• Published 1st Mar 2019
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Haycartes' Pluperfect Method - Kris Overstreet

Twilight Sparkle has trapped herself in a shelf full of books. Will she survive- or will she lose herself to the story?

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BRAY TO QUARTERS Chapter 15: Four Bells

Get up.

Get up.

Twilight’s eyes opened. A moment later, she wished she hadn’t. Despite the oil-cloak, just enough water and seaspray had got onto her face to leave a salty residue that burned her eyes when they were open. “Wha…” she mumbled. “Whaz’t?”

I must get up. The weather is changing. I must see if we can make sail.

“Wha’ time izzit?”

Past three bells in the middle watch. I heard Gerard giving an order earlier.

Almost two in the morning. Twilight had been dozing for over four hours, then. But, evidently, the Hornsparker personality hadn’t. Curious. Waking up enough to distinguish between voices in her head and voices in her ear, she thought at the fake personality, Why didn’t you take back over, if you were awake? Come to think of it, Hornsparker had barely done more than mutter since the battle began, not even trying to retake control of her body.

Nonsense. I am in control of myself, no matter what insane voices I hear in my head.

But you weren’t in control yesterday! I was doing everything.

I was doing everything! I was in complete control at all times!

This protestation from Hornsparker brought Twilight wide awake. The spell-created personality wasn’t lying to her. She didn’t think it could lie, and anyway it didn’t believe she was real. So why would it think it was in control when Twilight had been in control of her actions throughout…

Because I did everything it was going to do, Twilight thought, a shudder that had nothing to do with the filthy weather running down her spine. It’s not fighting me, because I’m doing what it wants!

I am doing what I want, thank you very much, tropical madness voice, Hornsparker snapped.

Aha! That’s the first time you’ve directly acknowledged my existence! Twilight replied.

You don’t exist. You are a product of mental strain, tropical humors, and lack of rest. That’s why I suffered myself to lie on the deck while we lay in mortal-

Oh, shut up.

Twilight looked up at the sky. It was still black, but it felt like there were bits of varying blackness sailing past overhead. The ship was moving differently… actually, it was moving less, the rolls of the ocean coming less steeply and less frequently. The rain had stopped, and the sound of the surf no longer came as a roar rivaling the wind. And the gale still howled… but the sound of wind in the rigging had a lower pitch.

The storm was passing. Soon they’d be able to make sail again…

.. and do what? All right, Twilight thought at Hornsparker, where do we go next?

We go where Cumpleanos is, Hornsparker replied. If she’s in sight at first light, we attack. If not… The mental voice drawled, speculating. I believe she took more damage than we did in the battle. She shot our stern to pieces, but the only holes below the waterline came before we were dismasted- all up in the bow. Poor gunnery. We fired twice as fast as she and with much greater accuracy, so I expect she’s leaking like a sieve. And she lost more rigging and mast than we did… and I don’t think she could replace them.

Why not? We did.

We’re less than a year out of a complete refit. How long has Cumpleanos been away from Iburria? Decades? There are no strong oaks or tall pines here for proper masts. The native wood might barely be good enough to replace old worm-eaten planks. Any spares she’s lost over the years can’t have been made good. No, they’ll be scraping the bottom of the barrel for anything to make a jury foremast out of. And it won’t be a skilled job, not with an all-native, half-trained crew.

No, Hornsparker thought, her mental voice growing in confidence. She’s crippled, and probably blown leeward over the horizon by now. That blocky old hull catches more wind than we do. Likely she still has more ponies, but we’re the more battle-ready ship in all other respects. Admiral Shadetree’s best course is to head back to Hornseca. She can put guns on that island, cobble together the best masts she can out of native trees, and be safe from us until she’s seaworthy again. And the wind’s blowing us in that direction in any case. She’ll run. She has to.

Really? Twilight thought. That assumes she’s a sane and rational pony.

Which she is not, Hornsparker agreed ruefully. I wonder how annoying the voices in her head are?

You tell me, Twilight replied. Seriously. If conditions were reversed, would you run?

Asking one insane pony what another insane pony thinks, imaginary voice? Hornsparker chuckled bitterly. There followed a long mental silence. No, Hornsparker admitted. I would try to find some way to turn defeat into victory. I would exploit my two remaining advantages- my larger crew and heavier broadside. Because I’d… Hornsparker’s voice trailed off, and when it returned it came with a wagon train’s load of fear. Because I’d know I hadn’t a hope of getting away from Lydia with a crippled ship! If this ship could sail rings around Cumpleanos before, what about now?

Then she’s not running? She’s attacking?

Until Celestia raises the sun, there’s no way to know.

Like heck there isn’t.

Twilight couldn’t remember Haycartes’ Method, and her magic power had been stifled down to a tiny fraction of what it should have been, but she still remembered a great many other spells… including Rarity’s gem-finding spell. She pulled herself out of the hammock-chair, letting the oil-cloak fall, and stepped over to the deck rail, pausing a moment to adjust her hat with her magic. Then she cast the spell…

… some tiny inlays in the ship’s compass and both the navigation chronometers, a handful of horn-rings and earrings among the crew, a small trove in what was most likely Iron Press’s luggage… ignore all those, and…

… ping. A faint tug from outside the ship… and not all that far outside the ship. Twilight had remembered the jeweled sword and decorated uniforms of the Maredrid officers when they surrendered, and they hadn’t been allowed to bring their dunnage off the Cumpleanos. Shadetree had almost certainly looted those lost lockers and bags for whatever finery the officers had had to abandon to add to her own uniform…

… and indeed, a cluster of jewels existed… just under two miles off the port bow.

They’re only two miles off. How could they get here in this weather?

Two miles off?? For the first time Hornsparker made a brief push for control of the body. There’s no way we made more leeway than they did. They must be under tow… but how many of their ship’s boats could possibly have survived? And how could they find this ship in the dark?

How? Twilight wondered for a moment.

Then both mental voices came to the same conclusion. Pegasi, they thought as one. Shadetree was trying to reproduce the exact same trick Twilight had used to capture Cumpleanos in the first place- using almost the same methods.

The weather is lethal, but that wouldn’t stop Shadetree, Hornsparker thought.

The native pegasi won’t be trained in making wind, Twilight added, but they’ll be much more used to wild weather. They’ll be able to fly against it.

And, again in mental chorus: We’re being watched.


Lieutenant Gerard, the officer of the watch, gave Twilight a completely baffled look, but said nothing. Twilight thanked literary convenience for the Lydia’s officers having learned not to question or converse with their captain. She went down the hatch, but not to the first lieutenant’s cabin. Instead she continued on to the wardroom, where Thornbush and the officers not on duty would be trying to grab a bit of rest.

Twilight slid the wardroom hatch open and squeezed into the tight space. There was Wildrider, and Freerein, and Thornbush lifting his drowsy head… and Summons, yes, the marine-captain curled up on a bunk sound asleep.

“Wake up,” Twilight hissed. “Quietly.” She reached a hoof over and shook Summons awake. “Summons, get all the pegasi together belowdecks. When I give the order, I want them launched straight up through the gratings.” She looked to Wildrider, who appeared to be a little too close to Freerein’s bunk for Twilight’s mental comfort. “Mr. Wildrider, you will personally see to it that all the gratings are undogged and can be pushed open from below. Do it yourself, and do it as unobtrusively as possible, do you understand?”

“Aye, sir, but-“

“Quiet.” She turned to Thornbush. “Cumpleanos is within two miles of us and closing. She knows where we are, I suspect because she’s sent her pegasi out into the storm to watch us and report our location. If she can, she’ll try to board us. Our only advantage is that she doesn’t know her secret is blown.”

“Bless me, ma’am,” Thornbush said. “How d’ye know-“

“Not now,” Twilight said. “I want the crew belowdecks roused and ready to clear for action on my order- but they must remain belowdecks until I give the order, understood?”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“Good. Make sure the cooking fires are out and cold. Do that now, Ms. Freerein, and then gather your division under Lieutenant Thornbush’s orders. Quietly.

“Aye, ma’am.” Freerein got out of her bunk, giving a quick backwards glance at Wildrider- I don’t want to know these things, Twilight moaned in the semi-privacy of her head- and left.

“Major Summons,” Twilight continued, “once the pegasi launch, they are to find and capture any pegasi or other flyers that may be in the clouds above us. Note the word capture. I want them all alive, Major. I very strongly suspect, if we promise to spare their lives, most of them will be glad to tell us everything we want to know about the current conditions on Cumpleanos. Remember the kind of discipline practiced in Xipe Totec’s forces.”

Summons nodded solemnly. “I remember, captain,” he said. “But if they fight anyway?”

Twilight sighed. “Your ponies must make their best efforts. Also I need your unicorns. Once the skies are clear, I intend to cast a flare spell over the enemy’s position. I’ll need the other ship’s unicorns to sustain it.”

“Aye aye, ma’am,” Summons said.

“Thornbush,” Twilight continued, turning to face the first lieutenant, “when we clear for action, I want the fore staysail raised and the topsails, two reefs. The storm’s moderated, and I want us under way before Shadetree has a chance to try any long-range fire or other clever tricks. If we can I want to give her a couple of broadsides from long range, but I don’t want a close action at night. Once the sun comes up, we have all the advantages- especially if we can take away her air forces. Understood?”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“Then let’s get about it,” Twilight said.

“Pass the word,” Twilight hissed. “Every pony is to keep their eyes closed until they hear the drums. There’s going to be a very bright light.”

Twilight clung to the ladder up to the cargo hatch amidships. Around her stood nine other unicorns. Hovering against the deck beams overhead were the seventeen remaining able-bodied pegasus marines, wingblades at the ready. In the dim lantern-light around them lurked hundreds of ponies, out of their hammocks and poised to rush to their action stations.

“All right, unicorns,” Twilight whispered. On the count of three, everypony cast a flash spell two hundred hooves overhead. Drummer,” she said to the little pony whose hooves barely wrapped around the enormous drum that signaled action stations for the ship, “when I say ‘now’, beat to quarters.”

“Aye aye, ma’am,” the little voice of the drummer squeaked.

“All right. Here we go.” Twilight took a deep breath. “One, two, three.”

Her spell led the way, and nine other, stronger spells followed it shooting up in the sky like a fountain of fireworks. At ranges varying from just barely above the maintop on up to two hundred and thirty hooves in the air they went off, spraying blinding light around them… and completely wrecking the night vision of half a dozen native pegasi lurking in clouds ripped off the storms overhead.


Gratings burst into the air, shoved aside by seventeen pegasi leaping up at full climb. A moment later the drum rolled its long, deep beat, and hundreds of ponies scrambled from the hatches.

“Hooves to the braces!” Thornbush shouted. “Stand by to make sail! Tops’ls, two reefs!”

“Guncrews to your weapons!” Freerein screamed, her higher-pitched voice cutting well through the thunder of hooves on deck. “Hurry up there! You’ll have a target shortly, so you better be ready to hit it if you don’t want extra time at the pumps!”

Twilight waited until the last of the ordinary crewponies rushed up the ladder before shouting, “Unicorns to me!” and went up the ladder two rungs at a time. She was over the lip of the hatch and running to the gangway up to the foredeck in moments, her magic squad at her fetlocks. “Off the port bow!” A quick re-cast of Rarity’s spell verified that yes, Cumpleanos was out there- not much more than a mile away, now, with the time lost preparing for combat. “Follow my spell and keep the enemy lit up until we’re well past!”

Twilight didn’t actually know if she could make a light spell reach over a mile away, especially since the sea still rolled like Berry Punch after testing her latest vintage. But she had to try…

She cast the spell, pushing every ounce of Hornsparker’s feeble power into it. The spell soared, then wobbled, then sputtered in the air…

Go… go… I can do this… I am Princess Twilight Sparkle…

I am out of my head, Hornsparker moaned in her mind.

I am Princess Twilight Sparkle and I have had enough of this! Anger gave her that little extra push, and the spell shot forward- and struck something, going off in a brilliant flare.

The pegasus it hit staggered in midair, the cable tied around its barrel going slack. Behind it by about a hundred ponylengths, a darker shadow on the dark waves, lay the outline of a ship.

Then eight more spells soared over and lit up Cumpleanos, revealing a hodgepodge of pieces of wood that might be called masts and spars… if one was particularly loose with the Equestrian language… with lines running to fifteen pegasi and one large ship’s boat with two dozen oar-ponies, paused in mid-stroke.

Thornbush trotted up to where Twilight stood on the foredeck. “Enemy in sight, ma’am,” he reported, grinning.

Twilight didn’t grin back. She remembered the prior day’s chaos, pain and suffering all too well. “You have your orders, lieutenant,” she said coldly. “Engage.”

Author's Note:

Yesterday's food made me very sick early this morning and ended up laying me up in bed until nearly noon. Barely got this written...

... but I am happy with this chapter, because this is the first time I'm adding something which is not even a tiny little bit in the original. In Beat to Quarters the rebel admiral does, in fact, attempt to run for home. But in a world with pegasi, opportunities arise which would be closed to an ordinary human crew in the age of sail...

PS - "Iburria" = "Iberia" (the peninsula that contains Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar) + "burro".

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