well, others’ voices would be drowned out, even if the heroes intentions were noble! So, there are conditions to godhood. If one overembraces their hero role like Vriska was described to have done above, or simply resolves that their will matters more than that of others, they risk becoming a tyrant over the unfolding of reality: one who crowds out and suppresses other wills, that of other heroes and the countless masses. When those with will rise up to challenge and kill such a tyrant for their transgression, no matter how noble the tyrant’s objectives may seem, they receive a Just death, their will removed from reality so others might give voice. And likewise: Noble and fair gods will find that eventually, over the possible nigh-eternity of their lifespan, there comes a time when a challenge or threat arises, the spark for a purpose, whose victory is worth their life, a wish that is worth their soul. By selecting one mighty will to enforce, choosing potentially the last difference they will ever make to reality, they accept that the rest of reality will be decided by others after their success or failure, should others’ wills prevent the god from surviving. This is a Heroic death, when a good natured god almost intentionally passes the baton to the next generation.
If you think about it, this is the virtual condition for reaching the God-Tiers. To rise up to godhood, you must prove that you are willing to affect how reality unfolds even at the cost of your life. Others may even judge this for you, on your behalf, if they believe in you. And your reward is simply a guarantee… by perpetuating your life until a Heroic or Just death, godhood in the alpha timeline guarantees that you will live until you get the chance to attempt to carve your soul’s will into reality’s progression.
Rereading Aranea’s paragraph, a seed of cynicism still comes to mind: that these alpha timelines are still bluntly forced to perpetuate some given, immutable paradox-space-wide cycle of reality. But there’s a far more hopeful answer than that, and that’s to be addressed next.
— The Ultimate Answer —
A cycle, hm?
It’s also logical, since there is essentially nothing new in paradox space. Everything that can happen is either a visual or substantive reproduction of something which has already transpired on a timeline, offshoot or otherwise.
Let’s assume that will holds true. How would Paradox Space eventually cycle? How would reality be at the whim of individuals, and still be a cyclical existence?
An easy answer, and likely the final answer to the riddle itself:
Paradox Space exists, and continues to exist, because people wanted it to do so.
And, theoretically, the key to all of that likely rests in Calliope.
TT: But in the process of killing him and you, I release your master, who is just as deadly?
He’s more deadly.
But the danger he poses is sanctioned by paradox space.
It is a known quantity. His very existence in a universe will mean it will inevitably be torn apart.
But there are rules to his entry, and his grim procession through paradox space is rather orderly. The present equilibrium has accounted for him, and will continue to.
If Lord English is sanctioned by Paradox Space, we can deduce that this is by virtue of the factors behind Paradox Space’s very existence. A duality, in other words:
- Caliborn, the Lord of Time, meant to embody Time with an iron fisted grip on the aspect, using the Creation associated with his progression and the universes he fuels to wreak massive, cruel Destruction.
- Calliope, the Muse of Space, meant to passively embody Space itself, may very well come to Destroy herself in a sacrifice that sparks and perpetuates all Creation!
Eventually, the kids - and the readers - are going to understand the truth behind the Ultimate Riddle. And for our heroes, with that understanding comes substantial power.
Karkat’s pessimism kept him from understanding the implications of the Ultimate Riddle. But he told John what it was, offscreen… so what if John understood, or will eventually understand?
John is the Heir of Breath, the nexus via which direction changes. If he were to unite his friends’ wills towards the perpetuation or repair of reality, against Lord English, with the understanding that they are the heroes meant to choose the outcome of existence? If he, Heir to the aspect of freedom and escape, were to lead them through a breach in Paradox Space to a new reality? Well, I don’t think there’d be any stopping them. :)
(Revision 5 - sbahj note below)
(Revision 6 - added aspect-based trial notes and a tiny bit on the creation/destruction struggle of sburb. 6.5 - and Eridan, i guess.)
(Revision 7 - added a link to the Breath and Blood post.)
(Revision 8 - added a link to ENDGAME - Knight to D6, regarding an escape to a new reality.)
(Revision 9 - added a note about the confirmed Auryn amulet below.)
(Revision 10 - added a link to The Green Sun’s Destruction and described how the answer to the riddle explains the Heroic or Just god death requirement.)
YES. YES IT IS!
And that’s not all.
We recently received a canon depiction of Caliborn and Calliope’s combined ultimate juju: The Auryn amulet from the Neverending Story.
And on the back of this amulet in The Neverending Story, an amulet that essentially has the power to grant any wish, there’s an inscription.
“Do What You Will” (German: “Tu, was du willst”).
Do what you WILL! How could you be more brief in summing up the answer to the Ultimate Riddle?
So, thanks for listening! You now suddenly understand everything.
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