• Published 1st Mar 2019
  • 1,256 Views, 470 Comments

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?

  • ...

PreviousChapters Next
BRAY TO QUARTERS Chapter 21: Xipe Totec Again

“Oh, here we go! It’s that bloody lugger again!”

Twilight awoke to the sound of the lookout, or some pony on deck, making the complaint. Only the morning before, with a fair wind, Lydia had left its island refuge, making sail southeast on the most direct route for the Great Southern Cape. But the wind had died away to nothing by sunset, and rather than heave to for the night, Twilight had elected to let the currents carry the ship where they would. Apparently, for whatever reason, they had carried the ship towards Panamane… and that ill-omened guarda-costa boat.

Not waiting for Axle Wheel, Twilight threw on a linen shirt that happened to be nearby and went up on deck. Half a dozen spyglasses were already on the none-too-distant lugger, just visible in the twilight as the moon and sun prepared to switch places in the sky. It seemed like every officer, commissioned or warranted, stood on the deck staring at the thing- not Thornbush, who likely was just now getting his breakfast, but there stood Freerein and Gerard, Knife-edge, Jack Knave, a mostly recuperated Cherry Mustang, and the sailing-master, Quartz Shard, all with spyglasses out, and apparently all with an opinion.

“There’s a curse on that lugger, I’m sure of it,” Gerard said. He rubbed two of his talons together as if feeling a coin- an old griffon ritual to banish evil spirits, Hornsparker explained to Twilight.

“’Tis only a Maredrid guarda-costa,” Quartz Shard muttered. “Nowt supernatural about ‘em. I seen dozens. I recollect one time off-“

“Who hasn’t seen ‘em?” Gerard snapped. “But there’s something about this particular- oh, hullo, captain!” Seeing Twilight standing by the hatch, the griffon saluted and gestured off the port side. “Our friends from Panamane are back, ma’am.”

I don’t tolerate Thornbush speaking that lightly to me, Hornsparker grumbled in Twilight’s mind. And we go back years. Gerard wants a dressing-down!

Oh, be quiet, won’t you?” Twilight sighed. “Yes, I see,” she said. Squinting a little, she added, “What are they doing over there? I see something moving, but…” She didn’t feel like going back to the first officer’s cabin for her spyglass.

“Lugger’s sending a boat, ma’am,” Knife-edge reported.

The chatter ceased with Twilight’s presence, as the officers all watched the tiny black dot on the dark ocean creeping closer to them. Then the sun popped over the horizon, and for a couple of minutes none of them could see anything, much less the boat being rowed across the gentle swells of the Luna Sea. Then, as the dazzling reflections of the dawn sun eased somewhat, and as the boat grew closer, even Twilight could pick out the boat and its crew of oarsponies making its way to them. The time all of this took allowed Thornbush to rush through his breakfast and make it onto the quarterdeck, and also for Axle Wheel to bring Twilight her best uniform tunic, which she slipped on without a word.

And then the young Maredrid officer stood once more on Lydia’s deck, openly staring at the changes made to the ship. “Good morning, captain,” he said at length. “I am most surprised to see you here again, ma’am.”

“As am I,” Twilight said, “though I’m always pleased to see the friends of my princess and country.”

“To me also it is a pleasure,” the officer said. “But I had thought you were two weeks and more gone by now.”

“Well, we had repairs to make,” Twilight admitted. “But as you can see, we’re now fully ready for the long sail to come- and without having made any contact with the mainland or with any Maredrid port.”

“I am truly impressed,” the officer said. “And I am sure that, under such an expert seapony, your ship shall return to the service of the sun princess as swiftly as thought.” The pony in the shining uniform bowed deeply as he delivered the compliment, and Twilight in turn bowed deeply as she thanked the polite and generous officer for it.

Inwardly, Twilight sighed her relief. She’d been afraid, for a moment, that some other reversal of fortune would require her to turn north- some plot of Xipe Totec’s, or a request for transport of troops, or even support of an assault on some port village up the coast. But apparently nothing had changed; Maredrid was quite happy to see Lydia, so long as they saw her leaving.

“As it happens,” the coast guard officer said, straightening up again, “it is a great stroke of fortune that we met here in these circumstances. I have something on my vessel which is of great interest to Your Excellency. I should be most gratified if you would come over to see it.”

Twilight’s stomach sank. She couldn’t imagine this could be anything good. “Would you mind telling me what it is?” she asked.

“It would give me great pleasure if it could be a surprise, ma’am. Could you oblige me?”

Twilight sighed. After everything, she just couldn’t not go. She had to see it through to the end- hopefully, to the end of the book. “Mr. Thornbush?” she called, and the first lieutenant trotted over to her side. “I am going on a brief visit to the Maredrid ship. Kindly launch the cutter and send her after us to pick me up afterwards.”

Drums rolled and bugles played as Twilight and the lugger’s captain boarded the guarda-costa. The noise was just that to Twilight- noise- but even with Hornsparker’s tin ear she could tell that the buglers would have done better to be playing the drums, and the drummers might well be better buglers than drummers- because nopony could be worse.

“Will you take some morning refreshment with me, captain?” the Maredrid pony asked. “Chocolate, perhaps?”

“I should love some chocolate,” Twilight said. Ever since leaving Lydia the coast guard officer had been a chatterbox, discussing the boogie fever burning up the mainland, the news relayed across the continent of battles in Iburria and Germaney, the peculiar traits of his little ship, the traditions of his all-native crew. He was willing to discuss anything and everything… except his surprise.

Twilight, for her part, made polite responses and even deigned to talk a little shop in a discussion of the alternate rigging of the lugger’s sails, and their performance in the light and variable winds around Panamane. She greeted the lugger’s officers as the guarda-costa cabin called them up to meet her. But she declined to play his game; the one question he wanted her to ask, she wasn’t going to ask.

Eventually, after half an hour of stalling (and a mug and a half of what Twilight had to admit was very good hot chocolate), the Maredrid pony accepted defeat. “And now, if you will come this way, ma’am,” he said, “I will show you the thing I mentioned on your ship.”

He led Twilight up a gangplank to the lugger’s foredeck…

… and there, chained barrel and hooves to the deck, sat Xipe Totec.

The mad mule had, thank Celestia, been divested of his robe of pony skins, though bloodstains still marked out a patchwork in his filthy fur. He obviously hadn’t bathed or groomed in weeks, and the deck around him was strewn with what Twilight guessed were his own roadapples. But despite the filth, despite the chains, his face bore an expression of pure serenity…

…except for those eyes, which would only light on a figure for a moment before rolling in obvious fear. The contrast between the eyes and the rest of the face made Twilight ill to her stomach; her mind couldn’t handle it.

“I believe, ma’am,” the Maredrid officer said with a nasty smile, “you are already acquainted with the grandee Don Sunstruck, who claims to be one of the old gods?”

“Captain Hornsparker has indeed been presented to me,” Xipe Totec said, in the same casual way an ordinary pony might say Fine, thank you, and yourself? “Her efforts in my service have been quite satisfactory. I trust you are feeling well, captain?”

I was up until thirty seconds ago. “Fine, thank you. And yourself?”

“I am quite well,” Xipe Totec said. “I am almost at the peak of my power, to my immense satisfaction. Which means the next step in the cycle comes very soon, as this instrument of my will could tell you.” He gestured a hoof at the guarda-costa’s captain.

“More chocolate, captain?” The captain’s servant had brought a fresh carafe of the stuff, and without waiting for permission the pony refilled both the captain’s and Twilight’s mugs. Two more crewponies brought cushions, big and plush, for the captain and Twilight to sit on. Twilight sank into her cushion gratefully and took several sips of her chocolate, hoping more of the rich drink would settle her flip-flopping stomach. It didn’t.

Xipe Totec’s eyes locked onto the chocolate for several moments, ears cocked at the loud slurping sounds the lugger’s captain made as he drank. Then, without any sign of effort, the mule’s interest switched off, and his face regained its serenity, his eyes resumed their mad wanderings. “Is the chocolate to your liking, captain?” he asked. “My servants provided it specially for you. Of course, my interest in such things is a thing of the past.”

“It certainly will be in a few days,” the guarda-costa captain said, and he slurped again at his mug.

“Indeed it will,” Xipe Totec nodded. “My godhood is complete, and now I must shed this weak, fleshly vessel. I am told there is a gallows in Panamane ready for me, which is well, for this body still struggles against my holy will. But once it is dead, the ponies of Panamane shall kindly pierce it with many swords and spears to make sure, and my holy blood shall make the soil fertile for freedom once more, and my spirit shall arise to the heavens and cast down the false gods of Maredrid.”

“I wish you the best of luck with that,” the Maredrid officer chuckled. Raising a hoof to shield his mouth, he whispered to Twilight, “In a moment you shall see the truth. I have learned to recognize the signs, and it is coming.”

“I hear you quite well, senor captain,” Xipe Totec said solemnly. “But you speak the truth, so what does it matter? Yes, my body still fights the inevitable, as the lesser creatures do and must. Such things are a part of nature. And occasionally the body gains control for brief periods, when my holy spirit must rest in preparation. For soon, yes, very soon I shall bring to this land, held too long under the hoof of the foreign infidel, the freedom it groans for! A new empire shall arise from the corrupt corpse of Maredrid, an empire in which the old gods shall lead the ponies of Mexicolt to their rightful place!”

Xipe Totec rose to his hooves, thrashing in his chains. “Already the cycle has begun! Majordomo’s blood has been drunk by the thirsty sands of Nickeragua, spilled by the foolish soldiers of the viceroy! But they hanged him anyway! And they hanged the ponies of my village, my people, the stallions and mares, the sires and dams, even the foals and fillies! The land has their blood as well! And soon, very soon, mine shall join theirs, the cycle shall be complete! Xipe Totec, last as he was first! Dying, even as he was reborn! Hanging from a noose only to reign from a golden throne!!”

The mule’s head twitched, shuddered, and then face and eyes finally agreed on an expression. For the first time the eyes focused, staring around the ship, then down at the chains. “NO!” Don Sunstruck shrieked, a screech far higher pitched than anything he had uttered before. “LET ME GO! LET ME GO! MERCY! DON’T KILL ME! I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!”

The mule began thrashing against his chains, screaming and wailing in heartbreaking despair. As he bent to bite at the iron shackles around his hooves, the Maredrid officer, calmly taking another sip of his chocolate, commented, “Sometimes it lasts for an hour, sometimes for a whole watch. Once he went twenty-four hours in this condition. I find it most entertaining to watch.”

“I’ve seen enough,” Twilight said bluntly. She set down her mostly-full mug of chocolate, rose from her cushion, and walked down to the lugger’s waist. The Maredrid officer followed her. Unfortunately, so did Don Sunstruck’s screams.

“What disturbs you, captain?” the officer asked. “What you see here is nothing but the same insanity you helped unleash upon our colonies in the first place, is it not? Does the sight of it not please you?”

Twilight rounded on the officer. “Sir,” she said, leaving any shred of diplomacy out of the honorific, “what would please me is a world without mad ponies. A world without Don Sunstruck, yes. But also a world without paper-pushing rich bureaucrats who see nothing wrong in dealing with a Don Sunstruck. And a world without nobles and grandees whose policies create Don Sunstrucks. Because from where I stand right now, the only difference I see between those kinds of madness is that one of them screams while the others smile and talk normally and sip chocolate, sir!”

The officer shrugged, ignoring the barb. “It is a mad world, and we are a part of it, ma’am,” he said. “All mad together. But rebels must hang, mad or sane, mad world or sane world. You know this as well as I.”

Twilight got hold of herself, somehow. There’s no point in arguing this, she thought. Nothing’s going to change. This is just the book, tying off a loose end…

… but…

“Tell me one thing,” Twilight asked. “Did you leave anyone alive at Hornseca? The old ponies? The foals and fillies? Anyone?”

“As I said,” the officer said, “rebels must hang. And since Don Sunstruck murdered all who resisted him, logically all who remained were rebels.”

“So you wiped out a whole village?”

“Several villages,” the officer said, not showing any signs of being disturbed by the bloodshed this meant. “Anyplace where Don Sunstruck’s flag flew has now ceased to exist.”

“But… how many hundreds of ponies? Thousands?”

The officer shrugged. “There are always more native ponies,” he said, as if that pardoned anything. “We will bring in more. Maredrid will send new grandees to run the plantations and the mines. The empire will continue.”

Twilight noticed that Lydia’s cutter had arrived, its crew waiting at the oars for her to leave. “Well,” she said at last, “if you will excuse me, I will take my leave, both of your ship and your country. You’ve made it obvious that you are quite able to defend it.” With one final glare she added, “And as much as your country needs defending from you, that isn’t my problem.”

Without waiting for any further words from the guarda-costa’s captain, she went over the side and climbed down into her ship’s boat. “Back to the ship,” she ordered, and the ponies began rowing, away from the lugger, away from the screams of a murderous madpony on his way to a much-deserved end.

But, as she sat in the thwarts of the launch, Twilight Sparkle cried for him anyway, for a mule friendship and harmony couldn’t reach, and for the thousands of innocents who had died for no better reason than being caught between two irresistible forces that demanded impossible loyalty.

You make me a laughingstock before my crew, Hornsparker chided. Straighten up and act like a proper captain!

“Shut up,” Twilight moaned between her sobs. “Shut up, shut up, just shut up.”

Author's Note:

I would have posted this last night, but my ISP's DNS server decided to pack up about 9 PM last night and didn't come back until this morning.

So far I haven't done very well about daily posting, but I'm posting roughly the same number of actual words as I did when writing The Maretian, so maybe that evens out...

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
PreviousChapters Next
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!